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The best books on spirituality for Catholics


Saint Louis de Montfort/Aeterna Press | Dietrich Von Hildebrand /Ignatius Press | Francis De Sales/Image Classics

John Burger - published on 07/30/20

Nine works that will help you along the way to holiness.

How can one grow closer to God? How can one know God better? How can one become a better disciple of Christ?

There are many ways, which each person must work out in his own life in the world, life of prayer and sacramental life. But thoughtful spiritual certainly a great aid.

St. Augustine wrote that “he who wishes often to be with God ought to pray frequently and read pious books.”

Aside from the Bible, which everyone should read and meditate on for at least a few minutes daily, what books on spirituality should Catholics seriously consider having on their bookshelves?

We offer the following suggestions, based on various sources, including Thomas Aquinas College’s Great Books syllabus, Bishop James D. Conley’s “Sursum Corda: 10 Suggestions for Rekindling the Literary Imagination,” and others.

St. Augustine: Confessions

The conversion story of a man who led a life of indulgence and ended up being one of the Church’s greatest bishops and thinkers. “Confessions is a love story, really — the story of a soul created by God, loved by God and transformed by God,” wrote Bishop Conley.

Thomas Kempis: The Imitation of Christ

Written as a Christian devotional, The Imitation of Christ is a handbook for spiritual life arising from the Devotio Moderna movement, to which Kempis belonged. It covers topics such as advice for the spiritual life, the importance of the Eucharist, and interior consolation. The book places an emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, rather than an active imitation of Christ.

St. Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life

CatholiCity calls this “the most popular Catholic self-help book of all time.” A large part of the reason for its popularity is Francis’ experience giving spiritual direction to everyone from the poorest peasants to court ladies of 17th-century Geneva and the practical advice he gives for attaining a devout life without renouncing the world.

St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort: Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

Many people consider this to be the greatest single book of Marian spirituality ever written, describing the way to Jesus Christ though the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Way of a Pilgrim

This 19th-century anonymous Russian work details a man’s walking journey across the country while practicing the Jesus Prayer. According to the OrthodoxWiki, the book details the spiritual development and struggles of the narrator and the effect the narrator’s spirituality has on those around him.

St. Therese of Lisieux: Story of a Soul

In this brief autobiography, French Carmelite Thérèse of Lisieux explains the way of perfection in the small things of everyday life. Famously, she writes about being annoyed by one of her sisters fidgeting with her rosary. But, she writes, “instead of trying not to hear it, which was impossible, I set myself to listen as though it had been some delightful music, and my meditation, which was not the ‘prayer of quiet,’ passed in offering this music to our Lord.”

Dietrich von Hildebrand: Transformation in Christ

Von Hildebrand became a Catholic in 1914 and taught philosophy in Germany until his opposition to Hitler forced him to settle in the U.S. Pope Pius XII is said to have called him “the 20th Century Doctor of the Church.” He was the author of dozens of books, of which Transformation in Christ is perhaps the best known. The path to holiness, he writes, begins with a person’s desire for change. Each chapter looks at the spiritual attitudes necessary for those who strive for perfection.

Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain

Yet another convert, Thomas Merton went from young bon vivant to silent monk in a Trappist monastery. But his pen was far from silent, and The Seven Storey Mountain has captivated the minds of generations of spiritual seekers.

Josef Pieper: Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Written in 1952 by German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture explains that leisure is much more than simply time off from work. It is, in Bishop Conley’s summary, “the capacity to perceive, contemplate and celebrate the world we’ve been given. … Pieper believes that leisure is the basis by which we can grow in wisdom — and therefore, the basis by which we can form a truly Christian family, and a truly Christian culture.”

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