By Anjanette Barr
As we begin our forty-day journey toward our Savior’s resurrection, we’re called to consider the ways we can enter into this experience individually and intentionally. Many of us think of this primarily as a time of fasting, but the Church has given us guidelines for making Lent a much fuller spiritual experience:
“Lent precedes and prepares for Easter. It is a time to hear the Word of God, to convert, to prepare for and remember Baptism, to be reconciled with God and one’s neighbour, and of more frequent recourse to the “arms of Christian penance”: prayer, fasting and good works.” (Taken from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy from the Vatican.)
Each time this portion of the liturgical year comes around, I get excited about the potential fruit that will come from forty whole days of effort and dedication. Psychologists have observed individuals forming new habits (or breaking old ones) in as little as 21 days of consistent behavior modification, so forty days is at the least a great jump-start on pursuing holiness in an area where we struggle.
However, we should remember that conversion is ongoing. We have an opportunity to choose Christ, to choose repentance, and to choose holiness every day of the year, and we’ll need each day God has allotted us in this life to become saints. In other words, we’re not going to achieve, by extreme mortification or the best.Lent.ever, all of the virtues we’d like to possess. In fact, we might burn out trying.
To counteract that danger, I’ve heard it recommended to focus not only on sacrificing things, but on adding spiritual habits that will benefit us the rest of the year. It’s because of that advice that this gem from Saint Josemaria Escriva caught my eye: “Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”
“Spiritual reading” encompasses all kinds of study that teach us about and lead us to Christ and therefore provides an excellent path of preparation during this season. Spiritual reading is also adaptable to our individual interests and needs.
A person who wishes to spend time in Scripture during Lent may want to try Lectio Divina. The practice (which translates from Latin to “Divine Reading”) consists of four parts: Lectio (reading), which is reading a passage of Scripture (perhaps one of the daily Mass readings), and dwelling on the words themselves and how they initially strike you. Then Meditatio (reflecting/meditating), which is re-reading slowly with focus on the meaning of the passage and meditating on individual words or phrases. Then Oratio (responding/praying), which is considering what God may be saying to you personally through the passage and entering into a conversation with Him. Finally, Contemplatio (considering) is a time to sit in silent contemplation of the Word.
Lectio Divina is a kind of prayer entered into through spiritual reading, but it’s not the only one. St. Josemaria encourages us, “an hour of study, for the modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.”
Consider how a daily reading session might encourage you toward prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The biography of a beloved saint could provide a model of service or piety to follow the remainder of the year. You could tackle a challenging classic or encyclical, like Summa Theologica or Fides et Ratio, bit by bit over these forty days. Or maybe you’d like to increase your love and understanding of Christian poetry, like me. I’m reading through Poems Every Catholic Should Know (compiled by Joseph Pearce) this year.
I pray that your Lent and mine will be a season of transformation. As we fast from distractions and focus on the essentials of a holy life, let’s allow spiritual reading to be our friend and teacher.
Anjanette Barr is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle in Juneau, Alaska. She is a wife, mother, writer, and recent convert to the Catholic Church. Anjanette can be reached at www.anjanettebarr.com