Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lenten Reading: Nonfiction

My Lenten reading has already been "assigned" so to speak because of selections made for my Catholic women's book club and A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast. It is wonderfully varied and ranges from The Story of a Soul to Eifelheim to The Reapers Are The Angels.

Here are some other book suggestions, any or all of which I'd gladly take up and read in pursuit of spiritual growth and a closer relationship with God. We'll look at the nonfiction here and consider fiction Monday.
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church
    You may have this on your bookshelf but have you looked inside lately? This book is jam packed with wisdom from scripture and church fathers all designed to help us toward our one goal of getting to Heaven. Pick a section dealing with an area in your life in which you'd like to grow spiritually. Read just a numbered paragraph or so each day and then keep that in mind as you go through the day. You'll be surprised at the impact it can have.

  • Any of Robert Alter's translations of scripture, with commentary: Genesis, The Wisdom Books, The Five Books of Moses, The David Story, The Book of Psalms
    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.

  • Finding Martha's Place by Martha Hawkins
    This is the true story about a woman finding her way out of poverty and mental illness to have a famous soul food restaurant. What you don't expect is Martha Hawkin's strong and natural praise of God and prayer that carries her through her worst times and keeps her thankful always. Highly inspirational, this book has many lessons readers can carry through Lent and into Easter.

  • The Mass by Mike Aquilina and Cardinal Wuerl
    This book was prompted by the changes to the liturgy that will be coming later this year. This is an explanation of what happens during the Mass from beginning to end, including pictures of Cardinal Wuerl at various points of celebrating the Mass. It also acts as a prompt for reflection in weaving the deeper meanings of every action throughout the text. When one is reminded that the procession that begins the Mass is to remind us that we are all to be hurrying toward Christ, then the reader knows there is a wealth of food for thought therein.

  • The Fathers by Pope Benedict (or any collection of his homilies such as The Fathers II, The Apostles, or Saint Paul)
    Pope Benedict XVI's books can be dense but his homilies necessarily are short and to the point. As a good homilist though, even when he is talking about something as straight forward as St. Paul's history, Benedict still manages to always tie it to how we live everyday life as followers of Christ. If you can find the versions that have art, those are highly recommended.

  • 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.

  • The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
    Anything that has John Zmirak's name on it is going to be equal parts of pointed humor and solid Catholicism. This is a history of sorts that journeys from A to Z, covering every sort of alcohol and, not incidentally, the many Catholic connections to them. It is infused with theology, how to live the Ten Commandments, and the virtues as well. It is a long book but the chapters are very short, making it good to dip into if you don't want to read it straight through. As with most well-told history, there are lessons for us all in how to live in modern times.

  • Grace Before Meals by Father Leo Patalinghug
    Full of recipes and inspirations for family meals throughout the year, this book hits a chord with anyone who feels, as I do, that dining together every night is the key to good family life. Father Leo's conversation suggestions might be the most valuable part of the book as they show just how many different ways discussion can take you when preparing and enjoying a meal together. This might seem like a surprising Lenten suggestion but the family is the cornerstone of everyday holiness, giving us so many opportunities to offer ourselves in service to others. If family meals are a struggle, then this book can carry you closer to each other and to God.

  • The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
    The classic autobiography by the youngest Doctor of the Church. I have struggled with reading this book before but am finding this translation by Robert Edmondson to be less sacchrine and more real-life than others I have read. Perhaps it is because a fellow reader also has struggled with this book and has asked St. Therese's intercession to open her eyes. Could that grace be spilling over onto me? If this book doesn't appeal, consider one of the many other books written by saints and then ask their intercession while you read. Make Lent a walk through the desert with a saintly guide holding your hand.

  • Infinite Bandwidth by Eugene Gan
    Here is a roadmap for the digital world, Catholic style. If you struggle, as I do, with how to balance real life with texting, emails, blog reading, video games, and more, then Gan has words of wisdom to help keep everything in perspective. His guide is directed toward parents but everyone can benefit from a reminder of how to discern when your faith is being helped or hindered, especially if this is something that gets between you and God.

This is just a drop in the bucket. What ideas do you have?

(Note: Finding Martha's Place, The Mass, Grace Before Meals, and The Story of a Soul were review books. I read Infinite Bandwidth while doing the cover and page layout. I'd have recommended them anyway.)


    1. I'm reading through Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth volumes 1 and 2. Of course, volume 2 will be read when it arrives in the next week or two.

    2. I have chosen Biblical Meditations for Lent by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. and Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B. Also, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.

    3. Tante Léonie3/6/11, 1:08 AM

      I lean toward the "golden oldies". Some of my past favorites:

      Francis de Sales: "Introduction to the Devout Life" and "Thy Will Be Done -Letters to Persons in the World."

      Jean-Pierre de Caussade: "The Sacrament of the Present Moment" and "Spiritual Letters."

      Abbe de Tourville: "Streams of Grace" and "Letters of Direction."

      "The Sayings of the Desert Fathers", translated by Benedicta Ward.

      Abbot John Chapman: "Spiritual Letters."

      Blessed Columba Marmion: "Union With God - Letters of Spiritual Direction."

      and finally, although this is not written by a Catholic, I also like a book of Holy Week sermons written and preached by Fleming Rutledge: "The Undoing of Death."

    4. Your Catholic women's book club??? I am the blogger for our parish Catholic book club, now 2 years old, and would love to know more about your club. Is there somewhere you have written about it? Please tell me more! If you would like to know about us, including what we have read and are reading, our blog is

    5. Greetings Julie,

      I'm new to your blog and have no idea how I stumbled into it. No matter, my gain.

      I just ordered Richard Rohr's new book entitled "Falling Upward - A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life"

      I'm also going to work at the Catechism of the Catholic Church - online edition. I'm not sure how I'm going to do that, probably just start reading it and journal a little about the section. That should keep me busy.

    6. May I just say what a wonderful book Eifelheim is? Philosophy, theology, fantasy: it has it all! Such profound characters, too.

    7. So many wonderful books! So little reading time!

      I'm expecting a review copy of Pope Benedict's second Jesus of Nazareth book to show up soon ... I'd forgotten about it. (Don't know how.)

      I actually had St. Francis de Sales in mind when I mentioned "other saints" so once again we're in synch Tante! :-)

    8. Hi Judy, your book club blog is so much more complete than ours! We are a very loose group and not affiliated with our parish. We've been going for about 7 years now and it has been interesting to watch the members come and go. Also, as the different people recommend books I've gotten exposure to all sorts of different authors. Check out the sidebar for some of them. :-)

    9. Grace Before Meals is excellent! My husband and I were blessed to hear Father Leo speak at a Lenten retreat two years ago, and he was terrific, God bless him.

    10. Death on a Friday Afternoon - a collection of meditative essays by the late, great Fr. Richard Neuhaus.