Five books to help you reboot your spiritual life this Lent

Roxanne King

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 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: The Next Pope and Vatican II

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Polemics about the Second Vatican Council continue to bedevil the global Catholic conversation.

Some Catholics, often found in the moribund local Churches of western Europe, claim that the Council’s “spirit” has never been implemented (although the Catholic Lite implementation they propose seems more akin to liberal Protestantism than Catholicism). Other voices claim that the Council was a terrible mistake and that its teaching should be quietly forgotten, consigned to the dustbin of history. In The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (just published by Ignatius Press), I suggest that some clarifying papal interventions are needed to address these confusions.

To begin: the next pope should remind Catholics what Pope John XXIII intended for the Council, thereby challenging both the Catholic Lite Brigade and the Forget Vatican II Platoon.

The pope’s opening address to Vatican II on October 11, 1962, made his intention clear: The Church, he said, must re-focus on Jesus Christ, from whom she “takes her name, her grace, and her total meaning.” The Church must put the Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ, the answer to the question that is every human life, at the center of her self-understanding. The Church must make that proclamation by proposing, “whole and entire and without distortion” the truths Christ gave the Church. And the Church must transmit those truths in ways that invite skeptical contemporary men and women into friendship with the Lord Jesus.

John XXIII did not imagine Vatican II to be a Council of deconstruction. Nor did he imagine it to be a Council that froze the Church in amber. Rather, Pope John’s opening address to Vatican II called the entire Church to take up the task of Christian mission: the mission to offer humanity the truth about God and us, both of which are revealed in Jesus Christ.  The next pope should forcefully remind the Church of this.

The next pope might also engage – and settle – a parallel debate that began during Vatican II and continues today: Did the Catholic Church reinvent itself between October 11, 1962, and December 8, 1965, the day the Council solemnly closed? Or must the documents of Vatican II be read in continuity with revelation and tradition? Curiously, the “progressive” Catholic Lite Brigade and the ultra-traditionalist Forget Vatican II Platoon promote the same answer: Vatican II was indeed a Council of discontinuity. But that is the wrong answer. It is a mistaken reading of John XXIII’s intention for Vatican II. It is a mistaken reading of Paul VI’s guidance of the Council. And It is a mistaken reading of the Council’s texts.

Three canonized popes – John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II – plus the great theologian-pope Benedict XVI have insisted that Vatican II can and must be read in continuity with settled Catholic doctrine. To claim that Vatican II was a Council of rupture and reinvention is to say, in effect, that these great men were either duplicitous, anti-conciliar reactionaries (the tacit indictment of the progressives) or material heretics (the tacit indictment from the far right-field bleachers). Neither indictment has any merit, although the latter has recently gotten undeserved attention, thanks to ill-considered commentaries reverberating through the echo chambers of social media and the ultra-traditionalist blogosphere.

Thus the next pope ought to insist that the Catholic Church does not do rupture, reinvention, or “paradigm shifts.” Why? Because Jesus Christ – “the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13.8] – is always the center of the Church. That conviction is the beginning of any authentic evangelization, any authentically Catholic development of doctrine, and any proper implementation of Vatican II.

The next pope should also lift up the Council’s genuine achievements: its vigorous  affirmation of the reality and binding authority of divine revelation; its biblical enrichment of the Church’s self-understanding as a communion of disciples in mission; its insistence that everyone in the Church is called to holiness, especially through the liturgy; its defense of basic human rights, including the first of civil rights, religious freedom; its commitment to truth-centered ecumenical and interreligious dialogues. Yes, there have been distortions of these teachings; but to blame the distortions on the teachings themselves is a serious analytical error.

A Catholicism indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism has no future. Neither does a Catholicism that attempts to recreate a largely imaginary past. The Catholicism with a future is the Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council, rightly understood and properly implemented. That happens to be the living Catholicism of today, and the next pope should recognize that, too.