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Three Fellow Travelers For Lent

February 23, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

One of the great things about Lent is that it reminds you of the cadence of the liturgical season, the way it rises and falls with the seasons themselves. Just as surely as fall feasting culminates with Christmas, so too does winter and all its reminders truly arrive with Lent.
Of course, once upon a time, we would all be tilling the earth for our livelihood. Subsistence would be the order of the day, with average lifespans of about 35 years of age and old age a rare occurrence indeed. To have seen too many winters or too few was a mark of the passage of time, not to mention, the mark of wisdom.
One really has to wonder how our forefathers found new and better strains of wheat, rye, oats, rice, or any other grain crop. After all, you get one chance every year. Not so long ago, this meant you really had a chance to experiment with only 30 or 40 harvests. Such were the limitations of a prior age.
I mention all of this to remind ourselves that Lent is indeed a season of privation, both spiritual and practical.
Practical in the sense that many communities would have eaten most of their perishable goods, with apples and roots in a cellar and other grains stored high above the ground in burlap to prevent vermin from eating next year’s seed. Sometimes eating the seed corn became an inevitability, though in later years our grandparents would have recalled a time where everyone was dirt poor but had plenty to eat.
Still, the spiritual dimensions of Lent with its fasting and reminders are all too apparent, and for myself it is one of my favorite times of the year — the true beginning of my own internal spiritual clock.
The good news is that I have several fellow travelers during Lent, all of which have left behind three very small tomes that are worth reading in their entirety.
First and foremost, there is a very small book entitled Meditations for Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas that is truly a minor catechism. For those who never tire of the Angelic Doctor, his wisdom shines through piece by piece until one culminates the effort with the Real Presence of the Eucharist. One travels through sin and death in order to arrive at Christ truly present, and it is a remarkable journey with daily readings that begin 10 days before Ash Wednesday.
Don’t worry — you can always catch up mid-Lent and join me.
Second is a very short book that forms part of a four-volume series from a 17th-century French priest named Fr. Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet entitled Meditations for Lent. Bossuet was a contemporary of St. Vincent de Paul, a man whose works influenced the likes of St. Junipero Serra and Pope Pius XII.
Like most French works of the time period, Bossuet’s writing reflects an intensely personal and introspective soul — and with an uncanny sense of being able to pick apart the interior pride of his subject.
My last recommendation is none other than Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat. This little book came at the recommendation of a priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, Va., when I was a young man, and it has profoundly influenced my interior life ever since.
In the TAN Books edition, there are 66 different chapters regarding spiritual combat followed by a short 15-chapter treatise on peace of the soul. For those looking to renew their faith, I could not recommend a better workout regimen. This is a book that, when read before the Blessed Sacrament, has offered me great counsel and consolation.

Tiny Libraries

Now it is time for a small confession. Once upon a time, you could find these books and many other pamphlets like them for free either inside the vestibule or inside the parish hall. More often than not, one would find them where folks would heavily traffic.
Today one would be hard pressed to find such treasures lying about, but I wonder truly how many Catholics have discovered or rediscovered their faith with these small books, pamphlets, or even prayer cards. I’d suspect the number is greater than zero.
Yet more important than this is the fact that in today’s world, such tracts are harder to come by. Certainly no one is reading them online. Surely no one is restocking the old pamphlet rack.
Apologetics seems to have acquired a dirty reputation as modern-day conversos seem to rage against the very faith they claim to have adopted.
It is truly such a simple thing to do. Imagine if five or ten Catholics in each parish simply banded together to restock the old pamphlet rack? Or left a few trusty old treatises laying around? Or put the Catholic equivalent of a Tiny Free Library (look them up!) at every parish hall?
For those of us who find prayer before the Blessed Sacrament invaluable to our spiritual formation, surely there is tremendous value in reading these tracts with Jesus Himself in the room.
Either way, these are my fellow travelers this Lenten season. I hope you find them of some value as winter yields to spring during these turbulent times within the Church. Yet as Lent reminds us with the seasons, such times come in like a lion and move out like a (Paschal) lamb.

+ + +

Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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