Lent is On the Way; What’s Your Spiritual Reading? {My February column @TheCatholicPost }

Following is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

Call me contrarian, but I still give up chocolate for Lent.

Yes, I know, there are innumerable online articles how you “shouldn’t give up chocolate” for Lent. And surely I’m not the only one to have heard more than one sermon during Mass on not giving up chocolate, but instead doing something extra, or focusing on more spiritual practices.

Giving up chocolate may be the Lent equivalent of Mom jeans, but I’m sticking with them (and Mom jeans, incidentally). It may be considered outdated, insufficient, not especially spiritually fruitful. At best, it’s considered a “good start” by Catholic writers and priests.

But for me, giving up chocolate is still hard! And that small (or big) mortification reminds me every day that it is Lent, and I should focus on growth in holiness this beautiful liturgical season. It’s also a good start to other practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are meant to do during Lent.

One of my other Lent non-negotiable is spiritual reading, especially re-reads. That is why during many Lents over the past 20 years, I delve into my dog-eared copy of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life. This year I might add in He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciscek as it is such an important spiritual classic that I’ve discovered a few years ago.

Lent begins February 14 (yes, it’s Valentine’s Day–maybe celebrate on Fat Tuesday instead?).

Consider browsing your local Catholic bookstore for ideas to start or continue this tradition on your own. Here are also a few recently published books that might be good for a Lent focus:

*Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life Marie Baudouin-Croix and translated into English by Mary Frances Mooney, has been recently reprinted by Ignatius Press. This spiritual biography of Leonie, the sister of St. Therese of Lisieux who bore many burdens in her life, is both moving and inspiring.

Reading about Leonie’s mental health issues and special needs, as well as how she persisted in trying to fulfill her vocation, brought me to tears several times. If she had been born in this century, she and her family would have many opportunities for special needs services, counseling, and other coaching. But she wasn’t, and so her path was more difficult. But she and her family never gave up, and that offers hope to anyone who struggles in any way to live out our Catholic faith.

Leonie Martin tried on four separate occasions to enter religious life, and finally succeeded in becoming a Visitandine sister in Caen, France.

Leonie Martin is largely a chronological biography, taken from the voluminous correspondence of her mother Zelie Martin, as well as the sisters among each other. It would be hard to research and write this kind of book today, because the letters provide a window into her development into a “faithful disciple” of Therese.

As Baudouin-Croix writes in the introduction, “This book is not intended to bring Leonie’s hidden virtues to light; as Pauline (a sister of Therese and Leonie) said, ‘the Holy Church is not obliged to canonize all God’s friends.’ Quite simply, it is comforting to everyone to know about one woman’s struggle to conquer a difficult, intractable temperament.”

We normally reflect on her famous sister the Little Flower, and her recently canonized parents, St. Zelie and St. Louis Martin, strove for holiness. But in some ways Leonie could be a better patron for those who struggle with persistent faults and even disabilities.

“She teaches those who are overcome by loneliness that no human intimacy can fill the void in the human heart; that God alone can fill it with His infinite tenderness.”

*The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre, is a highly readable and well-researched book about the historical sources of the truth of the Gospels. Pitre’s principal concern is refuting the popular cultural view promoting the false idea that Jesus was simple a “good teacher.”

Pitre, a professor of Sacred Scripture, writes about his own evolution from cradle Christian to questioning and doubting graduate student to professor and scholar. His studies and research of ancient sources led him to see that the evidence amply supports traditional Christian belief, rather than the modern skeptical approach that could be summarized as “the case against Jesus.”

The Case for Jesus in Pitre’s accessible and narrative style, covers the authorship and the dating of the Gospels, the “lost Gospels” that are non-canonical and why; the Jewish background for Jesus’ life and teachings; and many more topics.

The Case for Jesus demonstrates the solid historical basis for the truths of Scripture. It’s an edifying read in a culture of relativism and uncertainty often at odds with Christian life.


*Mother Angelica, founder of the media ministry EWTN, may also be considered “old-fashioned.” But if you’ve ever stumbled upon video of her online or on EWTN, chatting away with guests on her show, or answering questions from the audience in her entertaining, no-nonsense style, you’ll find that she is not just timeless, but relevant for right now.

Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout reprints a series of six “mini-books” first published in the 1970s by Mother Angelica’s Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and this small publishing concern grew over time into the media ministry EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network—which has grown immensely over the years to include video, radio, online, and print ministries to share the Catholic faith.

Mother Angelica wrote these reflections on a pad of paper during times of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The book is a handsome small size hardback, which includes three sections—suffering, burnout, and consolation. Mother Angelica writes of her own personal experiences, shares many real-life examples of all sorts of people, and offers hope and solace to those enduring any form of suffering or burnout.

You might also be interested in:

The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux: Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin by Helene Mongin (translated by Marsha Dangle-Williamson) is another book that relies heavily on the extensive letters and correspondence of the Martin family and their circle.  This book is also a fascinating read, and was published the same year that the married couple was canonized.