Ever since my aunt gave me my first diary—a little pink book with a heart-shaped lock— I’ve loved daily readings.
So when I was given Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day,I was enthralled. I’ve always found Benedict’s writing, even on the most erudite of topics, to be readily accessible and easy to understand. Combining his thoughts with my love of daily readings was a perfect match.
This format is a natural for the season of Lent, when so many of us are looking for thoughtful, inspirational reading. Compiler Jeanne Kun has chosen well for this collection, which begins with Ash Wednesday, moves through Holy Week and Easter, and ends with Divine Mercy Sunday.
Meditations are drawn from Pope Benedict’s talks—often those given on the exact day of the season—and are complemented with some of his other writings and reflections.
I’m sure that going through the book day by day during Lent would allow the pope’s wisdom to be fully appreciated. But since it wasn’t yet Lent when I got my copy, I opened it at random. The first sentence I read caught my heart: “The world is improved by starting with oneself, changing, with God’s grace, everything in one’s life that is not going well.” As I read those words in the meditation for the first Monday in Lent, it really did feel like Pope Benedict had addressed them directly to me.
Choosing Between Two Goods. The overarching theme of that meditation is on temptation—specifically, on how Jesus overcame the three temptations that the devil put before him. Benedict says: “If we carry God’s word in our minds and hearts, if it enters our lives, if we trust in God, we can reject every kind of deception by the tempter.”
Just before reading that selection, I had had a hard lesson in learning that the devil doesn’t always try to get us to choose something bad over something good: More often he lures us with a choice between something good that isn’t in God’s will for us and something good that is in God’s will.
We can all come up with our own examples. In my case, my mother is in hospice. As I write this, she isn’t on the brink of death, but in a slow decline—a situation that could last for months. Certainly, it is a good thing for me to spend as much time as I can with her. My temptation, though, was to try to spend virtually all my time at her bedside. Attempting to do this only compromised my own health and resulted in other things “not going well” in my life.
After reading Benedict’s words and seeking advice from a wise spiritual counselor, I realized that a bedside vigil isn’t what God wants from me right now. Being with my mother constantly will only result in what the tempter desires: I will overextend so much now that when the time does come for the final watch, I will be too exhausted physically and mentally to give her what she will need.
God Wants Our Happiness! Pope Benedict goes on to say that “Jesus puts the only authentic criterion—obedience, conformity to God’s will, which is the foundation of our existence—before human criteria.” This means that we must “listen to God’s voice in order to overcome the temptations of the evil one and to find the truth of our existence.” Benedict’s words are a wake-up call to pay attention—not to what we have decided we should do, but to what God really wants us to do.
But don’t we all wonder, at times, what does God really want? A bit later in the book, I came across this insightful answer:
In Lent each one of us is asked by God to mark a turning point in our life, thinking and living in accordance with the gospel, correcting some aspect of our way of praying, acting, or working and of our relations with others. Jesus makes this appeal to us, not with a severity that is an end in itself, but precisely because he is concerned for our good, our happiness, and our salvation.
If you’re like me, you all too often get so wrapped up in sacrifice as to forget that sacrifice and suffering aren’t ends in themselves. They are merely the means by which God wants to help shape and form us. Being reminded that God wants our happiness encourages me to set aside duty now and then to experience moments of joy as well.
Easter Every Day. The answer was reinforced when I read Pope Benedict’s prayer for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent: “Let us take the Lord’s hand and pray to him to grant that we may truly live, live the abundance of life, and thus also be able to communicate true life to our contemporaries—life in abundance.” Isn’t that what we all truly long for? Not merely material possessions, but the abundance that is “in communion with true life, with infinite love.”
I don’t know about you, but along with the things that are “not going well,” I also want to experience the abundance of life. Benedict’s words remind me that the two are not mutually exclusive, and that even in the Lenten seasons of our lives, we can still experience a daily Easter.
I will be returning to this book when Lent begins, this time using it as intended—a daily reading during the season of renewal and repentance. Nevertheless, as my experience shows, you don’t have to be in the Lenten season to appreciate the value of the Holy Father’s insights and teaching.
Incidentally, when I first received my copy of Lent with Pope Benedict XVI, it came as a digital file to my computer. As I opened it, not all the words were visible, and the title appeared as “Lent with Ben”—rather too familiar for a book of meditations by the pope! After I had spent several hours reading and reflecting on the pope’s insights and letting their wisdom sink in, I decided that maybe “Lent with Ben” might not have been entirely out of line. I did feel like I had spent time with a wise and compassionate friend. If you read the book, I suspect you will feel that way, too.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker has written for many Catholic publications. Her books include Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice (Ave Maria Press) and Asking God for the Gifts He Wants to Give You (The Word Among Us Press).
Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day, compiled by Jeanne Kun (softcover, 144 pp.), is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 or online at www.wau.org. If you’d like to read an excerpt, please visit our Web site.