“A man’s character is shown by the books that he reads.”
-Fr. Lasance (My Prayer Book)
With the joy of Christmas continuing through the New Year, one important aspect on the minds of many is the making of resolutions. A rite of passage for many of us, we resolve to counter vices with temperance or dedicate efforts to healthier outlooks. All fresh aims are worthy of our time and energy.
While we witnessed an Advent to encourage us to be watchmen, full of expectation for the coming of a savior, the Christ, who appeared just days ago in a humble dwelling as we celebrated the high feast of Christmas, we turn now toward the reality that His coming is imminent. And redemption we can be joyfully hopeful for, yet that redemption does require sacrifice. A healthy atonement can be the best resolution – sacrificial time where mental acuity could very well bind us to greater eternal joys through the inspirational writings of great men and women.
Humanity, beware! Of the many possible endorsements, the following TAN Books’ recommendations can surely transform the heart with spiritual counsels of lasting effect.
- In The Saints Who Battled Satan, Catholic theologian Paul Thigpen introduces “battle-tested warriors” of the faith who met Satan. Better still, they learned how to combat the evil adversary’s tactics. From Saint Benedict of Nursia to Saint Martin de Porres, Thigpen presents example after example of saints who literally fought the good fight and won (1 Timothy 6:12). What better read to equip Christians today? A chaotic, paganistic world might discourage Christians, just as Satan desires. But take heart. The Church Triumphant encourages each of us as the Church Militant to clearly acknowledge sin and equip ourselves to battle the forces of evil – even a simple but convicted uttering of a Hail Mary as Saint Teresa of Avila was compelled to do. Thigpen’s persuasive style of writing through engaging stories of physical and mental battles give insight into how we can face the enemy’s attacks with confidence and zeal – just like the saints. In these uncertain and anxious times, why not be spiritually equipped with this book’s lessons as admonished by St. Peter? “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Clearly, seventeen holy heroes battled Satan and triumphed in combat. And so can we.
- All About the Angels, though originally published in 1945 by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, is one of those timeless books on a topic Catholics rarely tap into. As we march into 2022, what better aim than to invest time into understanding and appreciating God’s angelic helpers? Unfortunately, many misunderstand the role of the heavenly messengers. Countless times Scripture highlights how these blessed spirits are of great importance in the salvation of mankind. Angels’ superior intelligence and magnificent supernatural abilities cannot be overlooked in the fight against the Enemy with a desire to lead us to Heaven – if we simply open our hearts and minds to the help they have for us. In this particular book, which could be an excellent selection for book club, a family read-aloud, or personal clarity, readers are drawn to the realities that God has given each of us a treasure in our guardian angels. And yet the author surmises the truth as revealed in Catholic Tradition and Scriptures: “What incredible blindness are we not guilty of in not recognizing fully God’s boundless goodness in giving us for a friend, guide and defender a mighty angel…” (p. 73).
- What better virtue to strive for at the start of the New Year than humility! With much appreciation for Thomas A Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, one spiritual read worth pouring your soul into is Humility and the Elevation of the Mind to God. It’s a recent compilation in which Fr. Robert Nixon, OSB, translated from the spiritual great’s writings. The book is not an overly bearing one to get through, but one I consider a “chunker” for solid meditation material. At the heart of Kempis’ instruction, to live the devout life with greater devotion and selflessness like Christ, one must comprehend humility as the foundation of all virtues. “Strive to separate your heart from limited and conditional things, even those of a lofty grade” (p. 23). The Word Eternal can then envelop, inspire, and inflame your heart to burn with love. Fr. Nixon incorporates prayers for much of the book to help the reader engage in meditation, satisfying the need for a deep, humble approach to piety.
- If there is one particularly insightful, yet personal, spiritual book worth spending several weeks to read, it would be The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ: From the Visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich. The author’s personal revelations, written after the Venerable’s death in 1833, provide details so rich that the reader can help but be inspired by the disciples who are incredibly relatable, the angels who attended Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, or Saint John consoling the Holy women. Her characterization of Christ’s passion can, at times, feel gut-wrenching from his first word on the cross to his final breath. Yet, Emmerich’s page turner reveals God’s love for all humanity through Jesus’ singular sacrifice. “His last cry had filled every breast with terror” (p. 293). When she recalls how a centurion named Abenadar was struck with truth and humility, it is a moment we are struck too, to a renewal of heart and mind. Lastly, Emmerich’s insights reveal to us the trust of the Blessed Mother in God’s Divine Will. Even her “dolors,” or sorrows, impact our own hearts as an experience of conversion naturally and organically takes place in this beautiful work. From personal experience, Lent would be one of the best liturgical seasons for reading this poignant book for personal edification; or better yet for inspired family enlightenment.
- A few years back, Rod Dreher proposed how Christians should prepare for future persecution. Many were intrigued by the “Benedict Option,” a favorable idea that encourages intentional living in Christian communities amid a chaotic world. Then Carrie Gress, who authored The Marian Option in 2017, proposes a path forward for Catholics to consider. What may seem an obvious, simplistic answer – that is, seeking Our Blessed Mother for consolations, answers, and intercession – turns out to be a much more intimate desire toward Marian devotion. This spiritual read is a call to personal holiness. Because we need it. And we need the graces that Our Blessed Mother offers to each and everyone of us who sense the imminent destruction by those who are irreligious, irreverent, and basically anti-Christianity. Gress provides a backdrop of interesting historical insights to show that we have much to hope for – even with worldwide persecution of Christians and the decay of modern civilization. “Mary offers humanity the surest way to Heaven; the best way to cultivate a more heavenly earth is by adhering to her. Not only does she have the desire to help us; she has the ability” (p. 202).
In reality, Christians may opt to live in community as suggested in the Benedict Option, and the Marian Option allows for the faithful Catholic to do so in unity with our Blessed Mother. We can reject her or embrace her, points out Gress; but consider how much more at peace we will be with her embrace when we experience difficult times. Gress shows us why. Therefore, why not avail ourselves to Mary’s assistance? It is a resolution worth considering in 2022.
Incorporating spiritual reading should beg of us a motivating question as we begin the New Year: “Should our hearts move more interiorly to know God, love God, and serve God? More deeply than ever before?” Shouldn’t this be the ultimate resolution of all resolutions?
Like many saints who proffer sage advice to the weary Christian striving for holiness, Saint Josemaria Escriva has much to say on the matter in The Way (116): “Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”
Used with permission from the author.