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The Many Joys of Lenten Reading Print E-mail

March 9, 2011The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 45 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY

Of all the Lenten practices that make this season so rich, I readily embrace spiritual reading. There are so many opportunities to make this holy season a time of deeper union with the Lord, belonging more deeply to him and to one another. Prayer, fasting, the charity of almsgiving are of course the classic trio of Lent. We all should make them part of every Lent in one way or another. But for me, probably because I can be a slacker during the rest of the year, I am ready — and this year with Easter so late — more than ready for spiritual reading.

But what to read? How to choose? How much time can be given to it? The Scriptures are always the best choice. But how can one do that profitably? The Fathers of the Church, the great saints in history, the priests in our parishes, and recently the Holy Father himself have created a long tradition of what is called lectio divina. That means simply prayerful, meditative reading of a portion of Holy Scripture.

In his recent apostolic letter on the Word of God, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict described the steps of lectio divina as follows. “It opens with the reading of a text (of the Bible) which leads to a desire to understand its true content: What does the text say in itself? ... Next comes the meditation: What does the Biblical text say to us? ... Following this comes prayer which asks the question: What do we say to the Lord in response to His Word? ... Finally lectio divinaconcludes with contemplation, during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves: What conversion of mind and heart and life is the Lord asking of us?”

May I suggest there is no better way of prayer and it is so easy to follow. This year during Lent you might wish to use Matthew’s Gospel, which is the Gospel for the Sunday Gospels during the year. The Magnificat people have published a helpful book called “Praying with Matthew’s Gospel.” In that you will find a daily reading from Matthew with a helpful reflection from various spiritual writers. Of course there is no better way of focusing on the Triduum, the holy three days of our salvation than to use the passion narratives in one or two or all of the Gospels. Another biblical source that can bring you much inspiration is the “Servant Songs” in the Prophet Isaiah, chapters 49-55, especially chapter 53 that is the opening reading at the Commemoration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday.

Another book I personally am using is “Lent and Easter with the Church Fathers,” which has a daily reading from one of the great early Fathers of the Church with a helpful brief commentary. It is only a page a day and can be ordered from the USCCB online at productdetails.cfm?PC=1437. That is not the only recent publication for this holy season. Peter Celano has edited for Paraclete Press “Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers” and James Connor, S.J. has done a similar thing in his book “Lent and Easter, Wisdom from St. Ignatius Loyola.”

Some of the great classics can always be read or re-read with spiritual profit and practical ways of growing in the spiritual life. The first that come readily to mind is St. Francis de Sales, “Introduction to the Devout Life.” Cardinal Francois Nguyen Van Thuan, who spent 13 years in a Vietnam prison, nine of them in solitary confinement, is a radiant figure of the last century. His books, “The Road of Hope,” “Witness to Hope” and the little book of meditations, “Five Loaves and Two Fish” will inspire you and move you to a deeper love of God and of Christ’s Church. A favorite saint of mine is Edith Stein, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her writings are always thought provoking and open up new vistas of spiritual life. Blessed Mother Teresa has of course touched the lives of us all. “Come, Be My Light” is a moving testament of faith and total trust in God even when He seems distant from us. And who can improve on “The Story of a Soul,” the spiritual autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux?

Many people have told me how much they have been helped by an American layman and convert, Scott Hahn. I agree. One, “The Lamb’s Supper,” is particularly appropriate during Lent. Another favorite of mine is his book, “Hail, Holy Queen.” It is not strictly Lenten. But we all can always get so much when we turn our hearts and minds to the Mother of God. That extends so easily to the Angelus, the daily recitation of the rosary and the Akathistos, the beautiful prayer to Mary of the Eastern Church which is supposed to be prayed while standing.

The Stations of the Cross can be prayed at any time but are especially appropriate during Lent. Most of our parishes have the Stations on the Fridays of Lent. The original comes from St. Alphonsus Liguori and can always be beneficial in bringing people more closely to Christ in His passion, belonging more deeply to Him who died for us. Ever since Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict began inviting spiritual writers and Church pastors to write Stations of the Cross for the Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Coliseum in Rome, there has been a proliferation of Stations from so many authors. I have one from Elizabeth Thecla Mauro called “The Way of the Cross in times of illness.” Another is the Way of the Cross that the then-Cardinal Ratzinger prepared for Pope John Paul just before he died in 2005. Father John Keep, a convert from Anglicanism, prepared a very lovely Way of the Cross for the sisters and others who made up a group in England called “Friends of the Cross” and last year the Vatican Press published “The Way of the Cross with Benedict XVI.”

Finally let me mention a slight pocket book of 64 pages from the great spiritual writer, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. “Our Lady of Holy Saturday: Awaiting the resurrection with Mary and the disciples,” is something I re-read every Holy Saturday. It is a gem and never fails to offer new insights that inspire and call us to belong more deeply to her who always brings us to him.

There is so much available that one can get lost. But always return to the Word of God as to the fount of life itself and you will find your Lenten reading a rich and rewarding journey of the spirit with the Lord to His cross and His resurrection.

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