Summer is a time for absorbing—the sun’s rays, the laughter of friends at a barbecue and even a book as you lounge by the poolside. Father Jim Thermos, director of the Spirituality Year of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, encourages people to include spiritual reading in the poolside stack of books.
“Spiritual reading is important because it feeds the soul. The world pushes in on us, but when we do spiritual reading we become reminded again of our relationship with God,” he said.
Not all reading has to be spiritual. However, being sure to include a few spiritual texts can help us to keep our minds and hearts set on things that matter.
“That will naturally lead us to prayer, which is a relationship with our Lord,” Father Thermos said.
Father Thermos recommended the following books for summer reading. He chose a variety of topics and writing styles, in the hopes that everyone can find a title that will interest them.
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
Public domain, available free online or through various publishers
Father Thermos said that this short text is the most theologically dense of the books he’s recommended, but thinks readers will find it worth the effort.
“It’s for someone who wants something to sink their teeth into. You don’t have to have a theology degree to read it,” he said.
St. Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation during the Arian heresy, when many people did not believe that Jesus was truly God and truly man. Instead, they viewed him as a man who had received the spirit of God very well.
“He wrote on why God came, on the Incarnation, in such a brilliant way that it couldn’t be disputed. That’s important for us today because the whole world wants to turn away from the true nature of Jesus as God and Man,” Father Thermos said.
He said that today, it can be easy to assume we “know the story”. St. Athanasius draws out the Trinity’s desire to save humanity.
“It’s refreshing because he’s so clear in his thought, and yet he’s able to speak in the most profound way of Jesus’ saving action,” Father Thermos said. “It’s 80 pages very well-spent.”
Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Mark Twain himself said this was the best thing he ever wrote. Father Thermos said that dedication shines through the novel.
“He was fascinated with Joan of Arc because he thinks she was the most authentic person who ever lived,” Thermos said. “I think his view of the world was sort of jaded, and in his opinion, she was the only person in the world who didn’t do things for selfish reasons.”
Twain spent 12 years researching and writing the novel, even travelling to France to look through her court records. However, the result is not a dry historical tome.
“It’s several hundred pages, but the stories that he tells just have you laugh out loud,” Thermos said. “True to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he’s a true storyteller.”
The book follows Joan from her childhood in a tiny village to her death at the hands of the English. Despite her complete lack of education, after a summons from the Lord, she convinced the king of France to let her lead his armies.
“It’s a completely unrealistic call in every respect,” Father Thermos said. “In the simplicity of one who trusts in God, she moved forward.”
Father Thermos said that he knew nothing of the history of the time, and yet did not find this to be a barrier to enjoying the story.
“It’s beautifully written, tragic, and you just don’t want it to end. By the end of it, Joan will be your friend” Father Thermos said.
Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle
Simon & Schuster, $15.00
Father Boyle is a Jesuit from the suburbs. He was sent to projects of Los Angeles to serve gang members. This book is a collection of stories from this ministry.
“He’ll take a theme or a topic, like how God loves us unconditionally, then he’ll go on to describe how in his interaction with one of these young persons, they came to understand their dignity or God’s love for them,” Father Thermos said.
The book is gritty, at times using street language and vulgarity to communicate the nature of lives of the men in the stories.
“He shows their struggles, the fear and brokenness, and how he’s right there with them, not knowing what’s going to happen next. Sometimes the hero of the story will die because of the violent world in which they live, but it’s still laced with hope,” Father Thermos said.
Father Thermos said that this is one of the more emotional books on the list, but thinks his brother priests and anyone who works in ministry could learn from it.
“He’s a priest with his sleeves rolled up. I’m always interested because he’ll start to tell the story and I’ll realize I’d have no idea of what to do,” Father Thermos said. “It’s ironic, because the first book I said was On the Incarnation, and this is God’s incarnational love in action.”
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Beacon Press, $19.95
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a survivor of the Nazi death camps. His book is a treatise on the need for hope.
“He’s undergoing the hardship of being in a concentration camp, and he’s noticing that it’s not the strongest, or even the smartest, who are surviving in the concentration camp. The ones who are surviving are the ones who have found a reason to live,” Father Thermos said.
Frankl concludes that others died less from lack of food or medicine than from a lack of hope. Father Thermos said he often recommends the book to men in the Spirituality Year of the Seminary.
“It just keeps impacting them and how they understand how our life has to have meaning or it has nothing. We have to work to articulate that meaning, otherwise we’re working blindly,” Father Thermos said.
He said that Frankl’s Jewish faith allows the faith perspective to shine through.
“At the center of it is a belief in God,” he said. “He captures it—our search for meaning, our struggle and the remedy for our struggle, which leads us back to the Incarnation.”
In the School of the Holy Spirit by Father Jacques Philippe
Scepter Publishing, $9.95
Father Thermos recommended this book as a way to be introduced to the person of the Holy Spirit.
“As the Holy Spirit dwells in us, he brings us many gifts. It’s an awareness—we have to be on the lookout for them, or we miss them,” Father Thermos said.
He said Father Philippe helps show that the greatest thing a Christian can do is be receptive to the divine.
“We like to think it’s doing things, but it’s receiving,” Father Thermos said.
He said that God has planned to pour his Holy Spirit, and for mankind to receive him, since the beginning.
“So this is Father Jacques Philippe explaining how to receive the Holy Spirit, how to receive it in peace and love, and how to receive it well,” Father Thermos said.
He said that this will ultimately lead people into deeper relationship with the Trinity.
“The Holy Spirit wants to bring us to the fullness of life, so that our joy may be complete,” Thermos said. “That’s the delight of welcoming the Holy Spirit as our guest, and joins us to Christ and puts us into deeper relationship with God the father.”