Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Julie and Scott have never been asked to solve a crime of this magnitude.

They usually solve crimes of the "who ate the last donut" variety. Are they up to the challenge? Gone Baby Gone is the subject of Episode 126.

Mardi Gras Prayer

It is good for me to have this reminder in prayer, which I have posted for the last few years. We tend to think of the feasting of Mardi Gras as being totally opposite to the fasting of Lent. But they don't have to be. If we turn our eyes toward God the entire time, feasting and fasting can be seen as sides of the same coin.

In these or similar words, we can pray in the spirit of this day.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for it is from your goodness that we have this day
to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.

Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat.
Today we feast.
We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us.
We thank you especially for one another.
As we give you thanks,
we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do.
As we share these wonderful gifts together,
we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those
who need our support.

Prepare us for tomorrow.
Tasting the fullness of what we have today,
let us experience some hunger tomorrow.
May our fasting make us more alert
and may it heighten our consciousness
so that we might be ready to hear your Word
and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude
so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us
a place for deeper desires
and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor.
May our self-denial turn our hearts to you
and give us a new freedom for
generous service to others.

We ask you these graces
with our hearts full of delight
and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead.
We ask them with confidence
in the name of Jesus the Lord.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Big List of Lenten Movies

Tweaked from last year. I'm never as interested in "Jesus" movies as I am in mainstream films with food for thought about sin, reparation, and redemption.

These movies run the gamut so if you haven't heard of them be sure to check reviews for ratings. There are some excellent ones that use bad language and violence to make their point. For that matter, The Passion of the Christ was not for wimps. Just as Jesus' real story wasn't.

Links go to my reviews. A number of these have been discussed by Scott Danielson and me on our A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Those links follow the descriptions.

  • The Intouchables ... Wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs an assistant to help him with all the functions of daily life. He hires immigrant, ex-con Driss because the regular applicants are missing one important quality and the lives of both men are changed. Sounds predictable. Isn't.

  • The Overnighters ... This documentary focuses on Pastor Jay Reinke's ministry to homeless men who have flocked to the North Dakota oil fields for work. His ministry, the congregation's reaction, and the town's response lead us into challenging, thought provoking waters.

  • Gone Baby Gone ... A private investigator and his partner agree to search for a kidnapped girl because he has connections to the locals that the police do not. This can be tough to watch but you won't find a stronger examination of free will, the difference choices make in our lives, and personal responsibility in the face of evil. [Good Story episode 126 on this will post soon]

  • Stranger Than Fiction ... I'm continually amazed at how well this story is told and what a wallop it packs. Redemptive and life affirming. [Good Story episode 8]

  • Of Gods and Men ...  a group of Trappist monks in Algeria must choose between the practical choice to abandon their monastery when extremist Muslims terrorize the area ... or following spiritual calling even when there doesn't seem to be any reason to do so.  [Good Story episode 58]

  • Les Miserables (2012) ... as Scott Danielson said, "This film makes me want to be a better person. Could there be higher praise for a movie? [Good Story episode 117]
  • Lars and the Real Girl ... this sweet film shows unconditional love and complete acceptance, in the family, in the town, and in the most unusual love triangle you can imagine. [Good Story episode 27]

  • About a Boy ... Suffice it to say it shows the difference between living completely for one's own selfish purposes and the joy and fulfillment that come from living for others. [Good Story episode 12]

  • Babette's Feast ... huge underlying message about God's unexpected and overflowing generosity and Jesus' complete self-sacrifice ... all wrapped up in a woman who gives all her lottery winnings to cook a perfect meal for a village.

  • In Bruges ... for me, this is the perfect Lenten movie. Redemption, sacrifice, humanity in it's worst and best are all mingled and shown here. [Good Story episode 29]

  • Gran Torino ... hiding behind the racist talk and anger is a big, big message that has Lent all over it.

  • Henry Poole is Here ... do you believe in miracles? The sort that have Jesus' face appearing in the stucco on the back of your house? This one's for those who do and those who don't.
  • Mary & Max ... a rich story for those who are not afraid to explore the heights and depths that imperfection humanity bring to our lives and the lives of those we touch. [Good Story episode 43]

  • Calvary - Not for the faint-of-heart. But simply astounding. A real masterpiece that provides food for thought for everyone from Catholics to atheists. [Good Story episode 101]

  • Pan's Labyrinth ...  as Joi reminded me in years past, "the imagery is amazing, the language beautiful, and the story mythic, AND it honors self-sacrifice as the truest expression of love. [It shows] the road to virtue is not easy, and it's about doing what's right, even if you don't always know why, and even when it hurts.  [Good Story episode 70]
  • Looper - An interesting time travel concept that avoided going expected directions. It is about much bigger themes than one would think and the way those are connected leave one with much food for thought, especially appropriate for Lent.

  • Groundhog Day - A classic that delves much more deeply than one would expect into what it takes to really die to oneself and come alive. [Good Story episode 14]

  • Inception - perhaps the perfect heist movie doubling as a thriller, as well as being a wonderful look at truth and love. [Good Story episode 16]

Today is Merry Monday!

The day before Shrove Tuesday and the onset of Lent. This day, spent in dissipation, was said to leave everything with a bluish tinge through inebriation.

Prepping for Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

How do you know it’s Lent?

It’s not so much by the ash mark on your forehead or fish marks on the calendar. Tradition tells us that Lent has three distinguishing marks: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

This three-part series will examine those practices. Prayer is surely the best place to begin, because it’s the one that unites them all. Fasting and almsgiving are themselves just forms of prayer.
Mike Aquilina
No one explains Catholicism more understandably than Mike Aquilina. So it's only natural that I turn every year to his wonderful pieces about the basics of Lent:

If you ever wondered why we have to fast, how giving to the poor is prayer, or how to better incorporate prayer into your Lenten life, then this series is for you.

It will help you get in the mindset to let God in deeper and to have a more meaningful Lent.

Worth a Thousand Words: Carnival Keepsake

1892 Mardi Gras Invitation
via Letterology

Do yourself a favor and click through to see some of the simply sumptuous invitations from the Golden Age of Mardi Gras. This one began life folded in pumpkin shape. Go see!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Just In: A New Book to Consider for Lent

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter

Editors: Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe
Reflections by Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, James Schaap, Luci Shaw, Beth Bevis, and Lauren F. Winner. By delving deeply into the Christian tradition they reveal what one theologian has called the “bright sadness” of Lent—that it is not about becoming lost in feelings of brokenness, but about cleansing the palate so that we can taste life more fully. Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life—for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter remind us that even in death there can be found resurrection.
Like its companion volume which focuses on Advent and Christmas (highlighted here), God For Us was originally published in 2007. It is aimed at Christians who don't have a tradition of the liturgical year. For those who already do, you may skip a lot of the introductory material and just go straight to the reflections. The samples I read look very good.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lenten Reading: The Big List of Fiction

This is a huge list to be sure. But it has some of the most thought provoking books I know which can both entertain and inspire. It ranges from science fiction to mystery to Uncle Tom's Cabin. I ran this last year, but have tweaked it.

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.
I've been jaded by the plethora of recent apocalyptic novels but this one is different. Perhaps the highest tribute I can give this novel is that when I finished I didn't want to read another book. To do so would sully what I'd just read before I'd finished thinking about it, as well as be unfair to anything that followed because it wouldn't be able to compare.

My full review is here. We also discussed this book in Episode 110 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Or, since Lent is only 40 days, at least the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. I was was blown away by how much the audio experience added to my understanding of the richness and depth of the story. Admittedly, it was also greatly helped by The Tolkien Professor's class sessions on this book. You will be hard put to find a better primer on sacrifice, redemption, and many other key lessons for Christian life. I think this may be the best book ever written. And you could do worse than to read The Hobbit for starters.

Joseph R's review is the best I've read if you'd like a more complete look at the novel.

Scott and I were joined by Seth Wilson in a two-part discussion of this novel at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast: part 1, part 2.

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The "Others" live among us, an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Night Watch is three stories, each is told by former file clerk Anton, a Light Other who is now getting field experience in keeping the treaty between the Light and the Dark.

The way the three stories all look at Light and Dark, treaties and compromises, and even what it means to be unyielding on one side or the other ... is all not only a good story but food for thought about our own lives. My full review is here. A Good Story discussion is at episode 57.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A bedraggled, galley ship survivor, despite his best efforts to the contrary, finds himself in the middle of royal intrigue. If that weren't enough, he is also pulled into the the affairs of the divine as a result and this complicates his life as one might imagine. This is a land of various gods and strong, dark magic. It is, however, also a land where free will matters in the outcome of events.

Will Duquette calls this "theological science fiction" and I agree. The way that free will is intertwined with what the gods desire, as well as what is "right," is fascinating and a good way to examine our own motives the next time we turn away from what God may be asking of us. My full review is here.

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell
Of course, I'm still pushing this book. It is rare, to find a book about the zombie apocalypse that addresses the larger themes that one finds in science fiction apocalyptic literature. The Reapers Are the Angels is just such a rarity. Author Alden Bell looks beyond the popular appeal of zombies to the depths of the human soul. The column I wrote for last Lent about this book is at Patheos.

This was the book that inspired Scott Danielson and me to stop talking about a podcast and finally record an episode. Episode 1 at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry is an incredible Christ-figure as I discovered when I reread the series recently. Of course, this only works for those who have read the series before.

For more depth and as accompanying materials, readers may want to listen to Episode 26 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast where Scott Danielson and I discuss the book and the entire series from a Catholic point of view.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. That's the official description but it doesn't begin to cover the richly woven tapestry Godden weaves with nuanced personalities, mysteries to solve so that the order may continue, Philippa's internal struggles, and much more.

Again, Joseph R. has a wonderful review of the book.  Episode 97 at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden
Another Godden book about a completely different order of nuns. This is an inspiring tale of conversion and redemption told in flashback sequence. We meet Lise when she is being released from prison where she has served her term for murder. She is going to join an order that ministers to those on the fringes of society.

Through Lise's thoughts, we watch her go from being a young WWII staffer in Paris, become seduced by a man who has a brothel and eventually turns her into a prostitute where later on she becomes the manager. The reasons behind the murder become clear as the threads come together again in the people around Lise in current time. My full review is here.

The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
These books seem an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to me. Lewis's imagination is vivid and fascinating. His tendency to have characters speechify leans to the nonfiction side. Taken as a meditative read, they would be very good for Lent, I'd think.

Out of the Silent Planet: Dr. Ransom is kidnapped by two men who take him to Mars as a sacrifice to the natives. Ransom learns of their plot and escapes only to find, as the blurb says, a planet enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity." Lewis was fantastically inventive about what the planet and living beings were like. I didn't know he had it in him.

Perelandra: This book is so different from Out of the Silent Planet and yet we see C.S. Lewis's vivid and inspiring imagination just as clearly. I am simply blown away by his vision of creation on Venus. For me at one point, close to the end, I kept thinking that these are almost glimpses of the sort of creativity and inspiration that we will see in Heaven. Amazing insights as to battling evil, the dance of God's creation and plan, and our part in it.

That Hideous Strength: I couldn't read it fast enough. Consequently this was a 24-hour book for me. It is a testament to Lewis's imagination and writing skill as to how different all three of the books are in this trilogy, while simultaneously all carrying out the same basic theme. No wonder J.R.R. Tolkien loved them. This book left me striving to be a better person, to be truer to myself, as did the other two. Not many other books really leave one feeling that way.

Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
This historical fiction tells of Andrea Orsini, who is one of Cesare Borgia's most trusted political manipulators during the Italian Renaissance. This is a swashbuckler that simultaneously shows Andrea's transition of a human heart from greed to love, selfishness to sacrifice, and power grubbing to nobility.

Discussed in episode 13 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simenson
Major Pettigrew is living a quiet life in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary when the news that his brother has suddenly died comes and sends him into a (very quiet) tailspin. It sparks a sudden friendship with Mrs. Ali who has also lost her husband. Both are struggling quietly with relatives who selfishly want to force them to behave differently.

This is a brilliantly told tale in which no character is perfect but also no character is without a nuanced personality, which means no one is all bad either. It's a gentle tale of love, second chances, and self realization.

Eifelheim by Michael J. Flynn
Imagine that in the 14th century a little village in the depths of the Black Forest has an alien space ship crash nearby. The aliens look like giant grasshoppers. Naturally, many of the local peasants think they are demons. Others, however, especially the village priest who was educated in Paris, take into consideration what makes a creature "a man." In other words, what constitutes a soul and therefore makes it incumbent upon us to treat aliens as we would wish to be treated? Flynn does an excellent job of recreating the 14th century mindset so this is not simply a story told with modern sensibilities in a long ago setting.

Discussed in episode 7 of A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
A real page-turner which many think they know because the cultural references are so embedded in our society. However, if you haven't read this book then you don't know it at all. First and foremost, Uncle Tom actually is a Christ-figure, a living saint. No wonder he is misunderstood by so many.

Stowe does a good job showing many different attitudes toward slavery and how people excused themselves under the flimsiest of excuses. What is unexpected is how well she examines the varying levels of Christianity proclaimed and threaded solidly throughout the story.

I read this aloud on my Forgotten Classics podcast with commentary. Yes, that's how much I love it.

Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen
A writer who lives a quiet life walks into her living room one day to find Mary (yes, the Blessed Virgin) standing in her living room with a suitcase. She needs a vacation to rest up before May begins with all the celebrations devoted to Mary. They talk, clean, and shop but it is never boring and is an engaging combination of the history of key Marian apparitions and a personal journey of faith for the writer who tells the story.

I think of this as a story of what Mary does in "ordinary time."

Worth a Thousand Words: Red Chairs

Taken by Brian at the blue hour

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: A Moment of Repose

A Moment of Repose (1890). Wladyslaw Czachórski.
Via Books and Art

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre

The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for ChristThe Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
About ten years ago, while waiting at the Pittsburgh Airport, I met a young biblical scholar named Dr. Brant Pitre. We were both heading to the same biblical conference so we rode together, and in the car we had a lively discussion about biblical interpretation, especially the reliability of the Gospels.

Dr. Pitre shared how annoyed he was by the oft-used comparison between the transmission of the story of Jesus and the “Telephone game” where little children whisper a story to one another, around a group, until the end result is completely garbled and nothing like the original story.

I turned around to Dr. Pitre (I was in the front seat and he in the back) and said, “Yes! Someone needs to write a book dedicated to refuting that stupid comparison.”
Brant Pitre went ahead and wrote it himself. And a darned good book it is.

I've never been subjected to that particular comparison. The one that drives me absolutely nuts is that Jesus didn't ever say he was God.
As we will see, the evidence in the Gospels suggests that Jesus did in fact claim to be God. He did so, however, in a very Jewish way. ... I cannot stress enough: just because Jesus did not go around Galilee shouting, "I am God!" does not mean that he didn't claim to be divine.
Thank you!

There is a lot of confusion out there about Jesus and you've probably come across various claims that "prove" Jesus was not God. These range from the idea the Gospels were anonymous, the existence of "lost" Gospels, the Gospels are folklore instead of biographies, a lack of evidence for the Resurrection, and more.

Just as he did in another of his books that I really liked, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Pitre painstakingly builds his defense of Jesus. For each skeptical claim, there is a meticulous evidence trail examining Jesus, historical evidence, Jewish understanding, 1st century cultural context, and why we can trust what we've been told. This might sound drawn out or difficult, but I found it flowed easily and was easy to understand.

I myself especially appreciated that Pitre never lets us forget the inherently Jewish nature of Jesus' teachings and his listeners' understanding. The parallels he points out, often in very clear charts, can be stunningly revealing.

Here's a fairly lengthy excerpt from the chapter about the crucifixion. It illustrates how carefully the examples are drawn. Speaking about the temple of Jesus' body, Pitre quotes Josephus who says the number of lambs sacrificed during Passover was 256,500, and then tells us:
According to ancient Jewish tradition, before the Temple was destroyed in AS 70, the blood of the sacrifices used to be poured into a drain that flowed down the altar of sacrifice to merge with a spring of water that flowed out from the side of the mountain on which the Temple was built:
At the south-western corner [of the Altar] there were two holes like two narrow nostrils by which the blood that was poured over the western base and the southern base used to run down and mingle in the water-channel and flow out into the brook Kidron. (Mishnah Middoth 3:2)
So at the time Jesus lived, if you were approaching the Temple during the feast of Passover from the vantage point of the Kidron Valley, what might you have seen? A stream of blood and water, flowing out of the side of the Temple Mount.

Once you've got this first-century Jewish context in mind, all of a sudden John's emphasis on the blood and water flowing out of the side of Jesus makes sense. This seemingly small detail about his death actually reveals something deeply significant about who Jesus really is. He is not just the messianic son of God; he is the true Temple. In other words, Jesus is the dwelling place of God on earth. For that's what the Temple was to a first-century Jew. As Jesus himself says elsewhere: "He who swears by the Temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it" (Matthew 23:21).
Woah! If that doesn't give you a thrill of discovery, what will?

Definitely highly recommended.

NOTE: I had both a print galley, which was nicely designed, and the audio version, which was as well read as any material like this can be. I can recommend either or both, depending on your preference.

Good Listening: The Count of Monte Cristo at CraftLit

The Count of Monte Cristo is beginning at CraftLit!

I'm an enthusiastic fan of Heather Ordover at CraftLit. Most of you know that since I mention her fairly regularly.

For newcomers, CraftLit is the podcast for people who want to listen to a classic book while they are doing something else (so that's right in my wheelhouse).

Heather, though, takes it one step further. She has insightful commentary on the authors and their work. Yep, you heard me — she does annotation. And then she includes the book audio so you get the whole package in one place.

CraftLit is where I learned to love Frankenstein. It's where I actually finally read Tristan and Isolde (notice I didn't say "learned to love" ... but I'm not sorry I took the journey).

And Heather has a lively group of listeners who often contribute fascinating insights and information. It's a wonderful back and forth which is really engaging. It's like the best class you can imagine.

Anyway, back to where I began, the introduction to The Count of Monte Cristo is posted. There is not only background on Dumas, but a bit of French history.

I've read the book but always meant to revisit it in audio. It looks like the time has come! What better to help me face the fact that I've only got one Dickens novel left to read, and that a half-finished one?

Alexander Dumas ... and Heather ... rescue me!

(iTunes link, CraftLit website)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: El Pueblo Poster Sketch

Sketch of poster for the newspaper El Pueblo (c.1894). Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida
Via Books and Art

Well Said: God intrudes

Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin's womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked "No Entrance" and left through a door marked "No Exit."
Peter Larson
I keep forgetting how utterly impossible Jesus' life was. By human standards, anyway.

Lenten Reading: The Big List of Nonfiction

Last year I read The Lord by Romano Guardini during Lent and it was transformative. This year I don't have a big book like that in my sights. I do, however, have four small books I might cycle through:
  • Approaching Easter by Jane Williams - art and reflection
  • Between Midnight and Dawn by Sara Arthur - daily devotional for Lent and Easter
  • Seven Last Words by James Martin - meditations
  • The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis - Q&A between a reporter and the pope
If you're still trying to figure out what to read, here's a big list of spiritual books I have found rewarding.

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas
7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

The stories of seven men who lived their lives in ways we can admire. Or women, depending on which book you read. Each contains short biographies of a diverse group of people that pack in a lot of information . Each story turns on the fact that they surrendered themselves to God and sacrificed themselves in some way for the greater good.

The men range from George Washington to Jackie Robinson to Chuck Colson. Women range from Joan of Arc to Rosa Parks to Mother Teresa. Plus some in each group that you probably haven't heard of.

Metaxas isn't heavy handed but he doesn't shy away from occasionally raising points that encourage the reader to look deeper within his (or her) own heart. I found each very inspirational. My review of 7 Men is here.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin
I just reread this for my book club and was impressed all over again.

Martin's goal is to help us consider our answer to Christ's question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

This means we must consider what it means to be "fully human and fully divine." Martin does a very good job of presenting a lot of contextual information for understanding Jesus' life and ministry through this lens. As we travel through the gospels, so to speak, he intertwines the various stops (recruiting the disciples, healing demoniacs, etc.) with his own pilgrimage to Israel.

He then stops to place everything in the context of our own lives and is extremely generous in sharing his own life changing experiences, whether flattering or not. I especially appreciate Martin's openness in sharing the spiritual experiences he had, most notably that in the Church of the Resurrection.

My review here. Scott Danielson and I discussed this on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, episode 83.

The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion and Media by Marshall McLuhan
It's by "the medium is the message" Marshall McLuhan who happened to be a devout Catholic convert. McLuhan wrote these pieces 40 years ago and was obviously prescient about the burgeoning electronic age. What he's saying could not ring truer. McLuhan also writes clearly and directly about the Catholic Church being "not an intellectual institution. It's a superhuman institution."

Mind you, I'm not saying that I grasped all of it or that I fully understood the things I DID grasp. So it is good as a reality check also. I ain't as smart as I thought I was. Definitely a book that can be read and reread with great profit.

The Last Monk of Tibhirine by Freddy Derwahl
This is the story of the Cirstercian monk Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last surviving member of a monastic community which was kidnapped and killed in Algeria in 1996. This is the community whose story was told in the movie Of Gods and Men.

This book lends itself to reflection about our own faith and how we respect that of others while remaining true to our own. A wonderful, meditative work.

My review here.

A Song For Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn
The biography of Takashi Nagai, a young Catholic Japanese doctor who lived through the bombing of Nagasaki and became an inspiration for spiritual healing for his people. Paul Glynn combines vivid descriptions, character insights, and just enough Japanese history so that we have context.

As a result I wound up admiring the Japanese people even more than I did already. I never realized how many of the Japanese ideals combine with saintly living, especially as seen through Takashi Nagai's eventful life.

My review here.

The Bells of Nagasaki by Takashi Nagai
Among the wounded on the day they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki was a young doctor who, though sick himself cared for the sick and dying. Written when he too lay dying of leukemia, The Bells of Nagasaki is the account of his experience.

It is deeply moving story of faith under extraordinary conditions.

My review is here.

The Smile of a Ragpicker by Fr. Paul Glynn
Satoko Kitahara came from a wealthy home and encountered the Catholic faith when she wandered into a church one day and saw a statue of Mary. As a convert, she lived her faith so completely that she remains a well known heroine for Japanese of all religious persuasions. Striving to follow Christ fully she wound up becoming the "Mary of Ants Town," living with with the destitute in a shanty town in a public park where subsistence living came from ragpicking. One might call Satoko Kitahara the "Mother Teresa" of Tokyo to get an idea of the depth of her Christian example.

On a personal level I cannot stress enough the effect this gentle saintly girl's story continues to have on me. I won't go into details here but her honesty in her spiritual journey, her complete faith and dedication, and her love of Mary affected me deeply. In fact, an example of her selflessness came to mind just the other day and strengthened me greatly in a particular circumstance. My review is here.

Art and Prayer by Timothy Verdon
There is an “art of prayer,” when faith and prayer become creative responses by which creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator relate to him with help of the imagination. ... Richly illustrated, Monsignor Verdon explains that images work in believers as tools that teach them how to turn to God.

Over the years I have become more and more attracted to paintings as keys to helping me connect more honestly and deeply with God. The book fills the bill with many gorgeous pieces of art which are wonderfully explained and made personal by the text of the book.

When the Carpenter Was King by Maria von Trapp
Unable to answer questions from her children about what Jesus ate for breakfast, von Trapp began asking priests and collecting books to find out about daily life for the Holy Family. She then wrote this account which, although simple, I find strangely riveting. It is just brushed slightly with the fiction brush, being largely a historical "you are there" book to bring us into what life was like for a faithful Jewish family back then. This book is out of print but luckily available on Kindle which is where I found it.  My full review here.

To Whom Shall We Go? by Archbishop Timothy Dolan
In To Whom Shall We Go, we are reminded of all St. Peter's strengths, weaknesses, joys, and sorrows. In short, we are shown his humanity as he follows Jesus in the Gospels and Dolan points out how our own natures are reflected in therein as well.

This is a simply fantastic book and I say that as a person who has never been particularly interested in St. Peter.

I reread it recently and it was the perfect preparation for a Lenten mindset. My review here.

Lectio Divina books by Stephen J. Binz
I can't express how much I love these books, but this review for his Advent and Christmas book will give you an idea. Stephen Binz is a passionate advocate of Lectio Divina, the ancient practice of studying and praying using Scripture.

The point of lectio divina is to personally encounter God and that is something I can relate to very well since I can't count the number of times I have had "aha!" moments of connection when I'm reading. Actually, that's what this big list is all about, right?

He's got a book for Lent and one for Easter. See all of them at Word Among Us's page.

Night of the Confessor by Tomas Halik
Night of the Confessor is rich and deep, with somehow simple ideas. Just when the author says something that I have a knee-jerk reaction of "that's not how faith works" he goes further and deeper so that I understand the reasons behind the surface statement ... and usually agree.

This is thoughtful and thought provoking writing which I read slowly so it would sink in. It greatly enriched my internal life.

A fuller review is here with a lengthy excerpt.

Gospel of Mark, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Mary Healy
This is a really great commentary. Healy combines a lot of the information that I have in a variety of other commentaries (both Catholic and Protestant), but then pulls it all together with additional observations that make it very accessible while still being scholarly.

Healy is excellent at putting the scripture in context, whether in reference to the context of people of the time, to other scripture, or for our own lives. Sometimes I was enlightened by the factual information which gave me new insights into the text. Sometimes it was from the material for reflection. However, it was a rare day that I failed coming away with an insight that I pondered the rest of the day. My review is here.

Another Catholic Commentary series book I'm finding very rewarding is Revelation by Peter  S. Williamson. If you literally want to go apocalyptic and have it be inspirational, this is where you go.

To Know Christ Jesus by Frank Sheed
Sheed looks at Jesus' life by weaving together all four Gospels. He also takes into consideration the times in which Jesus lived, how the people then would have interpreted Christ's teachings and witness, links to the Old Testament, teachings of the Chruch Fathers, archaeology, and more.

The goal of all this is to give us a richer, deeper understanding of Jesus since to know the Father you must know the Son ... and there is nowhere better to meet him than through the Gospels.

Contemplating the Trinity: The Path to Abundant Christian Life by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
He was the preacher to the papal household for Pope John Paul II and continued in that capacity for Pope Benedict XVI, at least for a while. I always have found his writing and homilies to be both easy to understand and inspirational.

This book to be the same sort as The Interior Castle in that reading a few paragraphs a day lets the message sink in each day. I read this during Lent a few years ago and it was wonderful.

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
The classic autobiography by the youngest Doctor of the Church. I struggled with reading this book until finding Robert Edmonson's translation, which was be less sacchrine and more real-life than others I read.

If this book doesn't appeal, consider one of the many others written by different saints and then ask their intercession while you read. Make Lent a walk through the desert with a saintly guide holding your hand.

The Habit of Being by Flannery O'Connor
This collection of letters is larded with advice to fellow writers and answers to those who asked her about the Catholic faith. It is full of nuggets of wisdom that make the reader stop and think about their own faith and how they witness to it in everyday life.

    Any of Robert Alter's translations of scripture, with commentary.
    Anyone who has read one of Robert Alter's translations of scripture knows that he is scrupulous in adhering to the original text while communicating to modern readers so that they feel and hear the language as the Hebrews did. His commentary puts the text in context so that we understand the full meaning just as ancient listeners would have. The overall effect is a translation that can have you noticing characters and events in a completely new way that can move you closer to God.

    Happy Catholic for Lent

    There are two other books that could make good Lenten reading:

    Happy Catholic - my book! In either softcover or Kindle / Nook format.

    Lord, Open My Heart (this is only available as an ebook now, but is I wrote it specifically for Lenten meditation)