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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How to deepen your relationship with Christ this Lenten season

Prayer can be a great consolation to us. It is often the means of God’s grace to strengthen, encourage, and guide us. It is also hard work and requires a strong commitment to persevere. This doesn’t mean that it should be a straining exercise. Still, when we choose to pray we are thereby rejecting other things that might be pleasurable to us. For instance, I know one very busy business man who, though he is a “night person” by disposition, gets up at 3:30 AM every morning to pray. He is driven by a deep passion to know and live his life for Christ. Still, he doesn’t enjoy the challenges related to getting up this early.

St. John of the cross is often criticized for his negative emphasis on denying self. However, this is a matter of perspective. The man I am speaking of does deny his own desire to sleep more, to sometimes have more energy and acuity during the day. But, as he denies himself he is also choosing something very good. Because of the graces God has provided in response, he experiences a great deal of joy and peace in the midst of challenging physical and work related circumstances. His wife would also give testimony to the significant changes that have come in his life because of his commitment to Christ and Christ’s generous response.

What I am getting at here is to propose an initiation or a deepening of your daily prayer life for lent (and beyond). This will involve sacrifice, but it will also bring great graces. If you are up for the challenge our readers have already weighed in on the best resources for this in their responses to our post Tattered Titles. I would like to highlight two of those resources:

The first is Fr. John Bartunek’s The Better Part – A Christ Centered Resource for Personal Prayer. This really is an exceptional work. If you have yet to develop a substantive prayer life, this is the place to start. If you are stuck, his insights and daily meditations will help you past these challenges. This particular approach to prayer will deepen your love for and relationship with Christ and help you to make significant strides in your spiritual life. For a sample of the daily units check out the Wednesday posts on this site.

The second is, Divine Intimacy – Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. This work provides profound insights into the life of God that can greatly deepen our understanding of our Lord and the life we live under His wings. While Fr. John’s book focuses on an encounter with Christ in the Gospels, Fr. Gabriel provides regular insights into the spiritual life based on the insights of great spiritual masters of the Carmelite tradition.

If you wanted to double up in your efforts to dig deeper in lent, use The Better Part to deepen your morning prayer, and Divine Intimacy to fulfill a new or existing commitment of daily spiritual reading and reflection. Both of these books are a bit on the costly side. However, you can also see this as a sacrifice (Fr. John’s book would cost you about the same as 10 visits to Starbucks, and Fr. Gabriel’s about 15).

Both of these works provide for daily insights, perspective, and conversation with Christ – which is the goal of all authentic meditation and spiritual reading. Christ has great treasures waiting for you this Lenten season. Why not give up some time and treasure, and give more to God? It will and should be a challenge but you won’t regret the decision.

PS: For those of you who are fans of these works, it would be great to hear from you about how they have helped you in your spiritual growth. Oh, one more thing – please share this post on Facebook and Twitter so you can bless your friends with this idea – particularly those of you who already know the great treasures that lie in store for those who take up the challenge!

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Catholic Spiritual Direction, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Patburton

    I did purchase “THe Better Part” . I read this each morning after Mass to meditate and reflect on the Gospel reading and have found this book most inspiring on my faith journey ,wonderful resource  for personal prayer amd meditation.  

  • Avila Power

    Thanks for the wonderful advice. I have posted it to my Face Book so lets hope many others take up the challenge.

  • Francesco

    Hi,
    thank you for this inspirating post. I have found “Divine Intimacy” in Italian. Do you know if “The batter part” is available in other languages  (Italian) besides english? Thank you

  • Mary@42

    Wonderful advice, Dan, as usual.  Sadly since I do not have any of the two Books recommended here, I live and pray the Lenten Season through the Divine Office and daily reading of a portion of JPII’s 1980 Encyclical “Rich in Mercy”. The other “must reads” are the  Biography of Saint Faustina Kowaslka and “The Diary” to enrich and strengthen my Eucharistic Apostolate of the Divine Mercy Devotion.  For daily Meditation, the Catholic Insight Daily Meditations are superb for me along with “My Daily Bread”….readings which an old Granny can relate to pretty well

  • Sandy

    Dan, I agree that both of these books are excellent choices to help a person grow spiritually and will be great resources for Lent.  I have both used The Better Part in the past and then passed the book on by donating it to a Catholic seminary in hopes that seminarians will use it in their formation.  I purchased Divine Intimacy for Christmas and plan to use it as a part of my Lenten spiritual food.  I just finished “A Retreat for Lay People” by Ronald Knox and found it filled with spiritual food and would highly recommend it to all of your readers.  

  • Clare Northern

    while Clare disciplines her Pleasure for Prayer and Spiritual Life, she didn’t realize she also had to discipline her Pain. Once realized she began to Fast and began her journey with Contemplation.

    So simple is My Lord for daughter,
    Discipline your pleasure for Me, and do not forget to discipline your pain.
    Clare

  • Anonymous

    It is only available in English and Spanish (Mexico Spanish).

  • Eve Cook

    I also am a big fan of The Better Part!  I recommend picking a “theme” from Index I and just following along in that theme for your daily meditation.  Also, don’t forget that The Better Part is also available as an App for smart phones!

  • eding of the southwest

    I’m a newcomer to your website . Thank you for having this, for it is a  tremendous help  with my spiritual journey. I like to share my story with you all.  Having an affliction made me turn to God who have given me so much comfort & strength and especially peace. Psalm 119  (67-77) seems so appropriate  for those who have afflictions. Getting up early to go to church for mass three times a week  is quite a challenge. Last year in the Adoration Chapel on Ash Wednesday I said to the Lord to please tell me what He wants me to do for I have the usual lenten sacrifices that I offer Him & that I’m out of ideas. As I was reading my bible I heard this voice loud & clear, “Receive me everyday.” Never in my wildest dream to have that kind of experience. I looked at the Blessed Sacrament & tears just started pouring down my cheeks but no sound came out from my mouth for fear of distracting other people in the chapel. Since then I have been going to church everyday to attend mass & receiving the Eucharist, yes, it is still a hugh challenge getting up early especially in the winter when it is cold & dark, but with that kind of invitation ,who can resist. It is the least I can do to please Him who have done so much for me & for all of us. By the way, before my affliction, I was pro choice & advocate of Dr. Kavorkian. God in His mercy & love, our God of second chances, has to guide me back to Him by giving me this affliction of which I am grateful, for now I know He is the only way, the real truth & the only life. Thank you for your patience reading this.
    May we all have a  fruitful lenten season.

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  • Claire

    I downloaded Surrender, Fr. Larry Richards’ new book, to my Kindle and have just finished it.  It’s challenging, encouraging, and down to earth.  I highly recommend it for beginners and even for those who are more advanced but still struggle to know and do God’s will.

  • Woodyjones

    Dan, you have recommended the two best books for prayer/spiritual reading ever, in my view. I like your idea for their use this Lent and have resolved to follow it.

    I also thought you, and Fr. John, might be interested to know that (Anglican) Bishop David Moyer, who is now shepherding the Blessed John Henry Newman Fellowship into the new Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter is obviously reading and profiting from The Better Part as he quotes rather frequently from it in his sermons and messages, the most recent one (on the occasion of a roadblock in their journey) being here:

    .http://blessedjohnhenrynewmanfellowship.org/FBJHN_-_Message_120128.html

    They are good people who, having been ejected from their Episcopal parish of Good Shepherd in Rosemont, PA, are meeting in borrowed space and keeping up the good fight, I gather, in somewhat difficuklt circumstances. It would be a good thing to visit them and give encouragement.

    • Dan Burke

      Thanks Woody – I appreciate the confirmation. Regarding the Anglican Bishop – fascinating. Do you know him?

  • poetcomic1

    You speak of praying at night.  I find as I get older, I invariably have to (eh-hem) get up around 4 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep for an hour.  I found myself lying there worrying, chattering to myself etc.  One night I had the bright idea of offering up that worthless discomfort.  I lie in bed and say three decades of the Rosary and offer it to those who are also lying awake in my big sleeping city tonight.  The grief stricken who have lost a spouse or child, those who are dying, those who are full of shame and remorse, but above all, those who feel utterly abandoned by both man and God. Many a time I’ve fallen asleep in the middle and awake in the bright dawn, rosary in hand.  I meditate on one image as I pray, all these different kinds of suffering people huddled under the mantle of our Mother with me.

  • Colleen

    Fr. John Bartunek’s book is awesome.  I write about it often including most recently when I had to pick my favorite 3 spiritual books:  
    http://inadequatedisciple.blogspot.com/2012/02/current-favorite-3-religious-books.html