Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Lenten Reading: The Big List of Nonfiction

Three years ago I read The Lord by Romano Guardini during Lent and it was transformative. One year ago I read several small devotional style books which were good though not transformative. Last year I read Meditations on Vatican Art and loved it.
    Right now I'm reading The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah and it's got "Lenten reading" written all over it. I mean to say - silence, prayer, finding God. C'mon.

    But let's face it, that's not the spot most people are in — so here's a big list of spiritual books I have found rewarding.

    7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
    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
    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.

    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.

    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.

    I've found a lot of the Catholic Commentary series book very rewarding, regardless of who the author is, and am working my way through the Acts of the Apostles with their help now. So just dive in.

    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

      Three other books that would make good Lenten reading:

      Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life - my most recent book! In paperback.

      Happy Catholic - my first 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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