Reflections, books and meditation on Lent
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Lent is a religious observance for 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – a time for all believers to prepare for Easter Sunday, the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the preparation is done through prayer, penance, fasting and by forgoing certain foods or giving up luxuries. Pope Francis has added a new dimension to the observance of Lent. He said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

For those who continue to lead a life of cheating, lying, plundering, stealing, oppressing the poor and underprivileged or abuse the wealth and power they possess, all the big show of fasting, praying and visiting churches will not wash away their sins. 

The 40-day Lenten season is a replication of the sacrifice of Jesus’s journey into the desert for 40 days before He started his public life. The number 40 has so much significance in the Bible. Moses spent 40 days with God on Mt. Sinai. Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mt. Hebron. God sent 40 days and nights of rain in the great floods of Noah. The Hebrew people wandered 40 years in the desert while travelling to the Promised Land. Jonah’s of judgment gave 40 days to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed. There is a traditional belief that Jesus lay in the tomb for 40 hours – from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. 

The Catholic Church is not the only Christian church that observes Lent. The other churches are the Anglican, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran and Methodist churches. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, with 250 million adherents, Easter Sunday is the most important religious event, more important than Christmas Day.

One traditional Lenten practices, aside from prayer, fasting and almsgiving was reading a daily Lenten daily devotional. This is a great practice especially when it is followed by meditation. Instead of a daily devotional, I have made it a practice to read books that have either inspired me to lead a better or help me understand and better appreciate my Catholic Faith. I am sure there many of these books available. I have a few I would recommend.

For those who want to go “back to basics,” I suggest reading the Catechism for Filipino Catholics published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. This book is Vatican approved and draws from two major sources. The first is the official teaching of the universal Church as proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated in 1992 by the Holy Father. The second is the Acts and Decrees of the 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines with its supplement National Pastoral Plan “...which together present a comprehensive view of the national culture and specific catechetical situation of the Philippine church.

It focuses on the “essentials of the Faith”. It is divided into three parts – Doctrine, moral Life, and Worship with 30 chapters. The first chapter is titled “ The Filipino Catholic; and chapter 30, the last chapter is the epilogue titled “ The Lord’s Prayer.”

For those looking for a joyful and inspirational book, I recommend HAPPINESS IN THIS LIFE: A Passionate Meditation on Earthly Existence by Pope Francis. This is a collection of homilies, speeches, and messages of the day that highlights his wisdom on finding happiness in the here and now. The 12 chapters are divided into four parts: Your Search for a Meaningful Life; You and Others in Your Relationships; A Hundredfold Reward-Plus Suffering; Those Who Pray Live Serenely. 

Here is one review of the book: “ Along the way, Pope Francis discusses the sanctity of women’s rights, talks about how love of sports can bring out our best qualities, and explains why fighting discrimination is the essence of loving thy neighbour. He shares personal stories and anecdotes from his life, provides comforting messages of hope, and discusses the ways of flawed families ca make you a better person. The core ideas of Francis’s papacy – mercy, support for marginalized people, and diplomacy – shine through.”

Books on the lives of saints are some of the best readings for the Lenten period. One should choose biographies of saints that have meaning in their lives such as the life of St. John Baptist de la Salle for Lasallians and St. Ignatius Loyola for Ateneans. One of my favorite is the book Saint Francis of Assisi by Msgr. Leon Cristiani. This was given to me as a gift 28 years ago; and, I have read it every Lenten season. I fell in love with the book when I read the author’s introduction where he narrated how he was inspired to write the book.

In his first paragraph, he wrote: “In the spring of 1903 a group of theological students at the French seminary in Rome had come as was their custom to spend the better part of their Easter vacation at Assisi. I had been ordained to the priesthood just one year at the time, and was making my first pilgrimage to the home of that great lover of poverty, St. Francis.” He then went on to tell the story of how he was inspired. His last paragraph read: “We propose to write history in a very modest way, without trying to prove any thesis...We shall offer our readers facts, authentic traditions, revered texts, and nothing more.”

Prior to writing this column, I had gathered 13 books to write about; but, space limitation prevents me from doing so. My final advice to my readers is to devote some time to reading books and meditating this Lenten season. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on March 16 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) and an Adult Series session on Creative Nonfiction on March 30 (1:30-4:30 pm) with Susan Lara at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

JESUS CHRIST LENT
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