Read This! 12 Catholic Books on the Spiritual Life You Should Read in 2016

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.

4 Websites to Deepen Your Spiritual Life

John William Waterhouse

In my numerous travels online I have found some really great websites that are excellent in helping to further your spiritual life. I could not keep them to myself.

  1. Ascending Mount Carmel. This is a great site by writer and assistant editor of MonkRock, Jason Liske. He comes from the perspective of Eastern Christianity and I love all his profiles of different saints, many I have not heard of, or have forgotten about. His writings about the spiritual life is top notch.
  2. The Cloistered Heart. This is a gorgeous site. I could stare at the art for ages. The posts are simple and short, but deeply meaningful. It is geared toward finding Christ in the monastery of your heart. Author Nancy Shulman does an excellent job of displaying the quiet and solitude that brings us closer to the Lord. I look forward to her email with her latest post every day.
  3. The Catholic Young Woman.  Here is another beautiful site. Geared toward young women obviously, I find it so interesting to read. It shows quite well that there are young, intelligent women who seek Christ deeply and are in the world. Not all the young women in our society are looking for hook-ups or screaming for the right to kill their babies. Here are serious (yet fun) women who are taking to heart Christ’s call to love others and respect themselves. They are searching for the best way to fulfill God’s plan in their lives and explore how to live the virtues. I wish I had known some of them when I was in college and starting out. One seems so alone when you are trying to live for Christ, or at the very least not live by the standards of the times. It is a great site to pass along to the young ladies in your life.
  4. The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles have a lovely site that showcases their mission and a great blog answering people’s questions. It could be a great help to you in your walk with Christ. I always want to stay and linger a little longer.

Update: Here is a bonus. I knew there was another one!  Check out Contemplative Homeschool. Yes, it IS about homeschooling, but also about so much more. Connie Rossini writes from a Carmelite perspective about your spiritual life and how to foster the spiritual life of your children. It’s fantastic.

What is Holiness, Part III – What YOU Need to Do to Be Holy

We’ve discussed What Holiness Is and What Holiness is NOT but what do YOU need to do to be holy?

First, to be holy you need to take advantage of the aids to grow in holiness God gave us. Make an effort to read the Gospels, a little every day. You can’t learn how to imitate Christ if you don’t know what he did or how he acted.

You need to partake in the Eucharist as often as you are able. If your church does not have a convenient Mass, find one that does. Maybe it is just a noon Eucharistic service, but that will do.

Next, try to go to Eucharistic Adoration, an hour a week if possible. You can start by stopping at a church for short visits. Do some research as to what parish has the times you need. What a lovely time it is to spend an hour with Christ. It is very refreshing and a great way to grow in holiness.

Mother Teresa’s had her nuns pray in adoration one hour every day. While this is unrealistic for most people, you can make the effort once a week. If you have little children, try to get someone to watch them, or go after they are in bed. Try also to take your children to visit the Lord in the Eucharist. It can be difficult, but God understands. Even five minutes will help teach them to adore the Lord. Having the Eucharist exposed in a monstrance is the ideal situation, but many churches do not have this, so understand that any chapel or church with a tabernacle will be just fine. You can look up Mass and adoration times at MassTimes.Org

Go to Confession.  Go at least once a month. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is nothing to be feared. It is a way to reconcile with God. Tell your worst sins first, and it won’t be so bad. In order for you to grow in holiness you need to face your sins head-on and fight them. A good way to get ready for Confession is to reflect ahead of time with a good Examination of Conscience. Here is a great Examination of Conscience from Catholic Parents Online Once you get in the groove, bring your kids with you to encourage them to partake in this life giving sacrament.

You have to learn to Accept Your Cross. Accept the problems and the challenges of life. The difficult people. The health problems. The financial problems. Losing your job. The death of a loved one. And we have to do it with a loving, Christ-like attitude. When you accept your crosses you grow in faith, and God uses the times of trial in your life to bring you closer to him. He doesn’t cause those trials, he just uses them to help you grow in holiness. When you step back and look at your crosses you will realize that they are not as big as you thought.

Recently, I watched a documentary of the moon landings on Discovery Channel. We love everything NASA at our house so I couldn’t wait to see this one. The producers of the documentary interviewed many of the twelve men who walked on the moon, and you could tell – they were different. Many of them were changed by the experience, and they knew they were changed. Standing on the moon, seeing our great Earth, seeing space, they knew it was not an accident. The universe, the Earth, it was all planned. It had a creator. And a couple of them talked about HOW it changed them. That looking down on the Earth…petty problems, politics, squabbles…none of that mattered. It was petty stuff in comparison to the greatness and immenseness of the Earth. None of that mattered.

I think about this a lot. We are part of something big. Something great. Our problems, our daily stumbling blocks, are NOTHING in comparison to the immensity of God. HIS greatness. His plan. When we think of his cross…Can’t I accept this little hardship if Christ was so willing to suffer for me? Can’t I be more forgiving if Christ forgave his executioners even when dying.

Of course, one of the most important parts of gaining holiness is….Prayer
The main thing about prayer is to just pray. The biggest hurdle is simply sitting down. Pick a time and do it. Be consistent if possible. Start with 10 minutes and work your way up. In the morning, before everyone else gets up, take a book of spiritual reading or the Bible. Use the readings of the day perhaps. Read it slow and see what strikes you, that is the Holy Spirit leading you. Try to learn what he wants you to know today, and make a resolution for the day. I’ll call that sick friend… or write that letter to my good friend that is having a hard time… or bring those soup cans to the St. Vincent de Paul… or go to Mass or Confession today. The Lord will lead you if you are sincere and open. He will teach you.

There are tons of great Catholic books about prayer and they are helpful, but it really comes down to doing it. Today you do it one way, tomorrow you might feel called to do it a different way, but in essence, find a private, quiet place and talk to the Lord. Just talk about your day, your problems, your concerns, praise Him, thank Him. He is your friend, talk to him as a friend. A Friend that loves you. And leave time to listen. That is very important.

You have to love Christ. You have to learn to know him. It is not enough to learn ABOUT him. I can read a biography of Pope Benedict but to really know him, I would have to meet him and spend time with him. Learn his likes and dislikes. The same with Christ. I can read about him in tons of books BUT to KNOW him I need to meet with him, spend time with him and THAT is prayer.

Then throughout the day, think of Christ. Turn off the TV. Turn off the Radio. Silence is important to hear God. This will clear your mind and allow you to focus. That can be uncomfortable… to be silent… but after awhile you realize what a gift silence is today when TV’s are even in the check-out line at Wal-Mart.

Now that you have silence, offer what you are doing to him. Talk to him about the days events. Laugh with him. Talk to his mother, Mary. Maybe say a rosary. You will learn. And resolve to pray always. And don’t worry if you don’t feel anything. Feeling something is unimportant, it the time you give to Christ that is important.

Next, you have to Go Beyond Yourself. Remember – it is not about you. You have to give of yourself. You have to help your neighbor. God will bring you the opportunities. Remember that the Lord has a plan for your life…a mission that you need to fulfill. You may not ever know what it is, but you are part of his plan. You have to comfort the hurting, the lonely, the sad. You have to dust off the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew and do them. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, teach the ignorant, etc. By doing this you learn to forget yourself and think of others. It is this that will help you grow in leaps and bounds toward union with Christ.

You will know over time if you are growing in holiness by seeing if you are growing in love.  Do you think less about yourself and more about others?

Holiness is a life long project. We will never be done. We will always be striving to reach the goal, because we can always be closer to Christ. Even the great saints continuously tried to be closer to Christ. The great 20th century saint, Padre Pio always asked people to pray for his soul because he was not sure he would make it to heaven! Every one who knew him thought… “he was WORRIED? If HE was worried, I’ll never get in!”

We should never stop trying. Never stop trying to be close to Christ. Yes, we may stumble. Yes, we may really screw up and fall seriously. But we should never stop trying. Fall and get up again. Other people may have an easier time of it. They seem to just get it easily.

But think of how Christ looks at it… Imagine you are in a field, and far away across the field are two of your children. They are small children. You call them to come to you. One gets up and just sings happily, and in delight she runs to you. She may stumble a little, but runs right into your arms…. But your other child… He gets up to come to you but he trips and falls. He runs a little and then he falls again and hurts his knee, but gets up again and toddles along. He stumbles once again and falls deeply into the mud. His clothes are filthy. He has mud on his face and in his hair. Tears are coming down his face in frustration, but he continues to come to you. He does not give up. By this time you are crying. Weeping.

Finally, he arrives sobbing but happy and jumps into your open arms. You grasp him tight and kiss him and comfort him and love him. How much more do you appreciate his journey? You are happy your daughter came, but how much more do you celebrate your son’s almost heroic journey. How hard he tried. How much he loves you. That is what it is like for Christ. DON’T GIVE UP! He will always help you. He looks at how much we struggle to get to him and no matter how much we fall, No matter how long it takes us to get to him, he will welcome us with even more love.

This series is adapted from a meditation that I gave in September 2008 for a Women’s Morning of Reflection. Quotes from the book Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be
by Fr. Thomas Williams, LC are used with permission.

Related Articles:
What is Holiness, Part I – What it’s NOT
What is Holiness, Part II

What is Holiness, Part II

SO…now that we know what holiness is NOT, what is it? 

First of all, Holiness is a GIFT. A free gift from God that allows us to “taste the infinite goodness and happiness of God.”

Holiness is LOVE. It is being UNITED with God. Intimacy with God. When we are in love with God, when we have a vibrant friendship with him, our love overflows into true self-giving to our neighbor. We want to help others. We reach our full perfection… our true human fulfillment. AND we are happy.

So, How do we get there?
Well, lets go back to the fact that he provides us with all we need to attain holiness. Wives and mothers often say…”If I could just be in a convent like the nuns, I’d have plenty of time to pray.” But we have to find God where we are. We find holiness in our everyday lives. Our children, our husbands, our jobs, are not obstacles to holiness, but the means to attain it. If we are called to the vocation of marriage, the vocation to being wives and mothers… If he CALLED us to this life wouldn’t he be a very strange God, a very unreasonable God, to command us to do two contradictory things? “Why would he ask us to fulfill certain responsibilities if they served only to draw us farther from him?”

He wouldn’t. Dom Hubert van Zeller, a popular spiritual director in the last century, wrote a book called Holiness for Housewives: And Other Working Women He wrote: “God does not issue two lists of professions: on the one side – those that are conducive to holiness, and on the other – those that are not. Unless the work attempts to oppose faith or morals, it may be assumed to be a work that is capable of promoting sanctity….Through it, and not spite of it, you achieve your purpose of serving God perfectly.”

Your goal is to look for God in the midst of your life. You WILL NOT FIND HIM ANYWHERE ELSE! We have to make time for prayer, but we cannot ignore our family’s needs so we can pray. Van Zeller says

“If you leave your dishes, your housekeeping, your telephone calls, your children’s everlasting questions, your ironing, and your invitations to take care of themselves while you go off and search for our Lord’s presence in prayer, you will discover nothing but…SELF.”

You have to turn your work, your struggles, your pain, into an expression of love for Christ. Everything you do, every dish you wash, every diaper you change, every spreadsheet you create, is an opportunity to grow in holiness if you do it with love. If you offer it to Jesus Christ. One Christian brother would bless himself before every task he did, in order to offer it to God.

You may have had a bad day yesterday, but today’s a new day and this present moment is the most important. You can’t give up. That is a big temptation the devil gives us. He tells us we can’t do it. But God tells us we can, and gives us all we need to do it. It takes courage, but you can do it.

Tomorrow in Part III we discuss what exactly we have to do to achieve holiness.

This series is adapted from a meditation that I gave in September 2008 for a Women’s Morning of Reflection. Quotes from the book Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be by Fr. Thomas Williams, LC are used with permission.

Related Posts:
What is Holiness, Part I – What it’s NOT
What is Holiness, Part III – What YOU Need to Do to Be Holy

What is Holiness, Part 1 – What it’s Not

This series is adapted from a meditation that I gave in September 2008 for a Women’s Morning of Reflection. Quotes from the book Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be by Fr. Thomas Williams, LC are used with permission.

What is holiness? You seem to know it when you see it. I remember a man I used to work with. Bob was a very faithful Catholic. He knew God was not calling him to the vocation of marriage and he was single. He spent a great deal of time helping sick members of his family and friends. Homeless people and those with drug problems would come to our workplace and ask for Bob, and he would always help them. Sometimes he would give them money. He knew this could be used in a sinful way, but they came to him for help and he would try to help him. You knew from talking with him he was holy.

Another person I could immediately sense was holy was my uncle George. He had a quiet soul. When I looked into his eyes, it was like looking into the eyes of Jesus. Kind… gentle… prayerful. He had sorrows in his life, but you knew he leaned on Christ. That he was close to Christ.

There is a woman that I see at weekday masses at my parish. She is a poor Haitian woman. Her clothes are probably from Goodwill. You can tell she has had a hard life. I don’t know her name, but she sits behind me. A rosary is always in her hand. She radiates Joy. A smile is always on her face. When the priest asks during the Mass what people’s special intentions are, she says the most profound prayers. You know instinctively that she is holy. That she knows Christ intimately. I consider it a privilege to shake her hand, and I always grasp her hand with both of my own because I know she is close to God. Maybe she will rub off on me. She always says “Peace be with you, sister.” And I feel privileged to be her sister in Christ.

But what exactly is Holiness?

Fr. Thomas Williams, LC talks about this in his wonderful book, Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be. He suggests that the place to begin understanding holiness is to understand what holiness is NOT.

First, holiness is not mere philanthropy. Donating money or giving aid to those less fortunate is important, but it is not holiness itself. Caring for those who need help is a manifestation of being holy, but it can also be because our conscience is bothering us, or we do it to look good to others. It in itself is not holiness.

Holiness is also not just avoidance of evil.  A holy person will, of course, try to avoid evil. But holiness is about doing and being, not about avoiding things.

Holiness is not an intellectual pursuit. The simplest people are often the holiest: the cleaning lady… the garbage man. We should all learn about Christ and learn theology. We should learn what the church, founded by Christ, teaches, but that is not what makes us holy.

Holiness is also not the number of disciplines you perform. Many people confuse devotion with disciplines. Holiness is not an excessive emphasis on external works, such as fasting, abstinence and lengthy prayers. Being miserable is not holiness. Jesus told us in the Gospel of John that His wish for us was he wanted our joy to “be complete.” Those who are holy are joyful, not dour, and sad, and serious all the time.

And he also does not expect us to walk down the street flagellating ourselves in public, like some saints of old did, to encourage public penance. He also does not expect us to battle demons in the desert like St. Anthony of the Desert, or to have extraordinary levitations like St. Joseph of Cupertino. Though I think my children would think it cool if I levitated!

Holiness is also not a means to something else. It is not trying to manipulate God to do what you want. Like going to church every Sunday in exchange for financial success. Or thinking that “If I become Holy, God will let me win the lottery!” We are trying to gain union with Christ. Not to gain anything but to be with HIM. HE is our supreme goal. Heaven is our goal because we get to be joined forever with our creator and the one who loves us the most. Money is just paper, it is nothing. God is everything.

Holiness is not self-improvement. We all want to improve and be better. We want to stop being vain or prideful or impatient. But this is not a self-centered pursuit. It is hard to remember “It is NOT about ME” It is about Christ. Pope Benedict wrote a book called “Called to Communion” and in it he wrote

“It is not the perfecting of one’s self that makes one holy, but the purification of the self, through the fusion into the all embracing love of Christ: it is the holiness of the triune God himself.”

So we become Holy by purifying ourselves. Ridding ourselves of whatever is in our way to be close to God. But we cannot do this ourselves! We need Christ to help us – by allowing Christ to work in you, you receive the holiness of Christ Himself.

Very importantly, Holiness is NOT about “Feeling” God’s presence. Good feelings come, and good feelings go. And that is normal. But it has little to do with growth of holiness. Many people have a naturally cooler temperament. Some are emotional about everything. Others are very controlled.

You got up this morning, got dressed, got your kids off to school. Did you feel enormous feelings for your spouse this morning? Did you even think deeply about your spouse, who may have left already or was busy getting himself ready for an important meeting? Did your heart overflow with love at the very thought of him? Or were you wondering if he will have clean socks? It is not normal to be in a perpetual state of emotion. You have to come down to the real world to function properly.

Loving God is a CHOICE, not a FEELING. God does not command us to FEEL a certain way, but to ACT a certain way. Loving others, which God commanded us to do, does not mean warm, fuzzy feelings but the desire for their good. Fr. Williams says

“Every time we prefer others to ourselves or choose to do something, not because we feel like it, but because it is the right thing to do, we are loving.”

Feeling love or getting consolations, is not an accurate way of assessing holiness. Many saints, like Mother Teresa, did not “FEEL” God’s presence for YEARS. It is what you do when you DON’T feel God that counts. Did you follow his commandments? Did you go to Mass even though you did not feel like it? Did you take the time to sit down for awhile and pray and open your heart to the Lord, even though you had a million things to do that day? You may not feel His presence, but He is there and many times MORE present when you don’t feel him. I picture Him sitting there beside me watching me, waiting to see what my choice will be today. Will I rush my prayers or really try to pray seriously?

Finally, Holiness is not an Unreachable Utopia. “It is not just one occupation among many, to be juggled along with our other affairs, but the Central enterprise of our lives.” It is, quite simply, the meaning of life.

What is very important to know is this: growth of holiness, the Christian life, like all life, is progressive. It is NOT a state or condition to be reached. “Today I’m Holy, Tomorrow I’m not.” They don’t give out awards – the holiness award. She’s now holy. No, it is union with God and we either grow or diminish. We can’t stay still. God calls each of us to holiness, to be saints, and He provides ALL the means we need to attain it. God puts in our life all the people, all the circumstances that we need to help us to be holy. Just think…your mother in law is providing you with the means to learn prudence!

SO…now that we know what holiness is NOT, tomorrow we will learn what it is.

Related Posts:
What is Holiness, Part II
What is Holiness, Part III – What YOU Need to Do to Be Holy