Lent, of course, is a period of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, but for many Catholics, there’s a fourth mark — spiritual reading to deepen their experience of 40 days in the desert.
There are many classics from which the faithful can choose, from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” to Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s “The Way of the Cross.” In addition, there are many new titles that should appeal to individuals and families alike. Here is a look at nine of them.
“Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit,” by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press, $14.95)
Huston, a Benedictine oblate, has devised her book as an individual retreat, with daily readings from the Gospels and the Desert Mothers and Fathers, along with activities and meditations to help readers simplify their lives in the areas of money management, caring for the body, scheduling, living space, relationships, prayer and the mind.
“In Lent, we are invited to look deeply inside, identify what is impeding our ability to follow Christ along the path of humility, and begin applying antidotes,” she writes in her introduction. “Early Church tradition is rich in the wisdom of soul simplification and offers a multitude of spiritual disciplines to counteract the temptations that muddle our lives.”
“Rediscover Lent,” by Matthew Kelly (St. Anthony Messenger, $9.99)
Kelly is worried that Catholics don’t take their spirituality as seriously as they should. Therefore, he is inviting readers to rediscover the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality during the penitential season: confession, daily prayer, the Mass, the Bible, fasting, spiritual reading and the Rosary.
Each day includes a Scripture passage, a reflection on some aspect of Catholic faith and practice, a meditation and a prayer.
“The Sacred Heart for Lent,” by Father Thomas D. Williams (Servant, $12.99)
Father Williams, a theology professor at the Regina Apostolorum in Rome who serves as a Vatican analyst for CBS and NBC, offers daily readings and meditations that draw on the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The first Monday of Lent, for example, is a reflection on the passage “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Mt 25:35), noting “much of the traditional devotion to the Sacred Heart focused on the consoling heart of Christ, making reparation for sins” and that Catholics can use this to help those who are away from the Church to rediscover Christ’s thirst for them.
“Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving,” by Kevin Perrotta (Word Among Us, $10.95)
Perrotta examines the “spiritual disciplines” through Old and New Testament readings, and “spotlights” background information and biblical history related to the passages. The book, part of the Word Among Us “Keys to the Bible” series, also includes questions for reflection and discussion.
“Lent and Easter Wisdom from St. Alphonsus Liguori,” by Redemporist Father Maurice J. Nutt (Liguori Press, $10.99)
The book, the latest in a series pairing Scripture readings with a holy person, highlights the wisdom of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer founder and his insights into the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.
“By means of this book you are making your Lenten journey toward Easter with a saint who identified with Jesus’ passion and whose life embodied real sacrificial living in imitation of Christ the Redeemer,” the author writes in his introduction.
“Lent with the Saints” (OSV, $14.95 for a packet of 50)
This pamphlet helps Catholics imitate the saints in the areas of prayer, fasting and works of charity. In addition to well-known saints such as St. Vincent de Paul and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the pamphlet introduces readers to lesser-known holy people, such as St. Moses the Ethiopian, who overcame his voracious love of meat and wine when entering monastic life and came to see his sacrifice as essential to his spiritual development.
“Lent with the Saints: Daily Meditations,” by Father Greg Friedman (St. Anthony Messenger Press, $3.99)
This slim volume provides a daily reflection on Lenten lectionary readings, saintly connections to each reading and suggested actions and prayers for each day. Among the saints profiled are St. Clare of Assisi, St. Damien of Molokai and St. Thomas More.
“Bring Lent to Life: Activities and Reflections for Your Family,” by Kathleen M. Basi (Liguori, $5.99)
Basi sets out to help the entire family better understand the penitential season. Each week of Lent focuses on a different theme, such as prayer, repentance and reconciliation, renewal and the passion. Basi also suggests family friendly crafts, including an Easter tree that families can “grow” throughout Lent, and simple recipes, such as pretzels, fish soup and sweet potato resurrection rolls, whose hollow centers represent the empty tomb.
“Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Reflections and Activities for Families,” by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle (Ave Maria Press, $2.50)
Cooper O’Boyle, who enjoyed a long-lasting friendship with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, has written a daily guide for families on how to draw on the wisdom of the holy woman. Each day offers a quotation from Mother Teresa, a reflection for parents, a family prayer, a story from the blessed’s life, suggestions for fasting, giving alms and prayers for the day.