persons, places and things: The Little Black Book


By Barb Arland-Fye

We’ve been studying the Synoptic Gospels  — Matthew, Luke and Mark —  in the graduate class I’m taking with deacon candidates and their spouses. So it’s a happy coincidence that  this year’s “Little Black Book Six-Minute Meditations ” for Lenten reflection focuses on the Passion of Jesus, as told by Mark.

I’ve been using the “Little Black Book” ever since my parish’s Altar & Rosary Society began offering it for sale several years ago. Who can’t squeeze in six minutes a day to reflect on a passage from Scripture and learn interesting information about the Catholic Church and its traditions? And each slim, pocket-sized book costs just $2.

The late Bishop Ken Untener of the Saginaw, Mich., Diocese, created the “Little Black Book” — using the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina — to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord, according to the Little Books Web site ( The little book’s popularity led to Bishop Untener creating other little books focusing on Advent, Easter and stewardship. He died in 2004, but his life and faith continue to be the driving force of these books, the editors say.

Even though Lent doesn’t begin until Feb. 17, with Ash Wednesday, the editors advise readers to open the “Little Black Book” several days ahead of time to plan strategy for active engagement in Lent.


Before I sketch my Lenten plans on a blank page in the beginning of the book, I’m supposed to stop, look and listen: stop my activity for a few minutes, take a look at my life and listen to the Spirit within.

Then I’ll be able to tailor my observance of Lent to my particular needs. The editors say I should start by asking God what to stop or start. At that point, I can jot down ways to implement the three traditional Lenten practices in my life: fasting, praying and almsgiving.

Waiting until the last minute to decide how I will observe Lent has led to some empty experiences in past years. Sometimes I’ve taken on too many activities for Lent, leaving no time for reflection or appreciation of the season.

One of the most meaningful Lents I’ve experienced  was when our parish offered Mass and soup supper, conducted each week at a different parishioner’s home. The sense of community was awesome. 

Another meaningful experience was participating in eucharistic adoration at Christ the King Chapel on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. I was working for the secular press and didn’t share my Lenten plan with anyone. I’d take off during my lunch hour and sit quietly in the chapel reflecting on the writings of Father Henri Nouwen. No matter how pressed for time I felt arriving at the chapel, a sense of peace enveloped me while I read and meditated.

Pope Benedict XVI has recommended that we read Scripture on a regular basis; maybe Lent’s the time to start. My class work provides ample opportunity to put that suggestion into practice!

During the Lenten season, The Catholic Messenger will be sharing what other people in the Davenport Diocese are doing for Lent as well.  Hopefully others’ ideas will offer some inspiration for this year or in the future.

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