The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Book List

While the lovely Diane and several of her friends play mahjong in the living room, I have subjected myself to a self-imposed exile in the den. Trapped here, as I am for at least four hours, I decided to use the time productively and straighten up the bookshelves that stretch half-way around the room.

I have an irritating habit of not returning books to their proper place (assuming they even have one) when I have finished with them. After a few months of this, all is in disarray and I am eventually forced to arrange the books once again so I can find them when the need arises. Adding to the challenge this presents is the ongoing acquisition of new books and the lack of shelf space to accommodate them. I'm actually running out of floor space in the den as little piles of books multiply and grow ever higher. I could, of course, buy a few more bookcases, but this suggestion was vetoed by my loving wife who oddly prefers to live in a home rather than a library. I am left with only one alternative: give away some of my books. Yes, it will be a little painful, but if I donate them to our parish library I will still be able to access them if necessary.

And so, as I make my way through the shelves, deciding each book's fate, I've come across many of the books that I found especially enjoyable. With Christmas only weeks away I thought I'd share a few of these titles with you. I offer them for your own reading pleasure, although you might want to consider some as gifts for those people in your life who might enjoy them. Or you might prefer to pass the list along to those who will be buying gifts for you. Just make sure you have enough  shelf space.

Fire of Mercy: Heart of the Word, Volume One (1996) and Volume Two (2003) by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Ignatius Press.

These two volumes of meditations cover only the first 18 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, and I await the publication of the third and final volume. Although either or both volumes would make a wonderful gift for anyone, I recommend them especially for homilists, particularly now that we have just begun Year A (Matthew's year) of the three-year liturgical cycle.

I'm not certain if Volume One is still in print, but I'm sure you can obtain a copy from on one of the comprehensive used book websites like or

Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensées, by Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press, (1993).

Many of us read Pascal's Pensées years ago because we had to. For example, I can recall wading through this seemingly unending collection of thoughts when it was assigned during my junior year of high school. Although I found parts of the book interesting, I really don't believe I was mature enough, intellectually or spiritually, to appreciate much of what Pascal had to say. As a result, I never picked it up again.

Then I came across this book by Peter Kreeft and was motivated to once again dive into Pascal. What a blessing! Kreeft's selections from Pensées are particularly well-suited to our time and his commentary is truly enlightening.

The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde, by Joseph Pearce, Ignatius Press (2004).

Reading Oscar Wilde is, for me, always a pleasure. He was a true literary genius and one of the great wits of modern times. He is also one of the most misunderstood and maligned of  men.

Joseph Pearce, whose biographies of Roy Campbell and G. K. Chesterton I have also enjoyed, has given us a clear and honest a depiction of the man and his work. As he writes in his preface, his goal is to show the reader the "Real Oscar" and to "strip away...the masks that others have placed on him since his death."

This is a wonderful book for anyone who has enjoyed Wilde or has any interest whatsoever in English literature.

The End of the Modern World, by Romano Guardini, Intercollegiate Studies Institute (1998).

Fr. Guardini, one of great theologians of the 20th century, wrote this book sixty years ago and presents us with a view of the future (our present) that is remarkably true to life.

If any book gets you thinking about our civilization and its future, this book will. You might not like, or agree with, all of Fr. Guardini's conclusions, but no intelligent person can just casually dismiss them. And I think that as Christians we can all agree that the his prescription for the ills of our world is exactly what is needed.


Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer. Thomas Dubay, S.M., Ignatius Press (2006).

This is a marvelous little book by one of the great spiritual directors, Fr. Thomas Dubay. Fr. Dubay, who died in September 2010, wrote many books during his productive life, but this is my favorite.

Written not for saints, but for all of us who want to become saints, this book is not just about deepening one's prayer life; rather, it's about true conversion, about developing a deeper and closer relationship with God. It's about becoming holy.

I recommend it for anyone and everyone.

The Possessed, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Penguin Classics.

I know what you're thinking: a Russian novel at Christmas? You've got to be kidding! Look, you don't have to read it. It's just a suggestion.

I include it because The Possessed (also called, The Devils) is perhaps the best rarely read Russian novel. I also include it because it seems so relevant to our own times, although it was written almost 150 years ago. The book is about atheists and radicals and small-town celebrities and the confusion and disruption that follow in their wake. It's largely a political novel, although for Dostoevsky politics was never "just politics". It could be either good or evil, and when it was evil it could be very evil indeed.

It's a wonderful read, and reading it will not only impress your friends but provide you with a bon mot or two for all those Christmas parties you'll be attending.

For something a little lighter, but no less interesting and rewarding, read some Jane Austen. I've been an unrepentant Janeite since I was first introduced to her and her work by Father Bernard McMahon during my senior year at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, NY. And for nearly fifty years I have been reading her novels again and again, and never tiring of them. For me every one of Austen's finely crafted novels is a delight, although my personal favorite remains Pride and Prejudice with Mansfield Park a close second.

If you're a fan of good science fiction (and there's a lot of bad science fiction out there), you should treat yourself to the work of the best writer of the genre, Gene Wolfe. I have read many of his books and among my favorites are: An Evil Guest, a supernatural thriller; Pirate Freedom, about a priest transported back in time to the age of piracy; Latro in the Mist, the story of a uniquely disabled mercenary fighting in the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century B.C.; and lastly, for the ambitious, I recommend Wolfe's masterful four-volume epic, The Book of the New Sun. All four volumes are available in a two-volume paperback edition: Shadow & Claw: Volumes 1 & 2 and  Sword & Citadel: Volumes 3 & 4.

That's enough, at least until next year. If you have any suggestions for reading this Christmas, pass them along via the "comments" section of this post.

Happy reading.

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