The Glory of These Forty Days, by Fr James Tolhurst

The Glory of These Forty Days, by Fr James Tolhurst

Michael Gilchrist

An ideal book for entering into the spirit of the Lenten Season

Reflections on the Lenten Season
by Fr James Tolhurst

(Gracewing/Aid to the Church in Need, 2006, 102pp, $15.00.
Available from Freedom Publishing)

Fr James Tolhurst's latest book is a well-timed follow up to his earlier excellent Come, Lord Jesus: Reflections on the Advent and Christmas Seasons, with the shift now to Lent and Easter. It takes us day by day from Ash Wednesday to the Easter Vigil. In 2007, the Lenten season occupies much of the month of March.

As Fr Tolhurst points out, the word Lent comes from the Old English lencten, from which we get the word lengthen. It is the time when the hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere get longer.

The Glory of these Forty Days, like its predecessor, is compact but generous in its wide cross section of the Church's treasury of spiritual writings, including, of course, the Gospels, but also the works of such luminaries as St Ambrose, Thomas à Kempis, Tertullian, St Leo the Great, John Paul II, and many others.

The approach is the same as in Come, Lord Jesus, with a Gospel text, followed by a short commentary from Fr Tolhurst, and then a relevant reflection piece by one of the Church's saints, scholars and/or popes.

Jesus in the desert

In his Introduction, Fr Tolhurst writes, "Most continental countries call the season of Lent, the Forty Days, because it commemorates the time that Jesus spent in the desert. The original four-week period was lengthened to six weeks, to provide the full forty days.

"In contrast to Advent, this is a time of penance to remind us of Jesus' paschal mystery: his passion, death and glorious resurrection. Traditionally Christians devoted this time to prayer, fasting and acts of charity "to give us strength to purify our hearts, to control our desires, and so to serve you in freedom' (Preface of Lent II)."

For example, in Fr Tolhurst's latest book, the readings for the Easter Vigil include the Gospel of Mark (16:1-8) and its account of the women at the tomb who find the stone rolled back and an angel who tells them, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you'."

This is followed by a commentary from Fr Tolhurst, who quotes St Paul's "If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins". Fr Tolhurst reminds us, "We are baptised into that faith, in our baptism rising to new life in Christ."

Next is an extract from St Basil the Great's A Book on the Holy Spirit: "How are we to imitate Christ in his death? Burying ourselves with him in baptism ... The Spirit provides life- giving force and brings back our souls from the death of sin to the life they once enjoyed."

Fr Tolhurst then provides a brief pen picture of St Basil and concludes with a quote from St Bede (673-735): "Faith in the resurrection of Christ never misleads us, and hope in our own resurrection never deceives us, because God the Father both restored our Lord to life and will restore us to life too by virtue of his power."

As can be gathered from this example - one day of the forty - we are able to better appreciate the continuity of the Church's teachings over two millennia with much food for thought for each day of the Lenten Season.

My earlier remarks about Come, Lord Jesus (reviewed in the December/January AD2000) apply equally to the present book. Indeed, the two books would make excellent companions for use in upper secondary or adult education classes as well as with RCIA groups.

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