Thursday, May 15, 2008

Catholic Great Books Salon

So, our 2007-2008 RCIA group has wrapped up for the year, but after meeting together weekly since September, we all decided it was too cool a group to just break up and go our separate ways. (If you have been listening to our RCIA class podcasts which are available somewhere on line, you know what I mean.)

So, we are going to attempt some kind of mystagogy period now, by coming together every month to read one book of classic Catholic spirituality. I wanted to put the question out there for some suggestions before we finalize our list of books for the coming year. The goal is to give our new catholics - and frankly our old Catholics who are abysmally disconnected from their own cultural heritage - a working familiarity with the basic charisms and concepts of the Catholic spiritual tradition.

Here are the parameters for the books we will be considering:

1) Has to be on spirituality (as opposed to history, philosophy, hermeneutics or theology)

2) Has to be of a size that can be digested in a month - which probably means under 300 pages, and probably closer to 200.

3) Has to be available in an edition that we can all readily obtain - that means if it isn't still in print, we need to be able to find 15 copies somewhere without too much trouble.

4) Has to be accessible to un-theologically/philosophically sophisticated readers. If the work is dependant for example, on the readers having read Erasmus' treatise on the soul, it won't work. Also, if the language is so archaic as to be distancing (are you listening Tan Publications?), it won't work either.

5) Has to have been a foundational work. Something that has become a standard, or would be if we Catholics weren't all so brain-dead today. The point here is to cover the basics. We can read St. Irenaeus of Pythia's Allegorical Triptich on the Death of Consecrated Virgins in a future year...

6) Has to fit in with the others on the list in the sense of making it a cohesive and yet diverse whole. I want women writers as well as men. I want different periods of Church history. I would like to include Eastern spirituality too. I would also like the books to cover different things if possible. There can be over-lapping but I'd rather not have every book be about prayer. We want to cover spirituality and friendship, and the Church, and virtue, and Scripture, etc.

Fortunately, I was a Daughter of St. Paul for ten years, so I am coming at this with a bit of helpful formation in great Catholic books. But I am still interested to hear from others in case we are leaving something out. (You could also help by voting "Thumbs Up!" for any on the tentative list below, and tell us why you loved it and what was the main insight you got from it. And also which books below maybe repeat each other?)

Here is a list of works we are considering so far:

- The Confessions of St. Augustine
- The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, by Evagrius Ponticus
- The Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
- On Spiritual Friendship, by St. Aelred of Rivaulx
- Journal of a Soul, by Bl. John XXIII
- Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
- The Dialogues, by St. Catherine of Sienna
- The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous
- Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
- The Life of Teresa of Avila by Herself
- The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander
- Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross
- Bernard of Clairvaux, Selected Works
- The Little Flowers of St. Francis

- The Spiritual Exercises, by St. Ignatius

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