“To him who wishes to walk in the path of virtue, nothing is more necessary than the reading of spiritual books.” – St. Athanasius
While some of us like books more than others, we should all spend some time reading spiritual writing, even if it is only 10 minutes a day. If we had the chance, we would all love to talk to great saints like St. Anthony of Padua, St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas and get their advice on the spiritual life. While we can’t converse with them face to face (yet), we do have the next best thing—their writings.
Here are five of the books I recommend for every Catholic man.
5. The Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
I recently wrote about the great Gentleman Saint, St. Francis de Sales, known for his kindness and wisdom. St. Francis wrote dozens of books and tracts, but by far his best loved book is Introduction to the Devout Life. The book began as series of letters to a married noblewoman, Madame de Charmoisy, who was seeking guidance from the good bishop on how to live a holy life amid the busyness and occupations of the world. Eventually, St. Francis realized that all Catholics could benefit from these conversations, and he compiled them into book form.
With its practical wisdom on everything from penance to prayer, fasting to friendships, Introduction to the Devout Life shatters the notion that holiness is just for clergymen or religious. Instead, it points out the path to holiness for every Catholic, no matter his state in life.
If you think being a saint is impractical or impossible, read Introduction to the Devout Life and think again.
4. The Secret of Mary by St. Louis de Montfort
As a convert to the Catholic Church, I struggled to understand devotion to Our Lady. It seemed unnecessary, even a distraction from what was really important. Then, at the urging of others, I read St. Louis de Montfort’s classic, True Devotion to Mary. I was immediately blown away by just how Christ-centered Marian devotion is, and how practical it is for growth in holiness.
I recommend The Secret of Mary instead of True Devotion for the simple reason that it is much shorter and easier to digest. More a tract than a book, it lays out in plain, simple terms, the necessity of honoring Mary and the great benefit of entrusting ourselves entirely to her care.
3. The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
Unlike most spiritual books, The Spiritual Combat became a best-seller in the author’s lifetime. It presents the spiritual life in militaristic terms, providing strategies to overcome the greatest enemy of all—yourself.
“Now that you see wherein Christian perfection consists, and that it requires a continual sharp warfare against self, you must provide yourself with four most sure and necessary weapons, in order to secure the palm and gain the victory in this spiritual combat. These are: Distrust of self; Trust in God; Spiritual exercises; and Prayer. Of all these we will, with the Divine assistance, treat briefly and plainly.”
2. The Confessions of St. Augustine
When I was in high school, long before I was considering the Catholic church, I picked up a copy of The Confessions off of my grandma’s bookshelf. I began reading, expecting a traditional autobiography. What I found instead was one of the most beautiful books I have ever read—a book that began the process of my conversion.
The Confessions reads much more like a prayer or a poem than it does a biography of any kind, and it is filled with Augustine’s intense, loving conversations with God. If you want to understand the mind and heart of one of the greatest saints of the Western church, read this book.
1. The Imitation of Christ
The Imitation of Christ is one of the most popular spiritual classics of all time—and for good reason. This little book plumbs the depths of the spiritual life in a concise and powerful fashion. It is a great book for men, as Thomas a Kempis constantly encourages us to cast of laziness and fight “manfully” to progress in the spiritual life.
Get a copy of this book and leave it on your nightstand. Read it again and again.
The saints have made it clear—if we want to grow spiritually, we must read the writings of those who have gone before us. If you don’t already, set aside some time each day for spiritual reading. Soak up the wisdom of the saints like a sponge. You will find it coming back to you when you need it most.
What are your favorite spiritual books? Are you reading any good books at the moment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.