Like any Faith Formation Department worth its salt, we take study seriously. Not just intermittent study when it’s convenient but perpetual learning, wherein as leaders we offer our intellects to God for continuous formation. The Book of James has some stern words for those who teach about God:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. – James 3:1 NRSVCE
Rather than collapse under the enormity of this responsibility or turn from education in fear, one can utilize the importance of proper teaching as a kind of fuel, where one is aware of their duty to others in the pursuit of Truth. One need not necessarily complete formal academic learning in order to accomplish this goal of letting God illuminate your intellect and draw you closer to Him, as much of what is currently being taught in Catholic academia these days can be charitably described as “dubious” if not outright heretical. This emphasis on seductively trendy theology can lead one to be ashamed of the rigors of Catholicism instead of cultivating the necessary fortitude that is required for the counter-cultural life of a disciple.
That being said, recommending books, podcasts, and videos to others is very much like being a doctor who writes prescriptions. It’s very helpful to know where a person is in their spiritual life and the kind of things they wish to know before I make suggestions. A single book can absolutely transform a person’s life for good or ill, and discerning the proper trajectory is something I am willing to do for each and every parishioner. One just need ask!
Custom prescriptions for learning aside, here are a few books that have absolutely captured our minds and hearts in our department recently, and I wish to share them with you in case you would like to partake in the feast that is knowledge of God:
Christine Watkins’ Full of Grace: Miraculous Stories of Healing and Conversion through Mary’s Intercession is a book for anyone who loves a good conversion story and is curious as to how Mary leads us to Christ. It’s the epitome of a page-turner and above all, reminds us that hope exists for even the worst of sinners.
I’d also like to recommend Watkins’ book Of Men and Mary: How Six Men Won the Greatest Battle of Their Lives for more amazing conversion stories and for anyone who thinks devotion to Our Lady is a “girly thing.”
Back in my hometown parish, the lectures given by the Dominican friars were always well-attended, but I remember the talk given on exorcism was so packed with people that there was standing room only. There is definitely an immense interest in this topic, but so as not to devolve into sinful curiosity or accidentally give glory to demons by focusing too much on them instead of God, there are a handful of books from my collection on spiritual warfare that I’d like to recommend as essentials. Learning how evil and the demonic operate is vital learning for any disciple and choosing to remain ignorant on these matters out of fear or disbelief does not at all spare one from being engaged in spiritual battle. One need not be frightened as Satan has already been defeated by Jesus on the cross, but instead embrace the reality that it is only by knowing the tactics of your enemy that one can learn how to defend themselves.
Charles D. Fraune’s Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See and What We Should Know is quite the compilation of wisdom on the matter from our Church’s leading exorcists, and presents the information in an oddly gentle manner that any lay Catholic can fathom.
Fraune, who just so happens to be a high school theology teacher has also written a succinct companion version entitled Swords and Shadows: Navigating Youth Amidst the Wiles of Satan specifically for youth to understand spiritual warfare and is something that I will be utilizing in Pre-Confirmation this year with my teens.
Adam Blai, an expert in religious demonology and exorcism for the Diocese of Pittsburg has distilled his hard-earned wisdom into a book entitled Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcism that operates much like a field manual. He’s that rare kind of lay person who has the full endorsement of the Church and to whom priests go in order to learn more about this topic, as they are often not given sufficient training on the matter in seminary. Rather than bogart the information, he graciously gives us to it all.
Concluding this list, it must be said that ignorance of the mystical and miraculous in our tradition can lead to spiritual boredom and seeking the mystical outside of Catholicism. If you are one of the 2/3rds of American Catholics who doubt the Real Presence of the Eucharist (as revealed by the 2019 Pew Research Study) or feel that Mass has lost its luster for you, I implore you to read Eucharistic Miracles and Eucharistic Phenomena in the Lives of the Saints by Joan Carrol Cruz. Rather than punish us outright for being uncertain, Jesus responds to our doubts as He did to Thomas the Apostle and wishes to resolve our confusion about who He is and how much He desires to give Himself to us. These stories have an uncanny way of reminding us of the love of God even when we struggle in faith, and there is no way you will approach the Eucharist the same after reading.
One can purchase any and all of these books by clicking on the hyperlinked titles above or contact me if you are a parishioner who cannot afford to purchase books at this time. As mentioned before, if anyone would like customized suggestions please do not hesitate to ask! As faithful educators we joyfully embrace our vocation to learn continuously and teach what we know by sharing the spoils for the good of the Kingdom!