Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction by Gerald O’Collins (Oxford University Press, £7.99). This is a fully updated, second edition of this superb and concise guide to Catholic history and belief. The first two chapters deal with the history of the Church from Pentecost to the present. O’Collins writes with verve and wit, effortlessly guiding us through the myriad years and councils. The second half of the book is the more important, focusing on belief and doctrine. There are chapters on God, the sacraments, the future of Catholicism and, best of all, a vital account of Catholic moral teaching. Recommended.

Conscience Is My Crown by Patricia W Claus (Gracewing, £12.99). The author, descended from the Pilgrim Fathers and English recusant Catholics, has written a study of four inter-related men of the 16th and 17th century: the Rev Robert Lenthall, his cousin William Lenthall, the Parliamentarian John Hampden and St Robert Southwell. The book’s most absorbing chapters concern the martyr-saint, renowned for his bravery, his holiness and his fine poetry. The religious beliefs of Southwell’s relative, Shakespeare, are also discussed.

Jean Vanier: Essential Writings edited by Carolyn Whitney-Brown (DLT, £8.99). First published in 2008, this book celebrates the 80th birthday of the founder of L’Arche, an organisation to help people with learning disabilities and their assistants live together. It collects Vanier’s essential writings on the transformation of society through the creation of community, and the witness and mission of disabled people. Central to this is his discovery “that we are healed by the poor and the weak, that we are transformed by them if we enter into relationship with them [in order] to build community”.

Lonely Courage by Rick Stroud (Simon and Schuster, £20). Stroud has written a moving account of some of the women involved in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war, who were sent undercover to work with the Resistance in France. It was a lonely job, demanding bravery, determination and a cool head. Of the 39 women involved, 12 were executed. Stroud has selected six, including Violette Szabo (remembered for the film Carve her Name with Pride), Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim princess, a Polish countess, Krystyna Skarbek, and Australian Nancy Wake. Their lives remind us of the price necessary for freedom.

Discovering Psalms as Prayer by Rev Andy Roland (Filament Publishing, £9.99). The author, who has been vicar of a south London church for 21 years, learnt how to pray the psalms after visiting a Christian ashram in India. He explores the difficulties when trying to pray and how to integrate praying the psalms at set times throughout the day. Each chapter includes suggestions for particular psalms suited to the hour and the occasion, as well as personal anecdotes, quotations from the saints and other reflections. This is a good book to help beginners get started on their own prayer journey.

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