"The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" tells us that Lent is normally observed as a time of penance ... by almsgiving and by devoting more than the usual time to religious exercises."
Fr Eugene Boylan said that the three important ones are "reading, reflection and prayer." It was Franklin, basing his thought on Bacon's "Essay on Studies" who said in 1738: "Reading maketh a full man, meditation a profound man, and discourse a clear man." Unless we are like the old parson of Saddleworth who could read no book but his own, we will probably be glad of a few hints on Lenten Reading. As we make our Journey Through Lent this year we may find the CTS pamphlet with that title, by James V. Schall, S. J. a good companion on our way. Our own Lenten meditations will probably be stimulated by a thoughtful reading of Hugh Lavery's Reflections (MayhewMcC rimmon, £1.60).
ln our loneliness and search for peace in these days of crisis we could well seek and find a better way to God Hubert yan
Zeller's "Considerations", short and to the point as they are, a spur to positive thought (Sheed and Ward).
Lent is a time when we are urged to say to ourselves: "Let's start praying again" and Fr Bernard Bassett, S. J. is too well known for his readable, lighthearted approach, so I do not need to stress the value of his book of that title. It is practical and down to earth, ready to help us up to Heaven.
To seek God is a Christian duty. It is the chief point of all real religion. This search is intended to go on all through life. It is never-ending. Since we need to go on day by day trying to renew contact with our Creator, we could not do better than read Searching for God by Cardinal Hume (Hodder and Stoughton).
But as Lent reminds us, God became Man to show us his way. "God's way to be Man" is the fruit of a life-time of preaching and retreat directing by Fr Geoffrey Preston, 0.P.
When this energetic Dominican friar died, his honest, plain-spoken message from the Gospels was too good to be lost. Fr Aidan Nicholls edited it and added a memoir of the author. It offers us meditations with a sound sacramental and biblical basis. Through it the friar preacher still speaks out loud and clear (Darton, Longman and Todd, L2.40).
During the Lenten season we are aware that our Christian life is a personal commitment to Christ and a personal responsibility to live as his disciples. For this reason Letter from the Desert by Carlo Caretto (DLT £1.60) is a challenge, and Rene Voillaume's FolloW Me (DLT £2.95) is a guide.
A shorter, inexpensive pointer as to how To live in Christ Jesus is the CTS booklet of that name. It consists of pastoral reflections by the United States hierarchy on • Fr o Inge— encouragement to pray
Christian moral life. Practical and concise, it costs 30p. The CTS also provides at 15p a short instruction on _what Catholics believe about God Our Life by Bruno Brinkman, S. J.
A book very appropriate for Lenten reading is A Bread that is Broken by Peter G. van Breeman, S. J. (Redemptorist, f2.40). It is plain to see that the author writes as a man of prayer and deep insight. He conveys the Gospel Message in a clear, simple style.
His is a powerful book that calls one to conversion. It examines many Gospel themes and incidents, including the Passion and Death of Our Lord and his Resurrection. Fr van Breeman aims at bringing us to "an acceptance of acceptance", a realisation that God "loves me and accepts me as I am". To quote from the foreword by Fr Edward Farrell: "This is a dangerous book. Read with faith and openness it will compel you to follow him more totally or to go away sad."
We never reach God in the sense of catching up with Him and finding Him through the senses. We don't see or hear or touch God. Yet God is the one great reality that gives meaning to our lives. It is through prayer that we reach out to God.
So in Lent, the season of penance and prayer, our reading matter ought to help us to pray better.
Two books I strongly recommend are from Dominican Publication of Dublin, at £2 the pair. These paperback volumes are by Fr Simon Tugwell, 0. P. and are simply entitled Prayer. 1 spent many hours making notes on them as a source for my own sermons on the subject.
The same publishers were responsible for Day by Day: An Encouragement to Pray by Michael Hollings. It does just that And does it well!
"Speak Lord Your Servant is Listening" is a daily guide to Biblical prayer. By Mgr David Rosage of the United States it is obtainable from Redemptorist Publications at Alton, Hampshire. It's great benefit is that it constantly drives the reader to the Word of God in the Bible itself.
Two sets of meditative prayers on the Passion which have stood the test of time have been reissued by Sheed and Ward. One is The Stations Of The Crosse by Caryll Houselander and the other is The Way of The Cross by Hans Urs von Balthazar, which in 32 pages has both poems on the Passion of Our Lord and black and white illustrations by a young German artist.
Another new book of meditations is due from Burns and Oates before March. It is "Our Daily Bread". Its author is the leading Polish spiritual writer who is engaged on producing a biography of his great countryman, Pope John Paul II. In 365 pages Fr Malinski offers us short, profound texts for our consideration.
Still on the theme of meditation we might mention "Thoughts On The Seven Words From The Cross" by Fr Dominic Devas O.F.M. (CTS 20p).
From Mayhew-McCrimmon comes a new edition of Tony Ashcroft's well-received book Streams of Prayer. In it are 18 meditations in the form of dialogue between the individual and God.
The latest in the Hollings and Gullick series of prayer booklets from Mayhew-McCrimmon is due in Lent at £1.95 with the title As Was His Custom.
Our prayer during Lent cannot remain private. Joseph Gelineau has given us help with our public prayer as he offers through Darton, Longman and Todd at £1.85 The Liturgy Today and Tomorrow.
A series of mediations by Fr Bernard Haring, C,SS,R, is The Eucharist and Our Everyday Life from St Paul Publications at £1.75. In its 96 pages is found the author's expression of gratitude for his own ordination to the priesthood and his effort to make the Mass a more powerful experience for us all.
Fr Haring's international reputation as an author and moral theologian are sufficient recommendation.
The Passion and The Resurrection, two books by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB are also well worth reading. They are published by St Paul's Publications at 75p.
This well-known author is an authority on biblical themes. His longer composition on the Easter theme at £2 is Risen from the Dead (St Paul Publications). This serious theological work will most certainly be too deep for readers who require something simple and devotional.
Perhaps the choice I would make personally for Lenten reading this year is the newly published volume we have all been waiting for. It costs 0.50 from St Paul Publications. This is Pope John Paul II's retreat addresses given to Pope Paul VI and the Papal Household while the present Pope was Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow.
With the title Sign of Contradiction Cardinal Wojtyla's book in its English translation has a foreword by our own Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster. The retreat contains 22 talks which are given during March, 1976. They have a new value, as the full text is now published, and the author is the Holy Father himself.
A book of rare spirituality, it looks at the great themes of Christian tradition with the eyes and heart of one who is alive, alert and sensitive to the needs of the present day. Pope John Paul II invites us to consider each theme carefully and prayerfully.
His flowing style is obviously reminiscent of the spoken word used in his original speeches. The basic theme is mankind's encounter with Christ in the world today.
In the various chapters he deals with Silence, Conscience, Truth, Death, God, Mary, the Rosary, the Passion and Redemption.
In these ecumenical days we can learn from our fellowChristians. Dr Donald Coggan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, represented the Anglican Communion at the inaugural Mass of Pope John Paul II. In the paperback of very handy pocket size His Grace gives us the text of 15 radio talks in which he expounds solid Christian doctrine.
In this book we are instructed anew, and our faith is stirred to appreciate what God made us for, who God is and what the Son of God means to us; that the Church is the Body of Christ, and how important to us are love, faith, grace, peace, and life itself.
Dr Coggan speaks to us of suffering, anxiety, discipleship, guidance, prayer and the Bible. It will be of as great value to the Catholic reader as to any other Christian. I hope many will choose it for Lent.
Of course, our thoughts in this season are on our Saviour. The simple narrative by Lord Longford may please people who like a Fontana paperback of 160 pages for 75p. It will certainly do good as a devotional cornmentary on Our Lord's life.
For students who prefer solid learning as a basis for their devotion Fontana offers at £1.60 a paperback by Fr Xavier LeonDufour, S. J. The Gospels and the Jesus of History.
Sheed and Ward have brought us some helpful work including the latest (f3.50) on prayer by Ruth Burrows Before the Living God, and Karl Rahner's three meditations on Christian life and faith: Belief Today at £1.60. Spiritual Letters by Dom John Ch apman, OSB, provides food for meditation and prayer as it has done for decades past (f3.50). As with all the prices that I give, they are likely to have risen since I became aware of them.
My Changeless Friend at £1.60 is by Francis LeBuffe and has been loved and popular for many years. It is a book on Our Saviour full of spiritual comfort.
Similar is Hubert van Zeller's Letters to a Soul a collection of 55 letters to a young man offering him strength and spiritual insight (f3.75). While Open Your Hearts by Huub Oosterhuis at £1.45 contains new prayers in verse and essays on the liturgy. Then there is the book on prayer by the Franciscan friar, Diego de Estella, "Meditations on the Love of God" which, at £1.25, might be just the very thing for Lent.
In this period when Catholics make their Easter duties, what could be more appropriate than the old favourite, newly republished by Sheed and Ward at £2.75: Pardon and Peace by Fr Alfred Wilson, CP. It has been looked on by many as such a helpful book that the author was invited to give many retreats in which people might enjoy talks from this Passionist priest who had helped many to make their peace with God.
There are two books which are both full of solid teaching and which stir the reader to prayer, published by Sheed and Ward, and still in demand.
These are by Karl Adam: The Spirit of Catholicism and The Son of God, but if I were asked what was one of the best publications to come from that house I would say the new enlarged edition of Theology and Sanity by Dr Frank Sheed.
These books do need to be read in the light of the Second Vatican Council documents. How about a careful and prayerful study of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church or The Dogmatic Constititulon on the Church? It is realiably reported that the present Pope had a great part to play in the drawing up of the former and of its title with the word "pastoral".
Before ending these suggestions there is always The Imitation of Christ by Thomas it Kempis. Sheed and Ward have reissued it in paperback at £1.95. Apart from the Bible there can scarcely be any book which has given spiritual nourishment to so many people.
Last of all, it goes without saying that the best reading for Lent is the word of God in the Bible. May I suggest the Revised Standard, the Jerusalem, the Good News Bible, and through the Catholic Herald I have just received an invitation to the service of thanksgiving and dedication at St Martin-in-theFields for the New International Bible.
Although I have a very good opinion of the New Testament in this version, I cannot yet give a valid comment on the work as a whole; but I take this opportunity of wishing it well, as I urge Catholics to include Bible reading in a high place in their books for Lent.