Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lenten Books 3

In this series of posts on Lenten books, I want to highlight four books by women which have positively influenced my appreciation of the genre. The first is Gazing on Truth by Kitty Muggeridge, followed by Through Lent with Luke by Margaret Hebblethwaite, Approaching Easter: Meditations for Easter by Joyce Huggett, and The Way of the Cross: The Path to New Life by Joan Chittister. Muggeridge's collection reflects the Catholic direction of faith she and her husband Malcolm took in their latter years of life. Hebblethwaite and Huggett offer practical lessons out of their readings and reflections on particular biblical passages. The volumes by Muggeridge, Hebblethwaite and Huggett seem somewhat dated but still have their value for those with more traditional values and conservative theology. Each of these books has forty meditations, corresponding to the forty days of Lent. The book by Chittister, on the other hand, has fifteen short chapters based on the Stations of the Cross. Each book is intended to convey a sense of 'journey' as the reader is invited to journey with Jesus first to the Cross of Good Friday and then to the Empty Tomb of Easter.

The newest book of the four mentioned here is Joan Chittister's The Way of the Cross. Chittister is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Penn., and a columnist of the National Catholic Reporter. She has written on many spiritual themes and continues to write prophetically about the contemporary church. This book is no different, addressing topics like human suffering, our relationship with divine grace and opportunities for renewal along life's journey. The Way of the Cross includes full-size colour illustrations of the Stations of the Cross originally made by artist Janet McKenzie which give the meditations an extra depth and pathos. Here is a sample of Chittister's reflections taken from her meditation on the First Station where Jesus has been condemned to die in spite of his innocence:

 The first station of the cross requires us to examine our entire philosophy of life. Jesus is condemned to die because he defied the standards of both the state and the religious establishment in which he lived. To both he brought a truth they did not want to hear. He set out to witness to the love and justice of the God of all creation: Jews and non-Jews, women as well as men, underlings as well as the professional types of his time.
Surely we are called to do the same, to speak our truth with clarity, simplicity and conviction. What must rise in us in times like this is a clear commitment to what must be, to the truth that must surely come if the will of God is really to be done on earth and to our role in bringing it.
He cured on the Sabbath, mixed with foreigners, taught theology to women, played with children, questioned every law, chose people over ritual every time, and never made institutional authority a god.
He threatened the establishment with his incessant attempts to build a better world and they set out to destroy him for it.  
The question with which the first station confronts us is a stark one: What is it in life for which we are willing to be condemned? The goal in life is not to avoid condemnation. No one does. Life's great challenge is simply to decide who will condemn us and why. If we were better people, perhaps, we would be condemned more often.
Most of all, when we are condemned for the right reasons, the first station reminds us, we know we will not be there alone. Jesus will be standing beside us, full of pain for our sake, but head up and unyielding.

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