How to Observe Lent: Read a Heretic

By David Mills Published on March 1, 2017

Okay, maybe not a heretic. But someone your grandparents or great-grandparents would have considered a heretic. Someone, that is, on the other side of what used to be a great wide deep canyon between True Christianity and Wrong Christianity.

Not so long ago, Catholic kids were forbidden to set foot in a Protestant church. Some had been told they committed a mortal sin just going inside one. Protestant kids were told to keep out of Catholic churches the way they’d have been told to keep out of temples of Baal, were there any in the neighborhood. The idea of praying with each other? No, absolutely not, those people are wrong.

Things Have Changed

Things have changed a lot. That canyon’s not so big anymore. It’s more like a stream — a big stream, but a stream. We have enterprises like (as it happens to be called) The Stream, run by an Evangelical evangelist of Southern Baptist extraction and a Catholic academic, who are very good friends first and colleagues second. The editors include convinced Catholics and convinced Evangelicals. Everyone works together happily for a common end. So far no one has been beheaded on the office lawn.


J. I. Packer, Knowing God
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
George Herbert, The Temple
John Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits
John Piper, Desiring God
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

And that’s true of the whole wide movement The Stream represents. The Southern Baptists and the Presbyterians support the Little Sisters of the Poor when the state tries to bully them. The Catholics support the Evangelical bakers, printers and artists when the state tries to bully them. We sign the same statements, share our thinkers, speak at each others’ meetings, cheer each others’ heroes, even worship in each others’ churches.

Some of this new friendship comes from finding ourselves together under fire. The same state that wants to bully Catholic nuns wants to bully Evangelical bakers. People realize that if the same guy hates them both, maybe they’ve got a lot more in common than they thought.

Some of it — most of it, I think — comes from real friendship. Divided Christians see that the other guys really do love Jesus too. Each may think the other guys believe way too much or way too little, but they know they’re brothers and sisters in Christ. Basically: Everyone agrees that any friend of Jesus’s is a friend of mine. That tangle at the Reformation? It still matters, sure, but we’re working on it.


St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon
The Story of a Soul, the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, Spiritual Combat and A Treatise On Peace of Soul
John-Pierre de Cassade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
Romano Guardini, The Art of Praying

But still, there’s that stream. It’s too wide and deep to cross, and the water’s moving too fast anyway. It keeps us far apart. A few people will swim across in both directions, but most people will stay where they are. Because why would they move? People on both sides think their side nicer than the other side, and fair enough.

A Suggestion for Lent

So, friends on both sides of the stream, what about Lent? Lent starts today, Ash Wednesday, and ends at sunset on Holy Thursday. Traditionally, Christians up their game during Lent. They pray more, read more Scripture, go to church more, give more to others. They also practice self-denial by giving up something they like.

Here’s my suggestion for Lent. It’s one way of upping your game. Even better, it’s a way of understanding more deeply your brothers and sisters on the other side of the stream from you. That’s worth a little extra Lenten effort.

Find a good devotional book from the other side of the stream, something you wouldn’t normally read. Pick something meaty, something that points you to God. Avoid anything too eccentric. (I suggest Protestants avoid the Marian stuff.) Read it slowly and carefully, a few pages a day.

This is the really important part: Try to get inside the head of the writer, to see how he sees the world, what he thinks about it, how he feels about it. Try to suss out what he loves, especially how he loves God. Don’t react to his errors but try to see why he went wrong.

Your brother in Christ is trying to love and serve the Lord. He’s not an idiot and he’s not rebelling. He may be as wrong as he can be, but he’s trying to live faithfully. You’ll know him better and be able to talk with him more effectively if you figure out what’s he thinks he’s doing. Sympathize, not criticize, in other words.

What to Learn

What should you read? I’ve put some suggestions from a poll of my Facebook friends, Protestant and Catholic, in the boxes above. They’re not complete or comprehensive — just starters or pointers. Please add your suggestions in the comments section.

You may learn something you didn’t expect from the reading. You’ll certainly learn something about your brothers and sisters in Christ, and that knowledge God will use. As the psalmist says, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. We might add understanding.


For David Mills’ other articles on Lent and Easter, see But Jesus Said No Ashes, explaining why the ashes don’t violate Jesus’s command we not disfigure our faces; Remember That Thou Art Dust, explaining the Ash Wednesday service; And Now a Word in Favor of Negativity, discussing how we find hope in repentance; and Easter’s Saving Pessimism. His books include Discovering Mary. Follow him at @DavidMillsWrtng.

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