As a longtime journalist covering religion in America, I reported on the launch of the late Catholic Bishop Ken Untener’s Little Black Book series for Lent of 2020.
At the time, no one had any idea that this simple concept would lead to millions of devotional books sold around the world, but I kept checking in with Ken’s project over the years and soon millions of the little books were circling the globe. To this day, Ken’s friends in the Diocese of Saginaw’s Little Books publishing house continue to roll out annual books, now via Kindle. If you check Amazon, there is not only this new 2023 Little Black Book for Lent on Kindle, but also editions for previous years.
I am thrilled to see this idea for special pocket-sized devotionals continuing to touch lives, so I’m reviewing the 2023 edition right away. Perhaps by adding a review, I might encourage more folks to pick up this year’s edition while Lent is still mostly ahead of us.
The team at Little Books continues to select pieces by Ken for each edition. Anyone who knew Ken’s life and work understood that he was all about concise storytelling and preaching. He was a pioneer in working with his priests, many years ago, in workshops on preaching to encourage them to more carefully plan their daily homilies and also to keep them tightly focused. So, the idea of these tiny texts springs from the heart of Ken’s wisdom about how to share the faith with others: Keep your message clearly focused.
In fact, Ken used to point out in his workshops: That’s how Jesus does it in the Gospels. One of the first meditations in this 2023 edition is an example of that: Jesus using the example of a child to explain how he wants his followers approach the world, in this case saying, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”
Then, throughout Lent, Ken’s daily reflections celebrate Christian wisdom, customs, the saints and scripture.
For example, you’ll meet Blessed Rutilio Grande (and this short piece has been updated to include the fact that Grande was declared “Blessed” in 2022). You’ll meet Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, Australia’s singing nun Janet Mead, the American-born St. Katharine Drexel and more.
Although Ken died far too young in 2004 from a form of leukemia, his compelling teaching continues in many forms, including this remarkable best-selling series.
Give yourself a gift in this Lenten season and follow along with one of Ken’s little books.