Recommended reading for Lent (and other Lent stuff)

February 16, 2010 | 21 comments

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday! I wanted to share my usual book recommendations for Lent and hear about what you guys are going to be reading.

Also, based on some emails I’ve been getting with questions about Lent, I wanted to say: If you’re considering observing Lent but aren’t familiar with it, I strongly encourage you to go ahead and do so! If you’re not sure where to start, just give up some small thing that you like (e.g. listening to the radio on the way to work, sugar in your coffee, a certain TV show, etc.) and try to do a little more praying. You can find out more here at Marcel LeJueune’s excellent “All About Lent” post.

I first observed Lent a few years ago, before I was Catholic or Christian — in fact, I wasn’t even sure I believed in God! — and it was a very transforming experience. I hadn’t read up on any of the theology behind it. I just heard people on Catholic radio talking about how they were giving something up, so I decided to give up something too (a food item I enjoyed). The impact of that tiny “fast, ” along with trying to read more spiritual books, ended up leading to more spiritual growth than I could have imagined.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my recommended reading list:

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 highly, highly recommend this book.

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 way 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.

Also, you can download it to your iPhone here (thanks to Melanie for that tip!)

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. Julianne Douglas

    I just bought Fr. Ciszek's book for my son's Confirmation and can't wait to read it myself! I'm so glad to hear you recommend.

    I just found your blog the other day and wanted to tell you how much I appreciate it. You're touching more lives than you can probably imagine. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Sr Anne

    Easy one! "Heart of the World" by Hans Urs von Balthasar! It's THE Lenten read for a lot of the sisters in my community. Read it once and you'll see why. Pure paschal poetry of distilled Gospel.

  3. Thomas Smith

    Here R the Lenten reads & re-reads fellow Tweeters shared with me and that I am reading:
    -Diary of St. Faustina
    – Sadness of Christ by St. Thomsa More
    – God Alone Suffices by S.C. Biela
    @Jerry Kohl
    – Dark Night of Soul by St. John of Cross
    @ HelenMelon27
    – Julian of Norwich
    – back issues of Magnificat
    – Bible Timeline by @JeffCavins
    – The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin
    – The Way of Divine Love by Josefa Menendez
    – Total Consecration according to Louis deMontfort
    – Gargoyle Code by Fr. Dwight
    – Catechism (esp. 4th pillar)
    – That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
    – Rise, Let us Be on our Way by JPII
    -Liturgy of the Hours (various sizes)
    -Little Office of the BVM
    -Three Prayers by Olivier Clement
    -Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauwerwas
    -Way of the Cross for Holy Souls in Purgatory by Susan Tassone

  4. Catherine!

    I haven't read any of these books, but they sound like great recommendations! I would also suggest "Death on a Friday Afternoon" by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. It is fantastic!

  5. caroline marie

    Lovingkindness by sharon salzberg.

    Not specific to christians, but a life changing guide on meditating/praying to increase loving feelings for our family & friends, people we are ambivalent about, people we dislike & eventually all people. Perfect for our journey to become more like Christ.

  6. Julie

    Is anyone thinking of reading The Gargoyle Code? AmP recommended it for Lent. It's like Screwtape Letters, only with modern distractions like ESPN or Twitter. I think it sounds interesting. Especially in light of a more unplugged Lent.

  7. Duane

    I agree about jumping right in. Don't worry about "doing it right" and just "be" devotional and specific about something during lent.

    I will say that one of the most meaningful books I've read is "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis. For over five centuries it has inspired and humbled the faithful. I particularly like the following edition for its binding and translation:

  8. foursure

    The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin.

  9. Emily

    I JUST picked up "He Leadeth Me" from my parish library. You read my mind!
    My favorite Lenten books are: Death on a Friday Afternoon; Lent and Easter Wisdom from John Paul II, and my Magnificat Lenten companion.

  10. Catholic Chicks

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  11. Christine

    This is a good pick at any time, but during Lent is great: I Believe in Love, by Fr. Jean C.J. d'Elbee. It's amazing! It's based on St. Therese's little way and stresses confidence in and abandonment to Jesus.

    I'm reading it little by little. It's well designed that way and it usually makes an impact on my daily prayer time.

  12. Abbey

    I am so "thick" when it comes to selecting reading material. I stand and stare, flip through, and put back books because I'm afraid I won't enjoy them or derive what I need from them. SOOOO, THANK YOU for your and your commenter's suggested reads.

    Have a Joyful and Inspiring Lent!


  13. Anonymous

    "My Spirit Rejoices" also known as "The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest"

    An amazing book, an amazing journey which brought me to tears more than once.

  14. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I have had "He Leadeth Me" on my shelf for too long… and just last week I pulled it off and said this was my Lenten read this year… God is powerfully using this book in my life… *Thank you*, Jen…

    You are a gift to me….

    All's grace,

  15. Anonymous

    Just finished reading He Leadeth Me because I kept seeing it on your blog. It has touched me so much, I highly recommend it! Couple of years ago, I also read the Diary of St. Faustina and it is so perfect for Lent. I couldn't believe I even finished it around Easter. So when Divine Mercy Sunday came along, it was even more meaningful!

  16. Jessica

    I will be reading…

    -Life Application Bible
    -The Case for Christ
    -The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential in Business and in Life

  17. SyrianCatholic

    Christ In His Mysteries, Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B.

    You will thank God you read this book.

  18. Martha

    Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre DeCaussade, (1675-1751). I keep coming back to this wonderful book.

  19. Nicole

    I've had "He Leadeth Me" on my reading list for awhile and your post finally made me take the leap. I just bought it on Amazon!

    The one book I recommend during Lent is "Left to Tell" by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Her story of faith amid genocide was life-altering for me.

  20. polettime

    I'm reading Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ. Though I'm not at all far yet, the very first chapter talks about denying your own vanity — and all the sins to which it leads — in order to better imitate Christ. Great tone-setter for Lent.

  21. Anonymous

    The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent

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