All right then, now that I have vented, some reading. And perhaps the reading will make more sense having read the venting and knowing that these writers have a common reference point: the Scripture readings for Quinguasesima Sunday, which are 1 Corinthians 13 on love and Jesus’ speaking of his coming passion and healing of a blind man.
Of course, you can check out this post for some links to readings I dug up last year.
Here, as per usual, is an excerpt from my favorite vintage Catholic text book, published in 1947 for 7th graders:
Then this, from a book of meditations tied to the Sunday Scripture readings, published in 1904. It’s called The Inner Life of the Soul, and it really is quite a nice book. Not all older spiritual writing is helpful to us – the writing can be florid or dense in other ways, it can reflect concerns that perhaps we don’t share. This isn’t like this, and the reason, I think, is that the chapters were originally published as columns in a periodical called Sacred Heart Review. The author is one S.L. Emery, and contemporary reviews of the book indicate that many readers assumed that the author was male, but a bit more research shows that this is not true. Susan L. Emery was, obviously a woman, and is cited in other contemporary journals for her work in translating Therese of Liseux’s poetry.
Anyway, Emery’s reflections, which tie together Scripture readings, the liturgy, the lives and wisdom of the saints and the concerns of ordinary experience, are worth bookmarking and returning to, and, if I might suggest to any publishers out there…reprinting.
What I think is important to see from this short reading, as well as the Ash Wednesday reflection that follows, is how mistaken our assumptions and stereotypes of the “bad old days” before Vatican II are. Tempted to characterize the spirituality of these years as nothing but cold-hearted rigidity distant from the complexities of human life, we might be surprised at the tone of these passages. The call to penance is strong. The guidelines are certainly stricter and more serious than what is suggested today. But take an honest look – it is not about the law at the expense of the spirit or the heart. Intention is at the core, and there are always qualifications and suggestions for those who cannot or are not required to follow the strictest reading of the guidelines: those who are young, old, or sick, or, if you notice, the laborer who must keep his or her strength up.
The season of Lent is at hand; in three days Ash Wednesday will be here; our Mother the Church calls upon us to fast, and pray, and to do penance for our sins. Each one who cannot fast should ask for some practical and methodical work of piety to do instead ; and perhaps few better could be found than ten minutes' serious medi- tation, every day, upon the Passion of our Lord. This practice can be varied in many ways, some of them being so simple that a child might learn them ; and God alone knows of what immense value to us this practice, faith- fully continued through one Lent, would be. Let us con- sider, then, by His assisting grace, that most helpful spiritual devotion called meditation.
In our day the necessity is really extreme of keeping the minds of Christians filled and permeated with an abid- ing sense of the love and care of Almighty God for each individual soul. The ceaseless hurry and worry prevalent amongst us, to become rich, to be counted intellectual, to know or to have as much as our neighbor, tends to destroy that overruling sense of spiritual things which would give ballast and leisure to our souls. Then, when earthly props fail us, and loiieliness, sickness, or great trouble of any kind confronts us, the utter shallowness of our ordinary pursuits opens out in its desert waste before us, and our aching eyes see nothing to fill the void. The ambition dies out of life. If we have means, people begin to talk of change of scene and climate for tired souls who know but too well that they cannot run away from the terrible burden, self ; though their constant craving is, nevertheless, to escape somehow from their “ waste life and unavailing days.” The unfortunate, introspective and emotional reading of our era fosters the depression, and suicide has become a horribly common thing. Even a Christian mind becomes tainted with this pre- vailing evil of despondency, which needs to be most forc- ibly and promptly met. Two weapons are at hand, — the old and never to be discarded ones of the love of God and the love of our neighbor. ... ....
Oh, if in our dark, dark days we could only forget our- selves ! God, Who knows our trials, knows well how almost impossible to us that forgetfulness sometimes seems ; perhaps He ordains that it literally is impossible for a while, and that it shall be our hardest cross just then. But at least, as much as we can, let us forget ourselves in Him and in our suffering brothers; and He will remember us.
I did a search for “Quinquagesima” on Archive.org and came up with lots of Anglican results, but here’s a bit of an interesting Catholic offering – an 1882 pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Westminster to his Archdiocese. The first couple of pages deal specifically with Lent, and the rest with Catholic education, which is interesting enough. But for today, I’ll focus on the Quinquagesima part. He begins by lamenting a decline in faith – pointing out the collapse of Christian culture. And then turns to Lent:
We are once more upon the threshold of this sacred time. Let us use it well. It may be our last Lent, our last time of preparation and purification before we stand in the light of the Great White Throne. Let us, therefore, not ask how much liberty may we indulge without positive sin, but how much liberty we may offer to Him who gave Himself for us. " All things to me are lawful, but all things edify not ; " and surely in Lent it is well to forego many lawful things which belong to times of joy, not to times of penance. The Indult of the Holy See has so tempered the rule of fasting that only the aged, or feeble, or laborious, are unable to observe it. If fasting be too severe for any, they may be dis- pensed by those who have authority. But, if dispensed, they are . bound so to use their liberty as to keep in mind the reason and the measure of their dispensation. A dispensation does not exempt us from the penitential season of Lent. They who use a dispensation beyond its motives and its measures, lose all merit of abstinence, temperance, and self-chastisement. If you cannot fast, at least abstain. If you cannot abstain, use your dispensation as sparingly as can be, and only as your need re- quires. If in fasting and abstinence you cannot keep Lent, keep it by prayer, and Sacraments, and alms, and spiritual mortifications. Chastise the faults of temper, resentment, ani- mosity, vanity, self-love, and pride, which, in some degree and in divers ways, beset and bias if they do not reign in all our hearts. In these forty days let the world, its works and ways, be shut out as far as can be from your homes and hearts. Go out of the world into the desert with our Divine Redeemer. Fast with Him, at least from doing your own will ; from the care and indulgence of self which naturally besets us. Examine th^ habits of your life, your prayers, your confessions, your communions, your amusements, your friendships, the books you read, the money you spend upon yourselves, the alms you give to the poor, the offerings you have laid upon the Altar, and the efforts you have made for the salvation of souls. Make a review of the year that is past ; cast up the reckoning of these things ; resolve for the year to come on some onward effort, and begin without delay. To-day is set apart for a test of your charity and love of souls. We may call it the commemoration of our poor children, and the day of intercession for the orphans and the destitute.
Finally…do you want to be correct? Well, here you go.