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Charles Lewis: Catholic books that top my Christmas list

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  • December 6, 2018

I love making lists. It is how I fall asleep at night. Sometimes I try to name every baseball club and at least one player from each team, or think of 10 music albums I would bring with me should I ever be sent to an offshore penal colony or to the opera.

But my best nocturnal lists are about books. A friend of mine told his children years ago that having a book meant always having a friend. It is so true. It is such a beautiful invention, as it never suddenly goes “offline” and it feels like something made from the earth rather than in a sterile laboratory. I believe Guttenberg was more important to our world than Steve Jobs, and a book is more sensual than an iPhone. 

With Christmas gift season upon us, I want to introduce you to some of my favourite books. Each has a religious theme, proper for this time of year. Some are new and some have been around for a while. 

I am a big believer that fiction is a great way to open up spiritual channels. A faithful novelist can add depth and excitement, especially to biographies of holy people.

A great example comes from the late Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, the 1928 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Catherine of Siena (Ignatius Press) is a fictional biography that brings to life St. Catherine’s courageous spirituality more so than any conventional biography of her life I have read. Along the same lines is Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis (Loyola Classics), who was once nominated for the Nobel Prize. I took the name Francis when I entered the Roman Catholic Church and then read everything I could about the great Italian saint. This book really brought Francis alive for me.

My favourite novel of all time — in any category — is The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor (Loyola Classics), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962. It is tragic, funny, moving and utterly relatable after all these years. It is a great story of a priest finding his way back to sanity and sanctity.

Just out is an illustrated non-fiction account of the life of the great Lutheran pastor, German patriot and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix (Abrams Books for Young People) is a stunningly beautiful book, perfect for that young person who loves history and heroism. I think it is important that youth are provided true heroes and Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis one month before the war in Europe ended in 1945, fits that bill. Personally, I love graphic books; they should not be considered only for young people.

For those looking for a more conventional telling I would suggest Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson), or Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh (Vintage Books). For what it is worth, I prefer the Marsh book but many critics prefer Metaxas.

Two books every Catholic household should own are by Cardinal Robert Sarah, both published by Ignatius Press — The Power of Silence, which esteemed Catholic writer George Weigel called a “powerful challenge to the cacophony of our times…” and God or Nothing, an autobiography about living out the faith under Marxism and worst aspects of modern life. Many of you were fortunate to hear Cardinal Sarah speak at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in March. If you were moved by his talk you will be doubly moved by his writing.

For the person devoted to Mary there are two new books that bring exciting new insights into her holy life. I highly recommend Rethinking Mary in the New Testament by Edward Sri (Ignatius). This is not a book for beginners. Sri looks at Marian theology and ties it closely to the Bible, even discussing ideas that most of us have assumed arise from tradition with a capital “T.”

Author Brant Pitre is well known for exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity. His latest book is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary (Image/Penguin Random House). It covers similar ground to the Sri book but I think it is more accessible for those less immersed in Marian spirituality. 

For anyone looking to deepen their spiritual life, find a copy of Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus Christ Through Mary by Fr. Hugh Gillespie (Montfort Publications). It presents a powerful 33-day program to build a deeper relationship to Mary and, in the process, forge a more meaningful relationship with Jesus.

The book was suggested during a sermon by Fr. Alexander MacDonald a few months ago at St. Michael’s Cathedral. I am forever grateful to him for mentioning it. He said: “It will change your life.” He was right. 

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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