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The best spiritual books of 2018

If you haven't already read these books, there's still time in the New Year

It is always a fascinating exercise to look back over the year and try to select the most memorable books reviewed. Why this book and not that? By what criterion does one make one’s choices? I have decided finally on the simple measurement of a gut instinct: how much of the book in question remains in my memory, deserving to be re-read.

Praying with St Paul (Magnificat). A series of essays and reflections on St Paul for each day of the year, reminding us not only what a wonderful phrase-maker he is, but also what it means to follow Christ to the end or, as St Paul puts it, to “run the race to the finish”.

Conversion: Spiritual Insights into an Essential Encounter with God. By Fr Donald Haggerty (Ignatius). All Catholics should read this book; it is not about new converts to the Faith so much as explaining why Catholics need to move from formal assent and practice to a much deeper level of commitment: a personal relationship with God – as all the saints have always testified from their own experience.

A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail. By Charles Coulombe (TAN Books). The author, an authority on the medieval Catholic origins of the Grail and Arthurian legends, reminds readers that all the miraculous, sacramental, devotional, royal and chivalric elements of these legends are closely bound up with the Christian faith – as is Wagner’s Parsifal and TS Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land.

Heroism and Genius. By Fr William Slattery (Ignatius). Subtitled “How Catholic Priests Helped Build – and Can Help Rebuild – Western Civilization”, this beautifully produced and illustrated book should be read alongside Charles Coulombe’s book above. In an absorbing survey of Church history after the fall of Rome, Slattery demonstrates how a Christian culture slowly developed following the spread of the Faith in the so-called Dark Ages, to flower magnificently in the 12th century (so arrestingly described by Lord Clark in his TV series, “Civilization”.) It is intended to remind contemporary Catholics that they must once again “become active in their missionary and evangelical mandate.”

Saints for the Family. By Fr John Murray (Messenger Publications). In an age when traditional families are becoming the minority, the author points to inspiring exemplars of family life, such as St Thomas More, Louis and Zelie Martin, Dr Jerome Lejeune, the saintly Catholic bio-geneticist, and Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, a Polish farming couple shot dead by German soldiers in 1944, along with their six young children, for hiding eight Jews in their house – knowing full well the fatal consequences of discovery. They may well become the first family to be canonised in the Church’s history.

Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic. By Peter Kreeft (Sophia Institute Press). The author writes with his customary humour and panache, laying out unapologetically why he loves his Faith. At 132 pages the book is short; chapters include titles such as “Because of Cathedrals”, “Because of my mother” and “Because of the Movies”. In explanation of this last, Kreeft makes the unassailable point that “Whenever [Hollywood] makes a serious movie and religion is in it, it is always a Catholic church and a Catholic priest that they use.”

Inspiration from the Saints. By M O’Ceallaigh (Angelico Press). This is different from the saints’ book listed above; the author generally alights on saints who began very unpromisingly such as St Joseph of Cupertino who is in the chapter entitled “Losers”, along with the Cure of Ars and St Benedict Joseph Labre, who struggled with severe depression. He reminds us of the difficulties facing St Maximilian Kolbe in setting up his apostolic enterprises, understanding that “Each of us only has one lifetime to say “yes” to Christ…Tomorrow may be too late”.

Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics. By Fr Thomas Berg (Gracewing). The author has tackled a sensitive topic: that of clerical abuse. It is worth reading by all who have suffered in some way from clerical abuse (not only sexual but also psychological and emotional), showing that healing is possible. This has to start with an honest acknowledgment of what has happened, followed by hope, acceptance and finally to a deeper understanding of how God prepares people throughout their lives for transformation and lasting healing. The author writes from his own sense of betrayal at the hands of his former religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, which for years suppressed the truth of the immorality of its founder.

His Angels at Our Side. By Fr John Horgan (EWTN/Gracewing). Horgan has written the most profound book I have ever read on who the angels are, why God created them, their cosmic role and why guardian angels are charged with a significant role in our lives.  There is a temptation for sophisticated or educated Catholics to disregard the existence of angels. That is our loss. Although we will only fully appreciate their role when we die and meet God face to face, it is a pity not to enlist their help and pray to them for guidance and protection during our lives.