Friday, November 06, 2009

What should I read next? Also: Catholic names

So I'm about 2/3 through The Curé d'Ars, a big fat biography of St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney by Abbé Trochu, and I'm loving it. If I have time I'll make a post with some of my favorite quotes from the book. But eventually, no matter how long this book is, I will come to the end of it. And because I can't allow my long to-read list to shorten, I've already bought several more books in the meantime.

I think I have my choice narrowed down to five that I might tackle next. They are:

St. Thomas Aquinas by G.K. Chesterton
St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton
The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

The first two are on the list because I'd like to know more about them both and I've heard that Chesterton's biographies are insightful. The next two are because those are the two great cloistered Carmelite nuns of the past that seem to have the most influence on Carmelite spirituality today. And the last one is on the list because some religious congregations follow the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and it would be good for me to know a thing or two about his thought, not least because he's my confirmation saint. :)

This is off topic, but we need some more names in the Catholic tradition. Look, I just listed five saints up there and they only have three different names between them. It's a lovely mark of humility that everyone who enters religious life wants to take a saint's name, but it means you end up with a hundred Saint Francises and a hundred Saint Gregories, and every other female saint is some variation of Teresa or Catherine, and everyone, male or female, ends up with some form of Mary in there, and the result is that you'll never be able to remember the name of the religious you just met because all the names are alike!

And that reminds me of Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, in which he contemplates joining a large congregation of Franciscans. I have to quote it for you:

Turning over the pages of Butler's Lives of the Saints, I had looked for some name to take in religion-- indeed, that was a problem over which I had wasted an undue amount of time. The Province was a big one, and there were so many Friars in it that they had run out of all the names-- and you could not take a name that was already taken by someone else. I knew in advance that I could not be a John Baptist or an Augustine or Jerome or Gregory. I would have to find some outlandish name like Paphnutius (which was Father Irenaeus' suggestion). Finally I came across a Franciscan called Blessed John Spaniard and I thought that would sound fine.

I considered the possibility of myself running around in a brown robe and sandals, and imagined I heard the novice master saying: "Frater John Spaniard, go over there and scrub that floor." Or else he would put his head out of his room and say to one of the other novices: "Go and get Frater John Spaniard and bring him here," and then I would come humbly along the corridor in my sandals-- or rather our sandals-- with my eyes down, with the rapid but decorous gait of a young Friar who knew his business: Frater John Spaniard. It made a pleasant picture.

Merton ended up joining a Trappist congregation where he got no say in it at all; they simply assigned him the incongruous name of Louis. By that time he didn't care. I loved his book, not so much for what it revealed about Merton as for what it revealed about me. That man had my number!

But back to the five books, have ya'll read any of them? What do you think?

Naturally I'll probably end up just reading whichever one seems most attractive at the moment I finish the last sentence of The Cure d'Ars. That's how these things go. :)


Warren said...

Those are all fabulous. Have you read "The way of the Pilgrim", or "Practicing the Presence of God", or "The Imitation of Christ"?


Linda said...

Story of a Soul is wonderful! I really enjoyed it, although I've heard more than one priest say they didn't like it the 1st time they read it. Intro to Devout Life is also very good and has the added bonus of including meditations for your holy hours. I haven't read the other 3 (although I'm reading a biography of St. T of Avila). Would that there were more hours in the day!

Anonymous said...

For all that I have an overwhelming crush on St. Thomas A. and feel no connection at all to St. Francis of Another A., I think it's best to read that one first. Chesterton wrote it first and it's not that he actually refers back to it all the time, but you do get the feeling that he often thought of St. Thomas in terms of his contrast with St. Francis, and then it's nice to have actually read what Chesterton thinks of St. Francis :)

If it was me, I'd pick one of the first two and one of the second three and read them at the same time. You'll want your head about you at most, if not all, times when reading stuff like Introduction to the Devout Life, and the Chesterton biographies are much lighter reading.

The latter might also be my crush on Chesterton, though, I just really get along with his writing style :)

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks guys! Warren, I loved The Practice of the Presence of God. The Imitation of Christ is on my list to read. And I've barely heard of The Way of the Pilgrim but it seems interesting.

Linda, St. Therese has struck me as too saccharine too, but she's a Doctor of the Church so I figure it's my problem, not hers. :)

Venite, I'll take your advice on the Chesterton biographies, thanks!

ASSISI said...

Some good books:
Intro to the Devout Life St Francis de Sales,
Way of a Pilgrim,
Jesus of Nazareth.

Rachel Gray said...

Hmm, that's the second recommendation for Way of a Pilgrim. If I get a third I'll have to put it on the list. :)

Anonymous said...

Rachel,there is a book titled; The Cardinal,by Henry Morton Robinsin. It start with a priest coming home from Rome after studying for the priesthood, I first read it in 1950 when it was new. It is almost exactly as the Church was before Vatican Two. The priest is a young man from Boston returning home, after studying in Rome for the priesthood.

Lee Gilbert said...

I wouldn't want to push you over the edge, but if you do read The Way of the Pilgrim, be sure to follow up with The Pilgrim Continues on His way :)

Also, there is a wonderful out of print book called To Heaven Through a Window by Rbt. Carr, a life of St. Gerard Majella. You might be able to get it through ABE or interlibrary loan. Like the Trochu book it is nice and long. It is actually an abbreviation of another longer biography (480 pp) of St. Gerard available on line. There is a LOT more to this man than his patronage of expectant mothers. He is a very popular saint on that score, but at the same time he is almost completely unknown. It is impossible to read that book without having a vastly expanded idea of the possibilities of religious life.

There was a whole raft of wonderful lives of the saints written toward the end of the 19th c., including, for example, a wonderful, long and well researched book on the life of St. Cecelia by Gueranger, a life of St. Stanislaus Kostka by Bartoli (tr by Thompson, I believe). These books blend scholarship with good writing and the breath of the Holy Spirit.

All of which reminds me of the excellent advice of a Trappist priest friend of mine ( 102 yrs old and still going full blast) gave me many years ago. Essentially it was this, when looking for good spiritual reading you only need to go to the S drawer of the card catalog ( your mom or great uncle can explain that term to you :)) and look for books by or about saints.

Best of all, a life of a saint by a saint, such as St. Bernard's life of St. Malachy, or St. John Bosco's Life of Dominic Savio.

There, that should keep you busy for the next few years....

Rufus McCain said...

I've read both Chesterton books. They're marvelous -- but I think nothing but marvels poured forth from Chesterton's pen. I agree, they go hand in hand, so reading them together is not a bad idea.

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks to all of you! You have added to the crushing burden of my to-read list. :) Heck, I wouldn't be happy if I didn't have good books to look forward to.