A Pilgrim Learns to Pray

BOOK PICK: Arriving at Amen

(photo: Register Files)

Arriving at Amen

Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer

By Leah Libresco

Ave Maria Press, May 2015

192 pages, $15.95


Part memoir and part meditation, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer is Leah Libresco’s spiritual journey as an atheist convert to Catholicism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer as God’s gift to us. Libresco’s book then serves as a tool of how we might better utilize that gift.

Organized through seven different spiritual practices that supported her pilgrimage of faith, each chapter explores the depth and richness of prayer and is colored by personal experience. Arriving at Amen takes the reader through petitionary prayer, confession, examen, the Rosary, Divine Office, lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture) and the Mass — all of which have been formative in Libresco’s own awakening to the reality that prayer is more than rhythm and repetition; but even so, both are helpful for entering into greater communion with the divine.

As a fresh 2011 Yale graduate, it was Libresco’s tenacious pursuit of truth and consistency that led her to the Catholic faith a year later. 

She begins by comparing her own story to that of the famed Inspector Javert of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. As Javert and Libresco both learn, truth is more than rules, duties or obligations, and fully accepting that entails learning to embrace mercy. Mercy, as Libresco discovers, is more than a concept — it’s rooted in a Person. And prayer is a primary means to understanding and deepening that relationship.

In exploring the often-taken-for-granted act of petitionary prayer, she reminds us to invoke the intercession of the saints by naming the person or problem that needs prayer and leaving the rest up to the experts who have gone before us. Through the act of confession and being given penance we are taught that penance isn’t about fairness or justice — it’s an occasion to experience mercy even in the aftermath of sin. In praying the Rosary, she highlights the storytelling dimension to this great prayer, where we are offered the occasion to place ourselves in the greatest drama of redemption of all time and reflect on the mystery of salvation.

At times practical, at other times mystical, Arriving at Amen is a reminder of how devotion through prayer is an indispensable part of the faith.

Throughout the book, it’s evident how much Libresco’s own love of language has been an essential part of her growing romance with the language of prayer. Few writers have the ability to weave together the likes of Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim and Simon Peter and not distract the reader in the process. Libresco success on this front makes the book all the more readable and a vibrant prayer life all the more desirable. 

As Pope Francis recently recalled, “Our prayer cannot be reduced to an hour on Sundays. It is important to have a daily relationship with the Lord.”

Catholics seeking to heed this instruction will be well served by Libresco’s Arriving at Amen.

Christopher White writes from New York.