Lenten Lit

+JMJ+

My sister wrote a beautiful piece yesterday about learning to embrace a different “style” of Lent with little ones. You should read it, but the gist is: when you have a lot of external demands (as you do with motherhood), Lent shouldn’t be about beating yourself up for all of the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Instead, learn to offer up the daily things as means of sanctification and carefully choose which Lenten activities you can reasonably do. She mentions reading “Come, Be My Light” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I am always striving to read something theological/spiritual anyway, but during Lent I try to grab something that directs me specifically to Holy Week. I thought I’d leave a little list here of suggested Lenten reading and I hope you’ll leave me some suggestions in the comments!

“The Living Wood” by Louis de Wohl
De Wohl shows up quite frequently on my reading list– I don’t know how he managed to elude me until my mid-twenties. This particular tale of his recounts the story of Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. “The Living Wood” refers to the tradition that St. Helena was the finder of the True Cross, but the story is about so much more than that. How do we face adversity in life? Where is Christ when we need him? How can even our most selfish intentions be brought to serve the Almighty? A quick, engrossing read, 370 pages.

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son” by Jon D. Levenson
This text by one of the foremost Hebrew Bible Scholars in the world explores the Jewish contributions to the Christian narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Levenson is a devout Jew, with a special gift and penchant for Jewish/Christian relations. His text is thick, rich, challenging and ripe with passages for contemplation. Recommended for those with a strong Biblical studies background, 232 pages.

“The Everlasting Man” by GK Chesterton
How does Christ stand completely apart from every other religious figure, even when He appears to be so similar to many of them? What is the relationship of historical man and this God-man we call Jesus Christ? Chesterton’s gift for rhetoric and a happy turn of phrase are on prominent display in this text. But don’t be fooled by his fast-paced style– this text needs digestion, so be prepared to read and re-read passages as you ruminate, 276 pages.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis
You are never too old to revisit such an enchanting, heart-softening allegory. If you’d like a text that leads you to contemplation of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is none better than a text which asks you to do this through the innocence of childhood. Revisit Aslan and the stone table before Good Friday. Which character do you most identify with this time? 224 pages

“The Way of a Pilgrim”
I wrote not that long ago of viewing Lent as a pilgrimage: This Russian Orthodox classic is perfect for this time of year because of its call for and instruction in deep, interior prayer. Though written as a travelogue, the Way actually takes the reader on pilgrimage with its anonymous author, through the devotion of constant meditation on the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’). Join this monk as he seeks to “pray without ceasing”– can we follow in his footsteps? 208 pages

“Salvifici Doloris” Apostolic Letter, Pope St. John Paul II
‘Theodicy’ is the big word we theological-types use to describe the universal intellectual struggle we humans have in trying to understand good and evil. This text faces the specific problem of “suffering” in the Divine Plan: how can God allow people to suffer evil? Why did God choose to suffer for our deliverance? How do I find meaning in my own suffering and what must I do in the face of my neighbor’s suffering? A must-read for every Christian, but especially poignant as we approach Holy Week. Free on the Vatican archives, or 64 pages in print.

“Little Talks With God” the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena
I’ve written about this text before and my preference for the new translation over the old. If you’d like a totally different genre, then this is it. My sister Dominican (and a third order at that!) and Doctor of the Church, Catherine, dictated these dialogues while in an ecstatic state, conversing with God about penance, obedience, sin and retribution and all sorts of other things besides. If you’d like a text which weaves together mystical experience, the Bible and the teachings of the Church, this one is for you. I also notice with much chagrin that this is the only text I have here by a woman. I must remedy that in subsequent lists, 188 pages.

You may notice that all of the purchasing links direct you to Better World Books. Of course you can purchase them through Amazon, but this business is near and dear to my heart, as it was founded by fellow Domers. Through collecting donations of used books and selling them online, Better World Books is able to fund literacy initiatives all around the world. Finally– a charity that allows me to give the gift of reading to others AND myself! Happy reading and blessed Lenten journey.

What are your suggestions for Lenten Literature?

Please let me know so I can add them to my personal queue!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

St. Catherine of Siena and Me

+JMJ+

FINISHED!

I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath to see when I would *finnnnnnalllly* finish the “Dialogue” by Catherine of Siena and…

…oh. You weren’t? Okay. Well, that’s fine, too.

I started reading this book way back in January, at the recommendation of my formation director.

You can get the full text here

At first I was really excited. I think the thought process was: “Catherine is a Dominican. I love Dominicans. She’s a Doctor of the Church. I like Doctors of the Church. This is a dialogue. I’ve read Plato’s dialogues and liked most of them…ergo, this should be great!”

It was not like Plato’s dialogues. 
It was like slogging through mud.
At times, it didn’t even “feel” like it was written by* a Dominican. 
Obviously, I am not a holy enough person to read this book. 
Much to my chagrin, I found the text to be incredibly similar in voice and style to The Story of a Soul, the great spiritual work by Therese of Lisieux.    

I had tried reading “Story of a Soul” last year (coincidentally, at the very same time both of my sisters had also picked it up), but again, it was like slogging through really dense, poorly organized, saccharine mud. I actually had to force myself to read it as a discipline, thinking that at least the seeds would be planted and maybe they’d bear fruit later.
Again: I am clearly not holy enough to read these books. 
What the astute blog-follower may notice, however, is that I have also just finished reading “Lay Siege to Heaven,” an historical novel about St. Catherine of Siena by the incredibly talented Louis de Wohl.  
I could  should write an entire post about the great craftsmanship of Mr. de Wohl, but I haven’t the time here.  Suffice it to say that the book was excellent– so excellent in fact that after finishing it, I found it much easier to pick up the “Dialogue” and I even somewhat enjoyed it.  
Why am I writing all this? 
Because I realized something: I may not be spiritually ready to read Catherine or Therese in their own words and really get much out of it. Their personalities are obviously too different from mine. St. Thomas Aquinas may be a dense read– but by golly he’s organized and logical and I loved his stuff the first time I read it. Coming to know who these women are, though, to think about their lives, their historical situations, their families and their friends is a very good way to begin accessing a little bit of their particular expression of “holiness” without being blinded by it. Coming to love St. Catherine through de Wohl, I found myself capable of imagining a person speaking to me through those dense, mud-like pages.  If I was going to find her unintelligible anyway, I might as well picture her as an unintelligible sister. Or a friend. Or a mother.
It made me realize the great value of literature like de Wohl’s– to excite imagination in the way we read and understand the saints so that we can gradually come to imagine the strangest of all phenomena: holiness. God. Christ. The Sacraments. Faith…
This is no new idea– Chesterton, Tolkien, de Saint-Exupery and every hagiographer of any Irish saint EVER knows this. I have been writing some children’s books based on this idea**– but this was the first time I felt the tangible results of what has up until now been just a theory in my heart.  
So thank you, Louis de Wohl. Thank you for introducing me to the great personalities behind some of our greatest saints so that I could hear their words more clearly. I pray that you are already in their ranks. I hope that you’ve had many great conversations with them about your books. 
What are your favorite books about/by saints? Have you ever had trouble learning to love a particular saint? Who resonates with you?
*Okay, so technically, the “Dialogue” was dictated by Catherine while she was in ecstasy, so she didn’t write it. Nor were the words necessarily hers because the claim is that God spoke through her during His part of the Dialogue. But I hope you get what I mean. 
** I’ve already submitted one to publishers– PLEASE pray for me as I continue to pursue this!!