The Big Ol’ Catholic Reading List

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Ok, so it’s not that big and it’s definitely not in the ballpark of comprehensive (would that even be possible?). But, in response to a reader’s request for resources on Catholic teaching, Catholic motherhood, Catholic blogs, and books that influenced our decision to convert, here’s…well, something. It’s off the top of my head with a couple suggestions and notes from Daniel. I would LOVE your suggestions and recommendations for additions!

CATHOLIC TEACHING/CATHOLIC THOUGHT:

(Daniel’s note regarding recommended reading for Catholic thought that also influenced our conversion:

“Read the Church Fathers, beginning with Ignatius of Antioch. Before I was Catholic, I thought that the Protestant Reformation was necessary because of a steady decline that had taken place in the Church from its very beginning. I thought that everything would be great if we could just get back to the Early Church. But I figured we just didn’t have a record of that time. Turns out, we do. Ignatius of Antioch lived in the first century and was martyred in the beginning of the second so his writing held a lot of weight with me. When I read his letters, I was quite surprised by what I found. Over and over again, he emphasizes loyalty to the bishops; an idea that was totally foreign to me. He spoke of the Church as a single organization with a hierarchy and chain of command. He also spoke of the Eucharist with great reverence and called it the ‘medicine of immortality.’

Continuing through the centuries… St. Augustine, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Anselm. With these guys, it wasn’t so much a particular argument they made that drew me to the church. Instead, it was the continuity that exists over the centuries in their writings. This flew in the face of my idea that there was a ‘falling away’ from the truth. Quite the opposite, their was unbroken consistency of thought and teaching that existed from the early church all the way up to the contemporary Catholic Church. Maximus emphasizes this continuity (albeit in the 7th century).”)

A good place to start is with The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch. There’s a good Paulist Press edition. Also worth reading are: The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, Confessions or the Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love of St. Augustine, and Selected Writings of Maximus Confessor.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church—doesn’t get much better than this. Confession: I haven’t read the whole thing. Maybe remedying that should (obviously?) be one of my Lenten devotions.

Signs of Life by Scott Hahn—Daniel and I read this together during Lent two years ago. There are 40 chapters so it’s perfect for lenten reading.  Dr. Hahn is also a convert and this book is a beautiful introduction to Catholic sacraments, sacramentals, and practices. Hahn includes many, many Scripture references in his chapters which is always helpful to those of us coming from a Protestant background.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton—Just awesome. Everything Chesterton writes is delightfully funny and painfully true.

On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard: Written by a convert, this book explains facets of the Catholic faith and Catholic worldview and dispells minunderstandings of the Catholic faith that might arise coming from a Protestant worldview.

On Loving God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux—Following in the footsteps of St. Augustine, this medieval saint writes beautifully. I am a medievalist at heart and I just love St. Bernard. Here’s an example: “Faith certainly bids me love him all the more whom I regard as that much greater than I, for he not only gives me myself, he also gives me himself.”

Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything by Michael P. Foley—Written by one of our Baylor profs, this is a delightful read.

And if you’re up for something dense but amazing—any of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

CONVERSIONS:

Return to Rome by Francis Beckwith—Dr. Beckwith’s story of his reversion to Catholicism after becoming Protestant and being President of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Crossing the Tiber by Stephen RayPart I is his conversion story from Protestantism and Parts II and III are on Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

Confessions by St. Augustine—the ultimate conversion story.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton—Another good conversion story highlighting the working of God’s grace guiding us, even when we are unaware.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by the Blessed John Henry Newman—The spiritual autobiography of a former Anglican. Confession: I haven’t read this one, but Daniel really liked it.

CATHOLIC PRAYER AND DEVOTION:

St. Benedict’s Prayer Book—We love using this for morning and evening prayer for our family.

An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales—Exhortations to holiness through prayer and examination of conscience by a wonderful saint of the Church.

The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary by Karen Edmisten—Fantastic introduction to praying the Rosary. I’ve read it twice and it has helped me make the Rosary a frequent and familiar devotion in my spiritual life.

MOTHERHOOD:

Familiaris Consortio, Encyclical by the Blessed Pope John Paul II: This one definitely falls into the category of Catholic teaching but has much to say on motherhood and the family in modern life. I’m more than halfway through and loving it.

HAGIOGRAPHY:

Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset—Well-researched and beautifully written biography of St. Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, another fellow convert to Catholicism.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, “The Dumb Ox” by G.K. Chesterton—Nobody writes biography as delightfully as Chesterton. A wonderful introduction to this great saint.

FICTION:

ANYTHING written by Flannery O’Connor. My favorite is The Violent Bear It Away.

(Daniel’s note: “This is hard to explain. Perhaps it was that she was a Southern author writing about the South. I guess she was able to translate her Catholicism into the language of my Southern Protestantism. I can’t really put my finger on it. Obviously, the sacraments are a huge part of her work, even when they are slightly hidden. There is a kind of radicalism in her stories that makes sense to me and I think is a core part of the Gospel message. There is a totality to it that I think is clearly shown in Catholic theology. She also helped me see that some of my objections to the Catholic Church were actually rooted in my modern, materialist perspective and not really in anything biblical.”) Warning: If you’ve never lived in the South…these works might be really hard to understand.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: THE 20th Century Catholic Novel. Wickedly funny and full of heartbreaking truth, Brideshead follows the working of God’s grace in the aristocratic Flyte family through the eyes of their friend Charles Ryder. I read it every year and the characters have become beloved companions. I can’t explain why, but I think this book influenced me to become Catholic more than any other.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: I’ve written about how much I love this saga before—how often do you find good medieval historical fiction? Kristin’s spiritual journey chronicled throughout the books is complex, beautiful, and worth reading.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Daniel’s note: “I guess this is hard to explain, too. Maybe part of it was that I absolutely loved Tolkien and his worldview. So the fact that he was Catholic made me see Catholicism in a more positive light. There are also a lot of sacraments in his work. The Eucharist shows up all the time.”)

What are your suggestions for MUST-READ books and resources on Catholic faith?

(p.s. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of the clothbound Penguin classic edition of Pride and Prejudice! It ends tomorrow at noon!)

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Comments

  1. says

    Yowza! Thank you so much, that’s exactly what I was looking for…I best get crackin’! Blessings on your Ash Wednesday!

    -Mary Susan

    (For clarification’s sake, I just started a blog, ’cause all the cool kids are doing it, so the comment name is different.)

  2. Karen says

    I had the privilege of having Dr. Thomas Howard as a professor when I studied abroad in Austria. He was by far one of the most brilliant, interesting, and witty men I have ever met. Definitely one of the most rewarding classes I took in college.

    • says

      I loved the book and hope others will learn from it as well! And as for Lent…at least I’m learning how lacking my daily devotion is. That’s some kind of step forward, right? Sigh. Maybe I need to read your book again :)

  3. Catherine Marie says

    Hi, found your blog via a link from Simple Mom, and now I think I just may have to come back again…. good stuff.
    I must say, I just finished “The Spear” by Louis de Wohl and I found it to be awesome. I’ve also read his works on St. Catherine of Sienna [Lay Siege to Heaven] and St. Francis Xavier [Set all Afire] and wildly reccommend those as well. If you want to learn about canonized Saints and aren’t too thrilled to read the drier biographical non-fiction, then you will love his intruiging works of historical fiction [that were endorsed by the Popes of his day - 1950-ish].
    Keep up the great work and writing, guys!!!!

  4. Eva Cusack says

    May I recommend reading ‘The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ by Anne Catherine Emmerich during Lent. It profoundly enriched my appreciation, reverence and understanding of Holy Week. Blessings upon you and your family. Your blog is heart warming and uplifting!

  5. says

    What a great list – I’m taking some notes! I love Sigred Undsett’s Kristen Lavransdatter and am looking forward to reading some of her writing on the saints.

    Here are some books that I’ve found to be good:
    In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden – a great work of Catholic fiction. A book with tons of information about all things Catholic is The Catholic Source Book. Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed is a really accessible introduction to theology. And finally, one of my favorite Catholic books is The Lord by Romano Guardini. Each of the chapters was a radio spot originally, so they are pretty concise and can stand alone if need be. But together they give a wonderful picture of Jesus. Pope Benedict was influenced by this book in writing his books about Jesus of Nazareth.

    Books on my list this Lent are: Walter Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me. Also, I Believe in Love which is a personal retreat based on the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux.

  6. says

    Haley,
    If you are interested in Dr. Hahn’s books, “Rome Sweet Home” is very good. I also highly recommend “Letter and Spirit”, “Reasons to Believe”, “Hail, Holy Queen”, “Covenant and Communion”, “Swear to God”, and “Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700″(which will be out on June 1 of this year). Also, if you are interested in motherhood, Kimberley Hahn’s books are amazing: “Live-Giving Love”, “Chosen and Cherished”, “Graced and Gifted”, “Beloved and Blessed”, “Legacy of Love”. Also, I’m sure that you would love Alice von Hildebrand’s “The Privilege of Being a Woman”.

    • Haley says

      Thanks for the suggestions, Danny! I have been meaning to read more of the Hahn’s books. Another person recommended “Life-Giving Love” just this week.

  7. says

    I love Mark Hart’s the Bible Geek series for a light-hearted read. Geared more towards teens/young-adults I still very much enjoy them! =) Dr. Guarendi’s books are good…he’s a Catholic, clinical psychologist and father of 10. Pope John Paul the Great is an excellent book and I just finished a book on Medjugorje by Wayne Weible…interesting….anxious to find one on Lourdes and Fatima now. I think there are many good ones on Saints. I love the one you have posted on St. Thomas of Aquinas. You have a great list.

  8. says

    I love your list of writings by the Church Fathers, thank you! Definitely adding them to my reading lists. And I really don’t think you can go wrong with St. Augustine’s Confessions. However, there is one little book that rarely sees its way onto these types of lists: The Secret of the Rosary, by St. Louis de Montfort. It is my absolute favorite devotional book, full of incredible stories, miracles, and teachings about the Rosary. It had a profound effect on my faith formation when I was discerning whether or not to be Confirmed in high school and I recommend it to just about everyone. It’s a bit of a difficult read at times for such a small book, but it really is my favorite and made the Rosary my go-to daily devotion.

    ~Willow

    • Haley says

      I’ve heard of The Secret of the Rosary but haven’t read it! I’ll definitely have to add it to my “to-read” list :)

  9. says

    I know you wrote this post a long time ago but I just wanted to add a book I feel very strongly about! I went through a phase around my sophomore year in college where I wasn’t sure the Catholic Church was for me. Somehow I got my hands on Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn and it changed me. I love recommending it to people because it’s a light(er) read. It’s as if they are sitting with you explaining their story instead of feeling like you are attending a lecture on theology. I also love how open he was in the book about making it his mission to convert Catholics and now here he is defending the faith! I just can’t say enough good things about it :) Ok sorry that was so long! Great list, I’m looking forward to reading a few of these!

  10. Monica says

    So, I know this was written a while ago. I saw your post on Flannery O’Connor (I love her) and loved it. I then read through many of you other posts. I thought I’d add a couple books for your lists that have moved me at different times in my life:

    The Shadow of His Wings (Fr. Gereon Goldmann): This is a book all young boys must read (although as a woman I enjoyed it very much as well). The true story of a German seminarian drafted into the military and eventually the S.S. during WWII. Incredibly beautiful portayal of strong Catholic manhood.

    To Kill a Mockingbird: I re-read this every couple years and it still moves me.

    Another Sort of Learning (Father James Schall): The subtitle tells all: “Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally To Aquire an Education in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advise about How to Emply Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists No Where Else In Captivity to Be Found”

    Time For God: Short, sweet, simply book for anyone and everyone serious about a stong personal prayer life. I recommend it to everyone.

    In Conversation With God: Nothing has been more helpful in my daily prayer than these books. Reflections on the daily Mass readings for the entire year. Pricey for the set but WELL worth it.

    A Father Who Keeps His Promises: This is one of Scott Hahn’s first books and gives a great overview of the Bible.

    When I was about 10 I read the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. These are great for young boys! The fifth and final book “The High King” is a Newberry Award. As you move through te first book it may seem so-so, but the character development that takes place throughout the series is wonderful. The ending left me in tears. Beautiful. Read these with your son.

    There are so many more but I thought I’d send you along my first thoughts of great books.

  11. Monica says

    Sorry, one more! Do you know the novelist Walker Percy? If not, you must read him. Begin with “The Moviegoer.” He’s another, like O’Connor, that you might not understand fully if you do not understand the South.

  12. says

    Anything by Rumer Godden. She was a Catholic convert. I loved House of Brede, and everything else I have read of hers. Also, I love Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum..about a Dutch Catholic family during the occupation. It is amazing. As far as devotional writing by Catholic writers, they are too many to name!

  13. EmilyD1037 says

    The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, wonderful devotional, meaty but fairly easy to understand and you will never look at the Catholic faith the same way. I read it before Devout Life and it is a very favorite of mine. He also wrote a smaller devotional called the Imitation of Mary.

    Montfort has several books, all are good and he was a Mary “devotee”. One of his chief teachings is about consecration to Jesus thru Mary, which I am in my fourth renewal year. I especially recommend it.

    A great Lenten book is Jesus of Nazareth,, The Last Week {book2} . by Pope Benedict and it comes with a study.

    Catholic modern day (1950’s) fiction writer Bud MacFarlane, Jr. wrote a 3 book series.

    Bois include: Story of a Soul by St. Therese XXIII, Journal of a Soul, auto-bio of Pope John XXIII. .

    Our Lady of Fatima written by William Thomas Walsh and it is considered one/the best book about it.

    And last but not least, a “modern bio/non-fiction account Called A Right to be Marry written by a Poor Clare, cloistered nun named Mother Mary Francis. She died not too long ago. She was the abbess for many years in the Roswell NM convent. She is a delightful author.

    I have many more (MANY) recommendations on just about any Catholic subject, and several very specific books on the St. Francis and the Franciscans, St. Benedict, St. Romuald and the Benedictines and Camaldolese charism (I am an Oblate) and several of the Carmelites as well,

    If you run out of ideas and want more please let me know.

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