I LOVE spiritual reading. Oftentimes I would find myself wishing that I had more time to finish my backlog of books; but at the same time I would be wishing for more books which have caught my attention. In any case, spiritual reading has been a great joy in my journey of faith – God has (and continues) to speak through such books to inspire, challenge, enlighten and ultimately, love me. Spiritual reading is like going on a date with God – it has the effect of rekindling the fire of love within my soul whenever its embers are cooling.
There is no better time to pick up spiritual reading than in this season of Lent – to make it a lifelong habit and a trustworthy companion on the journey to sainthood! If you don’t know where to begin, don’t fret – below are my personal favourite picks across various categories:
For those who struggle with prayer
Opening to God (Thomas Green S.J.)
It’s no secret – we all struggle with prayer (even us seminarians!). As an experienced spiritual director, Thomas Green is acutely aware of the struggles facing those who undertake the Christian journey of prayer – this book is the fruit of his many encounters with his directees and his own prayer experience.
Green navigates these basic questions with characteristic insight through his effective use of analogies and everyday examples. Even as a Jesuit, Green is able to draw upon the depth of Carmelite spirituality and bring the mystical teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross to the modern lay person.
For beginner pray-ers, ‘Opening to God’ is a great primer, covering the what, why and how of prayer. For all others, it is a much needed and humbling reminder of essential truths we may have forgotten along the way.
P.S. Green’s other books ‘When the Well Runs Dry’ and ‘Drinking from a Dry Well’ are well worth checking out too. These cover the subsequent developments in the journey of prayer.
For those discerning priesthood
The Priest is Not His Own (Fulton Sheen)
This was a book which was instrumental in my own discernment journey, and remains the first book I would recommend to serious aspirants up to this day.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen pulls no punches when he says that a priest, being an alter Christus (other Christ), is called no less and no more to be a “victim”, as Christ was. Sheen’s thesis is both compelling and daunting: that a priest offers sacrifice, but that sacrifice is not altogether distinct from himself, it is himself. One with a selfish and naive conception of Christ’s holy priesthood will find this tough read indeed – but it is a necessary purification if one wishes to discern God’s call authentically.
Sheen’s writing has its strong foundations in sacred scripture, and his exegesis and reasoning are pointed and witty, much like his preaching on television and radio. You would not expect anything less from a man of God who once famously said, “if you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.” If you believe God is calling you to the priesthood, read this book – you will end up more convinced – either of the reality of the call, or that it was just a passing fancy.
For those who want to get to know a Saint
Story of a Soul (Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux)
I must confess that I could not get through St. Therese’s autobiography the first time I picked it up – she was just too other-worldly for me (as all saints should be). It was only on my second attempt that I fell in love with this captivating saint. What changed? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that her living personality now impressed deeply upon me – she was nondescript yet charming, simple yet intelligent, little in stature yet great in holiness – in essence, a beautiful paradox (as all saints should be).
Since then, St. Therese has been a beloved and faithful companion in my spiritual journey – it meant so much for me to have begun my formation while the seminary is based at the Church of St. Teresa (which is under her patronage). If you wish to develop a friendship with one saint, let it be her – I believe many of us over-achieving and results-obsessed Singaporeans have much to learn from St. Therese’s ‘Little Way’.
The number of accolades heaped upon this Little Flower of Lisieux are numerous and will perhaps seem like an over-exaggeration. To understand this, you will have to read the Story of a Soul and enter into a friendship with this Saint who loved Jesus so captivatingly.
For those looking to grow in spirituality
Reaching Out (Henri Nouwen)
A Dutch Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen was an academic who taught at various academic institutions for almost two decades before moving to stay and help at L’Arche Daybreak, a community for the mentally and physically disabled. This was a transformative period for him where he experienced his “uselessness” – his handicapped friends had no use for his great intellect; they only desired his presence and love. He would go on to say that he received so much more than he gave by living within such a special community, such that it was a privilege for him to be their carer.
Given his background, Nouwen is fundamentally a very human author – he is able to articulate what is the most personal (themes such as loneliness and restlessness) but connects with his readers in a way which reveals that these are in fact the most universal. In ‘Reaching Out’, Nouwen does so by tracing three movements in the spiritual life: (1) from loneliness to solitude, (2) from hostility to hospitality, and (3) from illusion to prayer.
Of the many Nouwen books I’ve read, this is the one I keep going back to because of its clarity and comprehensiveness. Indeed, to be Christian is to be fully human – Nouwen is one who reminds us of this precious truth through his life and writing.
I could go on forever (so many other books come to mind) but this short list will suffice for now 🙂 May the Lord continue to lead us into a deeper communion with Him as we respond to His love through our spiritual reading in this season of Lent!
By Br Timothy Soo