Lenten Lit


My sister wrote a beautiful piece yesterday about learning to embrace a different “style” of Lent with little ones. You should read it, but the gist is: when you have a lot of external demands (as you do with motherhood), Lent shouldn’t be about beating yourself up for all of the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Instead, learn to offer up the daily things as means of sanctification and carefully choose which Lenten activities you can reasonably do. She mentions reading “Come, Be My Light” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I am always striving to read something theological/spiritual anyway, but during Lent I try to grab something that directs me specifically to Holy Week. I thought I’d leave a little list here of suggested Lenten reading and I hope you’ll leave me some suggestions in the comments!

“The Living Wood” by Louis de Wohl
De Wohl shows up quite frequently on my reading list– I don’t know how he managed to elude me until my mid-twenties. This particular tale of his recounts the story of Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. “The Living Wood” refers to the tradition that St. Helena was the finder of the True Cross, but the story is about so much more than that. How do we face adversity in life? Where is Christ when we need him? How can even our most selfish intentions be brought to serve the Almighty? A quick, engrossing read, 370 pages.

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son” by Jon D. Levenson
This text by one of the foremost Hebrew Bible Scholars in the world explores the Jewish contributions to the Christian narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Levenson is a devout Jew, with a special gift and penchant for Jewish/Christian relations. His text is thick, rich, challenging and ripe with passages for contemplation. Recommended for those with a strong Biblical studies background, 232 pages.

“The Everlasting Man” by GK Chesterton
How does Christ stand completely apart from every other religious figure, even when He appears to be so similar to many of them? What is the relationship of historical man and this God-man we call Jesus Christ? Chesterton’s gift for rhetoric and a happy turn of phrase are on prominent display in this text. But don’t be fooled by his fast-paced style– this text needs digestion, so be prepared to read and re-read passages as you ruminate, 276 pages.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis
You are never too old to revisit such an enchanting, heart-softening allegory. If you’d like a text that leads you to contemplation of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is none better than a text which asks you to do this through the innocence of childhood. Revisit Aslan and the stone table before Good Friday. Which character do you most identify with this time? 224 pages

“The Way of a Pilgrim”
I wrote not that long ago of viewing Lent as a pilgrimage: This Russian Orthodox classic is perfect for this time of year because of its call for and instruction in deep, interior prayer. Though written as a travelogue, the Way actually takes the reader on pilgrimage with its anonymous author, through the devotion of constant meditation on the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’). Join this monk as he seeks to “pray without ceasing”– can we follow in his footsteps? 208 pages

“Salvifici Doloris” Apostolic Letter, Pope St. John Paul II
‘Theodicy’ is the big word we theological-types use to describe the universal intellectual struggle we humans have in trying to understand good and evil. This text faces the specific problem of “suffering” in the Divine Plan: how can God allow people to suffer evil? Why did God choose to suffer for our deliverance? How do I find meaning in my own suffering and what must I do in the face of my neighbor’s suffering? A must-read for every Christian, but especially poignant as we approach Holy Week. Free on the Vatican archives, or 64 pages in print.

“Little Talks With God” the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena
I’ve written about this text before and my preference for the new translation over the old. If you’d like a totally different genre, then this is it. My sister Dominican (and a third order at that!) and Doctor of the Church, Catherine, dictated these dialogues while in an ecstatic state, conversing with God about penance, obedience, sin and retribution and all sorts of other things besides. If you’d like a text which weaves together mystical experience, the Bible and the teachings of the Church, this one is for you. I also notice with much chagrin that this is the only text I have here by a woman. I must remedy that in subsequent lists, 188 pages.

You may notice that all of the purchasing links direct you to Better World Books. Of course you can purchase them through Amazon, but this business is near and dear to my heart, as it was founded by fellow Domers. Through collecting donations of used books and selling them online, Better World Books is able to fund literacy initiatives all around the world. Finally– a charity that allows me to give the gift of reading to others AND myself! Happy reading and blessed Lenten journey.

What are your suggestions for Lenten Literature?

Please let me know so I can add them to my personal queue!






Lent as Pilgrimage


Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter

                                                                                     —- Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message 2006

Onward, fellow pilgrims! Let’s TO EASTER!

As part of my Lenten preparation, I’ve decided to reconnect with a text that I only read portions of during my time in undergrad. It’s called “Egeria’s Travels,” or “The Pilgrimage of Egeria” and it’s a first-hand account of a fourth-century Spanish woman, presumably a nun, who travels throughout the Holy Land.

The text of “Egeria’s Travels” has quite an interesting history, as do all ancient manuscripts that survive today. It seems that at one point, her text was fairly well-known, especially in Medieval Spain, since a 7th century monk gives reference to it in a letter. We know that a copy was held at Monte Cassino in the 12th century, because Peter the Deacon used it as a major primary source for his book on “The Holy Places,” though he does not quote her text directly. Unfortunately, however, we find no reference to her text after this. It was not until 1884 that the text was rediscovered in the Codex Aretinus, an 11th century document also composed at Monte Cassino, but housed in a library at the Brotherhood of St. Mary’s in Arezzo, Italy. Yet the text was not copied completely:  the Codex only contains about 1/3 of Egeria’s original text (the middle part). Why only that section was preserved is unknown, since we can reconstruct from Peter’s text many parts of her travels that are not accounted for in the Codex. Where did Peter’s copy go? Are there any other copies yet to be found? This is why we all still need good librarians.

The travelogue itself is a fascinating peek into the mind and life of a fourth century Christian woman. We know very little about Egeria herself (what her background was, how she came to read and write), but we come to know a bit of her personality as we read about all the holy places she visits and all the holy men and women she encounters. She’s very grateful to her guides, familiar with Biblical texts, inquisitive and supremely trusting. Egeria seems to possess an incredible amount of stamina and remarks occasionally about older people who cannot join her on certain excursions. She also has a keen ear for liturgical phrases and takes very seriously her responsibility to guard the Christian mysteries (the sacraments) from any hostile person who might intercept her messages en route back to Spain.

Perhaps most striking for the reader are her accounts of her participation in specific Jerusalem liturgies which eventually spread to all of the Western Church (e.g. the celebration of Palm Sunday before Easter, the veneration of the cross on Good Friday). These celebrations were strange and new to her, so for a 21st century Catholic who has participated in them every year since birth, her accounts give a fresh new look at what has become rote for most of us. Yet in the midst of novelty, the reader experiences a deep sense of connectedness with the ancient Church. Through Egeria’s words and experiences, we in turn experience a profound sense that while many things have changed in our liturgy, many things have been preserved.

I am hoping that walking with Egeria through her pilgrimage in Jerusalem will enable me to contemplate my own pilgrimage to Easter through these next 40 days. I hope to learn not only the facts of her travels, but also to learn to approach these liturgies with open eyes and a renewed sense of wonder at not only the “historical Christ,” but the active Living Christ, who watches over all of us through the Life of the Church. A Church which is a family of people, interconnected for better or for worse, traveling together to the Bridegroom.

So if I’ve managed to pique your interest in my new (old) friend, Egeria, I suggest finding a copy of her travels (I’m currently reading Wilkinson’s 1999 critical edition) or even clicking the link above to go to a free online translation. I’m sure she’ll have something unique and special just for you to meditate on as you continue your journey.