Recommended reading for Lent

February 22, 2009 | 31 comments

Can you believe that Ash Wednesday is already this week? I don’t have much time to write today but I wanted to throw out some Lenten reading suggestions based on some of my favorite books:

He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek

This stunning autobiographical account of Fr. Ciszek’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia is one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. I read it more than a year ago and yet I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.

What was most surprising to me was how applicable the lessons he learned are to modern American life. His insights about everything from suffering to discerning God’s will to trusting God in all things — which he learned the hard way during five years of brutal solitary confinement and fifteen years in a Siberian death camp — are amazingly inspiring, whether you’re experiencing great suffering or just feeling numbed by the daily grind. I particularly loved his thoughts on how to maintain a lively spiritual life even when life feels mundane or boring. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Posts that were inspired by this book:

Journey to Easter by Pope Benedict XVI

Based on a Lenten retreat he gave for John Paul II in the 1980’s (hosting a retreat to help John Paul II grow in faith — how’s that for pressure?!), Pope Benedict XVI walks us through a series of meditations based on Scripture readings for Lent. I admit that there were two or three chapters that were just kind of over my head, but the rest of the book offered powerful insights on everything from prayer to the Paschal mystery to conversion to the Church. I find myself going back to this book over and over again for inspiration. An excellent read for Lent.

Posts that were inspired by this book:

Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales

When I first read the 17th century classic Introduction to the Devout Life, I didn’t feel like I got that much out of it. When I reached the last chapter I felt like I’d enjoyed reading it but couldn’t point to anything specific I’d taken away from it. Then I picked it up off my desk one day and, as I flipped through and re-read the various passages I’d starred and highlighted, I realized just how much I really had taken away from this book.

Now that I’ve gone through it again, I count it among the best books I’ve ever read. It’s the ultimate how-to manual for conforming yourself to Christ. Also, perhaps because the books is based on de Sales’ letters of spiritual direction to his sister and other women who wanted to grow in faith, I find that his advice perfectly fits the things I struggle with on a day to day basis as a wife and mother. Just know that you may have to read it more than once to have the lessons really sink in.

Posts that were inspired by this book:

Finding God’s Will for You by Francis de Sales

How do we know what God wants us to do? Should we try to discern God’s will even for little decisions like what to eat for dinner? What if we pray and it seems like God is telling us nothing at all? These were the questions I had when I decided to get a copy of this book. I found good answers to those questions and a whole lot more: the book has lots of practical advice for daily living that you can start applying to your life right now. It’s also a little bit less dense and more readable than Introduction to the Devout Life.

Posts that were inspired by this book:

What are your recommendations for good Lenten reads?


  1. Bill Walsh

    Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus.

  2. Emily

    I’m planning on reading Cornelius Plantinga’s _Breviary of Sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be_. My sister gave it to me last year, and I cannot think of a better time to read it!

  3. Sara

    Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Cross and the Beatitudes – Lessons on Love and Forgiveness by Fulton J. Sheen

  4. Shona

    Hi Jen, thanks for posting these. I’ve just picked up a book from the Knock Shrine in Ireland by Francis de Sales called “Finding God Wherever You Are”. It is an edited version of the writings that you mentioned, a purchase I made with your recommendations in mind.

    For Lent, I am going to try to regain a sense of spirituality and direction with “Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent” by Henri J. Nouwen. I am hoping that the daily meditation will help me to make prayer a daily habit again!

    God bless.

  5. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    great resources and so timely! thank you!

  6. Kathy

    “To Know Christ Jesus” by Frank Sheed is good to read at any time of the year.

  7. Christine

    I recently read Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved” and it was excellent. A lot of highlighted parts in that…

  8. Catholic Mom

    I posted on a Bibliophile’s Lent a couple of weeks ago and offered several options for Lenten reading.I will be reading On Conscience by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Just wanted you to know that I am using your list of recommended reading for Catholics as suggestions for my adult education class on Building your Domestic Church.Thanks!

  9. Janet in Toronto

    I’m with Shona…I’ll be (re-) reading Nouwen’s Show Me the Way daily throughout Lent. I used it a few years ago and am looking forward to his wonderful meditations again this year.

  10. Shylock

    I must read more Henri Nouwen!

    I have a book that my mom picked up in Medjugorje called “Give Me Your Wounded Heart” by Father Slavko Barbaric. (

    Not sure if anyone believes in Medjugorje – I have been there and found it an incredibly peaceful place, but I don’t know that this does not authenticate the apparitions.)

    But anyway, it is a book on how to properly prepare for Confession, something that I need to do more!

  11. Dawn

    In the same genre as He Leadeth Me, which I also loved, I highly recommend The Shadow of His Wings, an autobiography by Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM. I just finished it a couple of weeks ago. Wow! Just like He Leadeth Me, this book will make you wonder why you ever question God and his providence working in your life.

    I am reading Introduction to the Devout Life right now, too. It has been a slow read and I am only about halfway through but I can’t put my finger on why. Every time I read a little section I get something good out of it but I find myself not jumping to get back to reading it again. With The Shadow of His Wings I could hardly get myself to put the book down. I read that 340 page book in less than a week.

    It must be the more personal aspect of Introduction to the Devout Life that is my problem. I need to be examining and changing my OWN behavior instead of just reveling in another persons amazing life story. Uh, yeah, I guess this really IS a good Lenten read for me to keep working on. 😉

    Thanks for the recommendations! I will add the ones I haven’t read to my (huge) amazon wish list.


  12. Martha

    With God in Russia, also by Fr. Ciszek, is very good. Maybe not as spiritual as He Leadeth Me but I bet you would still want to read it.

  13. Anonymous

    The Return of the Prodigal Son…Henri Nouwen

    The Diary of Sister Faustina

    He and I

    Anything Benedict Groechel

  14. Rebecca

    Thanks so much for the suggestions – I’m going to try one of the first 2.

  15. expat

    “Union With God” by Blessed Columba Marmion

    “Spiritual Letters” by Abbot Chapman

    “The Sacrament of the Present Moment” by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

  16. Fruitful Harvest

    Hi there~
    I to found your blog from So this Is Heaven On Earth..I too am Catholic and am Quverfull! Come say hi some time!

    Peace and Blessings,

  17. Shannon

    “I Heard God Laughing” by the poet Hafiz is my Lenten reading material.

  18. Anonymous

    Hi Jen, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning really helps to bolster one’s spirit and put things into proper perspective. It’s not on the surface a religious book, but I found that what he writes conforms with our faith.

  19. edie

    Maybe an unlikely one and certainly not a theological work….is C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. I’ve read it before but it’s been a great read in preparation for Lent.

  20. Mrs. B

    Perfect timing for this post! Thanks Jen! I just was thinking last week that I should get a new book to help me during my Lenten journey. I’m looking forward to going to the bookstore and checking these out for Lent. Thank you! I’ll give you an update on what I pick.

  21. Lydia

    Hi Jennifer

    I've been reading your blog for a while & just haven't taken the time to write my introduction – (sorry)! I really enjoy all your posts and identify with a lot of them also.

    As preparation for lent, I am hearing the presentations on the 7 Capital sins by Father Philip Bochanski posted here:

    I am especially focusing on the 2 I will be working on during Lent.

    Another book I am reading is "Spiritual Combat" by Lorenzo Scupoli.

    And for my daily meditation I just got "Divine Intimacy" by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. That is a book of meditations on the Mass readings based on Carmelite Spirituality.

    I also wanted to ask you if you have looked into Carmelite Spirituality and/or Secular Orders in general? I am currently in formation for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites and I identify a lot of that spirituality in your posts =)


  22. Maggie

    Two friends and I are starting St Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle for Lent 🙂 We’re excited!

  23. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Travel Man (and i hope I don’t get in trouble for sharing!) is planning on making an annual Lenten read of In Imitation of Christ, and I’ve read The Deloros Passion (forgive my spelling) before, though it’s a brutal read. I could only get through a few pages at a time, and it’s best read with tissues if you’re the sensitive sort.

    Also, and this is not reading, we typically will watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday to really remind ourselves of Christ’s love for us.

    [ps: Strange thing – your word verification for me was “haterant” – verrry odd.]

  24. Sarah Mosley

    I have a question for you. I was raised a non-denominational Protestant, but am planning to convert upon our move to Minneapolis at some point this year.

    I too have three children three and under and am pregnant with my fourth. (I ALWAYS seem to be nursing and pregnant during Lent…perhaps one of these years I will be able to fast, hopefully!) How do you teach your children about Lent, and how do you help them observe the penitential season in an age appropriate way? I really have no idea how to relate Lent to them.

  25. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    How do you teach your children about Lent, and how do you help them observe the penitential season in an age appropriate way?

    Sarah – This is a great question. To be honest, I am only barely starting to get into celebrating the liturgical year with my children — definitely not an area of expertise for me!

    I recently got a copy of the book Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church that will hopefully give me a place to start. 🙂

  26. Anonymous

    He Leadeth Me has profoundly affected my understanding of God’s will for my life, moment by moment. I came to love Fr. Ciszek for his humility and humanity. He has become a special heavenly intercessor as he understands all about fears, doubts, and human weakness. Judy

  27. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Sarah – Another follow-up: a friend of mine recommended the blog By Sun and Candlelight as a great resource for ideas for celebrating the liturgical year with kids. Here are all her posts on Lent. Hope that helps!

  28. Wendy

    Maybe this doesn’t exactly fit the topic but I was challenged one year to read the bible from cover to cover during Lent. It was close to 30 pages a day. I was so amazed how a fast reading of it fit things together as never before. It pointed me to a richer deeper celebration of what Christ did and a greater joy in celebrating His risen life. It was also a sacrifice to spend that kind of time. Well worth it.

  29. Anonymous

    Thanks for this list. I’ve ordered “He Leadeth Me” which should arrive this week. My favorite book is “The Lord” by Guardini – it makes for great Lenten reading because each chapter is short – the book is based on a series of radio talks, iirc. Lots of fascinating insight.

  30. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings

    Jennifer – while I’m no longer Catholic and my current denomination does not practice Lent, I just wanted to wish you a fruitful, contemplative, and blessed Lenten season.

  31. Jessica

    Jen, can I link to this for the Lenten blog carnival over at my blog?

    And I’ve found C. S. Lewis’ essay “The World’s Last Night” to be very good Lenten reading.

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