Recommended reading for Lent

February 16, 2011 | 34 comments

Ash Wednesday is just around the corner (March 9), so I wanted to share my suggestions for great Lenten reads, and get your suggestions as well.

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:

To Know Christ Jesus by F.J. Sheed

To Know Christ JesusNo other book has brought the Gospels alive for me like this one. Sheed offers all sorts of interesting thoughts on the life of Christ, without veering into unfounded speculation. He mines the Scriptures and comes up with gems that I’d never seen before. It is a bit dense (I almost gave up on it about 40 pages into it), but it really picks up around page 50. If you can stick with it, you’ll be richly rewarded.


10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano

10 PrayersThis slim little book is packed with all sorts of interesting thoughts about what God’s will is for you, and how to grow closer to God in times in silence. I found it to be particularly helpful in the discussion of the age-old “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” question. This is the perfect read if you’ve been feeling angry with God, wondering why he’s silent, feeling like he hasn’t been answering your prayers, etc. (I first discovered it through this recommendation from a mother whose only child was murdered in the Virginia Tech shootings.)


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.


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.


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!)


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.


What are your recommendations for Lenten reading?


  1. Leila

    I just posted something strikingly similar! I promise I didn’t copy you!! Great minds think alike?

  2. Scott

    The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich. I got it as an audiobook some years back and have listened to it in two recent seasons of Lent. It makes Holy Week that much more poignant.

  3. Andie

    Each lent I re-read ‘The Way of the Cross’ by Caryll Houselander. It was first given to me by a monk friend of mine who does the same. Each year it offers new insights and reflections – just goes deeper and deeper. Thanks for your recommendations Jennifer.

  4. Shannon

    The Weeping Chamber, by Sigmund Brouwer. I guess it could best be described as historical fiction, but it is a wonderful read. It gave me new insights into the time of the Gospels, and so much more. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it might be a good read during Holy Week.

  5. Nicole C

    Jen, have you read The Way of the Pilgrim? I’m giving that a shot this year.

  6. Erin

    I have recently read several books by Father Jacques Phillip: Searching for and Maintaining Peace and Interior Freedom. They are phenomenal. Both very short, but very powerful books on surrendering to Divine Providence.

    Anything at is live-changing.

    God Bless!

  7. Kathryn

    The Pleasures of God by John Piper

  8. Ruth Ann

    Biblical Meditations for Lent by Carroll Stuhlmueller, c.p. These are daily and Sunday meditations on the Scriptures of the Liturgical season.

    Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina with 500 Scripture Texts for Prayer by Thelma Hall, r.c. This is basically about using Scripture for prayer, and I like that there are themes and with each theme a list of passages from Scripture about that theme.

    Humility Matters for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Mary Margaret Funk, o.s.b.

  9. Jenny

    I read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis last Lent. I highly recommend it; thanks for your recommendations.

  10. Theresa in Alberta

    The King crucified and Risen,,Meditions on tbe daily readings from Ash wensday to Divine Mercy sunday by Father Benedict Groeschel CFR
    EXCELLANT book

  11. Hope

    Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr.

  12. Jen G

    “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” and “Time for God” by Father Jacques Philippe. These books are brief, but filled with wisdom. I can’t recommend his writings enough.

  13. Julie

    I tried to read Introduction to the Devout Life, expecting to love it, but just couldn’t get into it. Thanks for the reminder to give it another try. I find there can be a certain divine timing to spiritual reading…something you just can’t get into at one time, you can’t tear yourself away from at another point.

  14. Lisa

    Hi Jennifer, Thanks for the great reading list. I would add Consoling the Heart of Jesus, by Fr. Michael Gaitely to the list. It’s a wonderful book that combines the Divine Mercy message, the wisdom of St. Faustina and St. Terese, along with Ignatian spirituality. It’s meant to be read as a do-it-yourself weekend retreat. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Transformative, and would be perfect for Lent!

  15. Martha

    Thanks so much for your list. I’ve just started reading Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI and it’s a terrific book.

    I will re-read Fr. Jean-Pierre deCaussade Abandonment to Divine Providence. I never tire of deCaussade and find such encouragement in his writing.

  16. Christina

    This is a little different from the other suggestions, but I’d recommend picking up a copy of the Lenten Little Black Book. It’s easy to tuck in your purse (or pocket, for guys!) and just have with you– and the meditations are often very helpful. If nothing else, it’s a nice little devotion to add. Our parish always has a few copies, but I’m sure you could also find it online.

    That being said, I’m also a huge fan of reading “Salvifici Doloris” during Lent. What better to contemplate in this time of preparation than the meaning of the Cross and suffering?

  17. Magdalena

    I’ve read the first 5 chapters of Dr. Brant Pitre’s new book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. I will definitely want to reread it during lent. The Eucharist, being the source and summit of Christian life, is an inexhaustible font of love. This book is opening my heart to know and love our Lord even more.

  18. carmen sophia

    Here’s what I’m reading at the moment & a few other suggestions. Awakening to Prayer by Augustine Ichiro Okumura. Temptation and Discernment by Segundo Galilea. The Mystery of Christ, the liturgy as spiritual experience by Thomas Keating. Come Creator Spirit by Raniero Cantalamessa.

    • Ruth Ann

      I want to say “ditto” on Awakening to Prayer by Okumura. It’s one of the finest books I’ve ever read about prayer.

  19. priest's wife

    WOW! So many great books…and I have time to buy some…still deciding

  20. jen

    “a season for the spirit” by fr. martin smith.

  21. 'Becca

    My top recommendation is to read all 4 Gospels all the way through. I did this in 2001 and learned so many things I hadn’t known were in there! It also gave me a much clearer sense of Jesus as a person.

    Last Lent I read The Last Week by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. It’s about the final week of Jesus’s earthly life, focusing on the account in Mark. They point out that it’s in large part a story of failed discipleship, which startled me–most of the apostles are saints, right? But they actually serve as some pretty good examples of what NOT to do, and the fact that they became saints anyway is a lesson about redemption. I also learned some interesting things about how Mark’s writing techniques convey the story.

    Also during last Lent, I began reading a daily devotional to my son after his bedtime story. It’s written for adults, but he likes it even when he doesn’t fully understand, and I get a lot out of it. Each day tells us to pray for a particular diocese, so we talk about what things might be like in that part of the world. We’re Episcopal, and the devotional we read is Forward Day by Day.

  22. MrsDarwin

    Characters of the Passion, by Fulton J. Sheen. It’s a slim volume, but powerful. Each chapter is a meditation on one of the figures involved in the Passion — Peter, Judas, Pilate, etc. — and a corresponding virtue and vice. I re-read it every Lent.

  23. Wsquared

    I would recommend Fr. Robert Barron, And Now I see: A Theology of Transformation, which is not about Lent per se, or even focused specifically on Lent, but nonetheless deals with what it means for us to sin, which means that we wish to both grasp and hide from God, instead of learning to see Him.

    It’s a very thoughtful book, logically written, very accessible, and “a good book to think with.”

    Barron also references works from movies and Bob Dylan to literature like Dante Alighieri, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner (your reading list would probably grow after reading Barron!).

    • Erin

      Just last week, my husband and I listened to a CD of Father Barron, he is PHENOMENAL. I am anxious to listen to/read more of him. I checked out his website He has several study programs that include a CD or DVD and a study guide. I’m sure his books are awesome, but he is such a phenomenal speaker that I would probably want to listen to more CD’s. The CD was given to us by a friend of mine and I believe it came from Catholic Lighthouse Media. You can purchase CD’s of talks for $4.00.

      He had quickly topped my list of favorite speakers. He reminds me of Scott Hahn. He even sounds like him a little.

      God Bless!

      • Erin

        I wanted to add the link to Lighthouse Catholic Media as well:

        For those of you who may prefer to listen to talks on CD rather than read. I thoroughly enjoy both. They have great talks from wonderful Catholic speakers like : Scott Hahn, FAther Corapi, Father BArron, The Popchaks, just to name a few. I believe all the CD’s are $4.00.

        God Bless

        • Wsquared

          God bless you, too, Erin!

          Yes, Fr. Barron has been a favorite go-to when it comes to the Catholic faith of late. I’ve not listened to any of his CDs, but I’ve listened to his sermons, whatched his YouTube videos, and I love his books.

          I also read Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home which I thoroughly enjoyed, and even laughed in places, because it was so heartfelt. It was certainly very helpful to me, because even though it’s a dual convserion story with lots of intellectual and spiritual meat, it’s also a portrait of a marriage.

          I enjoy reading the current Pope, of course, being one of those “B16 Catholics.” 😉 I really do recommend all of the interviews he did with Peter Seewald– Salt of the Earth, God and the World, and Light of the World. Benedict XVI is always good to think with. The interviews with Seewald, though, are special, in that they’re a dialogue between a curious agnostic skeptic (Seewald) and not only a master apologist, but a master theologian, if not one of *the* pre-eminent Catholic theologians of the 20th century. Seewald came back to the Church.

          I haven’t yet gotten to Jesus of Nazareth, but I hope to in good time.

  24. Cari @ One Fall Day

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I just found your blog which I can’t help but think is my first sign from God that journey that I am going to take to convert is real and true.

    I just listened to your audio on your conversion experience and it was like a loud “ding-dong” to my brain. I will be reading your archives this weekend.

    A new reader,


  25. Lani

    Good recomendations. My husband is always looking for new Lenten reading (for both of us!) and wanted to share his thoughts.

    If you like Francis de Sales, you might enjoy The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. It’s a little too Protestant at times in its distrust on reason, but it is good for daily meditations on humbling ourselves before God. There is a good translation by Ronald Knox.

    And he’d highly recommend George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic, a beautiful and uniquely organized introduction to the faith that avoids the standard catechism format in favor of vignettes drawn from specific saints and places in order to elucidate broader themes. I’ve read it during three Lents and every time it draws me to the Church all over again.

  26. towanda

    I’m reading these days the “Discourses to mixed congregations” by Cardinal John H. Newman.
    I highly recommend it

  27. Debora Ratliff

    I will re-read Fr. He even sounds like him a little. It’s about the final week of Jesus’s earthly life, focusing on the account in Mark.

  28. Agnes Klein

    I haven’t yet gotten to Jesus of Nazareth, but I hope to in good time. Our parish always has a few copies, but I’m sure you could also find it online. WOW!

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