Welcome back to “The Clergy Speaks”, a recurring feature here at The Catholic Book Blogger. “The Clergy Speaks” is a column focusing on one question I have asked various members of the clergy. That question is: What five books would you recommend as must-reads for Catholics today? I left the responses open to current or classic books with the only restriction being that the Bible and the Catechism could not be used as they are a given. This week we welcome Deacon Greg Kandra who serves the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.
In February 2011, he was named the Executive Editor of ONE, the acclaimed magazine published by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). In 2012, ONE received an unprecedented 21 awards from the Catholic Press Association, including First Place for General Excellence.
Prior to his work with CNEWA, Deacon Greg enjoyed a long career in broadcast journalism, most recently as the founding News Director of NET, the cable channel for the Diocese of Brooklyn, where he created and produced the first-ever daily Catholic news show, “Currents.” Deacon Greg also spent nearly three decades as a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” “60 Minutes II,” “48 Hours,” (Emmy Award, Writers Guild of America Award) and “Sunday Morning.” He was co-writer for the acclaimed documentary “9/11,” hosted by Robert DeNiro. (Emmy Award, Christopher Award, Peabody Award, Writers Guild of America Award.) His radio essays were featured in the bestselling book “Deadlines and Datelines” by Dan Rather. He’s also a two-time winner of the Catholic Press Association Award.
Other places you may find him: AMERICA, U.S. CATHOLIC, CATHOLIC DIGEST, REALITY (Redemptorist Communications) and THE BROOKLYN TABLET. Deacon Greg also contributes homiletic reflections to the parish resource CONNECT!, published by Liturgical Publications. He is one of the preachers featured in the book “Hungry and You Fed Me” (2012), a collection of homilies whose sales benefit homeless charities in New Jersey.
Deacon Greg grew up in Maryland but he and his wife today live in the beautiful borough of Queens, New York. You can find about him and his work at his blog The Deacon’s Bench.
Here are his five must reads for Catholics today:
1. “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton. My father-in-law gave me this one year for Christmas about 20 years ago, and it would not be overstating things to call its impact life-changing. In Merton’s story and struggles, I saw echoes of my own, and he wrote about his own journey to the Catholic Church with such passion and conviction, it made me want to know more. My journey toward the diaconate began here. I will always be in his debt.
2. “The Diary of a Country Priest” by Georges Bernanos. A beautifully evocative and heartfelt story of vocation, mission, growth and love, this novel can’t help but strike a nerve in anyone who feels called to religious life. The narrator’s final words—”Grace is everywhere”—are words I’ve carried with me often in my own ministry. I can never forget them.
3. “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. Rightly considered a classic, this book sets the bar for the Christian life—and then raises it. You could spend a lifetime studying its wisdom and trying to perfect the Christian ideals contained in this book. In fact, I undoubtedly will.
4. “Redeemed” by Heather King. Coupled with the story of her journey through alcoholism, “Parched,” this makes for riveting, heart-rending and deeply affecting reading. And Heather writes like a dream. Conversion stories just don’t get much better than this (sorry, Augustine) and her wry wit and soulful meditations on anguish, struggle, heartbreak and hope make her an inspiring and often surprisingly funny companion for the journey.
5. “Mariette in Ecstasy” by Ron Hansen. A novel by a deacon! And a brilliant novel, at that. Ron Hansen’s deceptively simple story concerns a young nun who may (or may not) be experiencing visions of God, along with the stigmata. In bare outline, the plot is reminiscent of “Agnes of God,” but in Hansen’s hands, the story takes on a richness and mystery that are genuinely haunting. It plunges right into the heart of faith, doubt, belief and wonder.