Wednesday, February 3, 2016

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)

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