WHAT I’M READING
Discover Pope Benedict’s wise and visionary perspective as a guide for daily spirituality. Each topic begins with a simple excerpt from Pope Benedict’s writings or teachings, followed by helpful prompts for thoughtful meditation.
Jesus of Nazareth (I) by Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI)
I have always meant to reread this book. Scott Danielson selected it for our next Catholic book discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast (in May). So that is the perfect excuse. This book is one that requires slow, thoughtful reading so I began it a couple of days before Lent began, not even thinking about what perfect reading it makes for now.
OTHER GREAT BOOKS – Fiction
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).
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Or, since Lent is only 40 days, at least the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. I recently finished listening to the audio books of this and was blown away by how much the audio experience added to my understanding of the richness and depth of the story. Admittedly, as regular readers here know, it was also greatly helped by The Tolkien Professor’s class sessions on this book. You will be hard put to find a better primer on sacrifice, redemption, and many other key lessons for Christian life. (Note: the movies are not enough and I have found, to my sorrow, that often they give the exact opposite message about a character than the books do.) And you could do worse than to read The Hobbit for starters.
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The “Others” live among us, an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Night Watch is three stories, each is told by former file clerk Anton, a Light Other who is now getting field experience in keeping the treaty between the Light and the Dark. The way the three stories all look at Light and Dark, treaties and compromises, and even what it means to be unyielding on one side or the other … is all not only a good story but food for thought about our own lives. My full review is here.
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A bedraggled, galley ship survivor, despite his best efforts to the contrary, finds himself in the middle of royal intrigue. If that weren’t enough, he is also pulled into the the affairs of the divine as a result and this complicates his life as one might imagine. This is a land of various gods and strong, dark magic. It is, however, also a land where free will matters in the outcome of events. Will Duquette calls this “theological science fiction” and I agree. The way that free will is intertwined with what the gods desire, as well as what is “right,” is fascinating and a good way to examine our own motives the next time we turn away from what God may be asking of us. 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.
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.
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.
OTHER GREAT BOOKS – Nonfiction
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. My full 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 out for Lent (which I don’t have) and one that just came out for Easter which I will be reviewing soon. 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 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. My review is here.
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…”
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.
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.
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 last year)