The Monastic Heart
By Joan Chittister (Convergent Books, 2021)
In the sixth century, disheartened by the corruption and chaos of Rome, St. Benedict of Nursia wrote a Rule that has been guiding Benedictine communities for 15 centuries. In The Monastic Heart, Erie Benedictine sister and author Joan Chittister seeks to distill and translate the wisdom of that Rule and monastic life for this moment of social and political uncertainty. She offers the components of monasticism as tools for developing “spiritual sanity” to those of us outside monastery walls who live amid the complexities of contemporary life.
Each of the 50 chapters consists of a description of and commentary on a monastic practice. This is followed by guidance on integrating the practice and a few summarizing sentences to conclude. Some practices—service, contemplation, private prayer—are familiar and easily connected to nonmonastic life. Yet Chittister also explores how some distinctively monastic practices—like horarium (the daily schedule in a monastery), cloister, and fuga mundi (“flight from the world”)—can enrich the lives of those of us outside the monastery.
All the practices aim to develop practitioners’ resources to grow in maturity in their inner lives as well as in their work and relationships. Chittister calls St. Benedict “the Great Psychologist” and connects modern scientific findings about the benefits of gratitude and rest to the age-old practice of the hours of the divine office.
The book’s greatest strength is Chittister’s obvious love for the Benedictine monastic life. She describes it as “the single-hearted search for what matters in life,” “the call to develop the best of ourselves, to the whole of ourselves,” “a life in love with life,” and the pursuit of an “ordinary life” lived “extraordinarily well.” This makes her a trustworthy guide for spiritual seekers desiring to draw on monastic tradition and apply St. Benedict’s wisdom in 21st-century lives.
The Women’s Lectionary
By Ashley M. Wilcox (Westminster John Knox Press, 2021)
One afternoon I unexpectedly found myself needing to write a scripture reflection within the hour. Without the amount of time I would usually prefer to ponder a Sunday’s readings before sharing a reflection on them, I reached for a resource that was sitting on my desk awaiting my review: The Women’s Lectionary by Ashley M. Wilcox.
While the specific readings on which I was writing aren’t mentioned in the book—it focuses solely on stories of women in the Bible and feminine images of God—I found commentaries on several of the chapters surrounding my readings. That was more than enough to spark questions and thoughts which I had never considered before. Wilcox’s commentary helped me to read familiar scripture stories from a new perspective and then to apply that perspective to my own context and the context of those who would eventually listen to my reflection.
Wilcox’s book is written for a broad Christian audience, so while she helpfully assigns stories about women of the Bible to every Sunday and holy day, Catholics should note that her assignments do not match those of the Roman Catholic lectionary. But use of the commentaries within the Catholic lectionary schedule is still made easy because she also provides an index of lectionary passages in biblical order.
For Catholics using the book not for Sunday sermons but for something like a Bible study or faith-sharing group, suggestions for reflections not tied to the liturgical year are also provided. These include topics such as “God as Mother” and “Evil Queens and Wicked Stepmothers,” as well as focus on specific women such as Esther or Mary. Whether you’re new to preaching, a seasoned pro, or just looking to more inclusively engage with scripture, The Women’s Lectionary offers wisdom to aid you in breaking open the word.
Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older
By Alice Fryling (NavPress, 2021)
Learn how to let go of former ways of thinking in order to age fruitfully and to allow God to use your senior years in life-giving ways.
The Hermits of Big Sur
By Paula Huston (Liturgical Press, 2021)
This captivating factual account of the Camaldoli order in Big Sur, California is based on notes kept by an American novice at the hermitage.
Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church
By Bridget Eileen Rivera (Brazos Press, 2021)
Rivera presents Catholics a tool to begin dialoguing about the intersectionality of faith and sexuality with an open mind and open arms.
This article also appears in the March 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 3, page 39). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.