If you’re looking for some powerful Lenten reading, I’d like to recommend a book that Bob Imbelli and I discovered when we were teaching together at the major seminary in the archdiocese of New York. I regard it as one of the modern classics of Christian spirituality. It’s Asking the Fathers by Aelred Squires (I think it’s now out of print, but used copies are available at abebooks.com and at Amazon.com). It’s an attempt to draw on the riches of the “royal road” of Christian life in the Spirit that began in particular with the desert Fathers. Through the book, Squire says in the first chapter, he wishes to initiate a dialogue between the teaching of the spiritual masters in our tradition and people who, like Matthew Arnold “find themselves wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born, with nowhere yet to rest their head.” The paragraph that follows will give some sense of the sort of book it is, anything but a dish of spiritual saccharine::
“But it must from the outset be insisted that there are certain conditions apart from which such a dialogue cannot genuinely and fruitfully occur, and the first of these may strike the modern reader as unusual. He will be accustomed to supposing that one can read what one likes and how one pleases, and from one point of view this is true. Yet–as we shall find more than one of them saying–this principle cannot be applied to the teachings of the Christian spiritual masters. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself is reported in the Gospels to have said: ‘My teaching is not my own; it comes from him who sent me. Anyone who is willing to do his will will know whether this teaching comes from God, or whether I am speaking only on my own authority.’ In other words, it is the man who lives a certain kind of life who is in a position to understand this doctrine. There are some kinds of knowledge to which experience is the only key. Teaching of this kind rests upon foundations which, it is seldom safe to suppose, are any longer properly understood and appreciated. Out God, says the letter to the He brews, is a consuming fire, and if this is so, those who approach him presumptuously may expect to be burned. Yet those who are disillusioned with what their Christian faith has so far offered them, and those who are accustomed to feeling lost in any case, may take the rough, but honest comfort that, if they are prepared to pay the price for it, the true doctrine of the great teachers will never shut them up within a world that is safely bounded by notions that are easy to master in any odd, spare moment. These teachings define the frontiers of the unknown, and they do not pretend anything else. The security they offer–which is the only one there is to be had–is that of always being ready to pass beyond what one imagined one understood. They ask nothing less than a total renunciation, of a kind with which it will be necessary to become acquainted, and teach a way of life at which one cannot merely play. To say this is to say that one can only prepare oneself to listen to their teachings by being ready to change one’s state of mind. One must be willing to learn–to devote one’s best attention to different things from those which formerly occupied it. In this enterprise, it is no small thing to be able to begin form where one actually is. There is, indeed, nowhere else to begin” (pp. 3-4).
Other suggestions for Lenten reading?