We're done with Lent, now, which is nice. Hopefully we're not done with growing in our faith though. This time of year we throw the switch from "Fast" to "Party". If you haven't already done so, it might be a good time to put together a reading list for the year of our Lord 2018. To help you, I'm sharing an annotated list of books that have shaped me. They have several things in common. Firstly, they're all spiritual or religious, because we're not really talking about finances here. Secondly, they are all practical. Some are even more practical than religious. Thirdly, they're all written by people who are basically modern for an audience that is, like us, basically modern - with the exception of the last two, that I just had to include.
Let me know how you like them.
Transformation in Christ, Dietrich von Hildebrand
tl;dr (Too long; didn't read) If you cannot find a spiritual director, this book is the next best thing.
When it came out, reviewers called this book "a modern Imitation of Christ." Nothing could be truer. The book revolutionized my spiritual life. Revolution is too harsh a word because those are quick and violent. This book is the opposite. It is gradual and gentle. I read its 500 some pages in about as many days and they have continued acting through the following ten years and more. The author walks through what a life of holiness looks like and how to attain it, using the beatitudes as a structure. The language is idiosyncratic at first, but you will quickly be absorbed into it.
Abba Father: Developing our Relationship with God the Father, Bonaventure Perquin, O.P.
tl;dr: If your relationship with your dad was not entirely helpful in coming to know God, check out this book.
We are tempted to think that God is a father by analogy and that our own dads are the real thing. Really, the reverse is true. God is our true Father, and our dads have us in guardianship. The book is drawn from the writings and sermons of the author, a Dominican of keen insight. He speaks in a gentle, loving way of God the Father who is, because of our adoption in Christ, also our Father. The author helps us to see God at work in our lives and helps us see how that work is fundamentally the work of a Father.
Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer, Thomas H. Green, S.J.
tl;dr: Six quick lessons that will help you move from treating God like a slot machine to having an honest relationship with Him.
Fr. Green is a masterful writer because he is so clear and simple. This book is the result of a seminar he gave in the university where he taught. He wanted to teach students to pray. I have found the book very helpful in disclosing my mind and heart to God and in opening myself to receive him as well.
Story of a Soul, Therese of Lisieux
tl;dr: The Doctor of the Little Way has a ton to teach even those who don't live in convents.
This Therese is one of the two Theresas that inspired Mother Teresa. Her goal was to be perfect in love. This book recast my life for me. She will teach you to see all the little annoyances of life as opportunities to love. She will guide you to looking for chances to shine in obscurity. Whether you are a homemaker or a realtor, you can become perfect in love.
The World’s First Love, Archbishop Fulton Sheen
tl;dr: This book gives a broad and sweeping view of the role of Mary in salvation, but more than that, of her place in the universe.
Fulton Sheen is a prophet for our times and our culture. In mainly mainline Protestant America, Fulton Sheen presents to us the Virgin Mary, who is forgotten by the world but who never forgets it. Before I read this book in college, I thought, like many Catholics, that Mary was no big deal. This book, more than any other, taught me to love our Lady.
Interior Freedom, Fr Jacques Philippe
tl;dr: This book helped me understand the interior peace and freedom of a Christian.
Fr. Philippe has a simple, crystal-clear style reminiscent of C. S. Lewis's. He gently unbraids knotted and thorny questions reducing them to simple and clear truths. The book is small but deep.
The Four Loves, C S Lewis
tl;dr: C. S. Lewis walks through "love" in each of the major senses of the word providing always-relevant insight into each.
Speaking of C. S. Lewis, this book is one of his underreported masterpieces. He walks from the most basic and humblest kind of love and in four stages ascends to the loftiest love, unfolding without dispelling the mysteries of faith, hope, and charity. For each of the kinds of love, Lewis gives relevant warnings and prudent advice. Anyone who enjoyed the Screwtape Letters will love this book, although it is of a very different sort.
The Everlasting Man, G K Chesterton
tl;dr: This book revised how I saw the human person, human society, human history, and our relationship with God.
In this volume, Chesterton breaks open and exposes a number of the myths that we are taught in school and take for granted. Each myth exposed is an opportunity to re-understand the human endeavor - your endeavors - in a new, clearer, and more Christian light.
What is the Bible? Henry Daniel-Rops
tl;dr: This little textbook explains the history and structure of the Bible so you can read it more fruitfully.
Daniel-Rops was on the cutting edge of the New Theology and the Scripture movements of the 1950s-1960s. His project is to help you bring the academic approach to bear on your understanding of scriptures so that when you bring the scriptures into your spiritual life, you can do so in a more mature, fleshed-out way. The book is a great primer for older students and adults.
In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Joseph Card. Ratzinger
tl;dr: This exposition of the creation stories and the story of the Fall puts into practice the understanding explained by Henry Daniel-Rops.
This book relies on the kind of understanding spelled out in Henry Daniel-Rops's book. It should probably be read after Daniel-Rops. It explores the historical and symbolical meanings of Gen 1-3 and provides insight into what these stories meant for the ancient Hebrews and what they can mean for us.
Book of Wisdom
tl;dr: In my mind, this book of the Old Testament most clearly and dramatically prophesies the Gospel.
This book is, in my mind, maybe the most beautiful and full revelation of God until the Incarnation itself.
Gospel of St. Matthew
tl;dr: I just like this gospel the best.
Don't skip the genealogy that starts the book off. Imagine it being chanted to the sounds of drumbeats. If you do not know one of the names in the genealogy, google it!