Letters to a Soul (Templegate, 1976, 122 pp.)
From Letter 24:
A family is starving in the desert and the mother dies. The baby is crying out for its mother's milk. The father can explain that there is no milk to be had but the baby goes on crying for milk. The father may give the baby a tin of petrol to drink or a flask of brandy, but this won't help because if there is no milk the baby will die. All of us are thirsty for love. We are not going to be saved by petrol or brandy because what we need is milk. People can tell us until they are black in the face that all we want is liquid of some sort, liquid of any sort, and we won't be thirsty any more. Up to a point they are right: momentarily the thirst is met. But unless the thirst is met with the liquid which it is meant to have it will be worse off than it was before, worse off than if there were nothing at all. To make the story even more depressing I might add that for the father to tell the baby that its thirst was purely imaginary, that it mustn't make such a fuss, that what it really needed was a good sleep would only complicate the matter. The baby, quite rightly, would go on crying. Now sit down for five minutes and think of what the world does to meet the need for love. No wonder we all cry too much.
And from Letter 34:
[ ... ] you ask about Lent. Today being Ash Wednesday, and the mails being what they are, you will not get what follows until halfway through the penitential season. Lent has been so played down by the church -- unfortunately as I think -- that one has to invent all sorts of substituting horrors of one's own. The mistake is to think that the list of things 'given up for Lent' is the important part. Any fool can be hungry. And there are other good reasons apart from Lent to give up smoking and drinking. My advice would be to look to the positive rather than to the negative aspect of Lent: more prayer, more reading, the stations of the cross, the rosary said slowly ... rather than putting a ban on television or newspapers. This may strike you as very old-fashioned but this year I am taking the 'seven words from the cross' and seeing how they can be worked into both my own life and the contemporary scene. Look them up: three of our Lord's last recorded sayings are about others and four are about himself. [ ... ]
Personally I always find it easier to make suggestions about prayer than about penance. Penance can be taken up in a spirit which has little or nothing to do with love, and unless penance is prayerful as well as penitential -- that is to say orientated towards Christ's passion and not merely punitive -- I doubt if our Lent can mean much. That's why I recommend the consideration of our Lord's words from the cross. All seven of them are about love.
Additional selections from the writings of Fr van Zeller.