Author (The Story of Catholics in America) and former editor for the Paulist Press, Don Brophy has created an attractive, readable compendium of books published "from the early centuries to the present" by, about, or for Catholic readers and those who are drawn to know more about the faith.
The books he has included are not always the best known. For instance, he felt moved to include the autobiography of Edith Stein, a European Jew whose life ended in a gas chamber under the Nazi regime. Stein
- middle class, educated and an atheist - came upon a copy of St. Teresa's autobiography at age thirty and became a Catholic a year later. But she did not escape Hitler's scrutiny. She was declared at Catholic martyr in 1998. Though her book,
Life in a Jewish Family, does not encompass her conversion, it can be of interest mainly for its occasional allusion to that possibility. Brophy includes it because of such hints and because the outcome of her life overshadows the pleasant events she describes with such facility, giving her martyrdom deeper meaning.
The Lord of the Rings was written by J.R.R. Tolkien, a former combatant in World War I who saw the world once again poised in potential destruction in the late 1930s. His imaginary world revealed a struggle between good and evil that was so compelling and so satisfying that the book became an icon for the hippie generation of the 1970s. Georgian Flannery O'Connor wrote bizarre stories that are often, Brophy contends, fixed on the principle of sin and redemption. Brophy believes
The Montessori Method, a rather dry explication of her teaching methodology by Italian Catholic Maria Montessori, is notable for its spiritual underpinnings. Joseph Conrad wrote
Heart of Darkness on the principle that progress is ultimately morally destructive.
The End of the Affair by "Catholic novelist" Graham Greene examines the steps that a disillusioned and morally wasted man takes towards the notion of God's existence.
Many of the offerings in Brody's collection are more conventionally recognized Catholic works, such as
Story of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux and Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales. Other writers are Pope John Paul II, Ignatius Loyola, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, names that would placate any devout reader. But he has taken pains to demonstrate that to be Catholic means also to be liberal and thoughtful, not unquestioningly ritualistic. Thus he has included writings of such activists as Helen Prejean, whose
Dead Man Walking was made into an American anti-death-penalty classic film; William Johnston, who sought a synthesis of Buddhist and Christian meditation; and Black Elk, a Native American convert to Catholicism whose autobiographical musings pay homage to his pagan religious upbringing.
If you love collections as I do, and you like to find new reading possibilities, this well-written and sensitive overview will give you many examples of spiritual material worth digging into. A nice gift for Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike.