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 

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 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.


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