If you are a new Catholic or are in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program (RCIA), then welcome and good for you! I’m discovering that many RCIA programs in parishes are rather paltry when it comes to educating catechumen and candidates who desire to grow and be emboldened in the Roman Catholic faith. If you are in RCIA, then my first suggestion is to challenge yourself to learn and grow in the truth. Second, don’t rely strictly on RCIA teachers (catechists) for learning “everything you need to know about Catholicism.” God has called you on a path to be a member of the Christian community and to be unified with Him, so open up yourself to experiencing the riches of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful tradition of the holy Catholic Church. Here is a list of what I shall call “10 Essential Books” for your journey:
- Catechism of the Catholic Church. This book is compact enough to carry around and it’s comprehensive on all matters of Catholic doctrine and principles. You’ll need this right away. Trust me, the title sounds a bit forbidding but the book is really well-written, well-organized, and serves as a wonderful guide to the faith and isn’t merely a work of reference. Every Catholic needs this in his or her back pocket. Please don’t hesitate–get this now. Smiles! There is also an online “flip page” version.
- Ignatius Bible, RSV Catholic Edition. This Bible is compact, accessible, and it’s easy to carry around. It’s a standard assigned text at Catholic universities. The good thing is that it is well-organized and has bold chapter headings to help guide your reading of it. But this is not a scholarly edition, so it’s fairly skimpy with footnotes, cross-references, and helpful annotations. If you want a more scholarly Bible, then I would prefer a more ecumenical Bible, such as the Oxford Annotated Bible or the Harper Collins Study Bible. Again, the notes and annotations in these two Bibles are vastly superior to most (not all) Catholic Bibles. By the way, you’ll hear that Catholics aren’t terribly acquainted with the Bible (not in the same way as Protestants and Protestant Evangelicals). Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth in that generalization. Catholics tend to get their scripture in the liturgy and children’s programs. It’s up to us, folks, to be the change we want to see in the Church.
- Robert Barron’s Catholicism. This book is a companion to the wonderful DVD series. Both of these (the book and DVD’s) are so informative, inspired, and incredibly valuable. I highly recommend these. Bishop Barron is amazing and a former seminary professor. He’s bright, accessible, and faithful. You will also want to acquaint yourself with his Word on Fire ministry, which is a marvelous resource. You can find lectures, blogs, homilies, and podcasts. Truly great stuff!
- Edward Sri. A Biblical Walk through the Mass. This is a companion book to a video lecture on the topic–it is a clear and accessible book on understanding the mystery of Eucharistic communion. Why do we say formal prayers? Why is there communion at each Mass and church meeting? Why is it called a ‘Mass’? Why do Catholics say that the host is the Real Presence of Christ? What does ‘transubstantiation’ mean and where does it come from? Sri has a website and wonderful videos on aspects of the faith. The popular Catholic writer Scott Hahn also has a good book on the Mass.
- Edward Sri. Who Am I to Judge? This is a good book that addresses a serious issue that is prevalent in our culture and is common among atheists, agnostics, and even some Catholics. This addresses the view that truth is relative or somehow subjective–it is relative to each individual’s perspective or culture. Thus, the assumption is that there is no universal or objective truth at all. If that’s the case, then our believing in God as Truth is rather pointless. How do we address this common view in our culture? How do we address “alternative facts” and “fake news” that parades as truth? This book might be for you, but it’s certainly helpful for future conversations you’ll have with family, friends, and acquaintances.
- Trent Horn. Why We’re Catholic. There are a lot of Christian faiths and denominations out there. OK, then why be Catholic? Why not join the Calvary Baptists, Foursquare Church, or a mega non-denominational church in your local neighborhood? This book addresses these questions.
- Scott Hahn. Reasons to Believe. This is similar to the one above. Scott Hahn is a popular Catholic writer who is also a convert to the faith. He’s also written about his conversion. His book on the Apostle’s Creed is excellent.
- Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus. Jesus of Nazareth. I love this book and have read it several times. It is well-written–it is clear, accessible, and very balanced–so this appeals to both Catholics and Protestants. In fact, you’d do well to read all of Ratzinger’s books. He was a major theologian–well worth reading and studying carefully. I highly, highly recommend his Introduction to Christianity, which is not quite an introduction per se but still a vastly tremendous treasure.
- Henri de Lubac. Catholicism. This is a good book by a hugely important thinker of the Church. A must read.
- John H. Carmichael. Drunks and Monks. This is a conversion narrative that’s more or less an easy, quick read. But by “easy” I don’t mean easy-going. This is a story with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and is well-worth your time. Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain is a wonderful classic conversion story. Jennifer Fulwiler has written a good conversion narrative, and so has Sally Read. The classic Catholic conversion story of wide appeal is Augustine’s Confessions, which is genuinely inspiring–I often read its prayerful meditations before Mass.
As far as book lists go, you cannot do much better than deepening your faith with Bishop Barron’s reading list. You’ll also want to acquaint yourself with Pope Francis’ recent encyclicals, Laudato Si and The Name of God is Mercy.
The Catholic intellectual tradition is rich and vast, so this “10 Essentials” list cannot be comprehensive. Rather, it serves as an entrance into further exploration and study.
As you’re growing and developing your faith, do keep in mind that you’ll be vulnerable and prone to attack from the evil one. The devil hates our proximity to God–he is the author of lies, deception, doubt, and confusion. Don’t let him take hold of your thoughts. Try to focus on what brings you peace, consolation, and genuine happiness, rather than doubt and skepticism. Plenty of people inspired by darkness will tell you that God is dead and dumb, and that Christianity is stupid and for fools. Well, then let’s be fools for Jesus!
May God bless you and bring you peace.