Although it may be hard to believe, Lent begins in less than three weeks, on Ash Wednesday, February 18. For many of us, Lent offers us the time to re-orient ourselves through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As we walk with Jesus in the desert, we are given gifts which may appear heavy and burdensome, as we are confronted with the weight of our own sin. That said, we are also given the gift of change and transformation, ultimately dying and rising with Christ our Lord.
Long before Lent begins, I am on the lookout for prayer resources to use during that season. This year, I have before me, three books, each one offering different gifts of prayer that you may wish to consider.
Lent with Saint Augustine (114 pp., Waldemar Turek, Liturgical Press, $16.95)
I’ll admit to flinching when I saw this one. There are so many things I love about Saint Augustine, but I am also greatly challenged by him. Add to that, the author, a Polish priest, is a Vatican official and a Latin professor. I’m not prejudiced, but I did not imagine straight away that I would like this book. My initial instinct was that it would be too heady, too preachy, or to inaccessible. God, always full of surprises, showed me how wrong I was.
Carefully using excerpts from Saint Augustine, each day of Lent presents the reader with some very rich spiritual food. Specifically, each day begins with a quotation from Augustine’s Confessions, which Fr. Turek then uses to draw the reader into a brief reflection. His writing style is easy to follow, striking (for me anyway!) a good balance between the intellectual and spiritual, as he cites the great saint and asks rhetorical questions – all in less than two pages per day. Brevity with depth seems to be a gift of Fr. Turek’s! It should also be noted that there are reflections for each Sunday, years A, B, and C, so the book will be useful for years to come, despite the liturgical cycle.
For a book that I regrettably felt a negative disposition towards, I can see Lent With Saint Augustine become part of my daily prayers. Even before Lent begins, I am already repenting, remembering that my own dour outlook towards Augustine is my own challenge. With God, Fr. Turek, and St. Augustine, perhaps I will experience the metanoia that Lent calls us to each year. This book is recommended to those who seek to expand their Lenten prayer life this year, especially if for all who are interested in going deeper.
Stations of the Cross (71 pp., Timothy Radcliffe and Martin Erspamer, Liturgical Press, $14.95)
If I was a bit negatively disposed to the first book, I can tell you that I was pretty sure that I would love this book long before I held a copy in my hands. And I can also tell you that this time my assessment was on target.
What’s not to love? This book is clearly based on the stations of the cross. If you perhaps think, been there, done that, please think again. One of the many universal symbols of our church, found in every sanctuary, whether plain or elaborate, we are faced with the stations on a regular basis. Do we even notice? And more than that, we are faced with the stations all over the place in life. Do we notice?
Timothy Radcliffe OP, is a Dominican friar from the UK; a one-time Master of the Order, he is also a popular writer and a well known presenter and speaker. His writing has an effortless feel, yet great heft in my experience; I find myself feeling like he is speaking with me as I read. That same feeling came through in this book of short meditations. Using many things for context, from Pope Francis’ words to the movie, 12 Years a Slave, Radcliffe turns the stations into something that we live, not simply think about. As someone who does not frequently participate in the stations, at Lent or otherwise, I was reminded of the power of this literally moving (in every manner) form of prayer. Adding to the beauty of this book are the illustrations by well known artist Martin Erspamer OSB, a Benedictine monk from St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.
I think that with this book in hand, I will find myself in church from time to time this Lent, seeing the stations in a new light. And with this book in hand, I will see the stations happening all around me as well. This book is highly recommended for one and all!
Not By Bread Alone – Daily Reflections for Lent (101 pp., Liturgical Press, $2.00)
Every year the newest version of this book arrives, and every year it becomes a favorite go-to volume for Lent. Small enough to put in a handbag, tote, or desk drawer, but rich in faith, Not By Bread Alone is a great Lenten companion.
Each day starts with the Scripture citations for the day along with one nugget from the Scripture, followed by a short reflection. At the end of that is a short meditation and prayer.
Short, simple, but very wise and deep, I have only one regret about this book… It is sold out. You can purchase the Large Print (still fairly small!) edition or an e-boo at the Liturgical Press website. This makes an excellent tool for daily prayer, for small faith sharing groups, groups of friends who pray together. Not By Bread Alone comes highly recommended for all.
Now go find some Lenten resources and let us pray together that we might all have a season rich in transformation – both for ourselves, and in our world.
(In full disclosure, these books were given to me gratis by Liturgical Press, solicited by my request. There is no compensation or expectation on the part of Liturgical Press for this transaction.)