On Barb’s Bookshelf: 3 Lenten Reads

It’s not yet Lent, but I’ve had the chance to peek into a Lenten book from Ave Maria Press as well as two new daily devotionals from Franciscan Media, each offering a spiritual companion for your Lenten journey. All three books are sure to help readers have a spiritually fruitful Lenten season.

A book doesn’t have to be brand-new this year to benefit its readers. Paula Huston’s Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (Ave Maria Press, 2011) is packed with timeless wisdom. The cover blurb touts it as a “practical book,” which means it’s right up my alley. I am, at heart, a practical person, and I can get bogged down and discouraged by books that don’t address my pragmatic side.

In the Introduction, Huston notes,

The beauty of the Lenten season is that it encouragees the development of a humble heart. (xiii)

The beauty of this book, for me, is its learn-by-doing approach. Each day begins with a meditation (usually a vignette from the author’s own experience) and ends with a task. The concreteness of this appeals to me. The author explains that this is not a “handbook for self-improvement” but instead “an invitation to self-knowledge and . . . a small step in liberation from destructive complicatedness–that is, from sin.” (xv, xvi)

My challenge, with this book, will be slowing it down. It’s seriously motivational, and I found myself wanting to do All The Things right now. Slowing down, for me, can be almost penitential in itself, and I need to remember to focus on one day’s task and not try to jump ahead. Lent is 40 days long for a reason. But anything that has me ready to scrub gunk out of hidden corners with an old toothbrush gets motivation points! It reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s observation that God is with us every moment, “even amidst the pots and pans.”

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Take your Lenten inspiration from Pope Francis with Diane M. Houdek’s The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis (Servant, 2016.) Each daily entry is divided into 5 compact parts:

  • Bible readings (find those on your own or at USCCB.org)
  • A Word from Pope Francis
  • Taking the Word to Heart
  • Bringing the Word to Life
  • Pope Francis Prays

I was charmed by the “Word from Pope Francis” sections: each one an anecdote or homily excerpt that showcases both Pope Francis’ down-to-earth style and his desire that the faithful deepen and radically live their faith. You’ll want to keep a journal handy for your own reflections, inspired by “Bringing the World to Life.”

From the Introduction:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made mercy his hallmark. It’s no surprise that he declared a special year dedicated to the contemplation of mercy. Pope Francis wants us to realize that God’s mercy and grace surround us not just in special times and places but always and everywhere. Lent is a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God’s mercy when we least expect it. (vii-viii)

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Heidi Hess Saxton shares the wisdom of a beloved modern-day saint in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, 2016.) Begin your daily prayer with a short scripture passage, followed by a meditation with a story or quote from St. Teresa, reflection/application questions, and a brief closing prayer. The book is described by the publisher as a “helpful resource for reflecting upon the mercy of God—and modeling the generous heart of this saint from Calcutta in our own lives.”

Saxton takes an unusual path in the Introduction to the book, dedicating most of it to the story of four Missionaries of Charity who were martyred by ISIS in Yemen in March 2016, while the local priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was captured (his fate is still unknown). The author notes that this story “calls us to consider just how far we are willing to go when the Lord asks us to take up our cross and follow him.” (ix, x) She continues,

As we contemplate Scripture and the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Calcutta during this Lent, we have a daily inspiration and opportunity to follow her example and that of her community in spreading Christ’s fragrance to others. And whatever the fuure holds–pain or healing, uncertainty or assurance, dismay or delight–we can anticipate with great joy the glory of the Risen Christ at our journey’s end. (xiv)

Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers daily reflections in a slightly longer format than Houdek’s book, and the subject matter is a bit more challenging. There are two reflection questions per day, which make excellent journal prompts.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta

The newly-canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta is especially compelling, I think, because many of us remember when she was still alive, serving the most vulnerable and needy. Saint Teresa did more than serve, though–she inspired through her words and her example.

Heidi Hess Saxton has collected some of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s most inspiring words and paired them with prayers, daily Mass readings and calls to action in a newly-published seasonal daily devotional. Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations offers food for thought and prayer for any reader who is devoted to this fascinating saint.

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Advent devotionals based on daily Mass readings are difficult to put together, as Advent does not have the same number of days each year, and there are special feasts (St. Nicholas, the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe) to consider as well. Heidi has taken care to offer a guide to navigating the liturgical calendar as you read this book, so that it can be used year after year. As a reader, I appreciate such attention to detail!

Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta actually runs through the Octave of Christmas, with a bonus meditation for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, so be sure you don’t put it away on December 24.

In the meditation for the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi summarizes the purpose of this book:

As Christians, every part of our life is oriented toward our place as citizens in the kingdom of God. We are called to love. We are called to serve. We are called to recognize the face of Christ in everyone around us, even our enemies, for the greater good of all….As we begin our Advent journey, consider how God is calling you to choose the way of peace for the good of all…beginning with yourself. (3-4)

This daily devotional for Advent is one you’ll be able to stick with; I had a hard time putting it down! I highly recommend praying with this book through the Advent season and Octave of Christmas.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book from the publisher, Servant Books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Loaves, Fishes and Spiritual Writing

On the Ask a Catholic Editor Facebook page yesterday, Heidi Hess Saxton of Servant Books (Franciscan Media) observed,

one of the many important differences between journalism and spiritual writing: the ability of the writer to process events in a way that uncovers Truth. Journalists tend do “hide” themselves in the writing process. Spiritual writers “reveal.”

My immediate inclination was to conclude that I’m a journalist. I’m a “nuts and bolts” girl.

And when I heard the Gospel for today, I could relate to the Apostles, because I think many of them were “nuts and bolts” people too. Remember, one of them was a tax collector!

…it was already late and his disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already very late.
Dismiss them so that they can go
to the surrounding farms and villages
and buy themselves something to eat.”
He said to them in reply,
“Give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food
and give it to them to eat?”

I’d worry too! It’s the Martha in me–she was a “nuts and bolts” girl too.

Nuts and bolts are important. They hold the whole thing together. But sometimes I can be so focused on those little fasteners that I lose sight of exactly what they’re holding together!

DSC_0318The Apostles did that. How would they possibly feed thousands of people with what little bread and fish they had?

Martha did that. How would she ever be able to offer Jesus and his entourage of followers proper hospitality without her sister’s helping hand?

Jesus let the Apostles know that they needed to trust. He let Martha know that her priorities were misplaced.

There’s a time and a place for nuts and bolts. And there’s a time to let the details fade into the background so you can see the whole picture. I’m not just talking about writing here, either.

What can I do today to trust more–and let God take care of the details?