It’s the end of the year and the end of the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge! I’ve been sharing what I’m reading throughout the year for each one, and here are my last two picks…
Category: A Book on Catholic Spirituality Written More Than 100 Years Ago
My Pick: The Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross
Category: A Book by Bishop Robert Barron
My Pick: Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master
Little did I know when I picked these two books how well they paired together, and I just happened to read them back to back. St. John of the Cross was a devoted student of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings, and The Spiritual Canticle (a work of verse similar to the Song of Solomon) is steeped in Thomist philosophy. You initially become aware of this from reading the introduction to St. John’s work, but this Thomist theme became even more apparent when I subsequently read Barron’s book.
I want to mentioned a couple of themes from each book, but I would first stress that both share the characteristic of being works that deeply nourish the spiritual life and offer much in the way of spiritual direction and insights for extensive meditation, though written centuries apart and in much different styles.
First to The Spiritual Canticle: it is a 40 stanza poem, as St. John of the Cross wrote it while in prison, but some time after that a nun petitioned St. John to write explanations for the meaning of the poem. He did so, but with some hesitation. For he believed that the full weight of meaning in the poem’s exchange between the Bridegroom and the Beloved could not be explained as he had initially experienced it in the time of prayer and devotion during which it was composed.
However, while he believed that much of the poem’s meaning could only be experienced intimately in mediation with Christ, he did produce theologically rich explanations of each stanza of the poem, and the combined verse and explanation is what you will read together in this manuscript. I do recommend that you read through the 40 stanzas first, and then go back and take each stanza one at a time with its explanation. You will be blown away by the imagery that St. John uses to describe the stages that a soul (The Bride) moves through from the beginning to most intimate phases of union with Christ (The Bridegroom).
I would actually recommend this book as an excellent read during Lent — 40 stanzas, 40 days, and such significant opportunities for meditation and deeper union with Christ.
Next, Bishop Barron’s book on Aquinas has to be one of the best introductions on Aquinas — and I say that as someone who has not read any other introductions to Aquinas and is personally not well-read in Thomist philosophy. It was a book that makes you want to dig into Aquinas’ works personally, because Barron emphasizes well Thomas as a spiritual guide — one who leads us right to the untimate questions: “Who are we? Who or what is God? How do we and God come together?” (p. 185)
If the idea of studying Aquinas has been daunting to you, or if you have tried before and had a rough experience, I encourage you to pick up this book. It may be just the introduction and approach that you need — and not just for a theological understanding, but for the enrichment of your spiritual life.
That finishes up my selections from the reading challenge for 2017! Keep a lookout — my 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge will be posted sometime in January. I can’t wait to share it with you. Thanks for reading with me this year!
What Book on Catholic Spirituality or Book by Bishop Barron did you read for the #2017catholicreadingchallenge? If you are posting your pick on social media, remember to use the hashtag!
Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey