As I wrote in my column about books for young readers, books really do make thoughtful and lasting gifts at Christmastime. With the variety of Catholic books on abundant topics available at Catholic booksellers, it’s easy to find something for everyone.
As a starting point, here are just a few recommendations of some recent releases that would make great gifts for the friends in your life:
*What does it mean to be a friend, to have a friend? What is spiritual friendship? Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship by Mary DeTurris Poust, explores this topic in a worthwhile mix of history, personal memoir and reflection on the nature of spiritual friendship.
My favorite chapter is “Kindred Spirits: Friendships Come in All Forms” about friendships within the family. Poust shares her poignant experience of the deep friendship she shared with her mother, who died when her daughter was a young adult. The ways family members, from spouses to siblings, can be friends to each other, is explored deeply and well here.
I so enjoyed learning more about the spiritual friendship from the famous—St. Francis de Sales & St. Jane Frances de Chantal—to the brotherly—Pope Benedict XVI and his brother, a German priest, and many others.
At the end of each chapter, there are reflection questions—good for discussion or just personal reflection—and a meditation on the chapter’s themes.
What I like best about Walking Together is that it shows how our closest, deepest friendships are meant to bring us closer together and closer to God, and practical ways to make this happen in our friendships.
*In Travelers Along the Way: The Men and Women Who Shaped My Life by Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, writes about many of his different spiritual friends. This book is like a “who’s who” of Catholicism, from mini-biographies of saints and blessed, the famous and the obscure, in fascinating color. Each chapter is a little gem of anecdotes and memories of the particular fellow “traveler,” from Cardinal Cooke to Groeschel’s secretary.
The prolific Fr. Groeschel is easy to read (in the best sense of the word); he’s such an excellent writer that he makes it look easy to write in a conversational, relational style. Travelers Along the Way puts that great style to good use, as you can easily pick up and read one “traveler’s” story.
It’s hard to select favorites from the dozens of “travelers”, but I especially enjoyed the laugh-out-loud chapter on his fellow friar Fr. Innocent; and the touching story of Groeschel’s long friendship with Mother Teresa.
Groeschel writes, “Part of the reason for writing this book was to suggest, dear reader, that you spend some time examining your own journey and recalling the fellow travelers you have encountered along the road of life. I believe it can be very profitable to meditate on how their presence has changed you and, perhaps, brought you a little closer to God.”
*For the fiction reader on your list, a great new novel with wide appeal is Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by C.S. Lewis expert David C. Downing.
I was delighted by this novel , in which C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams are characters in WW II era England who help the two engaging protagonists “solve” a mystery about Arthurian legend. Downing expertly weaves actual quotes from the English writers into the dialogue; I say expertly because I didn’t know that fact until after I finished the novel—the dialogue is very natural & the adventure fast-paced.
There’s also a very cool website to go with the book: www.lookingfortheking.com.
*Heart Sounds by Janice Steinhagen and John Howland, M.D., (a regional director of the Catholic Medical Association) presents first-person accounts of 12 doctors. Each professional—from a second-year medical student to decades-practicing doctors -- tells the story of his or her vocation to health care, intertwined with a spiritual journey of faith. Heart Sounds is wonderful, edifying reading that would be of interest to many in the health care field or curious about it.
*St. Francis famously created the Christmas tradition of a crèche, and Franciscan Christmas, by Kathleen M. Carroll, is a very—I don’t know another way to say it--Franciscan reflection on this spiritual tradition. This small and beautifully sized volume is organized as one chapter for each element in a Nativity set—Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and so on. Throughout are interwoven stories and thoughts from St. Francis’ life, Scripture and Carroll’s own colorful life. This book would make a great gift for Christmastime reading, especially for those with love their Fontanini set or who collect crèche sets.