In Chapter 48 of The Rule of Saint Benedict, monks are instructed to read a book during Lent.
During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent.
What's good for monks is good for anyone who embraces Lent as a time for spiritual growth. And even though Lent is almost halfway over now, it's not too late to read a book that will nourish your faith and enable you to more fully embrace the rigors and blessings of this austerely beautiful season. So with that in mind, here are a few recommendations of books that you might want to explore before Palm Sunday rolls around. And if all else fails, bookmark this post and come back to it next year -- one of the advantages of Lenten reading is that it never goes out of style.
Following Christ: A Lenten Reader to Stretch Your Soul by Carmen Avecedo Butcher -- Organized around the ancient devotion of the Stations of the Cross, and featuring the wisdom of a variety of great saints and mystics, this book reminds us that Lent is not merely a time for self-denial -- it is an invitation to "stretch," or grow, in our response to the love of God.
Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey by Emilie Griffin -- This daily devotional is built around the spirituality of surrender. Surrender is not a word we often hold in high regard in our worldly culture, which is why it can be a powerful way to understand Lent. We surrender ourselves to God's grace and mercy, and in doing so we open our hearts to reconciliation and renewal.
Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston --This book, by a Benedictine oblate, considers how we move into a deeper appreciation of Lent than mere self-denial by embracing simplicity, a virtue long affirmed in the monastic world. Forget about the chocolate -- try giving up everything that clutters your life -- not just in a material way, but psychologically or spiritually as well. Open your heart and your life to the simplicity of freedom in Christ.
Lenten Reflections: from the Desert to the Resurrection by Milton Lopes -- If you want something a bit more academic, try this one. Lopes brings a scholar's mind to his reflections, beginning with historical overviews of Catholic teaching on sin, grace, and the nature of God, before taking a scriptural journey with Jesus from his sojourn in the desert to his death and resurrection. The author weaves throughout his meditations a traditional understanding of spirituality (purgation, illumination, and union) to invite the reader to interior transformation not only for Lent but for their faith life as a whole.
Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent by Richard Rohr -- One of the most popular Catholic authors alive today, Rohr combines a deep love for the traditions of this faith with an insightful understanding of the challenges and realities of contemporary life. Ideal for someone participating in Daily Mass during Lent, this book considers the scripture readings of the season through the lens of "encounter" -- especially the encounter of our need with God's mercy.
A Joyful Heart: Meditations for Lent by Martin Thornton -- Lent doesn't just belong to Catholics, and this slim volume of meditations by a Church of England priest should speak to almost any reader, Catholic, Anglican or Protestant. Thornton's writing is charming and earthy, and he's not above using some startling and funny stories to drive home his point that Lent is as down-to-earth as it is holy.
Lent with Evelyn Underhill -- Another Anglican writer, Underhill is one of the leading voices calling for a "practical mysticism" in the lives of ordinary Christians. This daily devotional not only makes for meaningful Lenten reading, it's also an introduction to one of the most underrated of Christian writers of the past century.
So find a book, and read it. Don't race through it, but savor it as a devotional exercise. Lent is not a time for completing a "religious merit badge", it's an invitation to grow deeper in the love of God. Enjoy the journey.