Five books to help you reboot your spiritual life this Lent

Lent provides the opportunity for a spiritual restart. Below are descriptions of five excellent books and comments from the authors on how they aim to help you. Click on the book images for a link to purchase.

A Lenten Journey with Mother Mary by Father Edward Looney (Sophia Institute Press, 2019) has you walk with Mary, model of Christian faith, each day of your spiritual pilgrimage toward Easter. Each week of Lent has a theme and message from Marian apparitions to enliven your faith life. Learn how to make examinations of conscience more fruitful, new methods of prayer, and how to deepen trust in Christ’s love and mercy.

Why did you write the book?
Looney: I realized that the apparitions of Mary and her messages would offer much for meditation and reflection during the season of Lent. Having gone on pilgrimage to many places of Mary’s apparitions, I wanted to introduce people to these apparitions, stories, visionaries, but most importantly, messages, and how they are relevant for our lives.

What do you hope people gain from it?
Looney: A greater appreciation for the role of Mary in their spiritual life. Through her apparitions, Our Lady shows herself to be a caring mother, who prays with us and for us, and wants us to pray for others. She teaches us how to pray and obtains from Jesus the grace of healing so many of us need. Another important takeaway is to notice how God is at work in our life and what he might be asking us through our experiences. As we become attentive to the working of God in our life through the examples shared, I hope it will help people become more reflective and introspective.

Awakening by Claudia McAdam (Sophia Institute Press, 2009) is a fast-paced novel for pre-teen to adult readers. In it, Ronni, a modern American teenager, has lost her faith. She falls ill and awakens in Jerusalem just days before Jesus’ crucifixion. Realizing that she alone knows what is going to happen, she tries to stop it. (Visit ClaudiaMcAdam.com for free Book Club Notes and a Teacher’s Guide.)

Why did you write the book?
McAdam: It was a book that I couldn’t not write. For years the characters were running around in my head, and each year during Lent, the biblical scenes presented in the liturgy would be acted out in my mind by the characters who lived there.

What do you hope people gain from it?
McAdam: The big question the main character asks in the book is, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Couldn’t he have saved us in some other fashion? I hope my readers come away with a better understanding of what “covenant” and “sacrifice” mean — that God’s relationship with unfaithful Israel was a covenant like marriage, one that couldn’t be dissolved unless one of the parties died. That’s the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice. He takes our sins upon himself and gives his life to put an end to the old covenant and institute the new covenant, which includes not just Israel, but all mankind. What a beautiful love story!

40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent by Marcellino D’Ambrosio (Servant Books, 2014) offers 40 fresh ideas for a new, more creative Lenten experience. Rather than simply giving something up, discover positive, proactive ways to take action to bring about genuine spiritual transformation and a deeper relationship with Christ.

Why did you write the book?
D’Ambrosio: Most of us have very busy lives. Often, we don’t think about Lent until suddenly it is Ash Wednesday. As we scramble for something to “give up,” we often settle for the same old thing we’ve always “given up.” So Lent, which is supposed to be an opportunity for a fresh new beginning to our spiritual lives, often turns out to be a rehash of old, familiar exercises. Like the children of Israel, we end up wandering in circles through the desert instead of speeding toward the Promised Land. The 40 suggestions provide some new ways to do the traditional spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to help us blast out of our spiritual ruts and make real progress.

What do you hope people gain from it?
D’Ambrosio: Paul thinks of the Christian life in terms of an athletic competition. He talks about it as a race and urges us to run to win. In this age when more and more people are setting fitness goals, I want readers to start thinking about Lent in terms of spiritual “Spring Training,” the Church’s “40-day challenge.” I want people to regard Lent as a joyful and exciting time of development and growth.

Give Up Worry for Lent!: 40 Days to Finding Peace in Christ by Gary Zimak (Ave Maria Press, 2019) combines practical spirituality, daily Scripture readings, and simple action steps to banish the worry habit as part of your Lenten renewal. Learn how to let go of the need to control the uncontrollable — for good — and find the lasting peace that comes from trusting God.

Why did you write the book?
Zimak: Worry is a major cause of separation from God. We don’t normally think of it, but worrying is a failure to trust in God’s providence. Worrying turns us inward and causes us to ignore God’s presence and desire to walk with us. Since Lent is a time set aside for moving closer to the Lord, it’s the perfect time to give up worry!

What do you hope people gain from it?
Zimak: That it is possible to break free from worry and live a peaceful life. The fact that Jesus urges us to not worry serves as proof that we can do this. The secret is to spend more time focusing on him rather than on our problems.

Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job by Kerry Weber (Loyola Press, 2014) follows the author, a modern, young, single woman in New York City, to see if she can practice the corporal works of mercy in a meaningful manner while maintaining a full, regular life. (Won the 2015 Christopher Award.)

Why did you write the book?
Weber: Because I wanted to try to jumpstart my own commitment to the works of mercy. I realized that I had learned about these acts in school, but had drifted away from actually trying to live them. Lent seemed like the perfect time to recognize my failure, to try to do better, and to do so in the context of community. Writing about the experience helped me to process it.

What do you hope people gain from it?
Weber: That the works of mercy are not a checklist to be accomplished, but part of God’s continual call to us to live lives of mercy. I learned from my own experiment that putting these things at the forefront of my thought better enabled me to take on a “mercy mindset,” through which I filtered the events of daily life.

COMING UP: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  


Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash