The following is part of an ongoing series by Dr. Norman McCrummen. We’ll be publishing another one of his reasons every week, so stay tuned! Read previous installments: Introduction – First Reason – Second Reason – Third Reason – Fourth Reason – Fifth Reason – Sixth Reason – Seventh Reason – Eighth Reason
I can’t address the ninth reason without first thanking God for the gift of loving to read, for it was through reading that I also found a reason to cross the Tiber.
History and biographies have been great loves for as long as I can remember. Each preceded my love for theology. But God, the subject of theology, had my attention from earliest memory in the stories I heard at home and in Sunday School. It wasn’t difficult to find Him later in biographies of distant figures as well as those who lived in my lifetime. Virtually everyone who thinks beyond the necessities of life will give thought to God’s existence and attributes, perhaps but briefly, but the thought will inevitably surface. I suspect that even those persons who say they’ve given very little thought as to whether God exists have given more than they’re willing to admit. (Oh, Norman, how would you know that? I know because God created every human being for Himself, and to every person He’s given a longing which He alone can satisfy.)
Putting aside history and biographies briefly, the first novel where I found God behind the script was Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Tolstoy was not Catholic. He was Russian Orthodox, but Orthodoxy was as removed as Catholicism from my experience as a boy; nevertheless, Orthodoxy was (to me) more than a first cousin to Catholicism, maybe a double first cousin. I was fifteen when I first read War and Peace. I didn’t think at the time that the author’s intent was to write a book focused on God and His Church, but it was obvious that Tolstoy’s characters were engaged with God in the complexities of their lives. I was later to learn that Tolstoy vacillated for decades between loving Orthodoxy and hating it, struggling all the while over the divine nature of Christ while loving the man Jesus. So strong and mysterious was the reality of God to Tolstoy that he wasn’t able to write such a monumental work without bringing his ever-changing but God-centered faith into it. When reading War and Peace I didn’t want to do anything else. The characters were as real as the people with whom I lived. I was especially moved by Tolstoy’s treatment of Prince Andrei’s life and death and began to consider the experience of dying in a more reverent light. I was not too young to think seriously on what lay beyond our mortality. The novel also kindled a flame of love for Russia which has never dimmed. I have recently begun reading the novel for the third time.
A second novel which brought God to the forefront was Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, a convert to Catholicism. I was thirty-two when I plunged into his beautifully written work. Page by page I found myself increasingly intrigued by the hold Catholicism had on each member of the Marchmain family until the end of the story when Lord Marchmain — who had long lived outside the Church — made his silent and final confession by signing himself with the Cross. Having witnessed that long-prayed-for-but-unexpected act of faith, Lord Marchmain’s daughter, Julia, who herself had lived outside the Church’s boundaries, found that she could not accept the proposal from the man she loved, Charles Ryder, because he was a non-believer. (“I can’t shut myself out from His mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without Him … to set up a rival good to God’s.”) Julia’s hope was to make atonement by rejecting a proposal that would bring satisfaction in some areas of her life, but in the deepest parts of her soul would eventually bring despair. I remember being fascinated by Julia’s mother’s description of Catholicism’s beauty, an idea that had never crossed my mind though I had long admired the genius of Catholic architects, painters, and sculptors. I had judged their majestic works as an expression of faith, and correctly so; but until I read Lady Marchmain’s words I had never considered that Catholicism itself contained an innate beauty, a beauty that emanates from truth.
Besides the Bible, the book with the greatest influence on my thinking remains Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Written by a monk in the early fifteenth century, it is a combination of proverbs, a guide to Christian living, a dialogue between Christ and the reader, and a theology of the Eucharist. Thomas expresses the Catholic Faith distilled and pure, the Christian Faith at its essence. Not surprisingly, Thomas depends heavily on Scripture to make his multiple points. It’s hard to imagine any Christian reading it thoughtfully without considering the benefits of a purer and more charitable life.
Below is a listing of books which have deepened my understanding of God’s will and purposes.
The Fathers of the Church: combined edition of the Fathers of the Greek Church and the Latin Church. Hans Van Campenhausen
The Teachings of the Church Fathers. John R. Willis, S.J.
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.
Ecclesiastical History. Venerable Bede
Confessions. Saint Augustine, edited by Tom Gil
The City of God. Saint Augustine, translated by Marcus Dods, D.D., with an introduction by Thomas Merton
The Apostolic Fathers. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmes
The Way of the Mystics. John Michael Talbot and Steve Rabey
Church Fathers. Benedict XVI
The Excellent Empire. Jaroslav Pelikan
The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Roger E. Olson
I Am with You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ. Father Benedict Groeschel
History of the Catholic Church. James Hitchcock
Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000 Year History. H.W. Crocker III
Catholic Christianity. Peter J. Kreeft
The Mass of the Early Christians. Mike Aquilina
Faith of Our Fathers: Why the Early Christians Still Matter and Always Will. Mike Aquilina
Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy. Edited by B.G. Green
Orthodoxy. G.K. Chesterton
The Everlasting Man. G.K. Chesterton
Saint Thomas Aquinas. G.K. Chesterton
Christ, the Life of the Soul. Blessed Columba Marmion
Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. Edited by Ralph McInerny
Summa Theologiae. Thomas Aquinas
The Way of Perfection. Saint Teresa of Avila
Interior Castle. Saint Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul. Cathleen Medwick
Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition. Wendy M. Wright
Finding God’s Will for You. Saint Francis de Sales
Introduction to the Devout Life. Saint Francis de Sales
Saint Teresa of Jesus and Other Essays. E. Allison Peers
Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi. Donald Spoto
Francis of Assisi: The Wandering Years. Anthony Mockler
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis. Raphael Brown
Francis of Assisi: the Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint. Andre Vauchez
We Were with Saint Francis: As Told by His First Companions. Edizoni Porziuncola
The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Nesta de Robeck
The Saint and the Sultan. Paul Moses
The Dark Night of the Soul. Saint John of the Cross
The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, Otilio Rodriguez
John of the Cross: Doctor of Light and Love. Kieran Kavanaugh
Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich
The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence
The Steps of Humility. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, translated by George B. Burch
Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. Jeanne Guyon
Thomas More. Richard Marias
Apologia Pro Vita Sua. John Henry Cardinal Newman
Newman and His Contemporaries. Edward Short
Newman to Converts. Stanley L. Jaki
John Henry Newman. Ian Ker
The Dialogue. Catherine of Siena
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Translated by Anthony Mottola
The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Marian Press
The Life of Faustina Kowalska. Sister Sophia Michalento
The Story of a Soul. Saint Therese of Lisieux, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D.
Complete Spiritual Doctrine of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Francois Jamart
Padre Pio: Man of Hope. Renzo Allegri
Padre Pio Under Investigation. Francesco Castelli
Padre Pio: the Stigmatist. Charles Mortimer Carty
Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography. Kathryn Spink
Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait. Leo Maasburg
Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire. Joseph Langford
Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.” Edited with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.
Transformation in Christ. Dietrich von Hildebrand
Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Saint John Paul II
Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way. Saint John Paul II
Theology of the Body. Saint John Paul II
Man and Woman He Created Them. Saint John Paul II
In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. Benedict XVI
Questions and Answers. Benedict XVI
Saved in Hope. Benedict XVI
Saint Paul the Apostle. Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth. Benedict XVI
Holy Men and Women. Benedict XVI
Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam. Benedict XVI
Truth and Tolerance. Benedict XVI
Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio. Francesca Ambrogettie and Sergio Rubin
Pope Francis. Matthew E. Bunson.
Pope Francis in His Own Words. Edited by Julie Schwietert Collazo and Lisa Rogak
The Name of God is Mercy. Pope Francis.
The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals. Thomas Merton
No Man is an Island. Thomas Merton
The Seven Story Mountain. Thomas Merton
The Wisdom of the Desert. Thomas Merton
On Being Catholic. Thomas Howard
The Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard. Selected by Vivian W. Dudro
My Life with the Saints. James Martin, S.J.
The Way of the Mystics. John Michael Talbot
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. Brant Pitre
The Courage to Be Catholic. George Weigel
Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. George Weigel
A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. Dave Armstrong
The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. Paul Elie
The Duty of Delight. Dorothy Day, her diaries
Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. Norris J. Chumley
Left to Tell. Immaculee Ilibagize
The above list is merely a beginning. There are hundreds of others that any student of theology and history could recommend.
The greatest influence on me by far has been the Bible. First, the King James Version, which I’ll always be thankful was the Bible from which I was required in childhood to memorize certain passages and psalms. As an English translation it has no equal for beauty and majesty of language. Other translations of influence have been the New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Version (though its struggle to use inclusive language is often awkward and unnecessary), and the New American Bible. While much can be gained through extensive study of theology and history, nothing comes close to the study of God’s Word. It is the source from which theology springs and the compass which has guided decision-making for millenia. Until the end of time the Bible will shape the thinking and actions of hundreds of millions of people. For any seeker of truth, it is indispensable.