Once I felt confident that God was calling me to marriage, and once the waiting game of “who” my husband would be was mostly behind me, I needed a new selection of books. While those listed in Part 1 helped form my relationship with God — to find my identity as a daughter of the Father as I waited for him to reveal my vocation, and to trust his plan and his timing — this selection of books has been beneficial while actively preparing to enter the Sacrament of Marriage.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to wait to be dating someone or engaged or even married to read these books. Many have spiritual gems that can help heal our misguided views about our sexuality, the gift of marriage, and what matters most when it comes to our vocations.
So, here is Part 2 of the books that helped guide me toward my vocation, specifically those that accompanied me during the years of dating, engagement and into marriage.
“Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, and Gender” by Christopher West
In the early months of my relationship with Dominic, someone in a Catholic Facebook group recommended an episode from the “Ask Christopher West” podcast. Since then, I have listened to nearly every episode, gleaning so much truth from what Christopher West and his wife, Wendy, have to share about what Pope St. John Paul shared in his teaching about the theology of the body. While John Paul’s actual work on the subject is beautiful, it’s pretty dense, but Christopher West has become the expert on the subject, breaking it down for average readers.
While I thought I had a healthy understanding of human sexuality and God’s design for it, my perspective has been expanded and enriched through the podcast. “Theology of the Body for Beginners” is a comprehensive — but not intimidating — introduction to the topic. While I may never meet Christopher and Wendy in person, I can’t express enough my thanks for what their ministry has done for me and Dominic, and we can’t wait to live out the teaching of theology of the body more thoroughly as we enter into marriage.
“Three to Get Married” by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
If “The Great Divorce” is my favorite book about holiness, this is probably my favorite work about vocation. Prior to engagement, a few friends recommended some books to Dominic and me. “Three to Get Married” was at the top of their list, and within a week of being engaged, we each had a copy. For months, we read a chapter each week during our young adult adoration hour, and most weekends we would find time to discuss what had stood out to us. After the first page, I knew I needed to put aside my preference for leaving pages unscathed and took out a pen to begin underlining. And I don’t think I’ve marked up a book as much as this one since it was required in high school English classes. It’s that rich!
While I, too, recommend this to anyone who is dating or engaged or thinking about marriage, I’ve also encouraged priests to read it to better understand the vocation of marriage so that they can better direct those under their care. Venerable Fulton Sheen was a master with language, and while some find it hard to follow his style, here’s a tip: Find one of his videos on YouTube so you can hear the cadence of his speech; then, when you pick up the book, you will be able to hear his voice as you read and better follow the flow of his thoughts.
In this classic, Sheen — a celibate priest — dives into the beauty of the sexual union between a husband and wife, uncovering the spiritual elements that our culture would prefer to ignore and scoff at. However, he — a man who likely will one day be declared a saint — did not view marriage as base; he saw it worthy of elevating it from the cultural opinion to what it could be, giving people a sacred lens with which to view the sacrament of marriage — an image of the Trinity, the way in which most Catholics are invited to most intimately experience God’s love while on this side of heaven. Sisters, no matter your current state in life, add this book to your cart ASAP and let this brilliant orator and writer reveal to you what God sees in the heart of marriage.
“Created for Love: Reflections for the Catholic Bride-to-Be” by Chloe Langr
When I started at OSV four years ago, this was one of the first books that landed on my desk. While I was as single as you could get, I held on to this book with the hope that one day its contents would be applicable to my life. Soon after becoming engaged, I read the 40 reflections in order to best set the tone for what I wanted this season to be. And now, with less than 40 days to go, I’m rereading the book to check my heart — to ask myself where I’ve let details distract me from the larger picture.
The journal is broken up into four categories that focus on four qualities of the feminine heart: our receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity. Each reflection concludes with a prayer and space to journal so that you can keep God present as you journey through engagement while also creating a memento to document this season. Yet, what I love most about this book is that it reminds women that they are not just preparing for the wedding day but for the marriage that lies beyond the ceremony. For it is the daily living of those wedding vows that matter more than your cake flavor or reception decor. It’s about entering the vocation that will, God willing, make you a saint!
“The Catholic Wedding Planner” from Our Sunday Visitor
If you are the type of gal who likes lists and to be told exactly what needs to happen, this Catholic wedding planner is a must-have! It has all the essential details that a secular wedding planner would have — timelines, a gift log, how to work with vendors, etc. — but it also offers an authentic Catholic perspective of how to incorporate your faith into the details. The Mass is truly the center of the celebration, and this planner does not shy away from that. But it also offers suggestions about how to word the invitations to highlight the sacrament as well as what to include in a Mass program.
Similar to “Created for Love,” this planner also includes reflections — written around the passage from 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind” — with space for reflection. Since women are usually more excited about the details of the day, I found it very beneficial to read these reflections — and much of the book — with my fiancé so he felt included in the planning. It led to a lot of good conversations about our mutual and differing expectations for the day of our wedding and our life thereafter.
“Theology of Home,” Volumes 1 and 2, by Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering
While building our registry, Dominic and I were very intentional about including Catholic decor so that we could make our home a domestic church. That idea was emphasized to me while reading the “Theology of Home” books. Not only does it encourage women to place Catholic imagery in their homes, but Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering explain the spiritual elements of home — how it is meant to be a retreat from the world and a foretaste of heaven.
While I’m still working through both volumes, one theme sticks out to me: the home is the place where saints are made. Yes, our time at Mass and adoration is crucial, but we spend most of our time at home with the people closest to us. Cultivating a space that lifts our hearts to God, that helps us feel safe and loved by our Creator, that reminds parents of their duty to their spouse and children in the light of eternity — that’s what home is about.
Also, I want to emphasize that these books are not just for married women. Cultivating a home is a gift every woman — and man — can embrace. Whether it’s for family or friends, everyone who walks into your home or apartment can experience a gift by walking into your domestic church.
“By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride” by Alice Von Hildebrand
While I could have waited to be married to start reading this book, my impatience won out. And I’m glad I didn’t wait. This list of short letters from one older woman — Alice Von Hildebrand under the name of Lily — to a young friend and new bride spoke into the joys and struggles I already experienced in dating. Here’s a few chapter titles to give you a sense: “Love is a great thing!” “Setting up house takes so much work!” “He cracks his knuckles constantly.” “He came home in a bad mood.” “I’m actually happy serving him!” “He’s been hard to live with this week.” “I asked him to forgive me.”
Every relationship has its ups and downs, because, as Mother Angelica is remembered for saying, “If it wasn’t for other people, we could all be saints.” But that is the privilege of life and love: allowing those closest to us to prune our hearts as we try to be better for them and for ourselves. Slowly but surely, if we are open to God’s grace, we can become the people — the saints! — he is calling us to be.
And that’s what each vocation is all about.