Here Are the Best Books for Your Summer Reading
Summer reading assignments are the perennial wet blankets of students’ summer vacation. Some books were enjoyable, others were nice discoveries, and others fell into the category of ‘I’ll watch the movie.’ The problem with high school summer reading was the lack of choices. I didn't have the opportunity to pick books that sounded interesting to me.
This summer, you do have the opportunity to pick up a book of your choice! There is a myriad of books out there aimed at enriching your spiritual life. For this summer, consider some of the following suggestions:
1. A fiction novel that will increase your understanding of Scripture: Theophilos by Michael O'Brien
St. Luke opens his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles with a dedication to Theophilos; “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilos, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:3-4). The identity of Theophilos is mystery lost to history. Was he a wealthy patron, financing Luke's work? Did St. Luke intend to address any “friend of God” (literal translation of the name)? A Roman official, who were often greeted with a salutation of “most excellent”? Perhaps he was the high priest in Jerusalem, Theophilos ben Ananus, the brother-in-law of Caiaphas. The different theories make for an interesting reading assignment on its own merit.
Michael O'Brien assigns Theophilos as St. Luke's uncle. In this historical fiction novel, Theophilos describes the life of his beloved nephew, Luke, and Luke’s discovery of Christianity. Unconvinced, Theophilos travels to Judaea to meet with Luke and conduct his own series of interviews. Many familiar biblical stories come up in the novel, told from a different perspective than the Scriptures. Some of the eye-witness characters are from the Scriptures, and others are simply from O’Brien’s imagination. All fit seamlessly into the story.
This book is worth reading, first and foremost, because it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. O’Brien fills in the background of the Gospel of Luke with good writing and well-thought out characters. Even though this is a work of fiction, it will help you see the Gospel of Luke with fresh eyes.
2. One of these two quick, deep reads on the Eucharist/the Mass: 7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn and The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
Recommending either of these books makes an assumption that everyone could learn something new about the Mass. These books are brief, easy reads. Don’t mistake that for light and fluffy, however. Both Flynn and Hahn take profound theological concepts and make them familiar, as if you were having coffee with the author. Their methods diverge slightly: Flynn looks at the Mass and the Eucharist in general, and Hahn takes the Book of Revelation as his interpretive key.
7 Secrets cites the Catechism, the writings of saints, and an impressive selection of papal encyclicals. Flynn invites the reader to explore the Eucharistic theology of the Church and to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ. His book tries to make the reader aware of the limitless treasury of graces that await any of us that approach the Eucharist.
The Lamb’s Supper is a great book for anyone wanting to make a little sense out of the Book of Revelation. Part 1 goes over the details of the Mass, including a step-by-step of the different parts of the Mass. This would be a great book for someone who might be coming back to Mass for the first time in a while. Parts 2 & 3 dive into the Book of Revelation and the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Pick them up and they’ll be difficult to put down—and you’ll go to Mass seeing more than you could before.
3. Tackle an epic fiction novel/trilogy by a Catholic author: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
The Lord of the Rings and Kristin Lavransdatter were written as a single novel but published as trilogies. Neither book is for the faint of tush: they’re epic in the sense of length. Kristin weighs in at almost 1200 pages and LOTR at 1000 (plus 200 pages of appendices).
The Lord of the Rings was made popular by the trilogy of films, but as good as they were, the books—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King— are better. Tolkien, a professor of languages by trade, constructed an intricate world, with accompanying music, culture, and poetry for every type of creature in the book. The storytelling is second to none; as the box office receipts proved, audiences of any kind can approach the story and enjoy it.
But a spiritual book? Yes! This novel drips with Catholic symbolism and isn’t restricted to “nerds & geeks” who get into fantasy stories. Tolkien designed it as an “invented myth about Christian and Catholic truths.” Lembas bread symbolizing the Eucharist; Galadriel as a figure of Our Blessed Mother; the representation of Jesus as priest, prophet, and king in the characters of Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn. Read the trilogy thinking of parallels to the gospels and the Catholic faith, and get some help from the internet.
Even though the book is about hobbits, elves, and men, the book is actually about the story of salvation and the battle of good and evil. This is worth reading for the Christian parallels, the adventure, the honor, and the quality of the story.
Kristin Lavransdatter takes place in 14th century Norway and follows the life of Kristin from her teenage years to the close of her life. The novel earned Sigrid Undset a Nobel Prize. She wasn’t Catholic when she wrote Kristin, but converted soon after. The Church and the faith are very much a part of this story, though it has a very human face to it—complete with flaws. This novel is a more somber read for that reason and for the subject matter: how human weakness, sin, death, and resentment play out in everyday life. In this novel, Undset teaches applied moral theology, in a sense. She doesn’t talk abstractly about the detriment that sin can be in life; she illustrates it. She doesn’t advocate fighting our own weaknesses; she shows the consequences of not doing so. The characters of Kristin paint a picture of not just of sin, death, and weakness, but what happens when “real” human beings have to deal with them. This is not to say that the book doesn’t have its high points as well. There are flashes of grace, proving that we are never out of reach of God’s healing touch.
This kind of book admittedly doesn’t appeal to all. Still, a novel can communicate moral truths through its characters in a vivid way.
4. Something very timely: Who Am I to Judge? by Edward Sri
Western secular culture is saturated in moral relativism. Edward Sri takes his title from the (in)famous line of Pope Francis, often twisted by moral relativists as justification to refuse speaking against any behavior. A key factor that many Catholics don’t realize: relativism and Catholicism are incompatible. For Catholics, there is truth, there are objective moral truths, and we can disagree on moral positions without hating.
So how do we explain that to others—fellow Catholics or non-Catholics—who don’t agree? Sri’s book starts with the assertion that Catholics can defend their morals and beliefs using logic. This isn’t a “because the Bible said so” kind of work. For the first half of the book, Sri lays the foundation of the relativist worldview, as well as the logical basis for the classical moral worldview. There are a lot of definitions and virtues to “get right.” In the second half of the book, he describes seven keys for responding to relativism.
The main reason in favor of reading this book is because it is so timely. And we shouldn’t have any illusions about the aggressiveness of relativism. It is not a neutral position; “it is a new kind of denomination. It places restrictions on religious convictions and seeks to subordinate all religions to the super-dogma of relativism” (p. 128). We swim in a secular relativist culture; if you aren’t being questioned about your faith now, the time will surely come.
Although the book is a mini-course in moral theology, it doesn’t read like a heavy book. Sri fills it with stories and conversations that connect the theology to real life.
5. Learn more about the author of most of the New Testament: Catholic Perspective on St. Paul by Taylor Marshall
Dr. Taylor Marshall’s book on St. Paul is a perfect read for getting a bird’s eye view of St. Paul’s many writings. While the two letters to the Corinthians might focus on certain topics, and the letter to the Romans addresses other topics, it can be hard to get a good feel for all of St. Paul’s writings.
Besides that, the book has a lot of apologetics in it; stemming from misinterpretations of Paul on the part of Protestants. Marshall covers all the hot-button issues: justification, faith & works, baptism, purgatory, falling from grace, and sexual morality.
Take up this book and gain a more thorough understanding of the Apostle to the Gentiles!
6. Sift through the competing messages about Fatima in Fr. Andrew Apostoli’s Fatima For Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope.
Amazing amounts of confusion exist about Fatima; if you haven’t come across them, you’re lucky! Doing an internet search on “Fatima” turns out webpages with all sorts of conflicting information. Fr. Apostoli’s book is the ideal starting point for Fatima. He outlines his purpose very simply: “my intention was to write a book that would combine three essential elements… first, there are the historical facts of the apparitions… second, there is a message of prayer, sacrifice, suffering and holiness of life… third, there are certain questions and objections that have been raised” (Preface, p. xix).
Fatima is a hot topic due to the conflicting information, but also because 2017 is the centenary anniversary of the apparitions. Pope Francis just canonized Francisco and Jacinta Marto in the last few months, two of the three visionaries.
Have questions about Fatima? Want to know the facts? And where the Church stands on the third secret, the consecration of Russia, and the rumored, secret “fourth secret”? Read this book!
7. Get a reminder on the value & demands of the Catholic faith in a good conversion story: Jennifer Fulwiler’s Something Other Than God.
For many years, Jennifer Fulwiler was an avowed atheist. Her entry into the Catholic Church shocked many friends, and even surprised her. Something Other Than God recounts the story of her conversion. When she had inklings of a conversion, she started a blog as a creative outlet. The book is an enjoyable read, filled with honesty, humor, and sarcasm. Jennifer tells her own story, not softening any of the hostility she once felt toward Christianity.
In a program of spiritual reading, don’t underestimate the value of a good conversion story. They are a great reminder for us on the realities of our faith: God is there, and can be found by those that honestly search for Him. Even further, conversion stories remind us of the weight of the cross. When Jennifer and her husband confronted the Church’s teachings on contraception and abortion, they wrestled with it. This was at a time when Jennifer had medical issues that made pregnancies not just difficult, but dangerous. But their honest questioning led them to make peace with it: “do you think that what the Church teaches is guided by God?” and followed with, “do you think God would hand down a set of rules for epeople to follow that would be bad for them?” (p. 196)
Read this book and discover the treasure that you have in the Catholic faith, even if you haven’t noticed it in a while.