Following is my December column appearing in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post.
All together now… “Christmas is coming.” Advent preparations are underway, planning, decorations and parties are a constant, and figuring out gifts is top of mind.
I’d like to promote chocolate as a gift. Surprised you, didn’t I? You thought I would say books. Well, okay, books, too, but I’ll make the case they are more like chocolate that you think.
A thoughtfully chosen book, just like chocolate, is a great, no-clutter gift for Christmas. But choosing carefully is important. I wouldn’t give Trader Joe’s 70% dark chocolate to my children, who would prefer Caramello. And chocolate with other things in it (bacon? no thanks) wouldn’t be a good gift for me, who likes chocolate plain. Just as there’s no one chocolate for everyone, there’s really no one book that fits every reader.
Here’s a list of some recent titles, for both grown-ups and young readers, to get you started thinking of books as a truly fruitful gift-giving category. Then head to your local Catholic bookstore or online bookseller, and browse around for books that would make the most sense for your loved ones.
Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2015 by the Irish Jesuits.
In the late 1990s early days of the Internet, my husband introduced me to the Sacred Space website created by the Irish Jesuits, an acknowledged masterpiece of simplicity and prayerfulness. It’s still one of the truly useful, simple, and easy-to-use, prayer sources on the Internet. Spending a few minutes there daily allows one to enter into a deep and prayerful moment with the Lord.
A book version of Sacred Space comes out as an annual guide. It, too, is a treasure.
Each week begins with “Something to think and pray about each day this week,” a Jesuit meditation following a regular pattern, then short reflections for each day based on the daily Gospel. It sounds simple, but Sacred Space is remarkably effective in inspiring deep reflection in a short time.
Beloved: A Collection of Timeless Catholic Prayers by Margaret M. Dvorak
Books that have all the traditional prayers can be formulaic, but several things about this book make Beloved stand out. First, the book is nicely designed. The cover has a rich feel and lovely decorative cover, evocative of an illuminated manuscript. Second, the prayers are described in an open, fresh, way. Dvorak covers all the basics, but in an authentic way. Finally, Beloved is small and “right-sized,” perfect for carrying along to adoration or just keeping on the shelf for reference.
The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living by Lisa Hendey
The Grace of Yes is more personal than Hendey’s other excellent books, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. She shares about her own struggles as a career mom turned stay-at-home mom, and her wrestling with her own perceived deficits through her life.
The Grace of Yes is part memoir and part reflection on the spiritual life. Hendey is a woman of deep prayer, and her spirituality shines through in this book about ways to live out uncommon virtues, such as creativity or generativity. “The Grace of Yes” contains abundant food for thought—it makes you reflect, consider virtues in a new way, and also ways to implement them in your own life.
Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. Bishop Paprocki is something of a local writer, since he’s a bishop of Springfield, adjacent to the Peoria diocese.
Truth be told, I’m not a huge sports fan. But I genuinely enjoyed Paprocki ’s take on the spiritual life related to athletics, and how we can compare so many features of excelling in sports (setting aside fear, overcoming frustration, having faith, honoring family and friendship, having fun, and more) can relate to grown in the spiritual life.
Holy Goals is highly recommended for any sports-interested young person.
Adventures in Assisi: On the Path with St. Francis by Amy Welborn, illustrated by Ann Kissane Engelhart.
Welborn and Engelhart have done several books together, and they keep getting better and better. Adventures in Assisi is story of two children who take a tour of Assisi and surrounding areas with their great-uncle, a Franciscan friar. It’s sweetly written, beautifully illustrated, and well made.
Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, illustrated by Ben Hatke.
Angel is the Waters has been out for 10 years, and it still stands as a classic picture book on so many fronts—a great new-baby book, a gentle pro-life message book, and a “just perfect” read-aloud for any age. Any one of those things is hard to accomplish in one picture book, but all of them? Nearly miraculous.
Every single time I read Angel in the Waters, I end up in tears, the result of the beautiful combination of Doman’s lyrical prose and Hatke’s lovely illustrations about the life of an unborn child.
Sophia Institute Press has a 10th anniversary edition out of this classic. If you’ve never received or given this book before, now’s your chance to own it. Or if your own copy is falling apart, order a new one for the shelf and for frequent reading.