I just finished my first lenten reading, a slim volume by Pope Benedict XVI called "The Apostles." It is a conglomeration of the catecheses the Pope delivered during his general audiences from 2006 and 2007. He discusses the early church, the apostles chosen by Christ and the first co-workers with the apostles (those mentioned in the New Testament writings).
He first discusses the origins of the church as described in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters in the New Testament. The explanations are simple to follow and present lots of really good insights. My favorite from this section concerns the communion of the church: "we have a two-fold univesality: a synchronic universality--we are united with believers in every part of the world--and also a so-called diachronic universality, that is: all the epochs belong to us, and all the believers of the past and of the future form with us a single great communion." Of course, this the idea of the communion of saints, but for me it is a great expansion of the idea. I've always thought of the communion of saints as neatly divided into those in Heaven, those in Purgatory and those of us still slugging it out here on Earth. My silo mentality is completely knocked down in Benedict's description. We are a great, single communion with all the faithful from the past, present and future. It's just awesome.
The format for the apostles and co-workers is fairly straightforward. He reviews what historical information we have about them and then discusses their impact on the church then and now. Some apostles' chapters are longer because we know more (Peter, John, Paul). Others are put together (Simon and Jude share one chapter). Most interesting to me were the chapters on the co-workers. Not only did he include some obvious people like St. Stephen (the first martyr) and Timothy and Titus, but also a married couple (Priscilla and Aquila) and also the women who served to spread the Gospel.
I highly recommend the book. It is easy to read and full of wonderful insights about the foundation of our Church and the people involved.
My next reading will be to finish John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which my wife and I started back in our marriage preparation days. I am surprised to see that I only have about 70 pages left, but the text is a much more challenging read than Benedict XVI, so it may take me just as long or longer to finish.