Here are the books I think you should read in 2016. They are indispensable classics for me and they all sit next to me in my prayer corner or next to my bed. These are ones that have really helped me in my spiritual life. Each is amazing in its own way. Some are easy to read, some are ones you want to take the whole year to read carefully.
1) These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson. When I first saw this book I thought, “Oh no, the difficult Theology of the Body.” Boy, was I wrong. This is super easy to read and brings this great topic to every part of your life. Just reading what the culture thought of man, before the Enlightenment, was breathtaking. It turns out that sex is only a really small part of John Paul II’s teaching on the body. It is a wonderful way to guide your whole life into beauty and holiness. You can tell the author is an expert on the topic and has synthesized years of study on this topic into a really easy to understand and implement teaching. I’m planning on reading it again this year. I also really enjoy Emily’s website The Catholic Table and recommend you pay a visit. I’m a BIG fan of her Polenta recipe.
2) Worshipping a Hidden God by Archbishop Luis Martinez. I had this book on the shelf for years before I actually read it. I can’t believe I waited so long. Abp. Martinez was a Mexican bishop, poet and mystic and this book completely changed my view of God. It is geared to helping you through problems with prayer and your spiritual life and understanding the nature of God. I cried through several chapters. It was a breakthrough for me and I hope it will help you too.
3) Fatima for Today: An Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R. This book has everything you ever wanted to know about the Marian apparitions at Fatima and what happened afterward. During this time of chaos, confusion, and darkness, the Blessed Mother’s message is more imperative than ever in saving the world from evil. If you have ever wanted to know how or why to do the Five First Saturday devotions, or why the Rosary is so important, this is for you.
4) Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray. This is an excellent explanation of how to pray using the Scriptures. Easy to read and understand.
5) The Navarre Bible: Gospels & Acts by the University of Navarre. This has been my mainstay Bible commentary for years. I use it constantly. I have several volumes of the Navarre Bible but, of course, this is the one I use the most. Other volumes I love are The Pentateuch (The first 5 books of the Old Testament) & the Letters of St. Paul. I highly recommend all the volumes. They have extensive commentary on all the text using lots of writings of Pope St. John Paul II, St. Josemaria Escriva and lots of other saints and Church writings.
6) Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Gives advice on finding a spiritual director. What I find the most profitable in this book is the advice in the back third of the book on problems and questions in the spiritual life. I’m definitely going to read this again this year. A related type book is Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey To God. I read this when it first came out a few years ago, but I, unfortunately, don’t own a copy. It is excellent though, and helps guide you in spiritual direction and how to determine your main faults so you can overcome them.
Dan Burke also has several other resources that I can recommend. He has edited two other books that I do own and think you will profit from them: Finding God Through Meditation by St. Peter of Alcantara – St. Teresa of Avila’s spiritual director, which I am reading now; and selected letters of St. Teresa of Avila on prayer, 30 Days With St. Teresa of Avila, which I really enjoyed. He has the bestwebsite on prayer and the spiritual life online (and I don’t say that lightly,) Catholic Spiritual Direction is just excellent. I remember a time when everything online about Catholic prayer was wrong, or vacuous, or tainted with techniques from other religions that were the opposite of what Catholic spirituality taught. You still can find that stuff online, but this website was a revolution, and happily it is filled with excellent advice and direction, and others have followed the lead with the true teachings of Christian prayer. What we now have is a blossoming of the spiritual life.
Also, check out the related Relevant Radio’s Divine Intimacy Radio show and podcast, among other helps. Another radio show, from Radio Maria is Carmelite Conversations. It is absolutely my favorite podcast and I cannot tout it highly enough for discussions on Catholic spirituality, books, and Carmelite saints. I have learned so much!
7) 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. A very approachable and understandable preparation for consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. It uses teaching from Mother Teresa, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Everyone I know who has read it has been very impressed.
8) Trusting God With St. Therese by Connie Rossini. A lovely book on how St. Thérèse of Lisieux allowed God to guide her through difficult times in her life and how you can trust God in hard times too.
Other books I can recommend but am not finished with yet:
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. I have the first of the three volumes.
The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Timeby Lawrence G. Lovasik
An Introduction to the Devout Lifeby St. Francis de Sales, excellent for beginners.
Spiritual Combat: How to Win Your Spiritual Battles and Attain Peaceby Lorenzo Scupoli. St. Francis de Sales carried this in his pocket for years.
Mother’s Day is coming soon. I’m sure you’ve heard. I decided to try to think ahead this year. In lieu of being lazy and just ordering flowers, I’ve done some research on some great gifts that our Catholic moms will like. My alter ego on Facebook is Catholic Book Lady so we will start with books, because they are my favorite. Some are new and some not, but these are the ones I like right now, by some of my favorite authors.
Teresa Tomeo: I’m a big fan of Catholic podcasts and Catholic radio. Teresa is the host of Ave Maria Radio‘s Catholic Connection, among other gigs. I’ve read most of Teresa’s other very popular books, but I like this one the best: Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag: On-the-Go Devotions. It has short devotions and fits in my purse or glove compartment. The devotions use a lot of humor, but are thought provoking and prayerful. It is good choice for any Christian woman, even one who is just getting started in the faith, and it is tailor-made for Mother’s Day.
Dan Burke: Before Dan Burke started his website Catholic Spiritual Direction there was little online about Catholic prayer that was truly authentic and not tinged by influences from other spiritualities. Now, several years later, his website is a mature, extensive resource for learning about genuine Catholic prayer and the spiritual life. A few years ago, he published a classic called Navigating the Interior Life. This has now grown into a series of books to help deepen your prayer life.
I own two new books in this series: Finding God Through Meditation by St. Peter of Alcantara who was a spiritual director St. Teresa of Avila; and a book of letters by St. Teresa herself, called 30 Days With Teresa of Avila that include reflections written by Dan and Dr. Anthony Lilles. I have been reading a little every day of Teresa’s letters and what impresses me is just how easy they are to read and how her personality shows through. The reflections are easy to understand and very helpful. I think any mom who is interested in prayer and the spiritual life would find this a nice gift. St. Peter’s book, however, is for someone who is very advanced in prayer and is ready to move onto greater holiness.
Emily Stimpson: I can’t tell you how huge a fan I am of Emily Stimpson because of this book These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body. Now, you might be thinking “No, my mom/wife/grandma doesn’t need a book about the Theology of the Body because it is all about sex and just too big and complex.” Well, my friend, you are wrong. Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body does have a large component about marriage and sex, and it can be complicated; but the body, marriage and family is more than about sex. It is about beauty and grace and holiness, even amidst the complexities and messiness of life. The Theology of the Body touches every part of life, and Emily Stimpson has unraveled it, digested it, made it understandable, and then written an absolutely beautiful book with the aim of bringing real love, simplicity, and grace to all parts of your life and your family. This book has literally changed my view of life and the world. It makes me yearn for beauty, and reach for grace. You need to buy two, because you need to read it yourself. She has a lovely website, The Catholic Table, that I highly recommend.
Lisa Hendey: The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living. Now, I have to admit I have not read this book, but I hear it is wonderful, and it goes along with Emily Stimpson’s book about grace and generosity. As the creator of CatholicMom.comI think it is a safe bet that your mom will love this.
Jennifer Fulwiler: Jennifer writes one of the most popular blogs in the Catholic online universe, Conversion Diary. As a big fan, I waited a long time for Jennifer’s book, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidently Found It, to be released. She went from a born-and-raised atheist living the high life but not completely happy, to a Catholic homeschooling mom of six kids with a wildly popular blog about her and her husband’s faith journey. I devoured it. Fast paced and vastly interesting, their journey is nonetheless profound and incredibly inspiring. Don’t hesitate to get this book. Psst: don’t tell her that I just discovered I have been spelling her name wrong for years. Sigh.
Patti Maguire Armstrong: I got to be roomies with Patti at a Catholic convention and she is incredibly fun, a fantastic writer, and one of the best people I know. Patti is constantly writing articles on the Catholic faith and culture, and she has several books, including as co-author of the popular Amazing Grace series. This book however is the one that I like the best, and would be great for Mother’s Day: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families. This book explains what happens to families when they allow their hearts to be generous – their struggles, but also their triumphs and joys.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle: I doubt there could be a list of Catholic books for Mother’s Day that doesn’t include at least one book by this lovely lady. Donna-Marie is an incredibly prolific writer. A friend of Mother Teresa’s, she imbues everything she writes with a beautiful, gentle spirit. Surprisingly, I’m not going to recommend any specific book. The last one I read was The Miraculous Medal, but she has many books on bringing in a prayerful aspect to the family and motherhood, books on prayer, ones for expectant mothers, a Bible study, books on Mother Teresa, and other saints and even angels. There just isn’t just one I could recommend, but the best thing is that she is sure to have written a book that would interest your mom.
OK, woman cannot live by book alone, so let’s get onto other gifts moms like:
Jewelry, Rosaries and other cool stuff:
You can get cool jewelry everywhere, but meaningful jewelry is another story. I’m always surprised at how many Catholic ladies online I know that have small businesses and so many of them are on Etsy, Facebook, etc. Their wares are beautiful, and if you buy from them you are supporting a craftswoman directly. Check out these:
SpirituallyHip.com(Full of Grace Divine Designs) – Amazing jewelry. Gorgeous and very stylish. I just love everything there and would own it all if I could! The lovely necklace at the top of this post is this from here.
Charming Country Creations Some very cool country signs
Tag You’re “It” Beautiful and affordable, personalized hand stamped jewelry. I really like these.
Graceful Rosaries Just so amazing.
Perseverance Road Catholic Jewelry
Beaded Treasures Jewelry & Rosaries (the rosary above is from here)
and there are lots more, check out the Catholic Etsy Artist Guild Members too.
Nellie Edwards, painter of some of the most iconic modern Catholic art. I have a few of her prints. They are beautiful, meaningful, and affordable. And she is just the most fabulous person – well deserving of your business.
And speaking of icons, which are considered by the Orthodox Christians to be windows to Heaven… there are many places to purchase icons, which is fortunate since they are so beautiful and stunningly crafted.
Leaflet Missal has many in all price ranges and is an excellent company.
Monastery Icons has beautiful icon jewelry, and a lot of more contemporary icons as well.
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. They are what the angels must sound like. Listening to these amazing nuns makes me immediately relax and settle in for prayer, or imbues my working day with sense of the sacred around me. Their voices are stunning.
Not to be outdone by those Benedictines, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have their own album, Mater Eucharistiae. You might remember these traditional nuns from the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and the “American Bible Challenge.”
Mom might also like the sublime singing of the British vocal ensemble Voces8. They are wonderful.
Want something a little more contemporary? The beautiful music of Audrey Assadcan’t be beat.
Well, there you have it. If you have any other great ideas for gifts, please let us know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say!
P.S. There are more than 25 ideas now because I keep remembering more great stuff. If you have an idea please comment and let me know. I may add it to the list.
Update: My former neighbor, a protestant missionary, and wonderful friend Glenda, who is one of the best Christian women I know, had a suggestion for the list. She says “I have an alternative idea to C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. We just listened to C. S. Lewis at War done by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre. It is the story behind Mere Christianity plus the audio book. Jeff really enjoyed this. It definitely appealed to his logical engineering mind! We listen on long car trips… the audio book is a great alternative for those who rarely sit down to read a book, and the dramatization of this one holds your attention.
If you are still looking for good Christmas gifts for friends or family then here are some great ideas. My friend online, Catholic Book Lady and I came up with some gift recommendations. We tried picking books that had some good practicality to them, such as classics of the spiritual life, or that would be welcome to a friend, and then chose ones in all price ranges. You can find most of these at good Catholic bookstores, or the usual popular online ones. We are using links to the publisher so as to not favor one particular store. I know one popular online bookstore still has free shipping with $25+ orders until Monday and you’ll still get it before Christmas. These books are not in any particular order.
#1 Catholic Scripture Study Bible – This is a very nice leather bible with lots of aids to bible study, maps, ribbons, and a whole apologetics section with a cheat sheet to aid you in finding Church teachings fast.
#2 The Daily Roman Missal -The new translation of the Mass is here and this will be a great aid for you. Even if you are not able to attend daily Mass, you can still meditate on the day’s readings. If you have an old missal, it is still good for the readings of the day because they have not changed, but the rest of the Mass is different. This book covers every day, not just Sundays or weekdays, which I really like.
#3 Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture by Teresa Tomeo – This is a great book I highly recommend because it shows the lies and distortions the culture and the media tell about issues important today such as women’s body image, the feminist agenda and related issues. Teresa Tomeo then shows you how to overcome these distortions of our culture with a spiritual extreme makeover. I did a review of this book awhile back: You Need a Makeover.
#4 Motherhood Matters – Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms by Dorothy Pilarski. I’m partial to Dorothy because she’s a friend of mine and has worked so hard on this book. It questions whether the modern cultural version of motherhood is good for any of us, and encourages us to look at motherhood as a vocation. It is loaded with practical advice. She has a great set of endorsements from heavy hitters such as Alice Von Hildebrand, Lisa Hendey, Sr. Ann Shields and Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. You can only obtain this book at Dorothy’s blog Gutsy Catholic Mom.
Unfortunately, you will not get this before Christmas, BUT I suggest you print out a picture of the book and stick it in their stocking. It will be a Christmas gift they can enjoy later. It’s that good.
#5 The Fire Within: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and the Gospel on Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. – This is one of the BEST books on the spiritual life there is. Fr. Dubay was a master spiritual director who gave decades of retreats to religious and lay people alike. He goes into depth here on the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The best part is he gives detail of each level of the spiritual life. St. Teresa was firm that one should know where one is going in one’s prayer life to progress in prayer without confusion and fear. This is a book to keep for life and refer to repeatedly.
#6 National Catholic Register – This is not a book but an excellent newspaper. I happen to think it is the best one in the U.S., but that is just my personal opinion. It is now owned by EWTN and is very in depth. It is an excellent gift, and I encourage you to subscribe for yourself as well. You can get this in print, online or now on your Kindle. The Kindle version is $1.99/month, which is just phenomenal.
#7 The Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible – New Testament – This is just a fantastic gift. Listen to it in the car. It features fantastic actors such as Stacy Keach, Michael York and Blair Underwood and it’s amazingly produced. It uses the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) bible. I can’t say enough about it.
#8 The Navarre Bible New Testament – Expanded Edition – I have many volumes of the Navarre Bible, both for the New and Old Testaments. This is an expanded version with the whole New Testament and has more notes then previously published. I love the Navarre Bible because it is user friendly, very faithful, written for the laity, and is set up to really aid both Lectio Divina (prayerful reading) and serious Bible study. It uses the excellent RSV-CE translation of the Bible.
#9 Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Dr. Tim Gray – I really enjoyed this small book about learning to pray with the scriptures. You can read my review that I did a few months ago, Quick Book Review: Praying Scripture for a Change. It would be a great gift for anyone who wants to learn about Lectio Divina or prayer in general.
#10 Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’ Kempis – Thomas was a German monk who lived in the 1400’s. His book Imitation of Christ is the second best selling book in history, only surpassed by the Bible. It is a guide to the spiritual life and, even though it was written for religious, is extremely profitable for the laity. Every Christian should own a copy. This book is published by several publishers. I chose this particular volume, by Catholic Book Company, because it is inexpensive, but handsomely bound and is in hardcover. They also have a soft leather version with a zipper. It’s my opinion that if you own this book, it should be something that will last for life. There are paperbacks, but this is inexpensive enough at $8.75 that why would you want a paperback?
Bonus Gift Recommendation! A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey who is the founder of CatholicMom.com. This is last but not the least. We were trying to stick to 10 books but could not leave this one out! It is a great book that brings moms 52 different saints for a year of meditations, prayers, practical advice and wisdom. This is a great resource that any Catholic mom would love to have.
More stuff! If you are interested in other good classics of the spiritual life then check out this article from the Catholic Spiritual Direction website: Tattered Titles – And the Winners Are…. It has more recommendations you may like to share with those you love. And if YOU have any great ideas please share them with us! Merry Christmas!!!!
Let me tell you about a new book – my favorite thing to tell you about! I have had a chance to look at a great new book by Teresa Tomeo. Her book Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture is coming out October 7th and it is great.
Teresa Tomeo is a former secular news reporter and anchor who came back to the Church. She is a successful author with several books, and is an EWTN host on radio and TV, and is a host on Ave Maria Radio. I have to admit I did not know much about Teresa Tomeo and had not had the opportunity to read her work before, but she is wonderful. Very down to earth and enjoyable.
Extreme Makeover seems to have two purposes, one is to show some of the common deceptions of our culture and how it – and the media – have betrayed us. Teresa shows us the truth with hard facts about radical feminism, abortion, “free sex”, etc. and relates those to Church teaching. Body image and eating disorders are SO common among women, and all that really plays into how women relate to others and God. Her point is to really show you the truth and gives you lots of resources to show others too.
The second part of her book is how to transform yourself to how Christ wants you to be – to have a spiritual “makeover.” We as women need to find our true beauty. We need to discover how God truly loves us, how we are his beloved daughters, and he made us for beauty outside and inside too. Our culture promotes a different kind of woman – self-centered, selfish, even cruel. What I love about this book is the personal testimonies of how Teresa, and other women, found the truth – how their journeys happened and how it changed their lives.
I really think you will benefit from this book and I urge you to order it. It would make a great Christmas gift. I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to think ahead this year – for once! If you want to read a deeper review of this book, Cheryl Dickow over at Catholic Lane has a good one. And also head on over to Teresa Tomeo’s website, where she has her other great books too.
“Lectio Divina is an integral part of the Church’s game plan for the renewal of faith in our times.” Praying Scripture for a Change
I finally finished the book Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Dr. Tim Gray. I ordered it a couple of months ago from Interlibrary Loan and even though it is a short book (only 120 pages) I’ve had a lot going on in my life, and had to renew it for another month. Waiting for my son in the dentist’s office while he got a root canal, was an excellent opportunity to read through it and take copious notes. I really liked it and will add this to my books every Catholic should read.
It is really hard for some reason to find information about how to do Lectio Divina (or divine reading – praying with the scriptures) properly. A lot of websites have co-opted this method of prayer, which can lead to infused Contemplation, and have mingled it with Eastern prayer methods/Centering Prayer. Eastern prayer methods, and it’s offshoot Centering Prayer, are not really compatible with true Christian prayer which is not an “emptying of the mind” but a “love look with the heart.” Christian prayer is a conversation between persons who love each other. Eastern prayer is a technique, not an exchange between lovers.
Lectio Divina is an ancient technique developed by a monk that starts with a slow, careful reading of the scriptures, followed by meditation, then prayer and then contemplation. Christian meditation is not a relaxation technique but a “chewing” on of the scriptures to gain what you can from the text. It is to figure out what the scripture means and what God is trying to tell you. This leads to prayer and then a time of quiet with God that may, if God brings it to you, Contemplation.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is simple, easy to understand and perfect for anyone truly wanting to know how to pray with the scriptures. One thing that caught my attention was Dr. Gray’s explanation of the fact scriptures are not written like modern day books that practically throw away words, but each and every word was written in scripture to be important and link to other places in the bible to make a cohesive whole. Over a long time you slowly gain knowledge of this and can gain greater insight into how God works and what He is trying to say.
In practicing Lectio Divina, I think the hardest part is deciding which scriptures to use. The steps themselves are easy and flow into each other, especially after reading Dr. Gray’s text. Buy this book, or find it in your library or through Interlibrary loan, but I highly recommend it and will be practicing Lectio Divina myself as often as I can.
If you love books like I do but are watching your pennies, then Interlibrary Loan is a great option for you. I like to buy some books, but others I just want to borrow – or maybe even look over a book before I decide to buy it. When it comes to Catholic books you might be lucky to find it in your library, but unless it is a Scott Hahn book, (maybe) or written by the Pope or Mother Teresa, you are pretty much out of luck. There do seem to be plenty of anti-Catholic books though. Nevertheless, some Catholic books are hard to find and a good Catholic book store even harder to find. Your local Barnes & Noble is unlikely to have any but the most popular Catholic books, but then you will be paying full price.
So, if you want to borrow a book, especially one that may be out of print, Interlibrary Loan is a great option. How this usually works is you can go to your local branch library, look up the book at the WorldCat database on their computers, and request it right there. The old way, which might be how your library does it, is to ask the librarian to look it up and request if for you. We are lucky here that we have a great library system, and we now have the ability to look at the database at home online and request it right there. WorldCat also has apps for your iPhone which is really cool. The ability to order a book from one of thousands of libraries, while sitting on my couch, is truly dangerous when in my hands…but I digress.
You will have to wait, sometimes for a few weeks, while the request goes through and a library from another system in the United States mails it to your main library, where it is processed and then sent to your branch for you to pick up. If you want the book tomorrow you will be disappointed. You are trading time instead of money. This though, has been a fantastic way for me to get great Catholic books that I would not have otherwise been able to acquire. Many of the books I have gotten have been from seminaries or Catholic college libraries. I picked up the other day Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, and I’m really impressed with it, so I may buy it from Amazon, but in the meantime getting it this way allowed me to see if I really wanted to buy it.