THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: Diving Deeper Into the Lenten Season - Book recommendations to help adults and children grow in their faith
by Deacon Rick Bauer
February and March are the months when we participate in the discipline of Lent. Fasting, praying, giving alms, confession, adoration — all good activities anytime — find even more purpose when we observe them in Lent. Though we are deep into Lent at this writing, there may be some ways that we can invest even more in our observances, and sometimes a good book can direct our thoughts.
What is more, there may be a fitting Easter gift to give to a child, student, or friend that we will suggest. For wherever you are bound in this season, and however may be your path to deeper holiness, may your journey be fulfilling, your insights be rewarding, and your encounter with Christ be even more complete. Until we peer into an open tomb and hear in our heart those angelic words, “Why seek the living with the dead? He is not here; he is risen!” may God bless.
Many of us are already well into Lent, but for those of us playing catch-up, Father John Burns’ new book “Return” by Ave Maria Press, accompanied by an easily-available companion video series each week, is still an excellent way to make your Lenten focus more fruitful. In a visually attractive format with beautiful and compelling illustrations, Father Burns places us in the desert, much like Jesus in his 40 days of testing, and invites us to strip away our attachments, our confusion, and our besetting sins so that we can return to the Lord and undergo real and lasting conversion to Christ.
We remember the liturgy from Ash Wednesday, taken from the words of the Prophet Joel: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me, with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning, rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your god” (Joel 2:12-13). Return helps us structure our time with the Lord, as these verses are the scaffolding for our five-week Lenten journey, which is structured as follows:
• Week 1, Return to me —recognize the need to reorient our lives through Lent;
• Week 2, Return to me with your whole heart —reorient not only the mind but also the heart to the Lord;
• Week 3, Return to me with fasting — acknowledge hardness of heart and the value of discipline;
• Week 4, Return to me with weeping and mourning—bring forward personal agonies and unbind bitterness that divides us from God; and
• Week 5, Rend your hearts, not your garments, return to the Lord, your God.
The opening prayer of each day’s Mass — called the Collect — forms the starting point of our meditations. A wise priest told a young(er) deacon candidate “if you want to know what you need to preach on for a particular Sunday, read the Collect.” Each day of “Return” includes the Collect prayer, meditational thoughts and reflection questions, and a prayer. We find lots of space to journal and interact with our desert guide. Ave Maria Press also provides a weekly short video and downloadable discussion guide for small-group or family use.
We like The Touchstone Texts series being published by Baker Academic Press, as it seeks to re-discover the beauty and insight of important biblical texts for the Christian world. We admire the collaboration among Christians of all stripes. “The Lord’s Prayer” features a forward by Brant Pitre of the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology (no stranger to this column). The full text was written by William Wright, whose previous works include “The Gospel of John” in the “Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture,” and who serves as professor for Catholic Studies at Duquesne University.
This book provides a deep dive into The Lord’s Prayer. Hardly any other biblical text resonates with our faith experience with the manner and the depth of the answer to the disciples’ insistent, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The perfect prayer, the summary of the Christian way of living, the hope of peace in our rocking boats of daily life, we can all find blessing and benefit from this “slender though stout” volume. We learn to understand The Lord’s Prayer in its original Galilean/Hebrew context, but also learn to pray it backwards through the gospel message of Christ.
This book, with an ecumenical tenderness and respect, shows us yet another way to build bridges of understanding through a common shared (and prayed) faith.
The following three selections would make wonderful Easter gifts for those who will already have enough chocolate and candy. I came across a variety of newly-released books from the partnership of Magnificat Press and Ignatius Press. They are already heading out the door in a few weeks to become treasured Easter presents. While few children get religious presents at Christmas, a Catholic-themed book for a child given at Easter is certain to not get lost in all the tinsel and toys.
In the “Lives of Saints,” we take a trip with various characters (usually in pairs), and play “seek and find”, á la the famous Where’s Waldo? series. In this “Seek and Find” book, children look for Sara and Simon, a girl and a boy like them; Felix and Estella, a teacher and his daughter; Lavan and Hoom, the two cats; and Gil the goat. Along the way we will meet some holy saints: St. Blandina of Lyon, St. Genevieve of Paris, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis Xavier of the Indies, St. Vincent de Paul of Paris, St. John Bosco of Turin, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. Damien of Molokai, St. Charles de Foucauld of the Sahara, and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
This is a lovely book, perfect for readers ages 5 and up, and guaranteed to engage and excite young minds and hearts with the joy of a blessed discovery — a wonderful Easter basket entrée.
The domestic church is being assaulted by distraction — if we parents (with some help by grandparents) don’t get some help, we can easily lose the battle for the attention of our children. When it comes to their tender, innocent faith, how can we help nurture that faith without overwhelming it in catechetical complexities?
Thankfully, for children ages seven and up, “Confide in Mary” by Sabine du Mesnil is an excellent book to inspire prayer and faith in the Blessed Mother. From the publisher, “God filled Mary with his Holy Spirit, the source of life and grace. He chose her to be his mother and our mother too. With tender words and illustrations, ‘Confide in Mary’ helps children to entrust their prayers to their heavenly mother. Three chapters respectively talk about the life of Mary, the little Marian Way, and devotion to Mary.” The book is a perfect way to close the day, prepare for morning prayers, or train a child’s heart in reflection and trust.
Imagine being a child in ancient Rome, where being a Christian was very dangerous. To spread the faith and stay alive, you had to live in the shadows — shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves. In “The Missing Maiden” by Sophie de Mullenheim, as described by Magnificat, “Titus’ cousin Octavia, a maiden who guards the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta, is missing . . . Titus and his friends Maximus and Aghiles set out to solve the mystery. They encounter puzzling evidence and lurking danger along the way while learning important lessons about freedom, duty, and devotion.”
Aimed at ages 10 and up, this is a wonderful volume in an existing six-books series, which can be read anywhere in the sequence.
(Deacon Rick Bauer is currently assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Colorado Springs.)