Spiritual reading for the year of mercy


Father James Thermos, director of the Spirituality Year at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, shared some of his favorite mercy-themed spiritual readings.

“Spiritual reading allows us to receive the insights and truths and lives of our brothers and sisters who have a lived relationship with Jesus,” Father Thermos said. “We receive it as a gift so that we, too, might deepen our love for the Lord.”


Encyclical on the Mercy of God (Dives in Misericordia)by Pope St. John Paul II. Available from the Vatican website.

“Mercy is love in response to an offense. We love one another, but when I offend you, when I rupture our relationship unilaterally, to repair it requires your love in return, which is an act of mercy,” Father Thermos said.

“We understand ourselves to be fundamentally in need of God’s mercy. He is always loving us–He is Love–and He is inviting us to join in His life even in the face of our rebelliousness and disobedience.”

“In the encyclical, John Paul II goes on to show us the mercy of God in the Prodigal Son (Lk 15), and then how this is made manifest in the Church.”



Soul Mending by John Chryssavgis

The first 48 pages of Soul Mending by John Chryssavgis. Available from Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

This book is by a Greek Orthodox priest. The rest of the book deals with spiritual direction, but Father Thermos recommends the first 48 pages because they are about mercy.

“He helps us understand the healing dimension of the sacrament of Confession. We look at the Good Samaritan. We are the person who is beat up and Jesus puts us on Himself. When we understand that our humanity is fundamentally broken, we rejoice in the offer made by a loving God to heal us. To heal us means to forgive us and bring us into his life,” Father Thermos said.


Choosing Forgiveness

Choosing Forgiveness by John Loren, Paula Sandford and Lee Bowman

Choosing Forgiveness: Turning from Guilt, Bitterness and Resentment Towards a Life of Wholeness and Peace by John Loren Sandford, Paula Sandford and Lee Boman. Available from Charisma House.

This book is written by the founders of Elijah House, a Christian ministry dedicated to repentance and forgiveness.

Choosing Forgiveness is a very insightful and practical book,” Father Thermos said.

“Any reception of God’s mercy is dependent on our forgiveness of one another. That is just such a hard thing to figure out how to do or what it means. We say to pray for each other, but in my opinion, it’s very hard to get our minds and hearts around what that means. They just do a great job of explaining that and understanding how we in our lack of forgiveness, one of the main results of our own lack of forgiveness is the hardening of our own hearts. We think of not forgiving as being in our best interests because then we can hold onto this grudge. But it’s in our best interest is to forgive.”

Divine Mercy in My soul

Divine Mercy in My Soul by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Available from .

Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, and is responsible for spreading her devotion to Divine Mercy and her inspiration of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

“It’s not often that we are able to witness the lived relationship of a person, in this case a saint, with the Risen Lord. She very generously records it, and in so doing we get an insight into the beautiful relationship of her being able to receive the mercy of Jesus. Lest mercy just be an abstract notion, this is just so helpful because it’s a concrete witnessing of the life of mercy lived out between St. Faustina and Jesus in his Sacred Heart,” Father Thermos said.


COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.