A Belated Lenten Reading Program

We’re approaching the third Sunday of Lent and, therefore, are close to half way to Easter.  It’s long been a custom for Catholics, perhaps stemming from the practice St. Benedict outlined in his Rule, to step up their spiritual reading for Lent.  This spiritual reading is usually planned for some days before the season begins on Ash Wednesday.  If you’re like me, however, that doesn’t always happen; Ash Wednesday comes and goes and suddenly you find yourself getting little or no spiritual reading done at all.  Then, like all good procrastinators, you say to yourself, I’ll do better next year and give up on the idea altogether.  Shame on you, it’s never too late to set things right.

To assist all you procrastinators out there, I’ve come up with a list of five books that make good Lenten reading, in fact good reading, no matter if you start on time or not.  I’m not saying you should try to read all five books between now and Holy Saturday, but you might pick one, possibly two of them and start reading today.  Then, come Holy Saturday, you might have firmed up your spiritual reading habit and decide to read the other three or four books to finish the list.

What are these five little books?  Here’s the list.

  1. The Spiritual Combat, Lorenzo Scupoli
  2. This Tremendous Lover, Eugene Boylan
  3. In Silence with God, Benedict Baur
  4. Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton
  5. Bread in the Wilderness, Thomas Merton

Why these five books?  Well, I have a reason for selecting each of these books as candidates for a belated Lenten reading program, but I leave you with a challenge – after you’ve read the books on the list, tell me why you think I consider them candidates for reading during Lent, even if you start late.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Come Cross, Fire, or Mangling of Limbs

A Seven Quick Takes post, as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog


St Ignatius of Antoch
St Ignatius of Antoch

Today is the memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

“It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil–Only let me get to Jesus Christ!”
― St. Ignatius of Antioch

In all the kerfuffle surrounding the Synod, about to conclude it’s efforts this week, it’s good to remember what St. Ignatius said so long ago, that come “battling with wild beasts, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil–Only let me get to Jesus Christ!” Our faith isn’t in the Church, it’s in the person of Jesus Christ; the Church will fade away in the last days and, above all, is a human institution.

As I said, above, the Extraordinary Synod closes on Sunday, mercifully. I say “mercifully” because it looks like so far it has produced only chaos and confusion. I have to admit, there are times when I think the Church is her own worst enemy; producing a document that makes only those who have no real love for or understanding of the Church happy seems counterproductive, at best. The bishops managed this by using language that is clear to no one, a “cardinal” error (pun intended). Yet, the draft relatio is a meaningless thing that should soon evaporate into the ether. Earlier this week I read these words, from Thomas Peters (HERE), and they are worth keeping in mind. (I originally saw this reference here.)

“There are plenty of good people who are going to interpret these recent developments as signs of the end times. That doesn’t help anything. The Holy Spirit won’t let the church fall into error, and the same Holy Spirit is calling you, and all of us, to build up the church.”

It might also be good to remember, concerning the efforts of the bishops in Rome, that all of us, including them, are mere human beings and certainly prone to error. I was reminded of this in a joke which Fr. David pastor of our parish used to open his homily this past weekend:

Fr. O’Brien, a good old Irish priest, was preparing the third grade class at the parish school for their upcoming first communion. To test their readiness, he asked the class to recite Scripture passages for each of the 7 sacraments.

“OK, who can give me a Bible passage for Baptism?”

Little Janie piped up, “Unless you are baptized in water and the Spirit, you have no life in you.”

Father said, “Very good Janie, you’ve done well in your classes, I can tell. Now, who can recite a Bible verse for the Sacrament of Reconciliation?”

Little Bobby raised his hand. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Fr. O’Brien was very pleased and complemented Bobby for his excellent response.

Then he said, “OK, who can give me a verse for the Sacrament of Marriage?” There was dead silence and no child raised their hand.

Soon Father said, “Come now, someone must know the answer to this question!” The children could see he was getting a little impatient but still there was no response until suddenly a timid little voice could be heard from the back of the classroom, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!”

I am going through my annual calendar hunt this year. I can’t believe it’s time to acquire a datebook already. When I retired, I expected that I would no longer need or use a planner or agenda since the days would be long and leisurely and there would be no meetings to attend and no schedule to keep. Boy, did I get that wrong. I forgot about doctor appointments, dentist appointments, clarinet lessons to remember, planning times for workouts at the gym, and so on and so forth. Even though retired, I still need to keep track of dates and times requiring my presence.

At work, I mostly used the calendar on Outlook and also kept a large(ish) generic monthly planner from Office Max or Office Depot, the At-A-Glance type. Last year, I used a loose leaf folio with Franklin Planner monthly calendar tabs. The problem with that was it’s rather bulky and difficult to carry around. I’m toying with the idea of getting a Moleskine extra large 18 month planner but have made no decision as of yet. Ah, the challenges of living the retired life.

That said, it is true that I have fewer appointments and a much looser schedule to keep. The reason I need a planner isn’t because these dates to remember are so copious, it’s because they aren’t and, if not kept track of, tend to be forgotten. I am already scheduling annual appointments and other things in the early months of 2015. If I don’t write them down, and remember where I wrote them down, I’ll soon forget they exist. Sometimes, I think this blending of days, one into another, a blessing, and I frequently try to remind myself of the importance of being fully present in the moment.

Since I’m doing weekly quotes from Thomas Merton, I thought I’d point out a development concerning his published journals on Kindle. All of them have been available on Kindle for some time but at nearly the full price you’d pay for hard copies. I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that several of the volumes are now available for less than $5.00 each, quite a bargain.

I go back and forth, sometimes several times a day, over the relative merits of having a book on Kindle vs. having, and reading, the hard copy. I think, generally, I prefer using hard copy of any given book, but when you think about buying a full set of books like Merton’s Journals, which could approach $100 in hard copy, against being able to acquire the same set electronically for less than $30, the electronic version becomes quite attractive.

To Read, or Not to Read . . .

imageI’ve posted a new page on the blog, “Catholic Classics Reading List.”

It all started around the beginning of January when I wanted to do some planning for my reading for the year. I’d been pretty feckless lately, reading this and that with no clear goal in mind. The problem was, I was certain I’d forgotten the titles of some books that were good, i.e. classics in one way or another, and so I began looking for reading lists to serve as a reminder of good titles I should consider in my plan.

Of course, the first place I went was the web. The results were somewhat limited; my searches revealed two primary sources for listings of good Catholic books, Fr. C. John McCloskey’s Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan and Fr. John Hardon’s list by the same name. There are also partial lists of good books made up by Fr. Schall but these are quite limited, probably for copyright reasons.

The problem with the first two lists is, perhaps of necessity, they are very long, perhaps containing more books than I could read in the next 5 years, much less the next year. Also, to my mind, they contain some unusual choices, omitting some I thought truly deserved a place and including others that I thought didn’t. Those in the latter category appear mostly on Fr. John McCloskey’s list especially and were of very recent vintage. I thought those were excluded because I wanted a list of classics, books that have stood the test of time, and books that are less than 10 or 15 years old can’t claim to have met that test.

In the end, I’ve taken those two lists and modified them to come with the initial books on my Classic Catholic Reading List page. I’ve been working on this for a while and really struggling with what has turned out to be a sisyphian task of whittling them down to no more than 20 or 25 key titles. I’m not there yet, by any means, but in the interest of having something to work with I have the list presented on the first edition of the new page.

This is very much a work in progress, in terms of the length of the list, books to be removed and books to be added, and the organization of it. In the end, I’d like to have a list of key books, classics, that any Catholic, any Christian, should be familiar with. If you have suggestions for books that should appear on the list, or feel strongly about any books now on the list which you think shouldn’t be, I’d be very happy to hear from you. This should be, to some extent at least, a collaborative project.