If you’re still looking for a spiritual book that can serve as a devotional this Lent, here are five suggestions.
The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis
If you have not read this book yet, what are you waiting for? Even if you have, what are you waiting for? This is, put simply, the best book of Catholic spirituality ever written. It will challenge you by how radically it calls you to separation from the world, and to the interior life, in pursuit of the imitation of Christ. The only happiness is found in renunciation of world and self in pursuit of Christ. “The internal renunciation of yourself,” Thomas says, “unites you to God,” and in the end leads you to the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Catholic faith.
The Spiritual Exercises, by St. Ignatius of Loyola
This is a classic of Ignatian spirituality, composed of meditations and prayers and mental exercises. St. Ignatius originally wrote these to be carried out by first-year Jesuit novices on a 28-30 day retreat, but they can just as easily be performed by anyone and fit into your Lenten devotions. The exercises, part of the tradition of Catholic mysticism, are designed to help you discern the presence of Jesus in your life, and to discern between good and evil spirits. According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, the purpose of the book is to help people learn to choose God’s will over their own.
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich
This book was a key influence on Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. Emmerich was an Augustinian nun, stigmatist, and visionary who reportedly had the contents of the book revealed to her by Mary while Emmerich was in a religious ecstasy. They should be read with the same caution any private revelation is, but the book is a very intense portrayal of the passion of Jesus Christ.
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
This has always been my favorite book by Lewis. Written in the form of a series of letters from a senior devil to his apprentice, advising him what techniques to use (and which ones to avoid) in leading a person to Hell, the book is both amusingly funny as well as a good reminder of all the wiles that have tricked me from time to time. (And which, sometimes, still do.) I reread it often to be reminded of how I am, once again, falling a victim to Satan’s temptations. But the book is also a good story of final perseverance and redemption.
The Book of Job
Of course, the classic work about human suffering, being tested by God, our inability to fully understand His ways, is the Book of Jo. But also, and more important to some for Lent, Job presents the human perseverance and faith in God when confronted with the incomprehensible.