Several years ago, while teaching a summer course at Seattle University, I had as one of my students a woman who, while happily married, was unable to conceive a child. She had no illusions about what this meant for her. It bothered her a great deal.
Many of us, I am sure, have been inspired by the movie “Of Gods and Men,” which tells the story of a group of Trappist monks who, after making a painful decision not to flee from the violence in Algeria in the 1990s, are eventually martyred by Islamic extremists in 1996.
A colleague of mine shares this story: Recently, after presiding a Eucharist, a woman from the congregation came up to him and comments, “What a horrible Scripture reading today! If that’s the kind of God we’re worshipping, then I don’t want to go to heaven!”
They say that the book you most need to read finds you when you most need to read it. I’ve had that experience many times, most recently with Heather King’s book, “Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux.”
What is the real root of human loneliness? A flaw within our make-up? Inadequacy and sin? Or, does Augustine’s famous line, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” say it all?
At the end of every Roman Catholic liturgy, there is an invitation given to the people to receive a blessing. That invitation is worded this way: Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.
The idea behind that, obviously, is that a blessing can only truly be received in reverence, in humility, with head bowed, with pride and arrogance subjugated and silent.
Sometimes nothing is as helpful as a good metaphor.
In his book “The God Instinct” Tom Stella shares this story: A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari.
The Belgian spiritual writer, Bieke Vandekerckhove, comes by her wisdom honestly. She didn’t learn what she shares from a book or even primarily from the good example of others.
She learned what she shares through the crucible of a unique suffering, being hit at the tender age of 19 with a terminal disease that promised not just an early death, but also a complete breakdown and humiliation of her body en route to that death.
Taste, as St. Augustine said some 1,700 years ago, is subjective. That should be acknowledged upfront whenever someone recommends a reading list.
In my case, I need to state too that I’m not a full-time critic. It’s not like I’ve read 200 books this past year and these rose to the top. I read when I can, follow book reviews, am fortunate enough to live with academic colleagues who tip each other off on good books, and I have friends who will occasionally tell me that a certain book “has to be read.” From out of that, comes this list.
The Gospel stories about the birth of Jesus are not a simple retelling of the events that took place then, at the stable in Bethlehem. In his commentaries on the birth of Jesus, the renowned scripture scholar, Raymond Brown, highlights that these narratives were written long after Jesus had already been crucified and had risen from the dead and that they are colored by what his death and resurrection mean.
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