Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A few good spiritual reads and audio for Lent

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
that belongs to the president of my Carmelite community
at Assumption Grotto shows years of reading

Lent is a good time to at least reduce our online presence so we can spend more time in prayer, doing spiritual reading, and charitable works.  There's a difference between spiritual reading, knowledge reading or entertainment reading.

We might read  the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example to build our knowledge of the Church.  We should be reading Scripture at least 15 minutes daily.  There is a difference between reading for the sake of knowledge, and reading for the sake of spiritual development.  That's where it helps to read the saints and the great spiritual writers.  Some novels can help us if they apply the virtues.  This post will focus on great spiritual reads, mostly of a classic nature.

Here are a few things to consider reading during Lent.  Some of these you can find in their entirety online.

The president of my secular Carmelite community at Assumption Grotto, who served as formation director for many years, wrote a book a couple called, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross on the Beatitudes.  This book by Thomas Reid, OCDS would be an excellent Lenten resource and it will introduce you to the main works of both saints.  That link takes you to a review I did of the book some time ago.

During Lent we should be prepared for Sacramental Confession.  This is a sacrament which has waned in recent decades.  The late Archabbot, Benedict Baur, O.S.B., wrote the book Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spiritual Life. This helps us to probe our own consciences more deeply and encourages frequent use of Confession.  He laments, back in 1922 when it was originally written in Germany, that the practice of confessing venial sins was under attack.  Anyone who knows how frequently Pope John Paul II used the Sacrament of Penance may have wondered what he could have done that would prompt this. Real spiritual growth comes when we can reconcile even the imperfections and weaknesses we have, when we act on them (temptation should not be confessed; rather, acting on temptation should).  Everyone has imperfections but the pursuit of holiness should have us continually striving, with God's grace, to chip away at them.  Dom Benedict gives us practical advice.

St. Teresa of Avila The Way of Perfection: Study Edition is a great introduction not just to Carmelite spirituality, but to the spiritual life in general.

If you have already read the above work, try moving on to the Interior Castle by St. Teresa

St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life is another great introductory work for developing a more profound spiritual life.

Not long ago, I was introduced to Spiritual Combat: How to Win Your Spiritual Battles and Attain Peace by Lorenzo Scupoli - a book that St. Francis de Sales carried for 18 years. There is a newer book called Spiritual Combat Revisited which might help with today's challenges.

When reading a classic like this, or the ones above, it is good to keep in mind that living a good moral life alone is not the same as living a good spiritual life.  You need a good moral life to progress spiritually towards greater union with God.  This is where the pursuit of holiness blossoms - when we look to advance past mere moral compliance with the Commandments.  We must also keep in mind that many of these books were written for those in religious or priestly life.  But, much of it can be applied as long as we don't allow them to affect our state in life.  Hiding into seclusion when the needs of spouse and children require attention is not a good idea.

Another interesting book is one written by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.  The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom. Fr. Hardon takes you through many classic works and writings of the Church Fathers.  Use Amazon's "Look Inside" option at the table of contents and scroll through to see the real Catholic treasures this book goes through.

Lent is a time to learn more about silence and stillness. It is there that we can finally hear the voice of God above everything else.  What is the "everything else?"  That is what Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC explains in his talk, "On Holy Silence."  Of all the talks I've heard, this one remains one of my favorites and is on my list again this Lent. There are sources of noise haven't even considered.  There are many good talks on the spiritual life at Opus Angelorum. They all heavily reference Church teaching and the saints.  You can find that under the section on Spiritual Life at their website. Find talks in many other areas in the left hand sidebar.

I once got a free trial period to use Audible.com.   It's connected to Amazon and allows you to buy the streaming audio books. See if there are any free trial periods now, but look at fine print if you begin downloading. Once you buy them, they remain in your audible library indefinitely.  Even when you unsubscribe, as I had to do, you can still access your purchases.  One of my favorite audio books, which is available in text and probably found online for free or low cost, is the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This book has an odd way of getting you to probe your conscience.  I heartily recommend it.  You don't have to limit yourself to audio, but I wanted to point out things you can find.  Visit the wikipedia page for the Screwtape Letters to read an explanation and background on this great work.  It's very appropriate for Lent.

At Audible, I was able to find many other good Catholic titles, including the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Reading her life leads us to ponder how we respond to the ordinary things of life.  Look through some titles here using a search of "Catholic."  You have to use some discretion (and can actually find anti-Catholic or dissenting material), but you can find classics and solid audio books.  Key in an author or title to see what options they have.

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