Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten Reading Ideas - Updated

I am already reading two books that are really hitting me where I live. How handy! I can just keep going with them through Lent.

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 am letting sink in. And it is enriching 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. She follows up many sections with items for reflection.

Sometimes I am enlightened by the factual information which gives me new insights into the text. Sometimes it is from the material for reflection. However, it is a rare day that I fail coming away with an insight that I ponder the rest of the day. Highest recommendation and I will be getting another in the series after I am done with this book.

Here are some other books that I either have read for Lent or would gladly read. Some may be familiar because I just can't stop pushing them (or rereading them).

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.

The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians by John Brook
Interestingly Brook partially presents this introduction to promote ecumenism for he points out that praying from the Psalms makes Protestants feel right at home in the practice. This book not only tells about the divine office, but has an explication of the psalms commonly prayed so that we more easily find Christ in them.

Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
This book is written with complete simplicity but yet somehow contains depths that one thinks of for some time afterward. Let's just begin with this ... "If you look at the relationship (us and God) in terms of mutual relationship, you would see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does make Himself present to us for a few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer 'I am busy..."

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.

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.

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.

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.

Paul Among the People by Sarah Ruden
Sarah Ruden goes to great pains to put St. Paul's writings in the context of Paul's "modern times" of Greek and Roman culture so we can see just what cultural forces he was referring to when he wrote his letters. By juxtaposing her knowledge of those cultures (which were considerably cruder and more hostile to Christian religious concepts than we would think) and writings of the people (not high-brow philosophers) with Paul's writings and concepts, a new picture emerges of just what was being battled and why Christian concepts would be so welcome and revolutionary. 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.

Here are last year's recommendations, both nonfiction and fiction.

I have been reminded that there are two other books that make excellent Lenten reading:

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

Lord, Open My Heart (this is properly a booklet, but is I wrote it specifically for Lenten meditation)


  1. I've wanted to read both Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, and Paul Among the Romans for a while, but this may be the push I needed to actually find them and settle down. Thanks.

  2. I found your blog via SFFAudio (via Fred Greenhalgh's Radio Drama Revival) and I'm very excited to find another Catholic blogger in the vein of Mark Shea - faithful, witty, and open to pop culture!

    All that being said - my jaw is on the floor at reading your description of "The Reapers are the Angels." It sounds like the perfect "Lenten fiction" for someone like me who often begins Ash Wednesday with aspirations of reading 100% saints and ends up sliding into Holy Week grumbling with only an introduction read.

    I thought "World War Z" was great (I finally got around to reading it after hearing about from both non-Christian friends AND the First Things blog), so I'm very much looking forward to Mr. Bell's work.

  3. Like Mark Shea! Manny, you flatterer! :-)

    I think you will love The Reapers are the Angels. I loved World War Z too, although it is not Lenten reading at all ... just brilliant but no God angle. Let me know what you think when you're done. :-)

  4. Thanks for the list!

    I might also add, Show me the Way, by Henri Nouwen. It's a book of daily reflections for each day of lent. Deep and powerful.