Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lenten Reading: The Big List of Nonfiction

Five years ago I read The Lord by Romano Guardini during Lent and it was transformative.  Three years ago I read Meditations on Vatican Art and loved it. Two years ago I read The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah which I didn't find nearly as inspirational as God or Nothing. Last year I read Roman Pilgrimage by George Weigel and liked it so much I'm repeating it this year.



Fruits of the Spirit by Stratford Caldecott
Small but packs a powerful punch.

Book description, which I can't improve upon: This booklet explores the imagery of trees and fruitfulness in the Bible, and offers a sketch of Christian morality based on the relationship of spiritual fruits to the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. The result is a kind of rough map, a guidebook of sorts to a life in the Spirit, inspired by teachings that we find in Holy Scripture and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.




Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron
This little book doesn't take long to read but it's packed with food for thought and gives historical and scriptural perspective. That may make it sound a bit detached or trite. Letter to a Suffering Church is anything but.

Barron condemns the wicked — it's been too long since I heard that word applied to the priests who violated the souls and bodies of their victims. He offers understanding and solace to those victims. He reminds us that the Church has been dragged through the dregs of corruption by the clergy before and of the fight it took to cleanse it.

Above all Barron offers inspiration and a fighting spirit as he encourages Catholics to stay and fight for the Church to be what Christ calls her to be — a pure source of Truth for a world crying out for God and love. Even though the world may laugh at that idea right now. As we go through Lent, striving for reconciliation with God, this brings the Church along with us.


The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism by Thomas Joseph White
Do you want a good dose of philosophy with your Catholic faith? Here's the book for you. Looking for something lighter than Edward Feser, but that still had intellectual depth, I noticed this title continually popping up in my searches. So glad I did because it is exactly what I wanted ... though the discussion of the Trinity caused a bit of brain paralysis, but that's no different than my reaction to any other deep look at the Trinity. It's been a long time since I've had to think in such a different way. All this is without ignoring the questions that Catholicism raise in modern life. This isn't necessarily easy reading but it is really rewarding. Truly this is a great book.


From Fire, By Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith by Sohras Ahmari
Sohrab Ahmari was the spoiled darling of his intellectual, liberal Iranian family. Immigrating to Utah, he was rapidly disillusioned about his ideas of a secular, rational, modern America. Searching for meaning, he discovered Nietzsche, as so many have done. Ironically, that began a very long process that ended in the Catholic Church.

As well as being a personal journey, this book almost serves as an overview of modern man's search for meaning. A really great conversion story that will speak especially to those who followed philosophers down a rabbit hole that wound up on the Church's doorstep.My review is here.


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. 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.


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 his account of the 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.

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.

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.


Gospel of Mark, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Mary Healy
This is a really great commentary. 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 Letter to the Hebrews with their commentary. 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.




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 second 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 was commissioned to write it specifically for Lenten meditation)

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