Religious book: Living Priesthood (1977), by Michael Hollings. A Catholic priest living in Southall in a vibrant multicultural parish at a time of major social change describes his ministry. The presbytery is an open house and the style of priesthood a radical following of Jesus Christ, sharing life in all its rawness.
Non-religious book: Who Are We Now?: Christian Humanism and the Global Market from Hegel to Heaney (1997), by Nicholas Boyle. This isn’t an explicitly religious book, in spite of the title, but a remarkable telling of the intellectual, social, and economic story of the modern world (modern as it was towards the end of the twentieth century), written by a Catholic Germanist from the University of Cambridge. Major themes are the impact of Marx’s and Nietzsche’s resentment on contemporary culture and the question of whether we are best thought of as consumers or citizens.
Religious book: An Experience of Celibacy (1982), by Keith Clark. A Capuchin friar speaks very simply and honestly about what it has been like for him to live a vowed celibate life over several decades. He is frank about both the struggles he and others have had, and the benefits he has found in his experience of such a life.
Non-religious book: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), by Walter M. Miller Jr. The story of a post nuclear war religious order committed to the preservation of the best of the earlier civilization. Reading it as a teenager searching for my vocation it spoke to me about a life dedicated to handing on in the present what is still valid from an often discredited past.
Religious book: Teilhard de Chardin’s small volume on spirituality, Le Milieu Divin (1957), mattered because it spoke of the Christian meaning of human work. More was involved than good intentions or making a decent contribution. Work had a ’resurrection’ significance which the then religious culture scarcely supposed or imagined.
Non-religious book: George Orwell’s essays as a whole took delight in and were at the same time perceptively critical of English – or British – culture. It seemed that to love and to be critical made up a fine pairing, full of unexpected hope. Moreover, Orwell’s writing style was carefully paired down – a ‘voice’ at one with the writing.
Religious book: Ever since the novitiate, I have taken a copy of Call to Love (1996), by Anthony De Mello, wherever I have gone. These thirty short meditations have challenged me to live in a spirit of indifference so that I am ready to respond to God’s call. They have never lost their freshness.
Non-religious book: My favourite novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, which follows the lives of seven generations of the same family in the village of Macondo. Its magical realism kindled my imagination as a young boy, bringing a forgotten corner of Colombia to life in my mind.
Religious book: Gilead (2004), by Marilynne Robinson. It’s a strange novel, virtually plotless: a meditative review of the life of a Protestant pastor. John Ames is not without heartache, but: ‘Wherever you turn your eye, the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except the willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?'
Non-religious book: And There Was Light (1985), by Jacques Lusseyran. Lusseyran was a French philosopher, accidentally blinded at the age of eight. He joined the Resistance, lived through Buchenwald: ‘When you said to me: "Tell me the story of your life”, I was not eager to begin. But when you added, "What I care most about is learning your reasons for loving life”, then I became eager; for that was a real subject’.
Religious book: In Search of the Beyond (1975), by Carlo Carretto. As a ‘Little Brother’ of Charles de Foucauld, the author writes passionately about how his prayer life takes him in his faith journey into ‘the Beyond’. I picked it up from my mother’s reading pile when she was recovering from illness and found it spoke directly to me.
Non-religious book: Journey to the East (1932), by Hermann Hesse. On my own journey, this somewhat pre-Christian tale of the subversive leadership of Leo on a secular type of pilgrimage chimed with my questioning of authority figures of the day.
Religious book: Sadhana, A Way to God (1978), by Anthony DeMello. An Indian Jesuit draws from Ignatian contemplation and practices in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions to offer ways of praying that involve the whole person. It offers creative ways for us to explore how God communicates to us through our experience.
Non-religious Book: Full Tilt (1965), by Dervla Murphy. The author tells the story of her journey by bicycle from her home in Dublin to Delhi. Based on her diaries, the book communicates the thrill of an unpredictable and epic journey. It was one of the inspirations for me to take to the road on a bicycle.
Religious book: Spiritual Diary, by St Ignatius of Loyola. The original Spanish version first published in Monumenta Historia Societatis Iesu in 1934 - I discovered it in 1955, while studying philosophy as a Jesuit scholastic, and it revealed Ignatius in a new light: a man receiving enormous mystical gifts, while very human. It called out to be translated.
Non-religious book: The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), by Lord Lytton. This was the first “big” book, borrowed from the local library. I read avidly as a teenager - the richness of vocabulary, the epic scope, all carried me along. Now all I can remember is the author and the title, but at the time it opened up a new world.
Religious book: Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity (1976), by Karl Rahner. A highly intelligent and quite superb exposition of Catholicism which articulates the complexity, beauty, and profound spirituality of the human person. His attempt at describing implicit faith rather than confessional identity is intellectually and spiritually enriching even if it is somewhat overambitious.
Non-Religious book: The Glass Bead Game (1943), by Hermann Hesse. Set in the future and after a terrible war, Hesse presents a cadre of men dedicated to the pursuit of peace and progress through mental exercises or games. These are allied to the Spiritual Exercises, although the monastic group eschews institutional religion. Hesse’s articulation of the interplay between complex and flawed human characters and different ways of life with their nuanced and subtle relations is really quite superb.
Religious book: Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), by John Henry Newman came when I had been pondering becoming a Roman Catholic in my first year at university, doubting the sacraments in the Anglican Church, and already considering a priestly vocation. Newman's firm principles and objectivity clinched it for me. Life of a Jesuit followed on eventually.
Non-religious book: I owe to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, studied in my degree, my love of poetry and the English language which has stayed with me. I am almost 90.
Religious book: Alone and on Foot: Ignatius of Loyola (2009), by Brian Grogan SJ. This is a brief and reflective biography of Ignatius of Loyola. Based on the comprehensive work of the Basque Medieval scholar Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras. Brian Grogan invites us to plunge into the spiritual and historical world in which Ignatius progressively reconfigures his life to form and lead the Society of Jesus.
Non-religious book: Deep Rivers (2005), by José María Arguedas. This novel is an ideal access point to the culture and natural scenery of Peru. It follows the life of Ernesto, a teenager of a middle-class family in an Andean valley. At the threshold of Quechua and Spanish worlds, Ernesto encounters the injustices inflicted upon the native populations and his desire to reject his privilege.
Religious book: Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense (1977), by W H Vanstone. Examining some of the signs by which we know that somebody really loves us, such as lack of coercion, total generosity, and vulnerability, Vanstone then asks: “If we expect and experience this from each other, do we expect less from God?” The question was transformational for me.
Non-religious book: The Wandering Scholars (1927), by Helen Waddell. Initially intended as the preface to Helen Waddell’s “Medieval Latin Lyrics”, this book introduced me to the extraordinary world of early Medieval Europe in all its complexity and richness, caught up in the strengths and weaknesses of the Church. But much more importantly, it introduced me to humane scholarship at its best, showing me how careful and detailed scholarship can enrich our understanding of who we are.
Religious book: Henry Morse: Priest of the Plague (1957), Philip Caraman. This story, of an English Jesuit ministering around Holborn and St Giles’ during the Plague in the seventeenth century, inspires me greatly. Placing himself in danger to minister to the poorest of the city at a time of persecution of Catholics, especially Jesuits, has always given me great hope and consolation.
Non-religious book: London: The Biography (2000), by Peter Ackroyd. For me this wonderful personal account of the story of London through the ages captures the authentic spirit of the city through the lens of vivid historical imagination. The sense of the soil, the underground life, the diverse people, and drama of the city throughout the ages really help me to ground myself in ministry in this wonderful city.
Religious Book: The God of Surprises (1985), by Gerard W. Hughes SJ. It may be the title as much as the contents of this book that have stayed with me since first reading it. In the surprises of my life, I find God at work within me. That discovery is also helpful when I talk to others about their own inner journey.
Non-religious book: An Atlas of Stella Spectra (1943), by William W. Morgan, Philip C. Keenan, and Edith Kellman. I am an astronomer, so this is not such a strange book to choose. It shows in beautiful black & white prints the detailed “rainbows” of stars from the very hot to the very cool, and from the most to the least luminous. What a wonderful journey through the heavens!
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