A couple of years ago, my wife bought me an e-reader as a Christmas gift. I was grateful; I know she meant well, because better than anyone she knows how much I enjoy reading. I fully expected to use it.
So far, I have read one book using the device – the only one I have downloaded. I’m sorry, honey.
Believe me, I have read plenty the last two years. I’ve got a stack of books next to my bed and on my dresser and next to my recliner and on my bookshelves to testify to that. So I’m stuck in the 20th century – or maybe the 19th century. I love books, okay? I like the way a book feels in my hands, the feeling of turning a page, sticking little pieces of paper inside to remind me of a page with something memorable, having cool bookmarks with pithy sayings showing me where I left off.
And having all those physical books around feels a little like being constantly surrounded by old friends who made a real impact on my life. In some cases, the impact was profound.
That is particularly true in the spiritual realm. I’ve always been blessed to know several wonderful priests in whom I could confide and from whom I could gain great advice. A few have been invaluable spiritual directors and confessors. My relationship with my God has deepened because of my talks with them, along with many other sisters and brothers in the faith.
There also is no way to put a price on the spiritual guidance I have gained from some saints and other authors who poured themselves onto the pages of some of the most classic Catholic books on my shelves. I know I won’t be revealing any well-kept secrets here. But if you know someone who is looking for a way to make sense of how to take steps from a vanilla, nothing-special spiritual life into one of depth and true relationship, here are some of my top recommendations – after the Bible and the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours, which I think should be a part of every Catholic’s daily reading.
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen. “I have enjoyed numerous books by Nouwen, the late priest and prolific author, but this one is where my affection for him began. What I have found from talking with others is that this tale of his faith journey doesn’t appeal to everyone but if you like it, it will resonate deeply.”
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light – The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta. Perhaps the world’s most acclaimed women of the 20th century and surely one of the most admired modern saints, Mother Teresa’s life was largely marked by a spiritual darkness about which few people knew until this book was published after her death. I found myself nodding and relating with Blessed Teresa’s experience frequently. Reading this book only made me admire her even more.
Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross. This book changed the depth and quality of my prayer life more than any other among the dozens of prayer books in my collection. It introduced me to the nature of contemplative prayer and made me curious about Carmelite spirituality, which has led me into formation with the Secular Carmelites. It marked the beginning of my hope for true union with God. And it has prompted me to daily ask John of the Cross to pray for me from his seat in heaven.
The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, by Scott Hahn. Unlike Dr. Hahn, I have been a Roman Catholic all my life. His conversion from a Presbyterian theologian and instructor to Catholic theologian and professor began largely from his secretive attendance at Mass. I am so grateful the Lord brought him to our Church in part because this book has helped me understand and love the Mass more than ever.
The Cloud of Unknowing, author unknown. When I get to heaven (I may get there in spite of myself), I plan to do some detective work to find out who wrote this book, which is considered “at the core of medieval mystical theology.” I want to personally thank him/her for leading me to a desire to experience what actually is a timeless Christian mysticism, something that can be accessible to anyone seeking more profound intimacy with God.
My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Full disclosure: Chambers was a Scottish Baptist minister who lived from 1874-1917, so he was neither Catholic nor contemporary. There are some points of Catholic theology that conflict with some of what Chambers wrote in this book, one of the best-selling devotionals of the last 100 years. Still, when read with a Catholic heart, Oswald’s insight into true Christian calling speak profoundly. It might be the most-used book on my shelf, and it’s uncanny how I find something new every day.
Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Point to Heaven, by James Bryan Smith. This book, about one of the most gifted songwriters and musicians of any genre, surely seems out of place on this list. Mullins wasn’t Catholic, and this book won’t be considered among the Christian classics tested by time. His music still thrives 18 years after his death, though, and this book will provide insight into Mullins’ deep love of Jesus and the mystical quality to his faith.