A couple of readers have asked me for a list of suggestions for their Catholic book club. Choosing a new title for the whole group can be nervewracking! Especially when it’s your first time leading such an event.
Here are some tried and true favorites for Catholic book clubs. For ease of use, I’ve separated them into three categories by level of difficulty.
Books Designed For Group Study
Any of the books from Dynamic Catholic are my first choice for a new, parish-wide book club. They are affordable, even free with S&H if it’s your first time ordering from them. The free study guides for Rediscover Catholicism and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic make your job easier as the group facilitator. Most importantly, they are written and designed to disciple Catholics in 21st Century America. To answer JPII’s call for a New Evangelization of lukewarm and lightly catechized Catholics. Since Matthew Kelly writes to meet Catholics where they are, they are my first pick.
Other Modern Books
Anything by Scott Hahn, but particularly his book on the Mass: The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. For most Catholics, the Mass is the most praying we do in a week. It’s the most visible sign of our Church. Yet we don’t know why we’re doing things. What are we supposed to be thinking at each stage? What are the gestures, the words, songs, and rituals supposed to tell us? Scott Hahn’s book demystifies the Book of Revelation and explains the biblical basis for the Mass. There is also a study guide available, to help facilitate small group study.
Structured devotional books are also easy group reads. The built-in pacing keeps the group together. Dan Burke’s 30 Days with Teresa of Avila gives bite-sized pieces of the Saint’s original writings, followed by a deep reflection. Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory: A DIY Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration is structured similarly, but it draws on multiple Saint’s lives and writings to convict and encourage readers in devotion to Mary.
When reading a non-English book, your translator is your guide. You must rely on them to delicately balance the tone; the play of words; the author’s unique voice; all against a straight-forward Anglicised interpretation of their message. But when a translator takes on an ancient text, the work is doubled.
So much is standing between a modern reader and the author’s meaning. You’re looking at these ancient texts through the coke bottle glasses of modernity. Our hermeneutics, the fundamental ways we interpret and understand the world, are light years apart. So choosing a trustworthy guide is the most important step in studying a text in translation.
Anything with an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat is automatically trustworthy. That’s the point of the stamps. But a lack of them doesn’t invalidate a translation. Choosing a critical edition published directly by a Catholic publishing house is also a sure way to go.
The International Carmelite Studies’ edition of Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux is generally regarded as the most faithful rendition.
Ignatius Press offers a critical edition of St Augustine’s Confessions, which maintains the beautiful poetic lilt to his text.
TAN Books publishes a series of guides called The Classics Made Simple. These booklets help the modern reader unpack classic Catholic texts. They accompany the texts, which are also available from TAN Books. The guides for An Introduction to the Devout Life, Abandonment to Divine Providence, and True Devotion to Mary are all on my wishlist.
Any of these books would make a great study, it’s just about finding the right fit for your group! Do you have a favorite (or a flop!) that didn’t make this list? Please let me know about it below.