Persons, places and things: The Little Black Book offers reflection for Lent


By Barb Arland-Fye

As someone enticed by attractive packaging, it seems a little strange that I look forward to purchasing “The Little Black Book” before Lent begins.

But the plain booklet, not much longer than my hand and just a quarter-inch thick, contains jewels of faith factoids, inspiring vignettes, and Scriptures that follow the Sunday Gospel from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.

One of the vignettes in this year’s edition is about the creation of McDonald’s famous fish sandwich. While it took a while to convince McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc to put franchisee Lou Groen’s fish sandwich on the menu, persistence paid off. The Little Black Book says McDonald’s now has the world’s best-selling fish sandwich.

But The Little Black Book is far more than a repository of quaint stories; it’s a convenient tool for quick, doable reflections on Scripture and an examination of my plans to put faith into action. The first entry, three days before Ash Wednesday, provides space for me to list my Lenten plans. “Talk this over with the Lord,” The Little Black Book advises. “You can keep coming back to these plans for revision.”


So I am contemplating how to make this Lent a season of growth for me. Reading some of my favorite spiritual writers’ works will be a must. I still have about 50 pages to finish in Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain,” an autobiography about the monk’s amazing conversion story.

Henri Nouwen is another of my favorite spiritual writers. I recently finished a wonderful, short book titled “The Road to Daybreak, A Spiritual Journey” that the priest wrote about the years he lived with adults with intellectual disabilities at a L’Arche community in Canada.

Another book I’d recommend during Lent is “Priestblock 25487,” which I just finished reading. Father Tom Stratman, who proofreads for The Catholic Messenger, loaned the book to me because he found it so moving. Priestblock is the biography of the late Father Jean Bernard, who barely survived imprisonment in the Dachau concentration camp from mid-May 1941 to early August 1942.

He dedicated the book “in memory of my fellow priests who died in Dachau — for we must never forget what happened there and in many similar places,” he wrote in the book’s foreword. “Forgetting would be cowardice on the part of the people in whose names all these crimes were committed.”

I can’t stop thinking about his story; whatever small sacrifices I make this Lent are incomparable to the huge sacrifice Fr. Bernard made, fortified by his Catholic faith.

In addition to reading, I hope to participate in a fast from plastic bags, an initiative of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

“If indeed we are from the earth and kin to all God’s creation, our journey to new ways of being and doing must be toward a more sustainable world,” wrote the Sisters of the Upper Mississippi Valley in invitations to individuals, churches and schools to join the fast. The Clinton Franciscans are beginning their fast with a program March 6, from 2-3 p.m. at The Canticle, their motherhouse in Clinton.

Meanwhile, the Sisters of Humility in Davenport are developing a prayer service for their members, which can be done individually, said Sister Cathleen Real, CHM. Sisters are invited to keep a journal and also to consider contributing loose change to a fund for a water well project the Sisters support in Tanzania.

The Carmelite Sisters in Eldridge strive to avoid using plastic bags individually and as a group and are attentive to environmental issues, said Sister Jeannette Doran, OCD. Now, if only I can remember to pack extra canvas bags in the back seat for last-minute trips to the grocery store.

And finally, my Lenten plans will include more thoughtful almsgiving. Instead of complaining about the myriad of requests I receive in the mail for charitable contributions, I’ll strive to respond to those organizations whose missions I truly support.

(To purchase The Little Black Book, check with your parish, or visit the website:, or call (989) 797-6653.)

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