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Taking Stock: Lenten and Spiritual Reading Guide

It is a time for fasting, but that should only help free our minds and hearts for prayer.
by Register Editors | Source:

Lent begins this week. It is a time for fasting, but that should only help free our minds and hearts for prayer. Prayer can be assisted by spiritual reading, and the National Catholic Register this offers a few suggestions:

In the first book pick below, author Holly Pierlot looks at two publications that are part of a series being produced by Basilica Press. “The Shepherd’s Voice” series brings teachings of current members of the hierarchy on issues of relevance to Catholics. The two examined here offer different aspects of vocations.

Tarek Saab has Donald Trump to thanks for his 15 minutes of fame, as Catholic Men’s Quarterly editor John Moorehouse explains in the second book pick. But Saab, an entrepreneurial young man who is also a Maronite Catholic, used that as a springboard to advance thoughts about spiritual growth, in a way that’s appealing to hard-driving young men and women of the 21st century.

As some of those hard-driving young people are, in reporter Brian Welter’s words, “easily bored by simple religious answers or churchy rou--tine,” Angelo Matera has put together a collection of essays that seek ways to reach out. Drawing from his successful blog Godspy, Matera has produced Faith at the Edge, a collection of personal narratives of young Catholics finding meaning in the faith against a post-modern backdrop.

Discerning the Call


Basilica Press has initiated a series of pamphlets called “The Shepherd’s Voice,” and two prominent bishops have weighed in on two important topics.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s booklet of 46 questions and answers is a nuts-and-bolts guide to “How do I decide?” Discerning one’s lifelong vocation is no easy thing: “How can I tell what God wants from me? What is a vocation really about? Do I just wait until something feels right?”

Placing one’s vocation as an “invitation” from God, Bishop Bruskewitz links fidelity to one’s vocation to a richer personal fulfillment, both here and hereafter.

God’s Plan for You points to the primacy of prayer in the discernment process, but also offers external and internal indications of a call, from the opinion of friends to the personal attraction of the heart. Particularly helpful and uniquely addressed are such issues as receptivity in prayer, dealing with a reluctant or fearful heart, finding distaste in one’s call, being too “weak” to move ahead with it, or facing family opposition.

Bishop Bruskewitz also addresses modern difficulties: “The tide of the world pulls us in a direction contrary to what God wants. In the Western culture, the three ‘p’s of pleasure, possessions and power are what pull many human beings toward ways of life which are distant from God’s intentions in regard to us. It is always good to keep a right sense of priorities: of the spiritual over the material, of the supernatural over the natural.”

In addition to a concise overview of the nature of the four vocations — marriage, priesthood, religious life and single life — the booklet provides many tools of discernment, invaluable among them the reading recommendations from the Catechism, Church documents and Scripture.

Focusing on one particular vocation is Bishop Kevin Vann. In an age of increasing family breakdown, divorce, contraception, abortion and sexual perversion, the bishop points out the “extreme importance” of the vocation to marriage in the life of the Church. “In many ways, the very future of the Church and of the New Evangelization envisioned by Pope John Paul II … depends upon the holiness and faithfulness of today’s married person.”

To that end, What God Has Joined is a comprehensive overview of all the major themes of the married vocation, reflecting the fullness of the Church’s understanding of marriage as love and life-giving.

Bishop Vann’s booklet is full of poignant quotes from the Catechism, Scripture and encyclicals on key issues such as self-gift, indissolubility, and intimacy and sexuality. It addresses the call to holiness for married couples and that distinct charism. It deals with nitty-gritty issues as well, such as dealing with crisis, conflict resolution Catholic-style, and the need for fidelity.

What God Has Joined hits hard at unfounded criticisms toward the Church by secular society: “The allegation that the Church has a negative attitude toward sex is more reflective either of a certain heresy fought by the Church (Jansenism) or the fact that the United States was founded largely by Puritans, or possibly, of the excessively individualistic understanding of freedom and secularity that was fostered by the cultural revolution of the 1960s, than it is of the Church’s stance. The Church has always strongly upheld the beauty and dignity of sex …”

This booklet is ideal for those engaged or newly married, but also as a “reader-friendly” introduction for older couples who, exposed to an earlier juridical approach to marriage, may not yet have been introduced to the richness of Catholic teaching on marriage. 

Holly Pierlot writes from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and is the author of A Mother’s Rule of Life.

Driving Toward



Though literally referring to the first morning he had set the alarm clock to get up early for daily Mass rather than his usual trip to the gym, a quote in Tarek Saab’s memoir Gut Check encapsulates the book’s major theme: “Then I thought about my death, and it compelled me to stand upright.”

Saab, best known for his appearance on Season 5 of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” has written an account of his spiritual journey from the age of 18 to 28 that is destined to become a modern-day classic. Gut Check explores the challenges faced by young men in today’s culture: the temptations to lust, greed, sloth and pride, and does so in a way that is both timely and timeless. His account is punctuated with quotes from the Church Fathers and spiritual and literary classics.

Saab’s account of his college and corporate years will sound familiar to many men who have pursued higher education and then entered the workforce in the last 40 years. Masterfully interspersed throughout these accounts are snapshots of introspection that are perhaps the book’s greatest strength. Saab is unflinching in revealing his thought processes, the good and the bad. A recurring theme throughout is his struggle with the disconnect that existed between his view of himself and his actions. “I wasn’t like the rest of the guys, or at least that’s what I thought.”

Although he writes this as an example of the self-deception of which he was capable, Saab does seem to be distinguishable from his friends in his propensity to ponder and verbalize the Big Questions. A turning point in his collegiate experience that strengthened this inclination was a philosophy class: The professor explored Aristotle’s answers to the questions What is happiness? and What is man for?

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is Saab’s chronicle of his struggle to live up to his own increasingly orthodox Catholicism. He writes of the good Tarek and the not-so-good Tarek — and how he presented different sides of his personality to different groups of friends and acquaintances, “dragging his faith behind” him into all areas of his life. He describes stumbling upon a lengthy passage from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and thinking, “I am that guy!”

Men will see themselves reflected in these pages, and women will come to better understand the struggles of their husbands and sons.

Gut Check is the perfect title for this important book, as it is a distinctly modern term appropriated to indicate the fortitude it takes to live out one’s faith in today’s world. There are some who think religion is not for men; Tarek Saab knows better. He writes, “Of all the challenges I have ever confronted — physical, mental or otherwise — adhering to my faith was the manliest and most difficult.” 

John Moorehouse is the publisher and editor of Catholic Men’s Quarterly (

Tapping Roots


A collection of writings from the Catholic website by various authors, Faith at the Edge shows a youthful and alternative side to Catholic America, one that is trying hard to reach out to those easily bored by simple religious answers or churchy routine. Many writers have reflected on America as a Protestant nation, but this book shows that Catholic religious culture has deep American roots. Therefore, the gaps between the Church and mainstream American secular society are not always so wide.

These writers develop a down-to-earth, personal, story-telling theological style, showing how Catholicism shares the concerns of everyday people. Mainstream secular culture is incorporated into theology. Jessica Griffith emphasizes the commonplace from the beginning of her chapter, “First Friday in Lent,” by referring to a TV show that would probably offend many in the Church. She also refers to real-life problems that come from the hyper-busyness of modern America:

“She [the writer’s sister] called to tell me that Tim can’t come to the wedding because he has to work. They are switching operating systems at the plant, so there will be no vacation time in October.”

Griffith has a gift of character description that avoids over-spiritualizing people. She shows the Church not as a majestic, distant, mystical institution, but as earthy and led by typical Americans:

“My favorite priest gave me my ashes. He always strikes me as the kind of guy who could have gone one of two ways: the priesthood or the stage. He reminds me of a character in a Tim Burton movie. Specifically, he reminds me of Bill Murray in Ed Wood. He has a great sweep of silver hair and he is vaguely effeminate and very dramatic. He really attacked my forehead with the ashes, booming ‘Remember! You are dust, and to dust you will return!’ as if he were the very voice of God. He gripped my skull with his fingers and made the Sign of the Cross between my eyes with his thumb.”

A lot of these writers, as with good evangelical Protestant thinkers, have their fingers on the spiritual pulse of post-modern America. They articulate some of the problems that arise from mainstream, increasingly secularized culture, as noted by one:

“Nobody ever mentions religion, much less Christianity. Instead we are supposed to know what is right and what is wrong simply by empathy. We feel bad that a man was lynched. We recognize that this behavior is wrong. That racism is wrong. But we don’t know why.”

As a downside to the lively, anecdotal, informal style, in five years’ time, the book will start to feel dated. Trying to be super-contemporary means ditching much of the depth of tradition. The attempt to make religion culturally significant is perilous when that culture is as fast-changing and demanding as the current one.

But these writers reflect on the spiritual struggle of being Catholic in a post-traditional society. They sound genuine because rather than offering a resolution to the anarchy of moral relativism, they demonstrate that the solution is already quietly there. It’s the one for which few people are looking yet answers questions in a surprising manner.

Brian Welter writes from Burnaby, British Columbia.

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