I will be blunt: returning to the Church after a period of inactivity can be daunting and, at times, lonely. At least it was for me. Modern culture leads us often to lives of doing what feels good for the sake of pleasure. Self-centered behavior is only inevitable once this ethos of hedonism takes hold. Christ’s call of sacrifice and love requires a radical overhaul of our very being. As such, it is important to find sources of solace as we walk along the spiritual path and seek to amend our lives.
- The first and most important source of solace is, of course, the Holy Bible. Reading and understanding the context of the texts is necessary to appreciate the faith. When I was an Easter and Christmas-type Catholic in my early youth, I knew little of the Old Testament. And yet, I can’t say enough that a thorough reading of the Old Testament will lead to a richer experience with Christ.
- Second is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When I was in ignorance about what the Church was and believed, I thought it was a refuge for the weak-minded. How wrong I was. The Catechism is a rich theological and philosophical thesis. We owe much to Saint Pope John Paul II and his efforts to release the document to the public in 1992.
I understand though that one also wants insight from who lived the spiritual journey out of darkness. Grasping theology and doctrine is also paramount. This is where I hope this list can help. These texts were of great relevance to my early spiritual journey out of atheism and back to Christ. I hope you may also find such insight and comfort.
Thomas Merton’s 1948 memoir on his journey from lost youth to a Trappist monk is a work of remarkable depth. When I was making my own journey, his descriptions of attempting to fill the emptiness with external pleasures resonated to my core. Drink, hedonistic social activities and pithy activism were band-aids for the emptiness. So often, when lost, we seek to “find ourselves” in anything. That, in turn, makes us the proverbial plastic bag in the wind. We drift from trend to trend without any concept of an eternal truth to ground our actions in.
Merton would become a prodigious writer in his life, but this memoir does show his youth. There are times where Merton comes off as critical of non-Catholics and sanctimonious. Yet, the book is a work of beauty that will speak to any lost or spiritually curious young person.
The truth of my turn away from Christ and his Church was about my own emptiness and self-loathing. Yet, I convinced myself I was actually turning away for empirical scientific reasons. Those facts proved that the Church was nothing more than superstition. Yet, I realize that rationalization was more pomposity masking an underlying sadness.
Bishop Barron’s 2011 treatise on Catholicism was critical to my deeper understanding of the faith. Part of a larger DVD series, the book lays out deep philosophical and historical justification for the Church’s sanctity. It also tackles many of the important questions young people often have with clarity. An appreciation of the Church begins with knowledge of it. Unfortunately, that knowledge is not found in a modern secular media culture that is indifferent to Christ.
There are few books that correspond to the modern culture than Dorothy Day’s memoir, The Long Loneliness. The renowned Catholic Social Activist’s narrative shares many parallels with modern activism. In particular, #MeToo and #Resist movements. Now, I am not discounting those movements or its followers. But, as Day discovered, activism without a spiritual and ethical core can leave one adrift. It was in rediscovering Christ that Day’s activism went from superficial to sincere and effective. Day’s remarkable life changed the course of thousands. That victory came through an internal transformation in Christ.
Henri Nouwen thesis and memoir of the spiritual path through the lens of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son(1669) is brilliant and moving. The book covers three main points. It summarizes Nouwen’s own spiritual journey. Rembrandt’s life and spiritual ups and downs are also covered. Finally, we see a profound summation of the stages of religious life through the players in the Prodigal Son.
In those characters, we see our own journey and existence. The loving father who seeks to love and embrace his lost son. The bitter older brother whose piousness conceals potential spiritual dryness and contempt. Finally, the lost son seeking a return to his birthright. The birthright we were all given by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection.
For any person at a spiritual crossroads, this work will speak to you. in a deep and profound way. It touches upon the eternal truth we all seek and the ways we can err and then find redemption.
Now, let’s hear from you. What works have spoken to you throughout your spiritual life and which you would recommend to anyone looking to explore their faith? Go to the Comments section and let us know.