I was looking online the other day to see if I could find a list of good books for spiritual reading, and what did I find? Nothing. Except... well, “spiritual” books that would get you going the opposite way to where you should be going.
So, from the lack of a clear list anywhere else, here’s a list of CATHOLIC spiritual reading books, graded from easy reading to not-so-easy reading, starting with the easiest.
- Novels of the saints by Louis de Wohl - Lay Siege to Heaven (about St. Catherine of Siena), Set all Afire (St. Francis Xavier), The Golden Thread (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
I think these saint novels are great especially after a really heavy spiritual reading like Introduction to the Devout Life, for a break from such intense reading. Although they are also intense but in a different way—they give light-hearted and vivid representations of the lives of the saints.
- For you the Glory For me the Confusion, by the Servant Brothers of The Home of the Mother
A collection of first hand conversion and vocation stories from the Servant Brothers of The Home of the Mother. This is an unbelievable book—one that has helped me a load. It leaves me in awe of the greatness and mercy of God every time.
- Story of a Soul (Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisiuex)
The life of St. Therese of Lisieux, told by herself at the request of her Superior in the convent. She entered a Carmelite monastery at age fifteen (beat that) and lived there until her death at age 24. Although a life with its fair share of suffering, a lovely testimony of the fact that sanctity is attainable even at a very young age.
- Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
Basically a handbook of all you need to know about the spiritual life. It has five different sections, each treating a different aspect: true devotion, prayer, practice of virtue, state of soul and spiritual review. St. Francis leads the reader through practical ways of attaining a devout life in the secular world and offers prayers and meditations to strengthen devotion in the face of temptation and hardship.
- Sr. Clare Crockett: Alone with Christ Alone, by Sr. Kristen Gardner, SHM
The story and writings of a remarkable Irish girl who aspired to nothing less than Hollywood, but whose soul was transformed by the Lord when she was seventeen years old. From then on she no longer desired to have anything other than the Love of Christ. This encounter led her to consecrate her life in the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother... and well, the rest is history.
- Memoirs of a Yukon Priest (Autobiography of Fr. Segundo Llorente, S.J.)
A Spanish priest who went on missions to Alaska, North America. This is an engagingly personal account of the hardships, challenges, and rewards of a life lived wholly in the presence of God and at the service of the Alaskan people. Fr. Llorente’s memoirs are filled with all that he saw, endured, and enjoyed for forty years in Alaska.
- Honey From the Lion’s Carcass: The Secret is Chastity, by Fr. Colum Power, SHM
This is a great book about chastity and the freedom that comes not through the ideological “sexual liberation” but rather through chastity and ultimately, Christ. Among other things the book’s main object is to illustrate the relationship between sexual sin and loneliness. Anything but a “fun read” though: this is serious stuff.
- The Life of St Catherine of Siena, by Blessed Raymond of Capua
Blessed Raymond of Capua, being St. Catherine of Siena’s spiritual director, brings first hand testimony about the incredible life and miracles of one of the Doctors of the Church, St. Catherine. Told straightforwardly and simply, this book puts you right in the presence of one of the greatest saints of the Church.
- Come be my Light (Biography of Mother Teresa), by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk
This helped me a load when I was going through a very intense spiritual darkness. It gives a really good insight into Mother Teresa’s “Dark night of the soul,” which lasted most of her life, as well as her life story: how she received the “Call within the call” and founded the Missionaries of Charity. It contains some of her writings in relation to her darkness, and her correspondence with her spiritual director on that topic— essentially a light in a dark place.
- The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Letters from a senior devil to his nephew— this allows you to see the world of temptation from the other side— the tactics behind temptations. Written in classic Lewis style: witty, engaging and very down to earth.
- Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Although not a Catholic himself, Lewis’s views were very solid in relation to doctrines in the Catholic Church. In this book he argues for the “reason” behind Christianity, that it actually makes sense— what it really means to be a Christian. He presents well-formed arguments for Christianity, which are persuasive and make perfect sense. Fairly heavy theologically, but worth it for the lessons learned.
- The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas Á. Kempis
This is essentially a book of spiritual meditations. I won’t say that it isn’t a spiritual reading book, but I personally do think this is more useful in prayer, taking sentences to meditate on in particular (which you can do with other spiritual reading books also). Like Introduction to the Devout Life, a great handbook for reference in the spiritual life.
- Life of St. Teresa of Avila (Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila)
Another first-hand account of the life of a saint— basically the interior life of one who reached perfection during this life (great achievement). St. Teresa had a conversion late in life and then became one of the greatest saints and another Doctor of the Church. This is very heavy and hard-ish to follow, but gives good insight on prayer of a saint, and guides for prayer.
- Woman, by St. Edith Stein
Essays on the theme of woman and her vocation. Really heavy, super-deep writings from "the most significant German woman of this century." St. Edith Stein’s writings on woman are the fruit of both reflection and debate. This addresses authentic feminism, which stems from the dignity of woman in the purpose for which God created her, whether in lay or in the consecrated life.
- Diary of St. Faustina
Two words: VERY INTENSE. The story behind the devotion to Divine Mercy, but much more besides. I originally thought that was all that it was about, but it’s a diary... meaning St. Faustina wrote down all her spiritual meditations in here and believe me, it’s intense, and very beautiful.
VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to ask your spiritual director concerning any book you are going to read, to make sure it’s at your level and will help you to the fullest.
-Aoibheann Feeney, HMY Ireland