Monday, February 27, 2012

Lenten Reading, and Arrogance

One of my best friends when I was growing up was Jewish, and I recall the frantic activity in her home just before Passover.  To call it "spring cleaning" would be an understatement.  This was deep, intense cleansing.  The goal?  Eliminate every possible leavened crumb from the home before the Passover began.   Nothing could be swept under the rug.  In fact, the rugs themselves were removed for cleaning.  The end result was a home neat and tidy, and spiritually read for the celebration.

We Catholic have a holy day coming up, too, and how we prepare matters as much to us as it does to devout Jews.  This time of year, when homeschooling moms gather, and the talk turns from wine to Lent, the question always arises:  What are you reading for Lent this year?  Now, reading is not a Lenten requirement, nor a discipline, but it seems to be  common practice as we prepare spiritually for Holy Week.

Coincidentally, this video of Fr. Barron on the dumbing down of Catholics makes a good point:  If we are reading excellent books in other areas, why not excellent Catholic books?

I cannot help but recall an academically tragic event in my son's education.  Towards the end of his senior year, the students were asked to write a reflection on the religion curriculum.  My son wrote of his disappointment.  He was disappointed that an "elite" boys' high school did not require reading the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Like the student Fr. Baron mentions, these boys had hefty tomes for other subjects, but a few intellectually lightweight paperbacks for religion.  He was called to the office of the president of the high school where he was handed back his paper and told he was arrogant.  Arrogant for wanting to read the finest writings in the Catholic tradition.  Leaving aside the question of my son's natural arrogance, isn't there room in a high school religion course for some of these saints?

But if Augustine and Aquinas sound too intimidating (or merely too time-consuming for us busy homeschooling moms!), don't worry; there are other good options.  You don't need to resort to cartoon versions of sacred texts, or any of the watered down "If you are happy, God is happy" texts that fill curriculum slots in dioceses across the country.  Instead, check this out this Lent:

All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott is much like Catholicism in general:  It can be read on many different levels, and each time one looks one can find something different--an aspect of the faith one has missed before, or the reading of a prayer in such a way that it has a new meaning.  Before you click through to the Amazon page (Note subtle disclaimer here...yes, this is an Amazon Associates link), you should know that a few people have been intimidated by the very excellent reviews of the book, which are rather heavy and even off-putting.  Be not afraid!  This is a book for everyone, even the theological beginner.  It does not have to be read in order, and for Lent I would begin with Chapter 7, which is a thoughtful reflection on the Apostles' Creed, with references to corresponding biblical texts, history, and tradition.  Similar chapters on the rosary, Lord's Prayer, and Stations of the Cross follow, and are all perfect for Lenten reading--perhaps even more perfect for a Catholic reading or prayer group.

The first part of the book is decidedly deeper, but just as compelling.  Spanning creation to revelation,  these chapters reflect heavily on the cosmic order, spiritual life, Platonism, philosophy, St. John's Gospel, and symbolism.  The opening pages may be read at Amazon, and should give you a feeling for how intense the first chapters are.  Again, I think these would be wonderful readings for a discussion group.  I found myself underlining passages, and writing notes in the margins as I read.  And while reflecting deeply on the mysteries of the faith, one finds little room is left for arrogance.  In fact, it leaves one feeling a bit unleavened...and ready.

One more thing.  See the cover?  It's wonderful.  If you are not familiar with the art of Daniel Mitsui, visit his website and take a close look--the closer, the better.  Is it possible for an artist to add more "Creation" in his sacred art?  Look for seastars, squid and skulls...

Yet another thing...I am on the board of trustees of the publisher, Angelico Press, but the review is my own.  If I didn't think it worthy of a read, I wouldn't recommend it.

1 comment:

Leonie said...

Yes, why not read good Catholic books? Franky Schaeffer wrote how many Christians are addicted to mediocrity ie will read anything Christian even if it is poorly written.Fr Barron's comment reminded me of this.