Summer books for Catholic Bookstore Month

Summer offers us leisure—time for family, travels, and reading. July also provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of Catholic bookstores, with the third annual Catholic bookstore month. The Archdiocese of Denver has a number of Catholic stores, located within parishes and operating independently. Take advantage of summer to find some extra reading time, checking out a nearby Catholic bookstore and reading some great, Catholic books. Here are a few ideas.

Father Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., Fatima for Today (Ignatius Press, 2011). With the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, this book provides a helpful overview of Fatima’s message, events, visionaries, and continuing importance. Father Apostoli describes how we can participate in the mission of Fatima by praying the rosary for peace, offering acts of sacrifice and penance for conversion, and honoring Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart on the first Saturday of the month. October 13th marks the centenary of the miracle of the sun and on this day Archbishop Aquila will consecrate the Archdiocese to Our Lady of Fatima. Reading Father Apostoli’s book will help us prepare for this important event.

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics). This wonderful novel set in Sante Fe in the mid 1800s, features prominently the Archdiocese’s first bishop. Though Bishop Machebeuf appears with the fictional name Fr. Vaillant, Cather stated that much of the novel is historically accurate and came from William Joseph Howlett’s biography of Machebeuf and excerpts of the letters contained within it. The novel describes the meeting of many cultures in Santa Fe—Native, Spanish, American, and French—and the dedication of Fr. Vaillant and his bishop-friend Latour (Archbishop Lamy in real life). The book inspired me to explore the amazing, Catholic sites of New Mexico.

Blessed Columba Marmion, Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction (Zaccheus Press, 2006). Marmion spiritually influenced St. John Paul II, as well as other popes, and this book in particular was mentioned by Mother Teresa as one of her favorites. Bl. Marmion was a diocesan priest from Dublin who discerned a vocation to the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium, eventually becoming abbot there. He led spiritual conferences throughout Europe and gave regular spiritual direction to priests, religious, and laity. Union with God gives us excerpts of letters to those he directed, providing a deep spiritual vision grounded in simple directives for daily life. Through these letters we find an application of Marmion’s central doctrine that our holiness consists in sharing, through sanctifying grace, Christ’s own relationship of sonship to the Father.

Jason Evert, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves (Totus Tuus, 2014). After George Weigel’s monumental biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope (1999), we might wonder if we need another biography. Weigel himself praised Evert’s book as “an insightful, popular introduction,” which not only provides a succinct and accurate glimpse of John Paul’s life, but details his five loves: young people, human love, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross. It’s an important introduction to the great Pope for those too young to remember him, but also provides a great portrait and testimony to his greatness even for those already enriched by his life and witness. John Paul continues to provide an essential model of holiness and evangelization for the Church today.

Steve Weidenkopf, The Glory of the Crusades (Catholic Answers, 2014). As Catholics we don’t hear much about the “glory” of the crusades, but find ourselves on the defensive as they are listed as an example of Catholic oppression. Weidenkopf, author of Ascension’s Church history resource Epic, shows how the common view of the crusades is mistaken. They were not acts of violent bigotry, but important defensive exercises and even expressions of devotion to Our Lord, by honoring the places He made sacred. The Crusades responded to the pleas of Christians in the Middle East for support and were undertaken as penitential pilgrimages to work toward salvation. Drawing upon recent historical scholarship, Weidenkopf dispels misunderstanding and false accusations, while providing a compelling portrait of the real story.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence (Ignatius, 2017) and God or Nothing (Ignatius, 2015). Cardinal Sarah has risen to prominence as a spiritual guide recently with these two monumental, interview books. God or Nothing details his life, beginning in a remote village of Guinea, Africa, coming to the faith through the Holy Ghost Fathers, and entrance into the seminary at age 12. He became an archbishop at the astounding age of 34, suffering persecution under his nation’s dictatorship, and was then called to Rome, where he has served in various capacities. Both books contain a powerful spiritual message: the renewal of the Church and the world will come through prayer. For a more detailed review of The Power of Silence and its timely message in our noisy, technologically dominated culture, see “The Way God Speaks” in the last issue of the Denver Catholic.

Helen Pinkerton, A Journey of the Mind: Collected Poems 1945-2016 (Wiseblood Books, 2016). Unfortunately poetry has lost its pride of place in Western culture. Pinkerton’s poems show us why we should begin reading poetry again with their simple elegance, beauty, and profound spiritual vision. Here is one of her poems:


In touching gently like a golden finger,
The sunlight, falling as a steady shimmer
Through curling fruit leaves, fills the mind with hunger
For meaning in the time and light of summer.

Dispersed by myriad surfaces in falling,
Drawn into green and into air dissolving,
Light seems uncaught by sudden sight or feeling.
Remembered, it gives rise to one’s believing

Its truth resides in constant speed descending.
The momentary beauty is attendant.
A flicker of the animate responding
Shifts in the mind with time and fades, inconstant.

We have a wealth of enriching books from a variety of genres made accessible to us through the work of Catholic publishers and bookstores. Take advantage of your summer leisure to explore some Catholic books.

COMING UP: The summer reading list

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Fifty years ago, prior to my freshman year at Baltimore’s St. Paul Latin High School, the late Father W. Vincent Bechtel introduced me to The Summer Reading List, upper-case. Father Bechtel didn’t fool around: he tossed his teenage charges into the deep end of the English and American literature pool and told us, in effect, “Start swimming.” And while I first thought of him as a holy terror, I now remember him as one of the best teachers I ever had – a guide to and through books that have remained my literary friends for life.

His judgment wasn’t infallible; assigning us The History of Henry Esmond resulted in my lifelong distaste for Thackeray. But Father Bechtel hit the mark far more often than not and to honor this golden anniversary of his introducing me to The Summer Reading List, let me offer a few suggestions that will take you beyond “beach reading” in these vacation months.

Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church, by Pope Benedict XVI (Ignatius Press): Joseph Ratzinger was an exceptional teacher, and his talent for distilling a lifetime of learning into material accessible to a less-learned audience was never on better display than in the Wednesday general audiences of his papacy. From March 15, 2006 through February 14, 2007, Pope Benedict gave a marvelously insightful catechesis on the nature of the Church through a series of weekly meditations on the most prominent personalities of New Testament Christianity. Read one entry a day for some summer spiritual muscle-building.

Seeds of the Word, by Robert Barron (Word on Fire): A highly placed U.S. churchman once described Father Bob Barron as “the American Ambrose;” the complimentary analogy to the great catechist of Milan, who brought St. Augustine to the faith, was not misplaced. As his Catholicism series made clear, there is no one, anywhere, who does a better job of making the Church’s proposal make sense than Father Barron. Now, in a collection of his short catechetical pieces, he picks out of our often-confused culture the bits and pieces of a lost Christian heritage, and makes these fragments the entry-points for advancing the New Evangelization by presenting Christian faith in surprising, charming, and disarming ways.

Ministers at War, by Jonathan Schneer (Basic Books); Winston’s War, Never Surrender, Churchill’s Hour, and Churchill’s Triumph, by Michael Dobbs (Sourcebooks Landmark); I began 2015 thinking it was impossible to mine the Churchill legacy for anything new, interesting, or insightful; historian Schneer and novelist Dobbs proved me wrong. Ministers at War tells the gripping story of how the man who certainly saved Britain and arguably saved western civilization managed his cabinet “team of rivals,” a coalition of men who had spent most of their interrelated, pre-war political lives at daggers drawn. Dobbs’ quartet of novels is lighter, but nonetheless compelling, fare. My two favorites were the first volume in the series, Winston’s War, which chillingly captures the appeasement mentality that has, alas, resurrected itself these days, and Churchill’s Triumph, which is in fact about Yalta and Churchill’s desperate attempts to play a weak hand in deciding the future of Europe with an aggressive Stalin and an incapacitated Franklin Roosevelt.

Dvorak in Love by Josef Skvorecky (Norton): I never met the distinguished Czech-Canadian novelist Skvorecky, who died three years ago, but we had an interesting correspondence and I greatly admired his work (as Father Bechtel would have, had he lived long enough to read it). Skvorecky certainly deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature more than many of its recent recipients, but his unrepentant anti-communism likely didn’t sit well with the politically-correct Swedish Nobel Committee. In any event, Dvorak in Love is a beautifully crafted, fictional re-creation of the great Czech composer’s three years in the United States, when he was introduced him to ragtime (which he admired) and produced the splendid New World Symphony and the luminous Cello Concerto, the latter inspired by a lost, unrequited love. Elegiac, tender, bawdy, and sharp-witted, Dvorak in Love is also a brilliant evocation of the Gilded Age: raucously in New York, and more gently in Spillville, Iowa.