Well, here we are on Monday of the first week of Lent. Happy feast of the Chair of St. Peter! (See how our family celebrates the day here.) If Ash Wednesday crept up on you this year, not to worry . . . it’s never too late to start voluntary Lenten disciplines! I always feel like Lent beginning on a Wednesday, but the next week being “the first week of Lent” gives us a chance to ease in a bit and to tweak things that aren’t going as well as I had hoped or to add or subtract as necessary. And the Spring Ember Days are this Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, so there are plenty of chances for fasting this week!
Note: I hope those of you whose Lent Subscription Boxes have been delayed by the winter storms share my perspective 😬 😆. (We are praying for all those effected 🙏. ) If you’d like us to check tracking for you, please email Emily (and new her darling new baby boy Jesse Campion!) at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Lent boxes sold out FAST, but we do have a few limited-edition items from the boxes available individually, created by us and not available anywhere else, including the Alleluia (🤫) sign and the adorable cactus-sticker countdown 🌵 🗓 . See them all here. And if you are looking for something you can print at home today to make Lent more meaningful in your home, check out The Printable Lent DIY Bundle.
I’ve written quite a bit about Lent, and how, over the years, we have incorporated decor and small but noticeable changes in how and what we eat (fewer snacks, more shopping from the pantry) and what we do (no TV or video games, more Mass and prayer) to make Lent feel like a season set apart from others. And how sometimes even Lent fails can be positive.
But I don’t think I’ve written about one important aspect: BOOKS! I love reading–and more often these days listening to audiobooks, since my hands are usually busy. During Lent, I have even more time for it, since I don’t have recourse to TV shows in my downtime. Choosing books that fit the mood and goals of Lent, as it were, adds to the ambiance of Lent in an interior way, just as decorating our home for Lent does in an exterior way.
I try to have a fiction book and a nonfiction book going at the same time, and usually a couple others that I’m doing as read-alouds (or listens) with various groups of my kids. Here are a few of my favorites over the years. This post contains Amazon and other affiliate links.
In Conversation with God: This is a seven-volume set of books of meditations on the gospel readings that covers every day of the year. Volume 2 covers Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide. I’m reading it daily during my private prayer time. I love these books because they have a really practical unsentimental approach that fits my temperament. The meditations are best read alongside the gospel for the day, but can be understood without it. Also available as a daily podcast. Appropriate for men, women, and teens.
Set a Fire Lent Journal: The beautiful Lent journals by Blessed is She never disappoint. I’m late to my recommendations here, and they’re sold out of the book version of the women’s journal, but it’s available as a digital download here. The kids’ hardcover version is really lovely and would make a great addition to Lent at home for kids. My middle kids are so excited to have a Lenten devotional just for them. You get immediate access to a digital version of the journal. Suitable for children 6-12 years old.
In Sinu Jesu: I’ve recommended this before and I’ll probably do it again. These messages from Jesus and his mother, Mary, received in prayer by a Benedictine Monk beginning in 2007, and published with an imprimatur in 2016, are beautiful and convicting. This book is full of God’s mercy and plenty of inspiration for us to resolve to reconcile our will to his. Appropriate for adults and teens. Buy an extra copy for your priest, you’re going to want to give him one.
Introduction to the Devout Life: Need a plan? St. Francis de Sales has one for you. Written specifically as letters of advice to laywomen to whom he gave spiritual direction, it feels very applicable to my life as a wife and mother. And though it was written in the 17th century, it is still very relevant. It’s available as an audiobook, but in this particular case, I recommend reading it slowly, one chapter at a time, as it is recommended to be used. Appropriate for men, women, and teens.
Lives of the Saints
Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year (or from Ignatius Press here): A quick look at hundreds of saints’ lives, organized by the liturgical calendar. This book makes a great reference for kids’ saint reports, or as a help for parents who want to incorporate more liturgical living in the home to be able to quickly access some information about the saint of the day! Appropriate for all ages. To read on their own, kids might enjoy this book more.
Bakhita Tells Her Story: St. Josephine Bakhita has a lot of sympathy for the fact that I’m missing Dr. Pepper. 🤨 Well, she probably would be sympathetic, being a saint and all, but I appreciate how her story, and the stories of so many saints’ lives really put my own paltry sufferings in perspective. This book is out of print and hard to find, which is unfortunate, but perhaps you could find it at a local library? It’s the only book I’ve been able to find that contains the actual text of St. Josephine Bakhita’s actual thirty-five page 1910 autobiography, rather than an author’s interpretation of it. If anyone knows of an in-print book version of that, please let me know! You can also find it online here.
The Story of a Soul: I come back to this autobiography again and again, especially during Lent. St. Therese has a reputation of being sweet and gentle, but I love reading about how feisty and difficult she was, and how her eventual gentleness was the work of God’s grace and years of concerted effort. #soyouresayingtheresachance
SO so many great saint biographies are available at Ignatius Press.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien: I’m listening to this with one of my daughters right now. I’ve been admiring this hardcover illustrated version. While the trilogy itself is not overtly religious, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic and a daily communicant and that is reflected in his writing. The ideas of redemptive suffering and death to self and sacrifice for others–all so good as Lenten perspective–really shine through. Appropriate for all ages, but sensitive kids might be troubled by descriptions of violence and scary creatures. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson: Written in 1907 by the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury who converted to Catholicism and became a priest, it’s an excellent (if unsettling) work of apocalyptic science fiction. The audiobook version is really well done. Same age caveat. Note: A Canticle for Leibowitz is another great work of Catholic dystopian fiction.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky: Sometimes Lent is the motivation we need for undertakings we might not otherwise, um, undertake. So reading what many consider to be the greatest novel ever written, all nearly-a-thousand pages of it, is underway for my Lent this year. Popes JPII, Benedict, and Francis have all referenced it in encyclicals! I’m not aware of anything in it that would prevent listening to it as an audiobook around kids, but it’s probably only of interest to adults and teens.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: A great undertaking from a couple Lents back for me, this is a beautiful and true novel with Catholic themes and an excellent Lenten perspective. You have my permission to skip the chapter about the Paris sewer system. Same age caveat as above. This beautifully illustrated abridged version is a nice introduction to the story for older kids.
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas: We watch the sixties technicolor movie version every year, but it’s even better as a book. A really compelling historical fiction-version of the story of a Roman soldier who participated in the crucifixion. Appropriate for all ages, but of interest to middle-grades and up.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: I think it took three different Lents for me to finally read this book over ten years ago. Sometimes it just isn’t the right time, you know? But wow, when I finally did, it has really stuck with me. The book is a trilogy which follows the entire life of a medieval Norwegian woman. The depictions of the consequence of sin are really moving, and the way that the characters practice their Catholic faith was really transformational in my life. The same can be said for the author, who converted to Catholicism shortly after the last book was published. A bit intense for little ears, but great for adults and teens (with discussion, I think it should be required reading for teens!). I like the single volume for the audiobook version, but if you’re reading it, I recommend the individual volumes. As a single book it’s rather unwieldy.
So . . . what books would you add to the list for Lenten reading?
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I have just started reading “The Tears of Christ: Meditations for Lent” by St. John Henry Newman, published by Augustine Institute. It’s really great and has the slightly modernized text of one of his sermons for every day of Lent. I started reading it on Thursday after Lent, I also read the devotion for Ash Wednesday then- because it came in the mail Thursday, just in time. So far I would highly recommend. The devotions aren’t long 2-3 pages, but they are very dense. Most interesting to an adult reader.
I am currently (re)reading Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis) and The Spear (Louis de Wohl), which I think both make excellent Lenten reads too. So many good ideas here! In Conversation With God are my favorite devotionals ever too, they are incredibly relevant and no nonsense!
Yes, both of those are so good, and perfect for Lent.
Have you ever read The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger? It’s a many volume set that has prayers, mediations, commentary, traditions, history and much more on pretty much each day of the liturgical year. Saint Therese mentions it in her autobiography as a book she was immersed in growing up.
I haven’t but it certainly seems like it would be of interest to me!
Highly recommend Preparation for Death: Considerations on Eternal Truths
by St. Alphonsus Liguori (Author), Paul A. Boer Sr. (hugs to all :-))
I’m reading the second Jesus book by Pope Benedict as it deals with Holy Week. I’m also reading Surprised by Joy (CS Lewis’ autobiography) and Orthodoxy (Chesterton) for a course. For fiction, I read In This House of Brede a few years ago in Lent and it was so beautiful.
Why is everyone such a downer on the Paris sewer system bit? I found it fascinating! Genuinely! The bit that I actually skipped whole pages of was the entire battle of Waterloo. Such a snooze-fest for me. But APART from that, I was surprised what a cracker of a read Les Mis is.
If you enjoyed it, I highly recommend The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Another lifelong French epic with a different moral tone but also very readable. What I remember getting from it ultimately is the futility of revenge. He spends his entire life getting elaborate revenge on everyone who wronged him and then…nothing. Still isn’t happy or fulfilled. It was a waste of his entire life. (But I promise it’s a great read!)
I am currently reading The Screwtape Letters and really need to remember not to be intimidated by CS Lewis because he is so readable. His ‘Mere Christianity’ (I think, might have been a different one) was instrumental in my conversion from atheism because he’s so good at addressing the common man with Big Theological Issues.