The novel begins with the story of a statue of the Virgin Mary, passed down from mother to daughter in an Irish-American family. Patchett is culturally Catholic, and the characters in her novel wrestle in various ways with their faith.
Set over a period of twenty-four hours, Run takes the reader from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired Catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from each other, and how family can include people you’ve never even met. She beautifully captures the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and deeply moving narrative. Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, family, adoption, race, religion, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children. It was named the Best Book of the Year in 2007 by The Washington Post.
2) Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream by Carl Elliot
Catholics are wrestling with the surging popularity of plastic surgery, gender reassignment surgery, physician assisted suicide, and other life enhancement technologies such as: Prozac, Viagra, IVF, and Botox. In a brilliant diagnosis of our cultural obsession with self-improvement technologies, the medical doctor and professor of bioethics, Carl Elliott, asks questions that illuminate deep currents in the American character, such as, “Why is it the case that we believe that our ‘true selves’ are the one’s produced by medical science?” This book is interesting and accessible. In 2003 The Washington Post called it, “A penetrating look at our self-obsessed, over-medicalized, enhancement-addicted society.”
3) Holding God in My Hands: Personal Encounters With The Divine by Paul Wilkes
Wilke writes of his decades as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion (a layperson who brings the Eucharist to the sick, dying, and homebound). He is a sometimes controversial Catholic, and yet his experiences bringing the Body of Christ to the people of God are profound and worth consideration. As someone who has been an Eucharistic minister and a Stephen’s minster, I appreciated these essays about one of the most hidden and yet crucial lay ministries in the Church. Wilkes essays have appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker, so the man knows how to craft good sentences too.
4) Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle, SJ
A Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle writes about kinship and the sacredness of every human life. For over twenty years he’s worked with gangs and former gang members in a neighborhood in Los Angeles with the highest concentration of gang activity and homicides in the nation. This is a gorgeous, funny, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting book of parables about what he has learned about the power of unconditional love along the way.
Thanks to Pope Francis, Catholic Social Teaching is no longer the Church’s best kept secret. Buy Laudato Si and read and pray about this new encyclical over the summer. In it, Francis expands on humankind’s responsibility to care for God’s creation, and protect and care for the most vulnerable, especially the poor, and those most negatively impacted by pollution, environmental degradation and climate change. In Laudato Si Francis asks all people of goodwill, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” He continues, “Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” “If we do not ask these basic questions” – says the Pope – “it is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations.”
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