What we’re reading this month: May 2023

The books U.S. Catholic writers have enjoyed this month, including “Let Your Heartbreak Be Your Guide” and “Father Ed.”

Let Your Heartbreak Be Your Guide

By Adam Bucko (Orbis Books, 2022)

Let Your Heartbreak Be Your Guide is arriving at the right time. The pandemic made connecting with faith communities more challenging and revealed the inequalities in contemporary society. What does a Christian spirituality that stands for justice, peace, and solidarity look like in our context of racism, xenophobia, climate catastrophe, and economic inequality? Adam Bucko, an Episcopal priest, seeks to answer this question. He writes out of his experience as a leader in the new monasticism movement, as well as of having spent time in Poland under Communist rule, accompanied LGBTQ homeless youth in New York City, and volunteered at an ecumenical community in the slums of India.

The accessible chapters, filled with simple, prose, offer distilled lessons from Bucko’s ministry experience and personal journey. Perhaps most moving is a heartfelt chapter entitled “Sermon at Tanisha’s Funeral”—the text of his preaching at the funeral of a youth experiencing homelessness.

Throughout the book, he draws on the Christian scriptures and the wisdom of Henri Nouwen, Catherine Doherty, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ronald Rolheiser, and other well-known spiritual writers. The afterword, titled “On Being a Contemplative,” offers practical next steps for deepening in a contemplative life rooted in God’s love and engaging honestly with the reality of suffering and injustice. The text concludes with an appendix of spiritual practices and step-by-step guidance for practices including the Ignatian nightly examen and walking meditation.

Whether you are a contemplative seeking to be more rooted in contemporary struggles for justice or an activist desiring to ground your work in spiritual practices, Let Your Heartbreak Be Your Guide will be a trusted companion for your journey of action and contemplation.


—Rhonda Miska

Father Ed

By Dawn Eden Goldstein (Orbis Books, 2022)

Biographies of saints often depict them as other-worldly, perfect, and unrelatable.

In contrast, Dawn Eden Goldstein’s biography of Jesuit Father Ed Dowling is thorough and balanced. Known for his spiritual accompaniment of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) cofounder Bill Wilson, Dowling exuded Christ’s love while battling sadness over his brother’s untimely death, loneliness amid regimented religious life, and doubts about his vocation and God.

In 1940, Dowling met Wilson for the first time—an encounter that changed both their lives. Dowling’s streetwise personality and Jesuit spirituality made him the ideal missionary to Wilson. Dowling was no stranger to bars and nicotine stench and embodied Christ’s ministry to those most in need.


The genesis of AA occurred through a spiritual awakening Wilson experienced while recovering from a nearly fatal bout with alcoholism. Wilson gained insight into practices that could aid those who are struggling with alcoholism: By surrendering to one’s higher power, one can begin to recover and engage in fellowship and service to those seeking freedom.

Dowling was no stranger to the impact of doubt on one’s best efforts. So his meeting with Wilson, during the AA cofounder’s loss of hope in his undertakings for the betterment of alcoholics, was providential. This encounter restored Wilson’s hope in the mission of AA and became a second awakening.

I believe it is no coincidence that Wilson, like St. Ignatius, experienced an awakening while convalescing. Each discerned a power greater than himself and overcame a tremendous obstacle. For Bill, it was alcohol; for Ignatius, it was vainglory.

Thanks to Goldstein, we meet a saint who teaches us that God can transform our weaknesses to transmit grace. Even amid loneliness and failure, God is with us.


—Matt Kappadakunnel

Briefly noted:

The Gods We Have Eaten

By Rebecca Bratten Weiss (Bottlecap Press, 2023)

The poems in this collection explore what it means to exist in a dangerous body—that is, a female body—and the things we must do to survive violence.

Heart to Heart: A Conversation on Love and Hope for Our Precious Planet

By the Dalai Lama and Patrick McDonnell (HarperOne, 2023)

The Dalai Lama walks through a forest with a panda as they discuss how we can heal our relationship with the planet in this illustrated book.

Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness Between Trayvon Martin & George Floyd

By Tamice Spencer-Helms (KFT Press, 2023)

In this debut memoir, Spencer-Helms rediscovers the parts of herself that a colonized Christianity sought to suppress.


This article also appears in the May 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 5, page 39). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.


About the author

Rhonda Miska

Rhonda Miska is a preacher, writer, spiritual director, and lay ecclesial minister currently based in Minneapolis. Read more of her work at rhondamiskaop.com.

About the author

Matt Kappadakunnel

Matt Kappadakunnel has a background in investment management and investment banking. He spent multiple years studying to be a Catholic priest and graduated from Creighton University. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

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