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Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2011..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | Part One | Part Three | Ignatius Insight

Joseph M. Callewaert, Knight Commander of the French Order of Merit, was born in Belgium and educated in France. Now a U.S. citizen, he lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where he enjoys life as an ardent historian of St. Paul the Apostle. He is the author of The World of Saint Paul (Ignatius Press, 2011), and he has also written delightful travelogues about undiscovered France as well as Lights out for Freedom, a retelling of his youthful experiences of living in Belgium during 52 months of Nazi occupation.

I have, at home, a library consisting of a few thousand of books acquired during my lifetime, I like to re-read many of my favorites and this year 2011 was particularly interesting.
The Harvest of Hellenism. By F.E Peters. Simon & Schuster, 1970. 800 pp.A history of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity. This is a masterly work of history. Eastern Hellenism has produced Gnosticism, the University, the catechetical school, pastoral poetry, monasticism, the romance, grammar, lexicography, city planning, theology, canon law, heresy and scholasticism!

Founders of the Middle Ages. By E. K. Rand. Harvard University Press. 1928. 365 pp. A classic which I consult regularly. The aim of the book is to make clear the importance of certain great men (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Boethius, Cassiodorus and others), of certain great movements in thought and culture during the early Christian centuries, particularly the fourth, fifth and sixth, and to point out the significance of these men and these movements as precursors of certain aspects of medieval civilization.

The Aeneid of Virgil. Translated by R.F Fitzgerald. Random House, 1983, 402 pp. On my vacation in the Bahamas, I took with me the Latin edition of Virgil's Aeneid published in the "Collection Budé, in Paris, with the French translation with the necessary notes and explanations. I think it is the best translation in the English language.
I sing of warfare and a man at war
From the sea-coast of Troy in early days
He came to Italy by destiny
To our Lavinian western shore.
The Birth of the Modern. Modern Society 1815-1830. By Paul Johnson. Harper Collins 1992, 1095 pp. This book presents the fifteen years (1815-1830) as those during which the matrix of the modern world was largely formed. The post-Napoleonic wars saw great and rapid changes in Britain and continental Europe and still more fundamental one elsewhere. The United States transformed itself from a struggling ex-colony into a formidable nation, growing fast in territory and population. Never before had so much cheap land become available, and the hungry people of Europe were moving overseas in vast numbers to possess it. The age abounded in great personalities: warriors, statesmen and tyrants; outstanding inventors and technologists; and writers, artists, and musicians of the highest of genius are brought to the fore. The author has tried to get the men and women who lived in those days to tell the story in their own words. Those distant voices—happy and angry, shrill and passionate, cynical, frivolous, evocative always—constitute the vivifying principle of this book.
The Third Reich. A New History, by Michael Burleigh. Pan Macmillan, London, 2001- 965 pp. This work was read to prepare for a conference in which I had to present a paper about the Holocaust. It deals with the progressive and almost total, moral collapse of an advanced industrial society, at the heart of Europe, many of whose citizens abandoned the burden of thinking for themselves. They put their faith in evil men promising a great leap into a heroic future, with violent solutions to Germany's and modern society's problems. The consequences for Germany, Europe and the wider world were catastrophic, but no more so than for European Jews, who were subjected to a deliberate campaign to excise and expunge every one of them, which we rightly recognize as a uniquely terrible event in modern history. This extraordinary book will remain unmatched for years to come.

The World of Saint Paul. By Joseph M. Callewaert. Ignatius Press, 2011, 210 pp. I strongly feel that my book is an engaging work that reads like a novel. It recounts the story of the great Apostle to the Nations. This no dry tome or ponderous biography. It is a fascinating and well-researched work which provides a popular and informed account of this great apostle and his age. For those who know very little about St. Paul – which unfortunately includes many Christians—Catholic and Protestants alike—it is a superb introduction.

Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Asian History at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.

He completed his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon, where he studied Chinese history, literature, philosophy, and religion. His current research centers on the history of the Church in China, and he has recently finished a book on the Catholic martyrs saints in China. His other interests include East/West religious dialogue, especially between Catholic and Buddhist ideas of faith and salvation. Dr. Clark has written several academic books and articles on the topic of Chinese history and has been a guest on "EWTN Live," "Catholic Answers Live," and Relevant Radio to talk about Catholicism in China. His "Saints of China" series, an in-depth history of the Catholic Church in China, recently aired on EWTN.

Every year I confront the same unhappy conundrum; good writing is accomplished by good reading, but writing takes time away from reading. Emerson said that, "There is creative reading as well as creative writing"; reading and writing are indispensably wed. That said, I was able to read a some good works this year, though the best books I read are the one's I haven't yet finished. Yes, I suffer from starting a good book, setting it down after marking my place, and then starting another – so that now there are books with marked pages scattered throughout my house. I agree with the oft asserted claim that the worst thing about new books is that they distract us from reading old ones, so I made an effort to read the older, and more dusty volumes, that sag my wooden shelves. But here's what I read in 2011:

By far the best book I read this year, and any year for that matter, was St. Augustine's City of God. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read this before, but at 44 I know that the old adage is correct; it is never too late. . . . Augustine's inerrable logic is refreshing, and his ability to humbly admit the impossibility, at times, of inerrable logic, is also humbling. I relished in his meditations on time, its impossibility, and God's transcendence of temporal materiality. And, yes, as I read the daily news I am reminded daily of the real, and disappointing, confrontation between the "two cities."

In keeping with my usual China theme – it is, after all, my academic discipline – I read Paul Mariani's recently-published, Church Militant: Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai. This is a highly-readable and compelling study of Communist-Catholic antagonisms in 1950s Shanghai. I was particularly moved by Bishop Kung's prescient assertion that, "If we renounce our faith, we will disappear and there will not be a resurrection. If we are faithful, we will still disappear, but there will be a resurrection."

I also read the short work by Pope Benedict XVI, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. Despite my resolution to avoid this year books with the word "crisis" in the title (I witness enough crisis in the news), I was nourished by the Pope's usual insights on being a Catholic in the modern world. Benedict reminds us all of Pascal's advise to, "begin with the folly of faith, and you will attain knowledge."

Back to China: Since last year marked the 400th anniversary of the death of one of history's greatest missionaries, Matteo Ricci, I read Ronnie Hsia's, A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552-1610. It is indeed a pleasure to read a work that manages to combine literary clarity and scholarly enterprise. Ricci's legacy remains a testament to the prominence of Jesuit history in the Church, and the importance of cultural understanding when transmitting the Gospel to other lands.

In preparation for the book I am presently writing on the Catholic martyrs of Shanxi, I read Nat Brandt's absorbing book on the Protestant martyrs of Shanxi, Massacre in Shansi. For anyone who does not normally read books on Chinese topics, I recommend this work, which carries one along a gripping narrative of perseverance and sacrifice in the face of cruel anti-Christianism. It is also advisable for those of us who are Catholic to read works that remind us of the not infrequent holiness of our Protestant brothers and sisters.

George Santayana once wrote that, "A country without a memory is a country of madmen," and as a historian I am certain that he is correct. But now and again we who love history should read about the history of history (historiography). So, I was happy to finally read John Lewis Gaddis' delightful commentary on how historians "map the past," in The Landscape of History. I was so impressed with Gaddis' remarks that I assigned this book in one of my courses, to the unanimous appreciation of my students.

I'm not sure if this counts as "a book," but I did read through the fascinating personal memoirs of Shanghai's bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian, who I have met several times. Yes, I have mixed feelings about a few of Jin's assertions, but I have no mixed feelings regarding his tireless efforts to restore the Church in China. These memoirs are soon to be published by Hong Kong University Press, and their historical value is such that anyone interested in Chinese Catholicism must buy and read this interesting work.

As a Church news junkie, I was raptly attentive to each page of Benedict's recent interview with Peter Seewald in, Light of the World. The Pope confronts several sobering realities in today's ecclesial context, though not without the hopefulness of a mature theological understanding of the Paschal mystery. This book is also a summons to greater attentiveness to our own actions: "Man is clearly in danger, and he is endangering both himself and the world." In his usual wisdom, the pontiff reminds us that all can still be repaired through "an encounter with God."

During Lent this year my priest recommended St. John Climacus', The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which sat for weeks on my nightstand. While largely written for the monks, most specifically of Mount Sinai Monastery, it nonetheless offers trenchant insights into the spiritual life and the ascent toward God. This work is little read today, which is a pity, as it is one of those rare classics that render timeless advice for living the Christian life. I paused when I read, "It is the property of angels not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the property of devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen."

Does my own book count? I finally received the codex version of my book on the martyr saints of China, China's Saints, which I read through enough times to count for all ten books on this list. Writing is painstaking work; it is, as Hemingway said, a form of "bleeding." ("There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.") Authors fear that after years of writing their books are consigned to neglected shelves, ornaments that little change the world around them. So, in my final entry I commend the authors of the previous nine books on my list, and render my thanks for bleeding onto pages that, hopefully, shall change the world we share.

Dr. Eric Cunningham has been at Gonzaga since 2003. A specialist in modern Japanese history, Dr. Cunningham also teaches courses in world and East Asian history. He earned his BA in History from the University of Colorado in 1984, an MA in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Oregon in 1999, and a PhD, History, also from the University of Oregon in 2004. Dr. Cunningham's other areas of scholarly interest include intellectual history, popular culture, psychedelia, postmodernism, literary critical theory, Zen Buddhism, and eschatology.

Meditations on the Tarot by Anonymous (Valentin Tomberg). In spite of its controversial title, a very holy book!

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis. Not the best writing in the world, but an amazing story and an amazing person—some good spiritual direction.
Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Remarkable!
Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies by Mark Booth. Scandalous, but fun and thought-provoking.
Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe. A wonderful book.
The Book of Genesis. Illustrated by Robert Crumb.
How Can Mankind Find the Christ Again by Rudolf Steiner. A classic in the Steiner library.
China's Saints: Catholic Martyrdom During the Qing (1644–1911) by Anthony E. Clark. Great scholarship.
Humility by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Short and sweet.
Lucid Dreaming by Robert Waggoner. Maybe the most comprehensive book on the subject.
Meaning in History by Karl Lowith. I read it once a year at least—brilliant.

Dr. Thomas Howard is a highly acclaimed writer and literary scholar, noted for his studies of Inklings C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams as well as books including Chance or Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism, Hallowed be This House, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, If Your Mind Wanders At Mass, On Being Catholic, The Secret of New York Revealed, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome and Dove Descending. He has also produced a video series, aired on EWTN, titled "Treasures of Catholicism." The Night Is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard was published by Ignatius Press in 2007. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

Jesus of Nazareth. Benedict XVl. 2 vols. Reading these two volumes made one want to shout them from the housetops. Mighty vistas of theology, biblical studies, and sane spirituality are unfurled.
The Spirit of the Liturgy. Benedict XVl. The Bishop of Rome carries on from Romano Guardini's earlier volume of the same title, with the same breadth, depth, and sagacity that marked Guardini's work.
The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson. James Boswell. This is perpetual reading for me—virtually daily. It is the best antidote against the fatuity, vacuity, and sheer ruin of modern discourse and imagination.
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. Pure delight. Language in its most finely-wrought perfection. Common sense and moral perspicacity enough to leave modern discourse in tatters.

Brian Jones is currently an MA philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston; he received an MA in theology from Franciscan University. He and his wife, Michelle, recently welcomed the birth of their first child, Therese Maria.

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God by Michael Pakaluk. Walker Percy once said that "this life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, 'Scientific humanism.' That won't do. A poor show." The mysterious nature of life lay in the fact that it is continually mixed with the splendor of goodness and also the bitterness of pain. Yet, thanks to this wonderful book, we see the abundant goodness of God's mercy everywhere, especially in midst of suffering. The story of Ruth Pakaluk, Michael's first wife, is a magnificent display of sanctity in the midst of the world. I bought the book for my wife, and read it in a week before giving it to her. I just could not put it down. The portrait of Ruth's life is an inspiration for anyone who truly seeks to become a saint. As Michael mentions in the book, "heroic virtue" has become rather distorted in our day because it seems to entail that saints are only those who do the most extraordinary of things. But the true meaning of heroism, and of holiness, is to cultivate a disposition of interior openness and transparency in our hearts so that God may work through us. This is the joy of Ruth's life and, like all the saints, the greatest argument for the existence of God.

The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life by Ralph McInerny. Maritain is one of the greatest figures of the Thomistic revival inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII. The scientific rationalism that bombarded Maritain and his wife Raissa at the Sorbonne led them to the brink of despair, and ultimately a suicide pact. Yet, their journey into the Catholic faith, and their rich life of friendship is beautifully detailed. McInerny also provides insights into the real depth of the Maritains spiritual life and their integration of the intellectual life with the call to holiness. What better reminder this Christmas season than to recall the greatest tragedy of all: "not to become a saint."

Another Sort of Learning by Fr. James Schall, S.J. In reality, a book by Fr. Schall could be put on anybody's book list. McInerny once quipped that Fr. Schall is undoubtedly the Chesterton of our times. Reading tidbits of Fr. Schall each day provides a framework for gazing upon the world in true wonder and amazement. The book is really what a university education should entail, and any student worth his water ought to read Schall. Of course, the book is not merely for the university students, but for fostering what Sertaillanges called "the intellectual life." This is not some ivory tower "intellectualism," but living and experiencing the delightful joys of knowing truth, of conforming ourselves to what is.

The Death of Psychiatry by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. Written back in 1974, Dr. Torrey's succinctly details the impending fall of the field of psychiatry. Not only has psychiatry gone awry, the current model is unsalvageable and, in Torrey's words, "must be destroyed." A view of the human person that is limited to a materialistic or biological conception cannot affect and further any real psychological integration. Anyone interested in the destructive tendencies of modern psychiatry and psychology, and how to recover what is still good in them, would be wise to read this excellent piece.

Thomism in An Age of Renewal by Ralph McInerny. McInerny provides an illuminating analysis of the gradual eroding of the Catholic intellectual tradition since (not because of) Vatican II. St. Thomas Aquinas, in most Catholic and non-Catholic circles, was (and is) seen to be rather archaic, and no longer relevant for an age anxiously wading in the waters of progress, nihilism, and egalitarianism. McInerny has shown that Thomism is relevant for all ages and cultures because it is not one philosophy among others (i.e., pragmatism, post-modernism, language philosophy), but is philosophy itself. The Church has put forth the Angelic Doctor as the model philosopher because what he taught is in fact true. Those who dismiss Aquinas do so with a biased agenda, and not because they have actually read or sought to understand him. McInerny continually calls to mind that St. Thomas has provided the best framework for the integration of the richness of faith and reason, something to which the modern world so desperately needs.

Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D., is Director of Theological Formation at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha. Before joining the staff of the IPF Deacon Keating taught moral and spiritual theology for 13 years in the School of Theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He has given over 400 workshops, retreats and days of reflection on the Catholic spiritual/moral life. In the field of his professional research, the interpenetration of the spiritual and moral life, Deacon Keating has authored or edited ten books and dozens of essays for theological journals.

Cardinal Francis George, The Difference God Makes (Crossroad)
Scott Hahn, Covenant and Communion (Brazos)
Wilfrid Stinissen, Into Your Hands, Father (Ignatius)
Nancy Klein Mcguire, An Infinity of Little Hours (Public Affairs)
John of Avila, Audi, filia---Listen, O Daughter (Paulist)
Dennis Billy, Contemplative Ethics (Paulist)
Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence (with Letters) (Ignatius)

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.

His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, God and Ronald Reagan, and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, among others.

Father Donald Calloway, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. This is the best book I read in 2011. It is the remarkable, shocking story of an ex-Grateful Dead "deadhead," drug abuser, thief, and someone who imbibed in every hedonistic pleasure, only to turn himself around completely and become a remarkable man of the cloth. Every Catholic in America should read this book and pass it along to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is a crucial read for fallen-away Catholics and for rebellious young Catholics who think they're too cool for the faith. This book will put them in their place—a page-turner they will not be able to put down. If Father Calloway was a Protestant with a story like this, this book would have sold a million copies. Every Evangelical in America would be talking about it in their book clubs. That this book isn't a bestseller and household title among Catholics shows yet again how ill-informed and unread Catholics are when it comes to their own faith. Sorry if that's a bit harsh, but it's true—and as a former Protestant, I know what I'm talking about.
Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. This is a profound little book published by Ignatius Press. It is worth the price for this one nugget of wisdom alone: the West suffers from a "confused ideology of freedom," one that ultimately leads to the "self-destruction of freedom." Abortion is the single best illustration of that. When a woman exercises the "freedom" to abort, she destroys the first and most fundamental freedom of another: the freedom to exist.
Augustine, The City of God, with Introduction by Thomas Merton. I purchased this Modern Library edition of Augustine's classic simply for the introduction by Merton. I pulled it from a shelf at the local Barnes & Noble and couldn't stop reading the introduction. I had to own it. Merton's was one of the most gifted Catholic writers of the last hundred years, hands down.
Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather's Son. This is a wonderful book about a terrific man—and devout Roman Catholic—who has been horribly maligned by the secular left. His story is captivating. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suffered, and he has persevered, largely because of his faith. This is another must-read. Here again, every Catholic should know about this book. If Thomas was a Protestant...well, you know.
Walter Eckman, Meet the Presidents. I did a Q&A with Eckman on this book. This is a fun, vivid, artfully constructed tour of our presidents, their birthplaces, and various historical sites. It is an excellent travel companion, absolutely ideal for home-schooling families. If you home school, you should get this book. If you enjoy history and historical sites, you should get this book. If you like studying our presidents, you should get this book.
Tim Goeglein, The Man in the Middle. This is the most redeeming book of 2011, done by the man who did outreach to faith-based groups for President George W. Bush—including outreach to Catholics. Goeglein is not Catholic, but he greatly respects Catholics and knows and reads and quotes Catholic figures better than most Catholics. Goeglein endured a humiliating fall from grace in a plagiarism incident that cost him his job. It was front-page news. This book is a candid admission of his guilt and redemption. The role of President Bush in that redemption is deeply moving. Please see my review for Catholic Exchange. You must read the amazing dialogue between Goeglein and Bush in the Oval Office. It is wonderful. You'll want to forward it to friends.
Steve Turner, The Band That Played On. This is a neat book on the lives of the eight extraordinary musicians who continued to play while the Titanic sunk. Cool theme, eh? We've seen this moment represented in movies, and it is indeed true. This book covers those eight lives, all the way to their mutual tragic end. As the ship went down, they calmly played "Nearer, My God, to Thee."
Frank Kravetz, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom. Here is a heartwarming story of a man who survived a stay in Hitler's POW camps. His name is Frank Kravetz, Pittsburgh native, Roman Catholic, alive and well at the age of 88. I had the pleasure of reviewing his book and meeting him. The Catholic elements are touching, especially how Frank pulled a loose thread from under his prison mattress and weaved it into a Rosary decade. That was the kind of thing that got Frank through the hell of Nuremberg Prison Camp. I strongly recommend this book to home-schooled youngsters. It offers an excellent historical/autobiographical narrative for teaching about life and major events from the 1930s and 1940s era, particularly WWII, of course.
Lee Edwards, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. I mentioned this book in my review last year, but I found myself referencing it several times again this year and cracking it open again. The material on the Catholic faith of Buckley is very interesting. Click here for my review for The National Catholic Register.
George W. Bush, Decision Points. Likewise, last year I mentioned George W. Bush's Decision Points, which I started reading in 2010 but really dug into and returning to again in 2011. The chapter on Bush's decision on embryonic stem cell-research alone is worth the price.

Fr. David V. Meconi, S.J., is Professor of Patristic Theology at St. Louis University, where he is also the Director of the Undergraduate Studies Program. He is also Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review as well as the editor of Ignatius Press' upcoming Annotated Confessions of St. Augustine, as well as a ground-breaking study, The One Christ: St. Augustine's Theology of Deification (Catholic University of America Press).

The best book I read this year was Dr. Eleonore Stump's Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford University Press, 2011). Eleonore is a colleague of mine here at St. Louis University and, daresay, is among the most sought-after philosophers of our age. Her work here uses the insights of St. Thomas Aquinas to address the reality of how a benevolent God can allow a human life to go terribly wrong but argues that suffering should never be easily dismissed but perhaps, just perhaps, there is an invitation to a greater love than what any evil could spoil. Throughout this work there are some of the most profound insights into intimacy, desires of the human heart, and attentive presence to others, both divine and human, which I have ever encountered on the printed page.

The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation by Hayden White (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). While this may not be the kind of book one reads quietly before bed, it has proven very important in my understanding the recent emphasis on the importance of narrative in the humanities, especially in art and literature. Far from White's intention, his reflections here helped me to see how theology is a "story" about the ultimate Word in Whom all other stories and words find their truest meaning and this book explained how postmodernism, while making us all suspicious of over-arching narratives, has also ushered in a new cultural situation with new opportunities for real evangelization.

Oxford & Cambridge Conferences by Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (1903). Every couple of weeks another Jesuit here at St. Louis University and I go out for an ale and enjoy a "N-ox", playing off the Latin words for night (nox) and Oxford (Oxoniensis) where we met during studies. Over the year we read various texts and are now making our way through the lectures Rickaby gave to undergraduates while serving as chaplain at the Oxbridge schools. The erudition and the humanism of the early 20th century Jesuits only confirms the goodness of God's creation and how Christ is the answer for every human heart and nation.

The Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry (1999). Each Sunday I try to sit with a few of Berry's poems here and enjoy some quiet and his multi-layered invitations simply to be.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Surely I was assigned this in high school but I am just now getting around to it for the first time and as I found myself welling up inside and at times howling outside, I came to realize why many regard this as Miss Austen's best work.

In this House of Brede as well as The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden (1969 and 1963). While many of us are familiar with the first novel about a hard-headed London business woman leaving the world behind to join a cloistered Benedictine community, The Battle is an equally strong "Catholic" piece of literature where marriage and children are held sacred and the Church emerges as the guardian of all things the pure of heart desire.

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes. Does Rome ever fail to fascinate? From Bernini to Benedict, Mussolini to Marcus Aurelius, they're all here.

Prison Writings of Alfred Delp, S.J. (Orbis Press' Modern Spiritual Masters Series). This Jesuit resistor is not too well known, but the reflections he put down while awaiting execution in Berlin's Plötzensee Prison during 1944-45 are unmatched for the forgiveness they convey and the insights into the human condition they offer.

The Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo. While I may teach the Confessions at least twice a year, this year was different as I prepared the annotated version for Ignatius Press. Going through this classic line by line and thus significantly slower than usual, the brilliance and even the humor of Augustine struck me in new and unexpected ways.

Lorraine V. Murray's latest book is Death of a Liturgist, a mystery about a groovy liturgist who meets a rather satisfying comeuppance when he tweaks the traditions at St. Rita's parish. Another recent book is The Abbess of Andalusia, the story of Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. In Confessions of an Ex-Feminist Lorraine writes about her own journey from faithful Catholic to rabid feminist and atheist, and back again. Murray, a religion columnist, lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist, and a hamster named Ignatius. All seven of her books can be seen www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Here are my favorite books from 2011:

The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God. Every Lent I pull out my tattered copy of this book and marvel at these short sermons, delivered by Dominican priest Gerald Vann at Westminster Cathedral in 1947. Vann takes readers on a soul-wrenching journey that begins with Christ's agonizing night in the garden and ends between the two thieves. Along the way he probes the sacred dimension of time, and elucidates why the Act of Contrition once contained a deeply powerful thought, namely that a penitent was sorry for his sins "because they have crucified my loving Savior, Jesus Christ." Vann also explores how we can better recognize our own sins, especially our daily betrayals of others.

The Love That Keeps Us Sane. So many books about St. Therese of Lisieux paint her as a sugary-sweet, simpering soul surrounded by cloying clusters of roses. In fact, Therese herself recoiled from such overly pious portraits of saints, and I believe she would have really appreciated this book, since it explores her struggle to lead a hidden and humble life. Author Marc Foley, a Discalced Carmelite priest, shows that Therese maintained her sanity by keeping her sights set on God rather than the world's adulation, and knowing when to keep silent.

Why Catholics Are Right. Michael Coren explores in great depth and with an admirable amount of factual background the most common attacks on Catholicism. It will be a great help to anyone who has ever found himself floundering by the punch bowl at a party, somewhat startled by a remark about, say, the priest-abuse scandal, and wishing he had a few facts at hand to help dispel the errors and exaggerations that too often pass for truth when it comes to Catholicism. The chapter on the abuse scandal alone was reason enough for me to declare this book a favorite--but the author also clarifies common misconceptions related to Church history, theology, and teachings on life.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait. As is the case with St. Therese too many books about Mother Teresa portray her as a dry and stuffy saint, far removed from us ordinary mortals. This book is a gem indeed because author Monsignor Leo Maasburg —who traveled with Mother Teresa for many years—reveals something I suspected all along, which is that she had a very vivid and delightful sense of humor. The author himself has a priceless penchant for detecting humor in difficult situations, and reveals many heretofore unknown facts about Mother Teresa. Who knew, for example, that over the years she gave out over 40,000 Miraculous Medals, including a handful to Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega?

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