1. The Spirit of Catholicism – Karl Adam
The Spirit of Catholicism is by far one of the best books I have read on the Catholic faith. When I first read it, as a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I could not put the book down and often found myself pumping my fist in the air over what Karl Adam said about the Catholic faith. The message of the text inspired me so much that I titled my first blog post – The Spirit of Catholicism. Karl Adam begins the book by asking the fundamental question, What is Catholicism? From that point forward, Adam opens for the reader the organic development and beauty of the Catholic faith. The Church is not a static institution, but it grows, it has life through Jesus Christ. This book has brought many people to Catholic Christianity, notably, Scott Hahn, Fr. Ray Ryland, and Dr. Thomas Howard. My good friends, Gary and Gayle Somers, also speak how this text was a major factor in their conversion as well. This is a must read for ALL Catholics. If you know someone who is on the brink of conversion, give them this book and you will join them at the next Easter Vigil. One of my favorite lines from the book is – “Twelve simple, uneducated fisherman, revolutionized the world, and that with no other instrument than their new faith and their readiness to die for that faith.”
2. Crossing the Threshold of Hope – Pope St. John Paul II
One of the first texts I ever read written by Blessed John Paul II. I believe my friend Robert “BK” Kloska advised that I read the text. BK is the first person who really introduced me to Blessed John Paul II in 1992. It’s a Question and Answer setup where Italian Radio and Television journalist, Vittorio Messori, interviews the Holy Father on a variety of different topics from the Papacy, to Praying, is Jesus the Son of God, Buddhism, and did God help cause the Fall of Communism. It’s a great text and one that all Catholics should read. If you are a bit intimidated by the writings of Blessed John Paul II, this is a good book for you to start on then. The Q&A format allows the readers to understand the mind of the one of the greatest popes in recent years without feeling like you need a Ph.D. in Philosophy or Theology to fully comprehend the material. In the Chapter – “Be Not Afraid”, Blessed John Paul II says “It is very important to cross the threshold of hope, not to stop before it, but to let oneself be led.”
3. Ecclesia in America (The Church in the America)- Pope St. John Paul II
This Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation is one of my favorites from Blessed John Paul II. A synod is a gathering of Bishops that discuss a particular topic that is facing the Church. The document that proceeds from this meeting is the Apostolic Exhortation – a proclamation from the modern-day Apostles. Every Bishop in America should read this document as the ideal design to bring Jesus Christ and the New Evangelization to their particular (diocese) church. As the lay faithful, we should have a deeper understanding of the late Holy Father’s design for the Church in America. Like most of Blessed John Paul II’s texts for me, it was a great read and hard to put down. In Ecclesia in America, Blessed John Paul II says. “The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church.”
4. Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) – Pope St. John Paul II
Another one of my favorite Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations from Blessed John Paul II. Familiaris Consortio gives an exhaustive explanation of how important the family is as a whole and how important the family is for the growth and evangelization of the Church. The role of the Christian family was important for Blessed John Paul II during his pontificate for he witnessed the destruction of the family under the thumb of Socialism in his native Poland when the Communists were in power. In this time when traditional marriage is being threatened and the destruction of the family is happening all around us, this text is a great read to give us the courage that we need to stand against such forces. When explaining how marriage and the Eucharist are connected, Blessed John Paul II says, “The Christian family’s sanctifying role is grounded in Baptism and has its highest expression in the Eucharist, to which Christian marriage is intimately connected.”
5. Introduction to Mary – Mark Miravalle
In my opinion, this is one of the best books written on the Blessed Mother out there. This book can be used as a high school textbook or by college and graduate students wanting to know more about Mary, the Mother of God. It’s simple and basic yet doctrinally sound. The book begins stating what the truth about Mary is and moves forward from there examining Marian Devotion, Mary in the Bible, the doctrinal and dogmatic teachings on Mary, The Rosary, and Consecration and Private Revelation in regards to Mary. I first read this book when I was studying for my Masters in Theology at Franciscan in the Mary in the Modern World course that I took with the books author, Dr. Mark Miravalle. Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, P.s.s. says, “Introduction to Mary is a must for every Catholic library, at school, and at home.
6. The Lamb’s Supper – Scott Hahn
The Lambs’s Supper is one of the first books I ever read by Dr. Scott Hahn. It was suggested by a friend of mine to understand the importance of the Holy Mass before I truly understand the Liturgy. When I was growing up Catholic, I was subjected to very bad liturgy, as were many of us in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. It wasn’t until I went to college at the University of San Francisco did I actually see good liturgy (not all the time, but daily mass with C.M. Buckley, S.J was sound liturgy). If you are looking to learn how to engage and participate more in the Holy Mass, I highly recommend this book for you. Once you read this book, the Holy Mass will never be the same! Dr. Hahn says, “The Mass — and I mean every single Mass – is heaven on earth.”
7. A Father Who Keep His Promises – Scott Hahn
Like The Lamb’s Supper, A Father Who Keeps his Promises, is yet another book that I first read from Dr. Scott Hahn. I have had so many people in my life over the past 5 years tell me that have a difficult time reading and understanding the Old Testament. Every time I hear that, I recommend this book, but I also tell people that they need to read the Bible along with this book. This text takes the reader on a journey through the covenants that God established in the Old Testament with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. It concludes with the New Covenant being established by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and on the Cross. As one who loves to teach Salvation History and covenants, just ask my freshman students, this is a favorite of mine. I used this text many times in the high school classroom before I went to Franciscan and earned my Masters in Theology. Now the information in this text is in my head. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to do dive into the Scriptures.
8. Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord) – Pope Benedict XVI
To say that I like this Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, it would be the understatement of the decade. The Synod for this text occurred in October of 2008, the same year I began my graduate studies at Franciscan. I remember how our professors were talking about this Synod in all our classes and we were all waiting for this document to be released as soon as possible from the Holy Father. This document was released in November 2010 and I shared it the information with my high school students since I was excited about it. I have give three talks so far over this document and just love it. The Synod Fathers and the Holy Father pick up where Vatican II’s Dei Verbum leaves off and encourages us to engage the Scriptures in our daily lives. Verbum Domini is a lengthy piece on the importance of Scriptures and how the Scriptures must be integrated into the life of the Church. This document as well Dei Verbum state that the “Scriptures are the soul of the theology.” This is must read for anyone studying theology at an academic level. Pope Benedict XVI says, “…I would like the work of the Synod to have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the Sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word.”
9. A Severe Mercy – Sheldon VanNauken
I read A Severe Mercy in a summer course – The Nature of Love, while was I a graduate student at Franciscan. When this book was introduced to the class, the professor said that this book has been known to make grown men cry. I was pretty shocked over that statement at first, but as I began to read the next and as the story unfolded, let me tell you, I cried and I am not even a married man. This book is an account of love, romance, and tragedy in the lives of Sheldon and Davy Vanuken. It begins with their pagan love for one another and slowly develops into the Christian love that they come to know after their conversion to Christianity. One of the most remarkable elements of the book is their correspondence with C.S. Lewis after meeting him in Oxford while Sheldon was studying at the university. I always encourage individuals to read this book since it’s a true love story. In a time where love is often confused with lust and perversion, this is an excellent book to explain true love. Emily Kee, a high school student of mine, says, “It’s a book about true love that is inspiring and shows all the qualities that a good relationship should have.”
10. The Catholic Church and the Bible – Peter M.J. Stravinskas
The Catholic Church and the Bible is good text that explains how the Catholic Church developed the Canon of the Bible. I used parts of this text while I was teaching theology at a catholic high school in Arizona before I worked on my Masters in Theology. Fr. Stravinskas does a great job giving us a detailed about the history of the canon and the importance of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. He says, “Scripture and Tradition are two sides of the same coin.” This is a good book for anyone unfamiliar with the Biblical Theology and how the Scriptures are integrated into the Holy Mass.
11. Inside the Bible – Kenneth Baker, S.J.
This text is perfect for Scripture beginners, novices, and experts. Fr. Baker explains each of the books in the Canon in a very simply and manageable way. In his explanation of each book in the Bible, he gives the place in the Bible, the author and date, a complete summary of the book, and the theology of the book. I highly recommend this text for high school theology teachers when doing an overview of the Old and New Testaments. I have used it for many years and it’s a must have for anyone who loves the Scriptures.
12. Psalms and Canticles – Pope St. John Paul II
A great text for praying, reflection and studying the Psalms of the Psalter. You can truly hear the voice of Blessed John Paul II in this text. I use this text for many of my reflections on the Psalms on this blog.
13. Psalms and Canticles – Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI
This text is part two from the same text above. This text however was finished by Pope Benedict XVI after the passing of Blessed John Paul II. The Holy Father like his predecessor has a true love for the Psalms and willingness to share that love with the readers of this text.
14. An Exorcist Tells His Story – Gabriele Armorth
This book was first recommended to me by Dr. John Bersgma, a professor and now a friend of mine at Franciscan University. He encouraged us to read the text because while we were studying the Old Testament, the notion of curses came up when Saul curses his household and eventually his own son, Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14. The book explains many things about the occult and the dangers that are associated with these practices. Fr. Gabriel Armorth, the head exorcist for the Diocese of Rome also explains about the many exorcisms he has performed as an exorcist. He explains about Demonology and effects that the Devil can have on the world. This is great book for anyone that is interested in learning about spiritual warfare and the dangers of Satan. I used this text quite a bit when I taught my students about the occult when teaching them about the First Commandment in Catholic Morality.
15. Saint Thomas Aquinas – G.K. Chesterton
This is my favorite book on St. Thomas Aquinas. My friend Robert “BK” Kloska recommended this book to me many years ago before I really began my academic studies in philosophy and theology. Little did I know that G.K. Chesterton would be such a major factor in my studies in years to come. My copy of this book is very old has some water damage to it, the pages are turning yellow, and it has that old book smell to it. I can’t say enough good things about this text and could probably write 10 pages on this book, but since I don’t have the time for that, I will say to you – READ IT! You will not be able to put it down because that’s what Chesterton does to a reader. My favorite part of the book is when Chesterton describes St. Thomas Aquinas as “…madman of monstrous stature juggling with flames and apparently threatening to burn down the house.” This is from the incident when his brothers put a woman of the night in his cell to try to tempt into sin and scandal. It did not work.
16. JESUS and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist – Brant Pitre
I read this text last year during Holy Week and could not put it down. Friends of mine had told me about this book and let me tell you, it will pull you in and not let go. This book blew me out of the water on so many different levels. Although I knew quite a bit of the information in this text from my studies in Theology, there was so much I did not know. Brant Pitre does a phenomenal job explaining the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, the four cups used in the Passover Meal (Dr. Hahn talks about this as well in other books), The New Passover, and the importance of the manna in relation to the Messiah. His explanation of the manna and how it has existed before the creation of the world was a concept that blew me away. Wow! I was shocked and in love with the idea all at the same time. This is a great read during Lent and as you approach Holy Week.
17. A Man for All Seasons – Robert Bolt
This is the story in play format about St. Thomas More’s last days as Chancellor of England when King Henry VIII and his kingdom left the Catholic Church and he declared himself head of the Church in England. It’s a wonderful read and one that will inspire you to be more like St. Thomas More, who was ready to die for his beliefs in Jesus Christ and the Church. There are many great lines from this play. I first read this when I was a freshman in college. This book not only catapulted me into wanting to know more about my Catholic faith, but it was one of the main texts that pushed me into becoming a teacher. In the play, there is a scene where More and Richard Rich are talking about Rich’s future. More tells him to “Be a teacher.” Rich says, who would know? More responds, “You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that…Oh, and a quiet life.” This play is also a movie with the same title. St. Thomas More is played by Paul Scofield.
18. John Henry Newman – Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ
If you are looking for a great book on the Catholic convert and apologist, Blessed John Henry Newman, then look no further than Avery Dulles’ book, John Henry Newman. This is the perfect book for anyone seeking an introduction to one of the greatest churchmen of the 19th century. If you have ever read Newman in the past, you will know that he can be rather difficult to understand, but with this text, you will gain full access to his great theological mind. Cardinal Dulles breaks down Newman into multiple theological subjects and quotes many of his works. The late Jesuit did a great job researching for this text. It’s a fantastic book that should be read by all Catholics.
All of these books can be purchased through Amazon.