The Lenten Bookshelf

Forty days' reading.

Today marks the beginning of the Christian holy season of Lent. NRO asked around for some good spiritual reading suggestions for the next 40 days.


“The Anchoress”

“Listen my child, to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart…” The prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict is a rich and loving admonishment to conversion, to “turning” away from worldly distractions in order to “find rest upon God’s holy mountain,” and in resting, find consolation, mercy and the strength to recollect our callings and to serve them fully and undistractedly. The Rule itself sets out “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome,” but has for 1400 years spoken to the spiritual and material lives of both monastics and lay persons, from parents to corporate heads. It is a blueprint for living by dying to self, and from its first word, “Listen–” it leads you into the quiet, so you can hear, for “what is more delightful than this voice of the Lord, calling to us?”


The Anchoress, a Catholic blogger, writes here.


Dawn Eden

When Maximilian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass, his list of 83 intentions included the words, Pro amore, usque ad victimam–”for love, to the sacrifice of my life.” Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe, by André Frossard details Kolbe’s sacrifice and the great love that fueled it.


Kolbe earned the red crown of martyrdom in Auschwitz when he volunteered to die so that another prisoner might be spared. Forget Not Love shows how his death was consistent with his life, fulfilling his hope that he would give himself so completely for the “glory of God and His Immaculata” that nothing would be left of him but ashes scattered to the wind.

Dawn Eden blogs at “The Dawn Patrol.”


Fr. Joseph Fessio

My pick: The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.


Reason: Not because the author is now Pope Benedict XVI; not because the book is published by Ignatius Press (persuasive as that might be). But because Lent is the preparation for celebrating the Paschal Mystery and this book is simply a masterpiece by a man for whom the liturgical communion with the Crucified and Risen Lord has been at the core of his existence. (Literally from birth. He was born at 4:30 A.M. on Holy Saturday morning and baptized at the Easter Vigil Mass four hours later.)

Joseph Fessio is provost of Ave Maria University and editor of Ignatius Press.


Kevin “Seamus” Hasson

Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio. Roughly two cantos a day and you emerge from the poet’s guided tour of Hell and Purgatory just in time to begin the Paradiso on Easter. Of course it’s a magnificent read. But it also really does breed hatred of evil and love of God. In fact, Dante just got credit for inspiring part of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est Paradiso. If it’s good enough for him . . . (Then too, reading about people running around in circles while things go to hell makes me feel at home. Reminds me of D.C.)


Kevin “Seamus” Hasson is chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and author of The Right to be Wrong.


Tom Hoopes

I’m sure someone else picked Raymond Arroyo’s Mother Angelica : The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles. I second, (or third or fourth) the recommendation. It’s the story of a woman who kept getting slapped by fate and refused to blame God. It literally changed my daily life. (My Lenten ritual is to re-learn Jesus’ story by reading a life of Christ: Frank Sheed’s To Know Christ Jesus, Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ, or the less available Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Alban Goodier. As for me this year: Romano Guardini’s The Lord.)


Tom Hoopes is executive editor of The National Catholic Register and co-editor, with his wife April, of Faith & Family magazine.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

Just about every Good Friday, I realize I really wanted to read Fr. Rutler’s (see below) The Seven Ages of Man: Meditations on the Last Words of Christ during Lent. (The title tells you what you need to know.) This year, I’ll pull it off. Or so I pray.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.


Fr. Gerald E. Murray

He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. is one of the most powerful books of the 20th century, yet most people have never heard of it. Originally published in 1973, and currently available in a 1995 Ignatius Press edition, this book is the spiritual testimony of a priest who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps. He describes his encounter with God while in the grasp of tyranny in a soul-stirring way. This book will jolt the self-centered and the complacent, which group includes just about every one of us.


Fr. Gerald E. Murray is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Manhattan.


Fr. George W. Rutler

Ronald Knox was by the far the finest preacher and literary cleric of the 20th century. Evelyn Waugh worshipped him, which says a lot, and his biography of Monsignor Knox was one of Waugh’s most generous and kindly effusions. It is edifying reading in itself. For the Forty Days, I’d suggest Knox’s Pastoral and Occasional Sermons. It is a big production of the Ignatius Press: over 1,100 pages so it will outlast many Lents. The sermons are relatively brief and one a day would be a good rule. I notice on the dust jacket that I recommend it, (although I had originally called him the most original and eloquent “preacher” and not “writer” as for some reason it appears) so what I have already recommended, that I recommend.


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan.


Fr. James V. Schall, S. J.

For Lent, I will read Hilaire Belloc’s Places. Belloc is the best essayist in our language. Here are essays on places from North to the South of Europe, to the Mideast, to North Africa. The memory of what we are, or perhaps of what we were and are now rejecting, is here found. The third essay is “On Wandering;” the final essay is “About Wine,” neither to be missed. I heard of a new book that, like the European constitutionalists, wrote of Europe as if it had no Christian roots. But, “A (man) travels in order to visit cities and men, and to get a knowledge of the real places where things happened in the past, getting a knowledge also of how the mind of man worked in building and works now in daily life.” Today we must also find these same places in books, lest we forget what we are.


Father James V. Schall, S. J., is a professor of government at Georgetown University. He is author of, among other books, Another Sort of Learning.


Pia de Solenni

Every Lent, I try to reread The Spear by Louis de Wohl. Wohl takes historical and biblical facts and weaves a story around them that lends itself to a meditation. The story centers on the character of Cassius Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of the crucified Christ. Although Wohl doesn’t focus on the Passion, his story involves events and people surrounding the Passion. Perhaps his skill reflects his own spiritual life, but it’s the best book I’ve read that gives me a sense of being in Jerusalem and participating in the Passion in some small way.


Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian living in Washington, D.C.


Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve

Are you looking for Lenten reading that will lift your spirits and offer profound reasons for hope? Then pick up Testimony of Hope by the late Cardinal Francis Nguyen Van Thuan. He suffered 13 years in Vietnamese communist prisons, nine of them in solitary confinement. Alone in prison, stripped of everything except his faith in Jesus Christ, he found the secret of hope. He made that secret the basis of a Lenten retreat he later preached to Pope John Paul II, drawing profound spiritual lessons while recounting many stories from his prison days.


Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve is Daughter of St. Paul who currently works on the editorial staff of Pauline Books and Media in Boston. She blogs here.


Mollie Ziegler

To ponder properly the paschal mystery of salvation through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, Christians must have knowledge of the reason for it: our utter and complete sinfulness and God’s unending love and mercy. Meditations on Divine Mercy– a collection from the great Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard–guide the penitent through the Lenten journey. With just over 40 prayers, this earnest devotional material is perfectly suited for the Lenten season. Gerhard’s prayers, composed in the early 17th century before he even turned 30, are full of rich and Scriptural language and deftly help the reader understand sin and God’s love for His people.


Mollie Ziegler writes for, which analyzes media coverage of religious issues.

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