I’m thinking that the next 40 days are as good a time as any to scale some of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s towering The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. For one thing, though Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press sent volume one as a present some months ago, I’ve yet to crack any of its 691 pages. (Intellectual slob alert: There are also six volumes following this one.) Second, though he wouldn’t make anyone’s short list for name recognition, theologian Balthasar was one of the most influential thinkers of the last century. He left a permanent stamp on some of the best minds at work in the world today, including Pope Benedict XVI. This book offers the opportunity to understand more about current papal thinking than is dreamed of by critics with condoms dancing in their heads. One thing I know for sure: Balthasar is the ultimate anti-Internet.
— Mary Eberstadt is author of The Loser Letters.
If I could only read one book this Lent, it would be The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Each time I read it, Lewis’s work reminds me of my frailties, teaches me something new about our fallen nature, and yet points us back to the glorious and ultimate hope we have in Christ.
— David French is senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom.
I like to make my Lent all about Jesus, so I thank God for Cardinal Chrisoph Schonborn’s mother. In God Sent His Son, the archbishop of Vienna remembers a moment early in his academic career when he tried to tell Mom that the “Son of God” in the Gospels should be “understood on the basis of the contemporary Hellenistic environment, which was pregnant with myth,” and that it simply meant “Jesus’ significance for us.” His mother wasn’t buying. “Then our faith is meaningless,” she answered back.
The scholar who developed from that moment forward was a man deeply concerned not just with the question “Who do we say Jesus is?” but “How could he possibly be what we say?” Schonborn’s work of Christology is part textbook and part personal essay. It tells the story of the resilient figure of Jesus who survives mythologizers and demythologizers, religious excess and religious minimalism, jokes, caricatures, mistakes, misunderstandings, and multiple attempts to destroy his reputation to emerge pretty much how he started out: the mysterious son of God.
— Tom Hoopes is editor of The Gregorian.
For Lenten reading, one could not go wrong with Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s marvelous little book Abandonment to Divine Providence. It immediately issues a sharp challenge: Are you willing to throw yourself completely — now — into the Lord’s will, inscrutable as it often is? “If we do our part, God will do the rest.” To live by these words requires a lot of faith. Are you willing to trust completely? Are you willing to let go? Short as it is, Abandonment is full of practical lessons about how to learn to trust. How to taste the dark and often bitter pleasures of throwing ourselves upon the daily, minute-by-minute will of God. The lesson is simple, but utterly transformative:
All I want is for you to carry on as you are doing and endure what you have to do — but change your attitude to all these things. And this change is simply to say ‘I will’ to all that God asks. What is easier? For who could refuse obedience to a will so kind and so good? By this obedience we shall become one with God.
This is the essence of the matter, isn’t it? Isn’t it the secret to the life of our Lord? “Not my will, but Thine be done.” It may be impossible to understand what is happening in our lives. But it is not impossible to trust the Lord who throws you into what you cannot understand.
— Michael Novak sits on the Ave Maria University board of trustees. His latest book is No One Sees God. His website is www.michaelnovak.net.