From time to time, we receive an email or text message along the lines of, “Help, I need a good book for spiritual reading.” These messages usually come from friends or young adults in our community who recently had a great spiritual encounter with our Lord on retreat or through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Without trying to act as quasi-spiritual directors, we usually ask a few basic questions like, “What does your prayer life consist of right now? Do you set aside 20 minutes each morning or evening? What’s your goal for prayer? Is there a particular area in your life you’re looking to improve or a theological subject you want to learn more about?” Responses are varied, but for most young adults, the biggest struggle is committing to daily prayer amidst the bombardment of 21st century distractions and personal responsibilities.
Most of us desire to establish a consistent routine for encountering Christ, and we long to create a space for silent contemplation. Rather than living a roller-coaster life of spiritual highs and lows, or experiencing “mountaintop moments” only to descend to sustained periods of spiritual lethargy, we must first cultivate a dependable interior life. With this in mind, we composed our list of “5 Books to Reignite Your Prayer Life” to help. Think of this as a starter series, or a “re-starter” series, to a life of prayer and to a deeper conversation with our Lord.
1) Time for God – Jacques Philippe
Fr. Jacques Philippe, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes, has quickly become one of the most sought-after retreat directors, authors, and spiritual guides. It’s easy to see why. The charm of Philippe and his book Time for God resides in its simplicity, its length, and its expression of deep spiritual insights packaged in beautifully accessible language. This book is humble in its intentions. As Philippe shares in his introduction, this primer concentrates on perseverance in mental prayer: “prayer that consists of facing God in solitude and silence for a time in order to enter into intimate, loving communion with him.” Oftentimes, the thick pages of the spiritual classics can be daunting and it can be frustrating to leave a stack of books unfinished. Coming in at just over 100 pages, this is the type of book that can be finished in a week or two with 20-30 minutes of determined daily reading. Along with his Interior Freedom and Searching for and Maintaining Peace, these books are the “modern spiritual trilogy” that our culture so desperately needs. Philippe’s opening words speak well to the remedy for our frenetic, utilitarian, and consumeristic age: “the first, basic truth, without which we will not get very far, is that the life of prayer, is not the result of a technique, but a gift (grace) we receive”. If you’re looking for a book to start you off right and to help you establish a committed daily prayer life, this is the one to choose.
2) I Believe in Love – Jean C. J. d’Elbee
What does a 19th century cloistered Carmelite nun who died at the young age of 24 in small-town France know about the interior lives of globally connected and socially conscious 21st century young adults? Apparently, A LOT. I Believe in Love is actually a transcription of a series of retreat talks given by the illustrious Fr. Jean D’Elbee about the spiritual writings of St. Therese of Lisieux. In a society scarred by divorce, the hookup culture, racism, addictions, and a constant stream of violence in our newsfeeds, it can be hard to believe in love, and it can be even harder to believe in God’s personal love for us. But the pages of this book continuously remind us of the preciousness of each individual soul; Christ cried “I Thirst” from the cross, and D’Elbee shares how that cry was for each one of his children, “You could say that you were in some way a need of His Heart.” We recommend this book for anyone in need of spiritual, psychological, or emotional healing, and it’s the perfect read if you have the opportunity to steal away for a silent retreat. St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.
3) In Conversation with God – Francis Fernandez
Third on our list is another “modern classic” by Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal, Spanish priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá in the 1920s, Opus Dei is an organization committed to teaching people to sanctify themselves, their families, and the entire world by sanctifying their ordinary, daily work. The six-volume In Conversation with God series follows the annual liturgical cycle, so you can follow along with the daily Scripture readings while receiving spiritual nuggets from classical theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Chrysostom, and Thomas a Kempis, and from contemporary theologians like Escrivá, Pope St. John Paul II, and the Second Vatican Council. This is the perfect book for the young adult who is committed to the daily Mass readings but is looking to supplement their daily prayer with robust theology and practical spiritual insights. We recommend picking up the Advent and Christmastide volume or the Lent and Eastertide volume first, and then fill out your collection as you move through the year.
4) An Introduction to the Devout Life – St. Francis de Sales
I must confess that I frequently fall victim to judging a book by its cover, or more commonly, bypassing a book because of its title. I avoided this spiritual classic for a long time because I found the name to be a bit off-putting; first off, I don’t need no stinkin’ introduction (I’m not looking for Christian Prayer for Dummies); and second, what is a devout life anyway? I just wanted a book that would give me the spiritual feels, and I was pretty convinced that “devout” people ended up in robes or religious habits barred behind monastery doors. Boy oh boy was I wrong. In An Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales has compiled the ultimate holiness handbook, and as a hipster theologian, he was preaching about the “universal call to holiness” 350 years before the Second Vatican Council made it a Catholic buzz-phrase. This theological treasure is full of short meditations, reflections on the virtues, and practical advice for achieving excellence of the soul. It’s perfect for the “on-the-go” young adult since the average chapter is just under three pages long. Fair warning though, those three pages will pack a punch.
5) Confessions – St. Augustine
We’re going really old-school with this recommendation, we’re talking 4th century old school. But in many ways, St. Augustine can speak to our modern predicament better than any spiritual writer who came after him. Simply put, Augustine composed this omni-biography for an audience living in a society that had not yet been Christianized, one which looked eerily similar to our cultural climate today – does violent entertainment, hyper-sexual and hedonistic fixations, and experimentation with the trendy religious cults sound familiar? Augustine pre-conversion is the modern day “everyman”: consumed by vanity, obsessed with sex (“grant me chastity, but not yet” among his most famous lines), cynical about his early education and exposure to vulgarity, and unsatisfied with the world’s promises (”My heart is restless until it rests in thee”). Augustine post-conversion is convicting. Although you may have read this one in a high school theology class or for an undergraduate Western Civilization course, it’s time to pick the Confessions back up again. We recommend the classic F.J. Sheed translation or the more recent translation by Sr. Maria Boulding, edited by St. Louis University’s own Fr. David Meconi.
What books did we miss? Share your favorites below.