Uh oh. Summer’s almost over and you haven’t finished Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain like you said were going to? Haven’t gotten around to The Duty of Delight, Dorothy Day’s journals? Never made it through Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Those are all great books, but they’re kind of…long. Merton’s is 496 pages. Day’s is—egad!—700 pages. And B16’s is only 400.
At some point you should definitely read each of those books. But for now, maybe you would do better with a few books that are more, um, pithy. So here are three short books, each of which can be polished off in a few hours.
The first is Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly. It’s terrific. Falsani, a religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, is one of the few writers who can bring you to tears and make you laugh on the same page. Her new memoir is a sort of travelogue of grace, and her trip leads her from the very familiar (her family life, her work, her cat) to the very unfamiliar. Her voyage through East Africa is especially powerful and will deepen your appreciation for that fascinating continent.
“Justice is getting what you deserve,” Falsani writes, “Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve.” You deserve to read this wonderful new book, which, by the way, has a beautiful cover taken from one of Falsani’s African photos. Sometimes you can judge a book that way.
Jeremy Langford is another Chicagoland writer who’s penned another kind of field guide—to the question of how to live a spiritual life in the modern world. It’s called Seeds of Faith. Through homey examples from his own life, well-grounded reflections on the Catholic tradition and artfully told stories from the lives of the saints and spiritual masters, his book is a brief “how-to” for anyone seeking to live an intentional life with God. I would recommend it highly to anyone—but especially to younger seekers. Or likewise, for those who don’t have time to plow through longer tomes on prayer and spirituality—which is pretty much everyone. His cover is pretty cool, too!
Finally, but I can’t neglect to mention a lovely little book called I Loved Jesus in the Night. It’s not out till October, but order it right now. Mother Teresa’s stunning journals, released last year as Come, Be My Light, which detailed her “dark night,” were shocking, inspiring and disturbing—as all great spiritual works are. This concise new book, by Paul Murray, helps us to understand more deeply her experiences of darkness and even doubt, and in the process helps us appreciate the workings of grace. Father Murray, a Dominican priest who knew Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, reflects on her spiritual journey, supplementing his own insights with comments from other companions of the Saint of the Gutters, like Bishop William Curlin, retired bishop of Charlotte, N.C.
A few years ago, Bishop Curlin told me that Mother Teresa used that very expression with him during one of their conversations. “When I meet Jesus,” she said, “I will tell him that I loved him in the night.” Isn’t that beautiful? That wonderful title is perfect for this wonderful book. And yes, it has a nice cover, too.
If you can’t get your hands on any of those books, I’ve got another four other books you might try. And they’re even shorter: the ones written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.