It is now only three days until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Redemptive Seasons, Lent and Easter. It is customary for many Catholics to use a Lenten/Easter book of reflections to focus more intently on prayer and conversion. I searched Amazon, for example, for books of Lenten devotion, and approximately 13,000 titles appeared.
Needless to say, there is considerable variety among the titles, and the general rule of Catholic books applies to selecting devotionals: vetting the publisher, the author, the sources. But another question to ask is whether we overlook the obvious: does the Catholic Church have official texts for our daily reflection?
Actually, it does. The Church assigns two Scripture readings to each and every day of the Church year in accordance with the feasts and the seasons, specifically the Scripture readings assigned to the daily Mass. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops makes these readings available here on-line, including subscription service via email and in audio format. A good daily Missal contains each day’s assigned readings, such as this edition here.
The Church also provides a second source of Scripture and spiritual reflection in the Liturgy of the Hours, specifically the Office of Readings. This particular service includes an Old Testament text and a commentary by a saint or spiritual author. Here is one online source with today’s assigned outline and texts.
In selecting spiritual texts and directions, the best advice I can give is to select books or pamphlets that provide something of a challenge, yet are not so foreign as to discourage you from daily use. My own choices are generally the daily Gospel (with a commentary at times) and the Office of the Hours. I did try to read St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography over a few months in 2015 but we were not a good fit. I felt like I was reading a biography of the Bronte Sisters at times. But obviously, Therese has touched many souls. I think God has given us many saints for many temperaments.
I do subscribe to the Paulist Press series of Western Mystics; I joined out of curiosity in 1976 and continue to get two or three volumes a year. Some of you might want to take a look at the offerings there, about 155 presently, I think. With my next copy I have to build a room off the side of the house. These works are intended for those who wish to immerse themselves into the life and writings of a particular mystic, such as St. Francis de Sales of Julian of Norwich.
And finally, I included Lenten reflections from famous saints and figures, from among the better selling Amazon listings. These are older texts that have stood the test of time, usually including a modern commentary and prayer for each day of the Lenten and Easter seasons. Links are provided to readers’ reviews.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Multiple contributors)
Lent with Saint Francis: Daily Reflections (Diane Houdek)
Lent and Easter: Words from Thomas Merton (Thomas Merton)
Lent and Easter: Wisdom from Fulton J. Sheen (Fulton J. Sheen)
Lent and Easter: Wisdom from St. Benedict (Judith Sutera)
Lent and Easter: Wisdom from St. Therese of Lisieux (John Cleary)
Lent and Easter: Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton (Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis)
Lent and Easter Wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola (James Connor, SJ)
Lent and Easter Wisdom from St. Alphonsus Ligouri (Maurice Nutt)