It’s that time of year again… Advent! And if you’re like me and many other Catholics, you’re devoting some energy into trying to honor the deeply contemplative spirit of the season, while at the same time keeping up with all the demands on your time: parties, planning, gifts to buy, presents to wrap, and so forth.
Well, hopefully this blog post can be a wee bit of help. Here are seven ideas for books you might want to give to loved ones this year. Okay, it’s actually eight (the last one is one I wrote, so think of it as a “bonus” recommendation).
Cardinal Walter Kasper, Spiritual Writings — my recommended “general Catholic” title is an anthology of writings from a German cardinal who is known as a leading voice for inter-religious dialogue within the Vatican, but also as a prominent advocate of a spirituality of mercy — which, of course, has become a significant theme of Pope Francis’s ministry. This anthology covers four decades of writings by Cadinal Kasper, on themes such as Christ, hope, Vatican II, and Jewish-Christian relations. It functions not only as an introduction to the thought of one of the more important living Cardinals, but also as a general work of theology, suitable for anyone seeking insight into contemporary Catholic theology and spirituality.
Cristiana Piccardo, Living Wisdom — my recommended “Cistercian/monastic” title. Italian Trappistine nun Cristiana Piccardo offers an initiatory survey of monastic wisdom, drawing from the example of both renowned and lesser known Cistercian figures of the last century (from Thomas Merton to Abbess Pia Gullini), Piccardo reflects on the vibrancy of monastic life as a means for continual conversion, a path of love, and a channel for Christian mission. This book is a testament to the ongoing vitality and relevancy of traditional monasticism here in the third millennium.
Pope Francis, Care for Creation — another recommended general Catholic title, but also especially for those who love the Pope. Orbis Books has brought out a number of wonderful books featuring the words and wisdom of Pope Francis (another one worth exploring is I Believe: The Promise of the Creed), but if I had to choose just one I’d go with this “call for ecological conversion.” It gathers together excerpts from the Holy Father’s writings, speeches and homilies, and in so doing lays out the philosophy that undergirded his “green” encyclical Laudato Si‘. This is recommended not only for anyone who admires the pope, but also for anyone interested in the intersection between faith and environmental responsibility.
James Kubicki, SJ, A Year of Daily Offerings — my recommended “Prayer” title is a daily devotional from the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s worldwide prayer network. A sumptuous feast of meditations on the lives of saints and the liturgical year, including prayers, questions for reflection, and an affirming word or phrase for each day of the year. It’s a wonderful tool for beginning or deepening a regular practice of morning prayer and devotion. And true to the author’s Jesuit identity, each daily entry also includes a 1-question “examen” for your evening review.
Timothy Verdon, Art and Prayer —my recommended “Art” title. One of the most beautiful books I have seen in quite some time, this title connects the dots between spirituality and creativity with beautiful illustrations, mostly of classical art, accompanying essays on different dimensions of prayer, such as lectio divina, contemplation, and liturgical prayer. I believe strongly that beauty is such an essential part of authentic spirituality, so I find a book like this that testifies to the beauty not only of prayer, but of holiness, to be truly a joy.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith — my recommended “Celtic” title. In the tradition of Kurt Neilson’s Urban Iona, this book explores “missional living in the radical way of St. Patrick” — in other words, it’s a reflection on how the spirituality of the ancient Celts remains increasingly relevant in our postmodern age, when propositional arguments matter less than a radical commitment to live one’s faith, with joy, hospitality, and a dash of mystical prayer to boot. Arpin-Ricci understands the problems facing believers in today’s secular wilderness, and finds both joy and challenge in bringing ancient Celtic wisdom and contemporary realities together in this coherent — or should I say vulnerable — vision of discipleship.
Linda Johnsen, Lost Masters — my recommended “Interfaith” title. Christian mysticism has two primary sources: Jewish spirituality, but also pagan Greek spirituality and philosophy. This book explores some of the same terrain as the work of Peter Kingsley (see especially In the Dark Places of Wisdom), who like Johnsen seeks to shed light on the mystical foundation of ancient Greek philosophy. While I don’t agree with all of her conclusions (she falls into the “Christianity is the oppressor” trap, and to my mind overstates the east-west connection), this is nevertheless an interesting survey of the golden thread of Greek mysticism, beginning with the mystery religions and Pythagoras and extending to the Neoplatonists (Plotinus, Proclus, Iamblichus) who had such an influence of the thought of Christian mystics like Pseudo-Dionysius or John Scotus Eriugena. Anyone interested in the back-story to medieval Christian mysticism would find plenty to think about — and argue with — here.
Carl McColman, Christian Mystics — and finally, my newest book, which hopefully will appeal to anyone interested in mysticism or in the history of Christian spirituality. Christian Mystics profiles over 100 great mystics, visionaries, philosophers, saints, and other lovers of God, and in doing so reveals how mystical Christianity is not a “one size fits all” matter. Rather, mysticism is as personal and unique as each individual, and so anyone who feels called to explore the Mysteries of God needs to remember that there’s only one right way to do so: and that’s the way that’s right for you. This book doesn’t tell you how to be a mystic; that’s between you and God. But it does introduce you to the most luminous, wise, and wonderful mystics of the western tradition, each of whom has left brilliant and profound writings that can help you on your own unique adventure seeking to respond to the love of God.
Okay, there you have it. Maybe this won’t cover everyone on your list, but hopefully you’ll find something here for the Christians/Catholics and/or mystics/contemplatives in your life… even if that person is you yourself!
I won’t wish you a Merry Christmas (yet) — since we’re still in the first week of Advent. So, in the spirit of the season, may you find abundant silence and the serenity that can be found only in the waiting. Happy Advent!
Stay in touch! Connect with Carl McColman on Facebook: