Books for Lent

As I mentioned in my ‘Movies for Lent’ post, at my ‘Faithful Questions’ talk on Tuesday found myself looking like a babbling idiot. I mentioned that one of the ways we can make the most of Lent is to watch movies and read books that help us to delve into the divine. When during the Q&A portion, someone asked for a list I was only able to spit out one or two titles.

So now that I’ve redeemed myself with a good list of movies, here’s a list of books I think can be of value during Lent:

  • ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’ by St. Pope John Paul II: A wonderful book that was the result of an interview with the Pope. In it he repeats his oft-used refrain of “Be Not Afraid!” again and again. Sometimes when we get into Lent, we’re afraid to commit too fully to it, for fear of where that might lead. This book will help you find that courage.
  • ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis: A fictional work of a series of letters from one demon to another, Lewis manages to delve into the motivation and methods of the demonic in a way that few others have. Sometimes to confront evil, we must stare it in the eye. Lent is as good as a time as any to do that.
  • ‘Resisting Happiness’ by Matthew Kelly: While the tone of the book may be a tad bit upbeat for Lent, the message fits well with the penitential themes of Lent. Kelly wants us to transform our lives so that we can find true happiness with Christ. What better time to do that than Lent?
  • ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness’ by Warren H. Carroll: This short history book covers the conquest of Mexico by Cortez through the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego a mere 14 years later. Cortez and the Spaniards are often criticized and not entirely without merit. However, missing from that criticism is the grave evil that Cortez discovered when he arrived in Mexico and the heroic steps he took to put an end to human sacrifice in the New World. Similar to some of the movies suggested, this is a combination of the heroic virtue that can inspire us as well an educational read that helps us to see beyond the modern secular view of things.
  • ‘The Bones of St. Peter’ by John Evangelist Walsh: This book was sadly out of print when I first came across it, but has since been re-published in paperback. Hooray! In any case, sometimes what we most need during Lent is to connect with our roots, to know that our faith comes from an ancient and unbroken lineage. The Bones of St. Peter covers the 20th century excavation under St. Peter’s basilica as they attempted to find the bones of St. Peter that tradition said were buried under the high altar. It’s an inspiring story that will help you remember where we come from.
  • ‘Render Unto Caesar’ by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: Continuing down the educating and challenging our faith path, this book discusses the relationship between Church and State. I think it’s an excellent work and will challenge you. Hopefully from that, along with general Lenten reflection, you’ll be emboldened to bring Christ more into the public sphere (but in the right way).

OK, those are the religious books I can recommend right off the bat. I’ve read them all and whole-heartedly recommend them. However, how could I recommend that others read books during Lent and myself ignore that advice? So, here are 3 books I hope to read between now and the end of Lent. Since I haven’t read them, I can’t yet give them my stamp of approval, but they all come highly recommended:

  • ‘Why Preach’ by Father Peter John Cameron: Fr. Cameron is best known for his work with the Magnificat publications. As a deacon who has to give a monthly homily, I want to make sure I’m doing a good job and so I frequently read articles or books on how to get better. I’m about 20 pages in so far and I’ve been surprised by the path it has taken. It is far more theological than practical thus far.
  • ‘Dark Knight of the Soul’ by St. John of the Cross: I’ve read many of the great classical works of Catholicism, but this one has yet to bubble to the top of the reading stack. A reflection on how to survive dark times, hopefully it will give me courage to delve even deeper into Lent knowing I have the tools to survive any interior darkness I might find.
  • ‘Interior Castle’ by St. Teresa of Avila: Another great classic that I’ve yet to tackle and ironically by someone so closely tied to St. John of the Cross. But the time has come to read this important work by the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church.

Finally, here are two secular works that I think are worth reading during Lent. I’ve read both books at least 4 or 5 times. They are two of my favorites and fit well in Lent:

  • ‘Earth Abides’ by George R. Stewart: Technically a science fiction book, although it doesn’t read like one from my vantage point, it’s a story of a man’s journey after civilization is wiped out by a plague. Written in 1949 it is surprisingly timeless. It uses a ton of religious symbolism, starting with the title coming from the King James translation of the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:4). At its root, it contemplates what the purpose of our existence is against the backdrop of a man must completely re-evaluate the purpose and value of his life after society is no more. Despite the religious title and imagery throughout, the book strikes a mostly agnostic tone, but for a person of faith, it opens up a wonderful space for contemplating this wonderful creation that God has made for us.
  • ‘The Sea Wolf’ by Jack London. I’m a big Jack London fan and I can never understand why this book is not considered his definitive work. Call of the Wild is child’s play compared to this. The book follows the journey of a rich socialite who’s swept out to sea in a ferry accident and picked up by a seal ship. There he is confronted by a captain who has embraced a completely Darwinian view of life. London remains fairly neutral to whether nobility or survival of the fittest is right, but for those of us who know where we stand, the book is a fascinating read. In some sense it is like The Screwtape Letters, but instead of the explicitly demonic, we get to see into the heart of the most troubling form of modern atheism.

So there you have it. More books than you could possibly read during Lent, particularly if you spend all your time watching the plethora of movies that I suggested.

And just as with the movies, feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comment section.

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