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How I spent my Lent

Well, most of it, anyway.  And besides being far busier than I should have been to get out of Lent what I could have.  But we can beat up on me later.

Just before Ash Wednesday I received a box in the mail from my dear old Irish Catholic grandmother.  As I opened the box the smell that wafted up let me know whatever was inside had been in her house for a long time – there’s just something about the smell of her house I’ll never quite forget.  Inside I found three books and was suddenly struck by a realization both sobering and uplifting.  Her eyesight has been getting worse as she’s gotten older, and her high blood pressure certainly hasn’t helped.  The last time we were together she lamented how difficult it has become for her to read which was painful for her as she has always loved to read spiritual works and particularly the Bible.    While I have no proof I can’t help but be haunted by the thought that she is sending me, as her only family member who is an actively practicing Catholic, bits and pieces of a library she can no longer read.  My previous plans for Lenten reading mattered no more – I had to read whatever it was she sent, and I’m glad I did.

Among the books she sent me was A.G. Sertillanges’ classic What Jesus Saw from the Cross.  The book follows Jesus from multiple points of view – centered on, as one would guess, what He could see upon the Cross, and dives deeply into the events that happened in the places He could and couldn’t see.  Fr. Sertillanges spent time in Jerusalem and his first-hand contact with the Holy Land is evidenced throughout the book.  With an artistic flourish I could only hope some day to imitate in the slightest way he paints the events of those fateful days in the reader’s mind.

More than a historical treatise this is a spiritual work that helps unite the reader with the happenings of those days.  Yet even calling it a spiritual work doesn’t fully encompass what is inside.  It is by turns historical, spiritual, apologetic, and theological – and perhaps a few other things I haven’t quite categorized.  Even though the book is now more than sixty years old so very much of his commentary is still not only relevant but timely.  An example for your edification:

Jesus is not mocked today; but is He not generally forgotten?  Compassion is rare, still rarer is active devotion.  And when we say that Jesus is no longer mocked we are thinking only of His person, to which Jesus Himself attaches far less importance than to His work and to our salvation.

How many insults are hurled at the doctrines, the practices, the ministers, the precepts, the promises, the words, the deeds, the institutions, and the persons connected with the name and work of Jesus crucified!  Here, too, there are those who mock and wag their heads; here, too, are drinkers of win – the wine of sophistry and licentiousness – who sing after Jesus as He passes.

The Passover of mankind still continues.  Men pitch their tents and move on; men drink and dance; men worry and become absorbed in business; men form attachments and break them; men love and hate – and Christ hangs on the Cross.  His sorrow meets only with contempt, and His appeal, His offer of salvation, arouses nothing but a vague and distracted smile.

Lent may now be all but over, but there is never a bad time to read a book so moving, challenging and educational.  Buy two and give one to someone else much like my dear grandmother has done for me.

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