Column: I hope we’re on the same page

by Father Mark Goldasich

I suppose that I should give the archdiocesan attorney a call before trying this, but it sure sounds like a great idea to me.

Mystery readers are no doubt familiar with Rex Stout, the creator of the orchid-growing detective Nero Wolfe. Stout recalled that he was surrounded by books from an early age. His father had a huge personal library and his mother, Lucetta, was “constantly engrossed in one book or another.”

This was a remarkable feat for his mother, since she had nine children. How did she find time to read? According to Stout, “her reading was rarely interrupted — thanks to a simple expedient. She kept a bowl of cold water and a washcloth beside her chair: Any child who dared to disturb her would have his or her face thoroughly washed.” (Found in “The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes,” edited by Clifton Fadiman (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985; 751 pgs.).)

Readers of the world, take note: Get those bowls and washcloths ready.

As we start February, we celebrate Catholic Press Month and an early beginning to the season of Lent. Along with the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I propose adding one more to the mix — reading.

Sadly, for some people reading might make the perfect Lenten discipline because it’s a painful activity for them. That’s not the reason I suggest adding it to Lent! Reading, particularly of Catholic publications, can open up whole new worlds for people. It can make them more literate in their faith, introduce them to new ways to pray, inspire them by the stories of the saints, highlight the many ways the faith is being lived out in the world today, and perhaps motivate them to discover ever more creative ways to make the faith meaningful and attractive.

I suspect that many might choose not to read simply because they don’t know how. Although they have the ability to read, they don’t have the skill. Most of us were taught to read in grade school and it’s likely that our learning how to read stopped there. People tend to read everything in exactly the same way — whether it’s e-mail, the Bible, the newspaper, a prayer book, a novel, a summons for jury duty, the church bulletin, a computer manual, or assembly instructions for a new posses- sion. That’s probably why reading turns into a tiresome chore. The solution to reading better is to read smarter. In short, different types of material demand different reading methods.

One of the books I’m rereading now is “10 Days to Faster Reading” by Abby Marks Beale. In a nutshell, the author helps people “make a conscious decision regarding what to read carefully, what to skim and what to disregard.” Smarter reading can transform the time spent with the written word into a pleasure.

As a Lenten goal, I suggest devoting 15 minutes a day to spiritual reading. Ideally, this should be time when you can concentrate, so seek to eliminate as many distractions as you can. And, yes, if the bathroom in your home is the only sanctuary you can find, it’s perfectly fine to read holy things there.

Given the almost countless choices available to readers, where should a person start? I always prefer simplicity, so why not begin with The Leaven? My neighbor below me on this page, Father Mike Stubbs, does a great job each week in unpacking the meaning in the Sunday Gospel. Start by reading the Scripture passage on your own. It’s cited right at the top of Father Mike’s article. Read slowly; pay attention to the words. Reflect on what you’ve read, noting any questions or ideas that might occur to you. Finally, read Father Mike’s article.

An activity like the one above should take about 15 minutes. Not only would this be an excellent way to pray, it can make hearing the Gospel and the homily at Mass even more meaningful. Or you might want to use your 15 minutes to explore the Web sites mentioned in the article on page 16 about Lenten prayer. Or educate yourself on how “being green” is a concrete way to live out our Catholic faith by reading this week’s center spread on pages 8 and 9.

Make a timer your best friend this Lent. If you can’t stand reading (or if you have a tendency, like me, to lose all sense of time when you’re reading), set a timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, you’re done . . . or you can choose to read for another 15.

If you’re looking for good things to read, stop and ask your parish priest, visit a Catholic bookstore and browse, or send me an e-mail with some idea of what topic(s) you’re interested in, and I’ll send some suggestions.

Make this Catholic Press Month — and this Lent — a memorable one. Remember: All it takes is some spiritual reading material, 15 minutes of your time . . . and occasionally a bowl of cold water and a washcloth.

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