Help is at hand: Guidebooks on the way to religious life

By Joel Schorn

VISION ASKED VOCATION MINISTERS in the U.S. and Canada to recommend some of the best books on life as a priest, religious sister, or religious brother. What follows is a list of some of the good reading they recommend.

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Vocations Series: An Inside Look, published by Saint Mary’s Press, has stories for those who have chosen marriage, priesthood, single life, life as a religious sister, and life as a religious brother. Of particular note is Brothers: An Inside Look (Saint Mary’s Press, 2002) is the story of a Roman Catholic brother, Larry Schatz, living out his call to the consecrated religious life.

Sisters Are Doing What?!! (Twenty-Third Publications, 2004) by Regina Coll tells the stories of 200 hundred years of dynamic religious women and their communities.

The National Religious Vocation Conference (nrvc.net), offers several publications on discerning a vocation to religious life and/or priesthood. Vocations Anonymous: A Handbook for Adults Discerning Priesthood and Religious Life by Kathleen Bryant, R.S.C. talks about what you need to hear—but frequently don’t know how to ask—regarding the discernment process, plus ideas for finding your way, growing in prayer, and asking the right questions.

Other recommended discernment books: Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community by Suzanne G. Farnham and others, rev. ed. (Morehouse Publishing, 2001), which draws on centuries of classic Christian literature and “the silence of prayerful listening" to show how to recognize and define God’s call, and how a faith community can be a source of spiritual, psychological, physical, and financial support; Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide for Discerning God’s Will for Your Life by Debra K. Farrington (Jossey-Bass, 2003); and Doing What Comes Naturally: Jobs, Career, and Vocation (Living the Good News, 1998) by Mary Anne Reese.

Now in a second edition, The Fifth Week (Loyola Press, 1996) is Father William J. O’Malley’s small classic on the Jesuit vocation. For a focus on the Benedictine approach to prayer, spiritual reading, obedience, community, work, and time, see Columba Stewart’s Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Orbis Books, 1998); also recommended is A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press, 1995). Downtown Monks: Sketches of God in the City (Ave Maria Press, 2000) by Albert Holtz describes the life of a Benedictine monastery that has stood in the heart of downtown Newark, New Jersey for almost 150 years.

In Midwives of the Future: American Sisters Tell Their Story (Leaven Press, 1985; available from the Loretto Community) edited by Ann Patrick Ware, 19 women talk about the costs and rewards, the joys and pains of moving from the “before" to the “after" of renewal in the wake of Vatican II.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles says of Extraordinary Lives: Thirty-Four Priests Tell Their Stories (Ave Maria Press, 1997) by Francis P. Friedl and Rex Reynolds, “Readers will find encouraging words in these personal stories of such a wide range of priests—all of whom have found great satisfaction and deep joy in the service of Christ and his church."

Christian Totality: Theology of the Consecrated Life by Basil Cole, O.P. and Paul Conner, O.P. (Alba House, 1997) presents laity, clergy, and the religious of the church with both a theology of the consecrated life and practical guidelines for living one’s religious profession faithfully flowing from the baptismal call to holiness.

Marist Father Thomas Dubay has written a number of helpful books on religious life, including And You Are Christ’s: The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life (Ignatius Press, 1987); Ecclesial Women: Towards a Theology of the Religious State (Alba House, 1970); and Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel, on Prayer (Ignatius Press, 1989).

Also noted was Reweaving Religious Life: Beyond the Liberal Model (Twenty-Third Publications, 1990) by Mary Jo Leddy.

A number of novels also came up for recommendation. The Passionate Troubadour (Forest of Peace, 2004) by Edward M. Hays is an authentic and inspiring life of Saint Francis Assisi. Lying Awake (Knopf, distributed by Random House, 2000) by Mark Salzman features a Carmelite sister, while the protagonist of Rémy Rougeau’s All We Know of Heaven (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001) is a Cistercian monk.

Not on religious life as such, but useful for religious and community life are: Twelve Keys to Prayer (Liturgical Press, 1999) by Jerome Kodell, and Armchair Mystic: Easing into Contemplative Prayer (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001) by Mark E. Thibodeaux.

As usual, several books by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister were recommended, including her recent spiritual memoir, Called to Question (Sheed & Ward, 2004) and Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light (Orbis Books, 2000). In a similar vein to Chittister’s Illuminated Life is Anselm Gruen’s Heaven Begins Within You: Wisdom from the Desert Fathers (Crossroad 1999).

New and old favorites
The following books were recommended both this year and in previous issues of VISION.

The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (Doubleday, 1999) by Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I.
In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience by James Martin, S.J. (Sheed & Ward, 2000).
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2000).
Unveiled: The Hidden Lives Of Nuns by Cheryl L. Reed (Berkley, 2004)

Joel Schorn is associate editor of VISION.

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