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Idleness is the enemy of the soul, and so monks should be occupied at some times with manual labor, and at certain times with holy reading. — Rule of St Benedict

I’ve written here on the importance of reading and study for the spiritual life. As a consequence, a few readers have asked me for a reading list, and in yesterday’s post I began to compile a few recommendations in the first topic: Jesus and the Gospels. I will continue this effort in the days and weeks ahead.

I also said how difficult it is to compile a really good list because readers are now international and educated at very different levels and from very different cultural backgrounds. However, this morning Divine Providence directed me to the large pile of books to be reviewed and one caught my eye.

The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan is a book by Fr John Hardon SJ. Published by Grotto Press. At $25.00 the price is a bit steep, but it is a nice hardback, and is definitely worth the investment as an excellent research book. It is described on the cover as “An insightful guide to more than 100 major Catholic authors and their works to acquaint you with the ideas and ideals that have sustained the Catholic Church for 2,000 years.”

So you want to dip into the old books? Buy this book. It’s exactly the reading list you asked for. After a short section on the necessary background books–the Bible, the Catechism, the documents of Vatican II–Fr Hardon has arranged the authors chronologically from “Age of Persecution” through “The Patristic Age” to “Medieval Civilization” then “Catholic Reformation” and “The Modern Age.” The writers are not only English, but span European culture as well.

Authors begin with St Ignatius of Antioch in 108 AD and go through to Frank Sheed and Hubert van Zeller. The authors are the great saints, theologians, apologists and thinkers. There are a few poets: Crashaw, Dante, Coventry Patmore, but my grumble is that he has not included more writers of drama, poetry and fiction. I am also always surprised at the lack of Catholic mainstream awareness of the English mystics of the fourteenth century. Where is Juliana of Norwich, Margery Kempe and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing?

Any directory like this is bound to have lacunae for no scholar can know everything. Nevertheless, Fr Hardon comes close. His learning was famously encyclopedic. He gives each author a couple of pages. He describes their lives,  their cultural context, their writings and then recommends some further reading. As the writers are listed chronologically you can get a sense of the flow of history and how one leads on to the next and how they influence one another.

This book is a Catholic reading list of a lifetime. I’m going to move it from my “pile of books to be reviewed then re-homed” to “pile of books to review, read, and take home.”

Go here to check out the book. In addition to the great content the book also puts you in touch with one of the most saintly and learned catechists in the modern American church. You can learn more about the life and service of Servant of God John Hardon SJ here.

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