The Church is now officially in its Lenten season. At least the Western Church. The Western Church has different seasons for its year. We start with the Advent season, then we progress to the Christmas season, then we progress to the Lenten season, then to the Resurrection season, and finally to Trinity season. During Advent, we wait in anticipation. Advent is the season for hope. It is what Christians hope for. During Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation. This is the redemption. Christmas is the redemptive season. During Lent, we join our Lord in his forty day fast, we may give up something that will prevent us from focusing on him, all of us don’t eat meat on Fridays though some extend it to Wednesdays as well, some don’t eat it all except for Sundays and some not even on Sundays. During the Resurrection, we celebrate and rejoice in the victory. We celebrate coming out of the wilderness. It is our victory season. Trinity is our dogma season. It is what Christians believe. What faith is it that unites us? What is the substance of our beliefs?
But going back to Lent, it is a season of penitence. Most think that penitence is moping around and apologising for one’s sins. That is wrong. Penitence is the change that is experienced after one realises they have been sinning and it is a turn from that sin. It is an inward conversion experience. Penance is what the priest gives you to do so that you are not sinning but are becoming a follower of Christ. It is prayer. It is fasting. It is almsgiving. Lent is the “do” season. It is what Christians do. What Christians celebrate, what Christians believe, what Christians hope for, what redeems Christians, what Christians do.
So what would be some of my Lenten reading suggestions for this season? I would highly recommend St Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. St Teresa maps the struggle of the Christian life in its combat against the forces of sin, the devil, and worldly lusts. She strives to reach the center of the castle and as soon as one thinks they are deeper into this castle, the more the realise there’s a long way to go. This is a classic work in the school of Christian perfection reminding us to be ever on our guard, embrace humility, and always remember to pray, tuning out all earthly matter.
My next recommendation would be Heliotropium. Again, another important work by Fr Jeremias Drexilius, SJ. The Heliotropium is a type of sunflower which always turns itself toward the sun. For the Christian, our sun is Jesus. The Sun of Righteousness. We must always be constantly aligning ourselves toward the will of God. But oh how far we stray from this.
Another recommendation I would make is are the works of St Angela of Foligno. If you are getting the “Classics of Western Spirituality” translation, don’t read the fluff introducing it. It’s filled with heresy and utter nonsense such as raising doubt if it was all St Angela who wrote it since “women could not possibly orthodox back then”. St Angela embodies the spirit of St Francis’s mission of almsgiving to the poor becoming poor herself, giving up luxury and serving the most severely outcast in her society–the lepers. She is filled with eucharistic devotion and complete love for the Lord. Since we are talking about the penitentiary season, it is even more interesting to note that St Angela of Foligno, TOFM, was part of a penitential movement. A movement that would always perform prayer, fasting, and almsgiving over and beyond as they strived to be almost entirely sinless.
On my own shelf which would more than likely be great Lenten readings but I have not had the time to read yet are A Call to Mercy by St Theresa of Calcutta, The School of Christian Perfection by St Alphonsus de Ligouri, and a great work for holy week which Mel Gibson based a movie on, The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ by Bl Anne Catherine Emmerich.
If you think of other suggestions which I have not listed, feel free to leave a comment.