CP&S COMMENT. Fr Tim Finigan, on his blog, ‘The Hermeneutic of Continuity’, has written a very helpful article giving a list to books he highly recommends for Spiritual Reading (lectio divina) during Lent. In lectio divina the Scriptures are opened up to their interior or hidden meaning by the action of the Holy Spirit, as our spirit is lifted up from earth to heaven to “touch heavenly secrets”. Lent, where we seek a cleansing of our sinful faults through penance and a growing in grace and holiness through prayerful practices, is the perfect time to set aside a little space for this daily habit.
Someone asked if I would recommend some reading for Lent. Here goes! On such matters I generally try not to be original and instead to introduce good Catholics to classic spiritual works in case they have not come across them. If you have read all the below, you are probably in a good position to find other worthwhile reading yourself. But if these are books that you haven’t read, then any one of them would be a potential life changer. And if you have read them all, you will probably know that they are all worth reading again.
Most of these books are readily available as books with paper and glue, books that go on your e-reader, web pages, and pdf versions. I don’t have so much experience of audio books but my guess would be that they are now all around in that format too.
With these books, one way to approach your Lenten reading would be to read one chapter each day at a regular time when you can count on being free. First thing in the morning or last thing at night are obviously well-tried and trusted. Then you could commit to continuing to read it after Lent has finished, and then move on to another good book. Voila! You have a established a habit of daily spiritual reading in the midst of your busy life.
Thomas a Kempis – The Imitation of Christ
Traditionally the most widely recommended spiritual book, and justly so. Written in the early 15th century, it is part of the “Devotio Moderna” movement which was a reform movement within Catholicism which aimed to draw people back to a sound and generous spiritual life.
St Francis de Sales – Introduction to the Devout Life
Written in 1609 this is an edited compilation of the Saint’s spiritual advice for an individual French woman addressed as Philothea. It offers advice for setting out on a more devout practice of the faith. The ten Meditations in part I are essentially a shorter version of the Ignatian spiritual exercises, and the text also provides simple and practical advice on how to pray with these meditations. As a guide to the lay person seeking to deepen their life of prayer, the book is practical. Some of the examples relating to practical social behaviour reflect the time and class St Francis was writing for but the advice is easily adaptable.
Lorenzo Scupoli – Spiritual Combat
Written in 1589, this was a favourite book of St Francis de Sales. Probably a good one for you if you have already read the Imitation and the Introduction to the Devout Life.
Louis of Granada – The Sinner’s Guide
Written in 1556-1557 this was another favourite of St Francis de Sales as well as of many other saints of the time, especially St Teresa of Avila. More prolix than the above books and again, perhaps one to read if you have already read them.
St Alphonsus Liguori
St Alphonsus 1696–1787 was a voluminous writer and any of his ascetical works would worthwhile reading for Lent. There is an English translation of his Complete Ascetical Works on the Internet Archive. Especially good for Lent would be Volume V on The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.
If you prefer to have some wisdom from St Alphonsus in a neatly edited and formatted e-reader version or paper-and-glue, you might need to choose from one of the anthologies that are available.
Dom Chautard – The Soul of the Apostolate
For spiritual reading on the apostolate and the priority of place that should be given to our interior life in Christ for any successful external work in the Church, this is the jewel. The book gives excellent guidance for the principles of the apostolate and practical guidance for prayer and the living of the interior life.
If you finish a couple of those, you might want to move on to the works of the mystical doctors of the Church St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila as a kind of intermediate class.
May God bless your efforts during Lent and fill your heart and mind with sound wisdom, good inspirations, holy resolutions, and the grace to carry them out for the good of your soul and of all those around you.