New Spiritual Reads for Lent

Lent begins on February 17 this year: it’s time to purchase your Lenten spiritual reads so you’ll be off to a good start on Ash Wednesday. I have an enormous pile of spiritual books on my desk that are either specific to Lent or suitable for Lent. You’re sure to find something for yourself or your family.

While we’re not all able to gather in churches as usual for Mass, Stations of the Cross, and other devotions, we can feed our souls through spiritual reading and pray the Stations of the Cross at home or in outdoor meditation areas. This Lent, we may need to be creative in finding ways to deepen our faith.

Lenten Prayer Journal

Surrender All: An Illuminated Journal Retreat through the Stations of the Cross by Jen Norton (Ave Maria Press). Don’t be afraid to write in this beautiful journal. Jen Norton provides the art, which includes some lettered Scripture verses as well as paintings of each of the Stations of the Cross. For each station, there is a Scripture reading, a two-page reflection, and a “creative illuminations” section where you’re invited to express your thoughts either through visual art or by writing in the spaces provided.

Daily Devotions

Praying with Jesus and Faustina during Lent and in Times of Suffering by Susan Tassone (Sophia Institute Press). This prayer book is comprised of several sections:

  • Daily devotions beginning on Shrove Tuesday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday (including readings from St. Faustina’s Diary and a prayer)
  • Meditations on the Passion and the Way of the Cross
  • Taking Refuge in the Wounds of Jesus
  • Uniting our Sufferings with Our Lady’s
  • Litanies for Lent and in Times of Suffering
  • Jesus and St. Faustina on Making a Good Confession

Susan Tassone’s thorough knowledge of St. Faustina Kowalska’s Diary and her devotion to prayer for the suffering souls in Purgatory enrich her writing. Each day’s readings are approximately one page in length; you’ll also find directions for praying the Divine Mercy Novena and other devotions.

The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Lent 2021 by Theresa Rickard, O.P. (Ave Maria Press). This pocket-size, two-page-per-day devotional is an excellent day starter or lunchtime read. Each day’s selection includes a reference to the daily Mass readings – so keep your Bible handy while you read. Following the Scripture reading, a short reflection connecting the reading to our everyday lives follows, along with a suggested action and closing prayer.

For the Kids

Living Faith Kids: What We Do in Lent by Connie Clark (Creative Communications for the Parish). Help your early readers (ages 5 and up) understand what Lent is all about with this sticker booklet that explains Ash Wednesday, the Lenten calendar, ways to pray during Lent (and anytime), fasting and abstaining from meat, almsgiving, and more Lenten practices. The booklet includes many activities families can do at home to enrich their faith together.

The Stations of the Cross

Contemplating the Way of the Cross: A Personal Encounter with Our Crucified Lord by Mary Leonora Wilson, FSP (Pauline Books & Media). Place yourself in the scene of each station, pondering what it was like for Jesus and those with him, then read the meditation and short prayer. A verse of the Stabat Mater closes each of the stations.

Stations of the Cross for Kids by Regina Doman; illustrated by Chris Lewis (TAN Books). A bit of behind-the-scenes information about each station, holy relics, and historical events related to some of the places mentioned in the Stations of the Cross will fascinate curious young readers (and their parents!). This retelling of the Stations of the Cross is ideal for readers in fourth grade through middle school and includes Scripture verses, lyrics to the Stabat Mater, and a short meditation on each station along with prompts to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. The detailed illustrations provide context.

Living Faith Kids: Praying the Stations of the Cross by Mark Nielsen (Creative Communications for the Parish). Younger readers (ages 5 through 10) will appreciate this short journey through the Stations of the Cross, which includes the traditional opening prayer for each station, an age-appropriate description of what was happening at each station, a short meditation, and a closing prayer. This booklet includes stickers to be placed beside the prayer for each station.

Saint Stories for the Whole Family

A Storybook of Saints by Elizabeth Hanna Pham (Sophia Institute Press). While this book is designed to be read on the feast days of the saints included in it, there’s no reason children ages 7 and up can’t enjoy this book during Lent. Short biographies of 50 saints are complemented by simple line drawings designed to resemble holy cards. Enjoy this book as a family by reading about a saint each day, perhaps after school or after dinner.

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey (Paraclete Press). Lent is the perfect time to underscore the message in this book for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book. 

For Teens and Young Adults

Hope. Always. Our Anchor in Life’s Storms by Kris Frank (Pauline Books & Media). Catholic youth minister Kris Frank offers reflections on finding hope in difficult times in this honest, relatable book that doesn’t insult the intelligence of teens and college students. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter can be used by youth groups, small faith-sharing groups, or as journal prompts for individual readers.

Poetry

Victory! Poems by Jake Frost. CatholicMom contributor Jake Frost ponders Palm Sunday and the Garden of Gethsemane in two poems in this volume of short verse. Historical notes provide context for some of the poems included.

Chesterton 101

Ex Libris: G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (Pauline Books & Media). This introduction to the nonfiction work of G.K. Chesterton is organized by topic and features selections on wonder; innocence; goodness; purity; faith, hope, and charity; the Christian ideal; everyday holiness; and joy. Each brief excerpt includes the name of the book or essay where it originated, so you can look into reading more by this beloved 20th-century writer. Lent is an excellent time to dig into the writing of a new-to-you spiritual thinker.

Back Issues

Check out the Lenten spiritual reading I’ve recommended previously:

Last Call for Lenten Reading

Four for Lent

What’s New for Lent

3 Lenten Reads

Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Pray Fully”

Pray Fully-h

CatholicMom.com contributors Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet are known for their encouraging spiritual books for women, Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project (both from Ave Maria Press) and Our Friend Faustina (from Marian Press). They have teamed up once again to write Pray Fully, a practical guide to deepening your prayer life.

Pray Fully: Simple Steps for Becoming a Woman of Prayer (Ave Maria Press) is written from that friend-to-friend point of view that Michele and Emily do so well. Taking turns chapter by chapter, they share their own stories of struggles and victories in prayer, offering advice based on what they’ve learned the hard way.

pray fully

The authors back up their own advice with saintly examples; each chapter has a section titled “Meet your Heavenly Friend,” in which readers learn about the prayer lives and practices of Sts. Gemma Galgani, Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa), Gianna Beretta Molla, Louis and Zélie Martin, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Margaret Mery Alacoque. Each chapter also includes a reflection by one of the authors, a “Let’s Pray” section that explains a particular prayer practice, inspiring quotes from the saints, and a prayer prompt.

Because prayer is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and our own prayer needs, opportunities, and preferences change, Michele and Emily outline several different approaches to prayer, along with providing the opportunity to explore each of them. These approaches include resting in Jesus’ presence, lectio divina, making an examen, and creating a legacy of faith. They address the tough questions associated with unanswered prayers, and also discuss personal devotions such as dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The final chapter offers meditations, reflections, and journaling space for readers to explore the various prayer approaches discussed in Pray Fully. You’re not expected to do it all — there’s not enough time in the day to do it all — but encouraged to find a way to add or deepen a prayer practice.

Pray Fully would make an excellent Lenten spiritual read.

CH 2 PF


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: My Queen, My Mother

My Queen My Mother book notes
Image created in Canva using free elements.

My Queen, My Mother by Marge Fenelon (Ave Maria Press) is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting nine holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray.

As Fenelon’s spiritual itinerary crisscrosses the United States, she reveals the close-to-home spiritual treasures we may have overlooked. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The book can be read over nine days, weeks, or months — but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry.

my queen my mother

Each shrine has a particular “personality,” emphasizing a different aspect of the Blessed Mother. For example, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (St. Augustine, Florida) is the center of devotion for women seeking intercession for infertility and other difficulties of motherhood. The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation (Carey, Ohio) is visited by many seeking healing. And the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace (Santa Clara, California) offers refuge for all seeking peace in the hustle and bustle of daily life in the Silicon Valley, one of the busiest places in the country.

The author ends by emphasizing the importance of making regular visits to holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. To my shame, I can witness to this: I’ve lived within 15 miles of the Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel since 1992, but I only made one visit there, in 2015, before it closed permanently. But shrines, large and small, dedicated to the Blessed Mother and to various saints, dot the American landscape: chances are good that there’s one near you.

Don’t let shrines become a thing of the past. In My Queen, My Mother, Marge Fenelon makes it clear that visiting a shrine — even briefly — can be a beautiful spiritual experience.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Summer Reading from Ave Maria Press

New Summer Reading AVE

Leave some room in your summer relaxation plans for one of these new spiritual books from Ave Maria Press. They’re all helpful in your spiritual journey, and they’d all make excellent gifts for recent high-school or college graduates or teen Confirmandi. Lightweight enough to bring along on a vacation getaway, these four books are far from light on their spiritual message. These books will nourish your soul and bless your summer reading.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

Destination happiness is a mentality that says, “When I reach a certain point in life, I will be happy.” … These achievements can be good things and can bring joy to our lives; but they don’t bring us lasting fulfillment in themselves.

When we seek happiness by reaching a destination, we set our sights on the mirage that is ahead of us and not on the reality that exists, which is God. The destination we were created for is God alone. And finding our meaning in who God made us to be is the only paradise that will satisfy our longing. (38-39)

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray. McGrady also tells stories to illustrate her points, and the tales of dating her husband, evacuating before a hurricane, and meeting a homeless man while stuck in a freeway traffic jam are engaging and appropriate.

On the one hand, the steps on our journey to meeting Jesus in a personal, authentic way seem remarkably challenging. At the start of what looks like an endless, uphill climb, it may seem like we’re trying to scale Mount Everest with nothing more than a light jacket and a pair of sneakers. On the other hand, we’re reminded that there’s always a first step to climbing even the tallest mountain. On the journey of coming to know Jesus, step one is to simply communicate with him the same way you would chat with a classmate, email a teacher, text a friend, yell at your parents, cry to your sister, vent to your boyfriend or girlfriend, or laugh with your teammates. (1-2)

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

How is the Psalter [the book of Psalms] a book about living according to God’s law?

The answer is this: the life according to God’s law is a life of prayer and worship! God’s laws really aim to guide us into a relationship with him. And the Psalter shows us how to live that relationship with him at every moment in whatever mood or situation we find ourselves, whether happy or sad, whether in success or defeat. There is always a psalm that fits your mood, whatever it may be, and that you can pray back to God in the situation you find yourself in.

The Psalter shows us how to walk according to God’s law in an indirect way. (51)

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light are just a few of the topics presented.

Bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words, and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave. … It is not easy to choose faith continually, and it is challenging to live the bravery that our faith requires of us. (xiii)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: What’s New for Lent

Making Room in Lent

Two new books from Ave Maria Press invite readers to open their hearts to God and set themselves free from sin and its trappings.

Lenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Author Ken Kniepmann begins each day’s entry with the line, “Today, I choose to fast from the sin (or wound) of _____.” The exception is each Sunday, when the entry focuses on feasting on virtues. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God.

Each week, after Friday’s entry, there’s a prayer meditation on the sin and the wound that has been the focus of each week. This is my favorite part of the book; I recommend that you bring this book to Adoration, along with a journal, to work through that section of each week’s chapter. The Sunday emphasis on the virtue that is the opposite of the sin you’ve been considering all week is a refreshing and uplifting opportunity to focus on how we can change our lives for good during Lent.

lenten healing

 

Some decluttering books are written by people who act like they have it all together. Those books are not for me. In Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, Mary Elizabeth Sperry readily admits that she has a lot of work to do, and that her home is not perfectly neat and tidy all the time. I like the connections made between homemaking and the spiritual life. This book addresses necessary topics like spiritual discipline, reconciliation, prayer, and materialism. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where the author draws parallels between clutter and sin. This book spoke to me so much, I’ve got whole paragraphs underlined, never mind the circles and arrows …

making room for God

Why is this a book for Lent? While it isn’t designated as one, I can’t help but think its early-February release is providentially timed. In Lent, we seek to reform our hearts. This book is not full of tips and tricks for cleaning out that kitchen-gadget drawer or keeping your linen closet tidy. Instead, it’s an invitation to look at your relationship with your stuff — not just the stuff you have now, but the stuff you may acquire later. Its focus on generosity, the common good, and prayer make it an excellent Lenten read: by Easter, you’ll be thinking about the way you live a whole lot differently.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart”

My 1970s-era Catholic upbringing did not include the passing along of devotion to (and knowledge of) the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am one of the many Catholics Anne Costa mentions in the introduction of Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart (Servant Books, 2017) who

“know the image but have yet to experience the depths of the love story behind it. . . . the graces that flow from enthronement of the Sacred Heart are being missed by far too many today.” (xi)

What’s devotion to the Sacred Heart all about? Where did this devotion come from? What’s “enthronement,” and how and why do we do this?

costa-1

“Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we encounter [the] faithful love of God.” (4)

Chapters are punctuated by prayer prompts called “Heart Notes.” These are invitations to contemplate the information presented and ponder it in our own hearts. Sometimes these are invitations to engage in works of mercy; others are Scriptures to read, topics on which to journal, or traditional prayers.

I’ve been a Catholic all my life, but until I read this book I did not understand the significance of the First Friday devotions I’ve seen practiced in many parishes. There’s a whole section about that devotion, and I appreciate Costa’s balanced approach to it, cautioning readers not to practice such devotions in a legalistic, ritualistic or superstitious manner, but to remember instead to “approach it with sincere and simple love in our hearts.” (49)

Costa leads the reader through an account of the revelations experienced by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, then breaks down the ways in which the faithful can foster devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their own lives.

Costa’s writing is clear and to the point, and that does not get in the way of her obvious devotion to her topic.  As I tend to be turned off by overly-flowery prose, Costa’s simple and direct style proves that yes, you can invite the reader into a deep experience of prayer without using the type of language that was in vogue before your reader was even born.

Healing Promises is packed with opportunities for growth in prayer and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whether you’re already familiar with St. Margaret Mary’s revelations and their application in our lives or this topic is new to you, Costa’s book will invite you into a deeper practice of the Faith.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

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, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Born to Soar,” a spiritual journal

The beautiful monarch butterfly is the source of much fascination, the subject of many grade-school science lessons, and the motif around which Born to Soar, Melissa Overmyer’s new Scripture and prayer journal (Servant Books, 2017), was created.

The image of soaring flight evoked by a brilliant butterfly is a metaphor for the soaring prayer experiences described in the poetry of the mystic St. John of the Cross. The author includes short excerpts of this mystical poetry to remind the reader that, in prayer, our hearts seek to soar toward heaven.

Overmyer-Soar-cover

 

This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to Soar.

Don’t let the butterflies and flowers on the cover of the book fool you: this journal is designed to push you out of your spiritual comfort zone and motivate you to explore ways in which you can take the risk of growing closer to God.

Praying through journaling can be a liberating and beautiful means of expression. Your writing can take on the feeling of a love letter or a song and can be accompanied by a heart-wrenching release of emotions. . . . Do not be afraid of writing down how you truly feel — God knows your heart already. Instead, offer yourself — in all your beauty and your brokenness — freely to God and ask him to use your journal to bring you closer to him. Do not be afraid to give it all to God, who can turn our ashes to beauty, heal our deepest wounds, and set us free. (from the Introduction, p. xvii)

Each of the six sessions follows this format:

  • Description of the physical stage of the caterpillar’s life cycle
  • Overmyer’s reflection on how this stage compares to the process of spiritual renewal
  • Thoughts to ponder, with space for journaling
  • A moment with St. John of the Cross, including a quote from the saint’s writings, questions for reflection, and space for journaling
  • Thoughts for discussion (for group discussion or journal prompts)
  • Prayer
  • A “renewing truth” to be revisited on multiple occasions during the course of the week
  • Scripture passages for daily reflection, followed by a journal prompt and space for writing

I’d recommend Born to Soar to any reader who seeks to go deeper in the spiritual life. Overmyer makes the mystical works of St. John of the Cross accessible even to people like me who tend toward the practical. Her inviting approach and simple language engage the reader; I found myself wanting to go beyond each day’s reflections because I was hungry for what would come next.
Barb's Book shelf blog title

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, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: All In

Pat Gohn is “all in” with her faith, and it shows. She hosts Among Women, a podcast that celebrates faithful women through interviews and stories of saints. She’s the editor of Catechist magazine. And her first book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious (Ave Maria Press, 2013), challenged women to be bold about living their faith.

Pat’s second book, All In (Ave Maria Press, 2017), is addressed to an audience that might be dealing with discouragement, uncertainty, and a lack of deep commitment. Subtitled, “Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” this book encourages readers to begin by making a healthy self-assessment of their faith. In chapter 1, Pat observes,

“Even though I may not always feel like a confident person and I fail and flail on a regular basis, my own frailties do not undermine my confidence in my faith. They provide a catalyst to turn to my faith and to place my trust and hope in the eternal truth and goodness of a God who loves me. God came to save and redeem every frailty, every weakness, every sin, and every broken heart.” (15)

all in

Pat is realistic about facing the obstacles that come with an imperfect Church. Because the “flawed humanity of the institution of the Church” (32) is clearly visible and often well-publicized, it can lead people to question why and whether to stand with the Church. Pat responds to this stumbling block by reminding the reader that the Church is the Bride of Christ, delving deep into marriage imagery and concluding that the Church’s “source of power is the Beloved who came from Heaven in search of her, and who longs for her to make her home with him there.” (42)

Honest discussions of sin, mercy, grace, the Sacraments, and human dignity fill out this book. Each chapter concludes with a 3-part reflection: pray, learn and engage. This last section includes concrete action steps readers can take to heal or deepen their relationship with God and with the Church.

This book is just as much for the struggling and/or “recovering” Catholic as it is for the faithful churchgoer. Readers on any stop along their faith journey can benefit from the wisdom and action steps provided here, on their way to going “all in.”

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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.”

simplifying_the_soul

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)

Print

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.

Teresa-21

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: Papal Encyclicals Plus, from Ave Maria Press

Who’s supposed to read what the Pope writes? Priests and bishops? Catholic journalists? Secular journalists? Historians?

Yes, but that’s not all. The Pope’s encyclicals and other writings are meant for all the faithful. They are addressed to all of us–and if we really want to understand the Pope’s message, there’s nothing like going straight to the primary source. (That’s true of any message. Here’s the English major in me talking: the more intermediaries you have, the better the chance of misinterpretation.)

pope-francis-encyclicals

I read a lot of things online (on websites or on my Kindle) but for me, nonfiction demands a hard copy I can mark up, underline, highlight, and hang Post-it tabs all over. I’m all about the idea of a “collected writings” of the Pope–and Ave Maria has put that together with a new book covering the first 3 years of Pope Francis’ papacy (the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia was published just after the third anniversary of the Pope’s election.) The title tells it all: The Complete Encyclicals, Bulls and Apostolic Exhortations of Pope Francis.

According to Ave Maria Press, the publisher of Volume 1, the book includes:

  • Lumen Fidei, June 29, 2013: The Light of Faith is an encyclical on the centrality of faith, the relationship between reason and faith, the Church’s role in the transmission of faith, and how faith results in redeeming the world.
  • Evangelii Gaudium, Nov. 24, 2013: The apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel has been called Pope Francis’s manifesto. It challenges all Christians to approach evangelization anew and overcome complacency in order to fulfill Christ’s great mission.
  • Misericordiae Vultus, April 11, 2015: In The Face of Mercy, the papal bull for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2015, the pope urges Catholics, “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy.”
  • Laudato Si’, May 24, 2015: Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home is the landmark encyclical in which Pope Francis issued a call to the entire Church—and the world—on climate change, human responsibility, the role of faith in how we live among God’s entire creation, and the future of the planet.
  • Amoris Laetitia, March 19, 2016: Love in the Family is an exhortation published after the Synods on the Family. In it, Pope Francis ranges in his quotations and examples from St. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr. to the film Babette’s Feast.

I admit to having skimmed Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia online when they came out, but I haven’t really put in the time to really read and learn from Pope Francis’ writings. My plan is to dive into Evangelii Gaudium, because I work in the field of Catholic media and evangelization. But you don’t need a job in such a field to read that apostolic exhortation: Pope Francis makes it clear right up front that he is inviting “all Christians, everywhere . . . to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (p. 57) which is “the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization” (p. 60). Yes, there are specific sections if that exhortation that are directed toward priests, rather than the lay faithful, but there is much to be learned.

If you’re taking part in the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge, this book provides all of Pope Francis’ major writings in one place and will help you check off that “papal encyclical” box. (Yes, I’m stretching it a bit by reading an exhortation instead of an encyclical, but to be fair, it’s 3 times the length.)

So who should read the Pope’s encyclicals and other writings? If you’re Catholic, YOU should!

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, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Barb's Book shelf blog title