During my recent move from one apartment to another in preparation for my fast-approaching wedding, I realized once again how many books I own. While I’ve promised Dominic, my soon-to-be-husband, that he can help me purge some once he moves in, I’m not quite sure how successful that attempt will be. True, many of the books on my shelves have never been opened, and many that I have read may never be picked up again, but others in many ways have accompanied me on my journey from daughter to bride.
Over the years, I’ve devoured books. Books on the saints. Books on Scripture. Books on what it means to be a Catholic woman. Not to mention all the fiction I’ve read since my childhood that, while not Catholic, has still formed my understanding of what good relationships look like and how God can speak into our life, if only we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. (Maybe I’ll make a separate list of these books in the future.) These stories and works of wisdom have helped root me in my identity as a beloved daughter of God while preparing me for the vocation God has so generously invited me into.
It’s impossible to list all the books that have led me to where I am today. In fact, the list was too long for one article. So, here is Part 1, which includes books that best helped me discern my vocation and deepen my trust in God.
“Story of a Soul” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
It would be impossible to start this list without St. Thérèse. At my baptism, this sister in heaven claimed me when my parents gave me the name Ava Thérèse. Through my teen and college years, she made her presence known through clearly (and not-so-clearly) answered prayers from novenas. Her intercession helped open my heart beyond my desire for marriage and understand that discernment requires an abandonment to Christ and trust in his love.
There are few saints with more works about her life and spirituality. But as much as I love all the rest (specifically a book by Venerable Fulton Sheen that first helped me understand what my saintly sis was all about, as well as the plays, poems and prayers she wrote), it’s her personal story that has been the one I return to time and again. Her biography shows Thérèse wrestling with her desire for her vocation — her eagerness to join the convent on her timeline and the sorrow she felt when being told “not yet.” In my early-mid 20s especially, this part of her story lept out to me, as I’m sure it would to many other women discerning and desiring their vocation. It took a little nun in France to help me understand that I needed to let go of the reins and entrust my vocation to God. And while I did it imperfectly, Our Lord has affirmed my attempts to trust in him by giving me the greatest sign of his plan for me — allowing me to get married on my patroness’ feast day.
“33 Days to Merciful Love” by Father Michael Gaitley
As mentioned, there are too many books about Thérèse to list, but this do-it-yourself-retreat by Father Michael Gaitley is one that deepened my trust in God’s plan for my vocation when I thought I had it figured out. This book prepares readers for a consecration to Divine Mercy through the lens of Thérèse’s spirituality. But it was a reflection about the trust of Abraham that helped me the most.
One evening in college while praying in the adoration chapel at my home parish, I was struck by this fact: Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, because he believed God would raise his son from the dead. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, Abraham “hoped against hope” (4:18). And it struck me: If Abraham believed God could raise his son from the dead, how much easier it should be for me to trust in God’s plan for me. I began to use the phrase “hoping against hope” as the foundation of my prayer for my vocation and that God would send me a good man to be my husband. And it truly felt like I was hoping against hope, as it always felt like the best men were already dating other women or were in seminary. But, after many years of growing in trust, that hope has found the answer to its prayer.
“Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves us” by Father Wilfrid Stinissen
When I moved after college, my dad gave me this book. It had been very influential in his life in helping him understand God’s will for us and how that shapes our understanding of trust in the Lord. And I can eagerly recommend it for the same reason.
Here’s a taste of the book: “The most important thing is that we believe it is he (God) who is writing the book of our lives and that we allow him to write it. We do not need to understand completely what he is writing. … The essential thing is to know that God means something with all that happens and to live in such openness and wakefulness that he can give us insight into the meaning when he wills.” Amen!
“The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis
This one falls both into the category of spirituality and fiction, but it has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I go into detail about “The Great Divorce” in another article, I’ll say this: Lewis’ masterpiece calls you out on your sins. It calls you out on the ways you love things more than God and want your own will more than his. But, it also encourages you to step out in faith and learn to see that vice can be overcome, and that God honors even the smallest act of trust we can give him.
“The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right” by Emily Stimpson (Chapman)
For years I read and bought many books about being single as a Catholic woman. And while they all had something good to offer me, most seemed to speak more about how to live chastity and date well during this season. But as someone who wasn’t dating at all, well, I felt out of the loop. That is, until I found this book.
Much of the information wasn’t new to me — advice on how to find joy in your single years and live them with purpose — but for the first time, I felt like I was hearing advice from someone whose story felt similar to mine. In the book, Emily doesn’t mince words about how sucky being single can be. But then she gives you a hug and says, “You’re not alone. These can be beautiful years.” If that sounds like something you need to hear, don’t miss this book.
“True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort and “Totus Tuus: A Consecration to Jesus through Mary with Saint John Paul II” by Father Brian McMaster
If you haven’t yet consecrated yourself to Jesus through Mary, this is your sign! But really, it’s more than just a popular devotion. Marian consecration is a way to personally invite Mary into your life. And if there is anyone who understands what it means to trust God when things don’t make sense or seem impossible, it would be Mary. Her fiat changed the course of history, and she said it without having all the answers.
While there are many books out there, the two that have been most beneficial to me in cultivating this relationship with Mary — and, therefore, her son — has been the original work by St. Louis de Montfort, “True Devotion to Mary,” and a more recent version, “Totus Tuus: A Consecration to Jesus through Mary with Saint John Paul II,” by Father Brian McMaster. “Totus Tuus” is a good introduction if you are worried about being overwhelmed, but I encourage everyone to use “True Devotion to Mary” at some point when renewing the consecration.
“Letters to Myself from the End of the World” by Emily Stimpson Chapman
“If you could talk to your younger self, what would you tell her?” That’s what Emily Stimpson Chapman did in this book. Once again, I felt she was talking directly to me about the struggles and joys I, too, experienced — about my faults and insecurities and social media usage, along with my hopes and gifts and the truths I knew in the depth of my heart.
As someone who flies through books, I had to force myself to slow down with this one — not because it’s dense like other spiritual treatises, but because every word was worth savoring. Written for 21st-century Catholic women — and men, but many of the letters are about body image, motherhood, infertility and other women-related topics — I can’t recommend it enough. Like others before it, this book reminded me that God’s timing is best and that his plan, not mine, will make me a saint. Yeah, I really needed that last kick in the pants.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I go deeper into books that were specifically beneficial during the season of dating and engagement and into marriage.