Sunday, February 23, 2014

Books For Lent

Lent will soon be upon us, and my local Catholic bookstore has a variety of books on display, some old and some new.  Among the old are my own “old recommendations” from last year, and among the new are these two books:
You can see the cover of Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Lent, here.  Quite frankly, it is a bit of a turn off to me when I see a book cover where the author’s name is bigger than the book title.  It says to me: “I’m important, so buy this.,” when --- at least for spiritual readings, I think --- it should be the topic which is important.  But having expressed my prejudices, now I’ll tell you (honestly) that the reason I bought this book was largely because Matthew Kelly was the author.  Go figure.
My experience with Kelly isn’t expansive; I’ve only heard a talk or two of his, and read maybe a book or two, but I recall that what I’ve heard or read impacted me, and I remembered his simple, Irish name.  (Do you think they made the cover all green because he’s Irish?)  Whatever the reason, I bought this book and read just a few pages of it to get a feel for its value as Lenten reading (and not to spoil my further Lenten reading of it).
I found the few pages I read of Kelly’s book very enjoyable.
Kelly notes that he has often spoken lectures on the “seven pillars of Catholic spirituality” (which is news to me), and this book consists of daily short reflections on those seven pillars, which are: confession, daily prayer, the mass, the Bible, fasting, spiritual reading, and the rosary.  Some excerpts of his reflections:
·         Ignatius, Francis, Benedict, Dominic, Joan of Arc, and Theresa all asked the question: God, what do you think I should do?  Henry David Thoreau said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  If you don’t ask the big question, you won’t discover your mission, and sooner or later you will be numbered among Thoreau’s masses.
·         My experience has been that more than 90 percent of Catholics can’t tell you what last Sunday’s Gospel was about.  If we don’t know what last Sunday’s Gospel reading was, only a few days later, then I have to believe that it didn’t significantly impact our lives.
·         “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Since September 11, 2001, have you heard a single prayer in any of our churches for Osama bin Laden or for al Qaeda or for terrorists?  The teachings of Jesus are as radical today as they were when they were first announced.
·         The truth is, you cannot be healthy and happy without discipline.  In fact, if you want to measure the level of happiness in your life, just measure the level of discipline in your life.  You will never have more happiness than you have discipline.  The two are directly related to one another.
·         My proposal is that we encourage Catholic adults to read good spiritual books.  Fifteen minutes a day is as good as any place to start … this habit alone could be a game changer for the Church in our times. … If every Catholic spent fifteen minutes a day, every day, learning about his or her faith, how different would our Church be in a year?  Five years?  Ten years? Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Most great things are achieved little by little.
These are just random samples from this book.  See anything that made you stop and think?  Me, too.  Put this one on your Lenten reading list.
This next book, Meditations For Lent, is a compilation of the words of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, who was a famous orator in France in the seventeenth century.  He has been favorably compared with St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, and some saints kept his writings as bedside reading.  The writings in this book are comments on and arranged according to the Gospel readings each day of the Lenten season.
The Bossuet book approaches meditations from a different angle than Kelly’s book.  Kelly’s book focused on specific topics, his seven pillars, and challenged you to make them part of your Lenten focus --- to change your spiritual life by doing something different.  Bossuet’s book is more of a self-contained “read this and learn” book.  You don’t have to go out and get anything else, and you don’t have to do anything else, just read and learn.
Honestly, most books I read are written in more of Bossuet’s style than Kelly’s.  Most inform me: by giving me new data, by explaining something I thought I knew in a new light, or by providing me a new opinion to think about and compare with my own.  Kelly’s book challenged me to “go out and change in this way,” while Bossuet’s book said “Here’s the truth of things” and then implied: “So what are you going to do about that?”
In the sample selections I read from Bossuet’s book, I found no “new news” for me.  He did provide good, clear explanations of Church teachings on various topics and/or Scripture passages.  If you were unclear on these teachings, or had never much reflected upon them, these Lenten meditations might be “Aha!” moments for you, but at first glance, they didn’t strike me that way.  Perhaps reading them in the adoration chapel, slowly, on the day and in the order they were meant to be read, perhaps they will provide me with deeper thoughts and spiritual insights.
I don’t mean to slight Bossuet’s writings.  He provides good, clear, concise meditations.  I am sure that for many people he will be providing “new news” to think upon during Lent, or old news which we too easily forget or ignore.  It is a good book, and I do plan to read it and Kelly’s book each day this Lent.
At least, that is my plan for Lenten spiritual growth. 
You should make one, too.

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