A Christian ought to daily nourish his spirit with theology or the good example of the saints. The Bible accomplishes both admirably; yet, it can sometimes strike one as too abstract or its familiarity blocks us from receiving new insights. This is where spiritual books are an enormous help.
Below, I have included three recommendations and write a little about what makes them unique. Hopefully, one or more of these will make your reading list in the near future.
1) Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
This is probably the most prosaic version of the world’s end I have ever encountered. Written prior to WWI, Benson actually predicted that war and posits that the world will end in the early 21st century. Readers of the Apocalypse know that there shall be widespread irreligion at the end of the world: the religious shall be few and far between, and God’s punishments will cause the impenitent to curse God rather than amend their lives. What is the primary cause for the world ending around the beginning of the 21st century? The rise of communism and the culture of death.
One cannot get more prosaic than that! Creating a happy life of material prosperity on earth trumps seeking eternal things. Some secularists in the book practice a “religion of Man,” which has many striking similarities to Buddhism. Kudos to Benson for defending the dignity of these persons’ belief even though he shows them all to be deceived. Their pre-eminent fault is a hatred of suffering which leads them to condone suicide and euthanasia. As we can see in contemporary times, Benson proved very prophetic in predicting this proclivity; though, we do not have mandatory euthanasia for the sick and suffering yet.
I read this book during the presidential campaign, and I could not help but connect Bernie Sanders to the Anti-Christ of this book, Felsenburgh, since both are senators from Vermont. But, this is hardly fair, as the only other connection the two have besides that lies in them both being communists. Felsenburgh has such great charisma that he prevents an imminent war between Asia and Europe, and the people enthusiastically declare him leader of the world.
The genius of this work extends also to the struggle of faith. The hero of this book, Fr. Percy, undergoes a great struggle with his faith. One feels how personally the author himself experienced the struggle. On the downside, Benson’s authoritarian, ultramontanist stance might not appeal to some readers.
2) The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain stands as the most significant modern response to the theodicy. Others may have done it better, but no 20th century response has been as widely read. And, this book is the perfect place for anyone who wishes to begin to understand the answer to the mystery of evil. (I term it a mystery, because that God permits certain evils will always boggle the human mind.) One should also read Peter Kreeft’s work on the subject and the work of the two theological giants: St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The most important thing to take from C. S. Lewis’s writings is that one must know what a human being is before one undertakes to answer the theodicy. Most people who say the existence of evil proves that an all-good, omnipotent, and omniscient God does not exist have an overly naturalistic view of man. Is man A) a being with reason and free tainted by a fall from original grace or B) an intelligent ape? If B, then the problem of pain has some validity, because animals cannot be said morally to deserve pain. (Lewis has a very interesting chapter on the question of animal pain, which is something most theologians don’t treat.) If A, then there might be reasonable and salutary reasons for pain to exist.
I put the question too briefly: one really needs to immerse themselves in Lewis’s arguments.
3) Christian Self-Mastery by Fr. Basil Maturin
A fascinating similarity exists between all three authors here: all were part of the Church of England. Father Benson and Father Maturin left the Anglican ministry to become Catholic priests, while Lewis was born into the Anglican communion, lost his faith for a time, and them returned to the faith of his youth. Fr. Maturin appears to have led the interesting life of a missionary. His last moments were spent on the torpedoed Lusitania. He refused to enter the life boats while there were still passengers onboard. He died hearing confessions and leading other men who could not find place on the life boats in prayer. Such a man may well be considered an authority on the question of Christian self-mastery!
Maturin’s book combines both understanding of the fallen condition of man with the encouragement than people can overcome this with the help of grace. The purpose of the book is less to give specific advice about how to overcome vicious cycles than to encourage those who feel ensnared in their sins. His main points are as follows:
- Man is inherently sinful.
- Victory over vice takes perseverance over a long time.
- God’s grace is necessary.
- God is very willing to forgive the penitent.
- The passions cannot be simply suppressed: they must be channels to love of God and neighbor.
- Again, persevere!
I cannot imagine a more perfect book for those who feel depressed in their struggle for virtue and purity of heart.