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Five Faves: Christina Dehan

Christina's Disclaimer: I could no sooner pick my Official Five Favorite Books than I could pick five favorite stars in the heavens. These are the five that came most immediately to mind that I thought would be accessible and interesting to the largest number of people.

 

What It Means to Be a Christian by Joseph Ratzinger

I don’t often refer to books as “life changing” because it sounds trite, and I already use too much hyperbole as it is. But this book is life changing. I read it a few yearsago per the recommendation of a colleague of mine and could NOT believe that I, Pope Benedict XVI’s self-proclaimed Biggest Fan hadn’t even heard of it before. What It Means to Be a Christian a series of homilies on the basics of the Christian life which Ratzinger gave to a group of priests in 1964, but it will speak to you personally--and powerfully--regardless of where you are in your relationship with Christ. Bonus:it’s perfect reading for Advent.

A Favorite quote: “The first thing we have to accept is, ever and again, the reality of an enduring Advent. If we do that, we shall begin to realize that the borderline between ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’ does not run through historical time, in an outward sense, and cannot be drawn on any map; it runs through our own hearts. Insofar as we are living on a basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are ‘before Christ’. But in this time of Advent, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less ‘before Christ’, and certainly not ’after Christ’, but truly with Christ and in Christ: with him who is indeed Christ yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Amen.”

Song for Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn

A Song for Nagasaki is the gripping and heartbreakingly beautiful story of Takashi Nagai, a Japanese radiologist and convert living in the early 20th century, as told by Fr. Paul Glynn, S.M. Nagai, whose cause for canonization is underway, literally gives his life so that his countrymen can benefit from radiology research and works tirelessly to aid the victims of the atomic bomb, despite suffering from advanced leukemia. The story of his journey to the Church, the loveliness of his relationship with his wife Midori (herself a saint), his miraculous encounter with St. Maximilian Kolbe, and his deathbed letters to the sick and suffering will increase your faith in the power of Grace to bring good out of the most horrendous evil. More than anything, you will be challenged and convicted by the whole-hearted devotion Nagai has to Christ and to doing everything he can to serve Him, even when he is bedridden with a 7.5 lb spleen.

This book, and Nagai’s story in general, lit a fire inside of me in a way that is difficult to explain. I was 28 when I read it, and had been teaching high school theology for five years, but after I finished it, I was able to truly say that I wanted to be a saint.

“The only life that interests me is one lived for him.”

My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell

Colleen Carroll Campbell’s memoir will probably appeal more to women than to men, but the spiritual lessons she learns, particularly through her suffering--her father’s slow deterioration due to Alzheimer’s and her years-long struggle with infertility--are universally applicable.

I read this book about a month ago and it resonated with me so much that I finished it in less than 36 hours. It was if the Lord was speaking directly to me through Colleen, even though my personal trials are of a different kind and degree than hers. After finishing the book, I felt encouraged and hopeful about what the Lord is doing in my life and am able now to look at my own suffering in a different way.

Favorite quote: “ One phrase kept coming back to me...God is God, and I am not. After years of pretending to believe that truth, I finally felt it sinking into my bones. I cannot control God. I cannot predict God. I cannot force God to do what I want or explain why he has not done what I want. I cannot manipulate him with my prayers or deeds or feigned resignation to his will...No one knows the ways of God, not fully. he is a merciful and loving father who works all things to the good of those who love him, yes. But he does not answer to me, or to any of us, for the mysterious ways he does his redeeming work...In the face of such mystery, the only appropriate response is humble gratitude. It is the gratitude of a child who recognizes her utter dependence on God for every blessing and trusts that he will turn even her sorrows to joys—in a way and at a time of his choosing, not hers.”

The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander

I first read this spiritual classic, which is basically a series of reflections on the life of the Blessed Mother,  in my early 20s, before I had a serious Marian devotion. In fact, other than Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn (which I also recommend), I hadn’t read any books about Mary. I’m a bit embarrassed about that now, but God writes straight with crooked lines, so he packed everything I needed to read about Mary at that point in my life into this little volume. Houselander’s insights into Mary’s role in the life of every Christian are unique and soul-stirring. After I finished reading it (the first time), I remember feeling as if I finally felt a personal connection to Our Lady and a desire to be in relationship with her. It took me a few years yet to really let go of my quasi-Protestant discomfort with Marian devotion, but the seeds had been planted. I’m so thankful to Houselander for being Mary’s instrument in my life.

Favorite quote: “Our crowning joy is that [Mary brought Christ into the world] as a lay person and through the ordinary daily life that we all live; through natural love made supernatural, as the water at Cana was, at her request, turned into wine.”

The World of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

And now for something completely different. The World of Jeeves is a collection of short stories about the misadventures of dim-witted Bertie Wooster, an idle English gentleman living in the early 20th century, and his preternaturally brilliant valet, Jeeves. If you like British comedy, appreciate hilariously brilliant similes and metaphors, and/or enjoy laughing out loud while you read, you will love anything by Wodehouse. A word of warning: a little bit of Wodehouse goes a long way, so I recommend reading only one or two stories at a time, and spreading them out.

I love Wodehouse’s stuff because it gets me out of my head for a little while, makes me laugh, and is just plain fun. It’s like candy for your brain, but unlike contemporary brain candy ( Twilight, The Hunger Games, anything by John Greene, etc), Wodehouse’s books are actually well written and each of them is really a tribute to the wonderful things you can do with the English language.

Favorite quote: “Lady Malvern fitted into my biggest arm-chair as though it had been built around her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season...Motty, the son, was about twenty-three...His chin gave up the struggle about half-way down, and he didn’t appear to have any eyelashes.”