Q: Dan, now that you mention technical books on spiritual theology… I’m wondering what would be your top 10 list of books in that area. I’m especially interested in books that would be helpful for a priest that would like to engage more seriously in spiritual direction, or books that you would recommend to a seminarian or for a seminary course in the area of spiritual direction. I would appreciate your input.
A: Dear friend, beyond my book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, here’s my top ten list in order of priority. The top two are must-reads though much of this list should be read by anyone who takes the care of souls seriously. With respect to books three through five, these are in-depth and thorough treatments of ascetical and mystical theology (seminary level).
In my opinion, if a would-be director is not familiar with the content in the first three books they should pause their spiritual direction practice and dig in. Beyond these books, the rest are great resources in the areas of prayer, discernment, holiness, and spiritual direction. As well, anyone seeking to better know, love, and serve God would be blessed by all of these works, particularly books three through ten.
- Through Wind and Waves – On Being a Spiritual Guide by Fr. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal is only the second book to make my list of must-reads for spiritual directors. Fr. Carvajal has a deep love for and understanding of souls and how to help them deepen their relationship with Christ.
- Guidance in Spiritual Direction by Fr. Charles Hugo Doyle: This book is specifically written for clergy and very clearly outlines the necessary perspectives in insights for a priest looking to provide sound spiritual direction. Though it is written for priests, it will also be very helpful for anyone who provides spiritual direction.
- The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange: This is a classic and is, in my opinion, the most thorough of all systematic treatments of the topic of mystical and ascetical theology.
- The Spiritual Life by Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey covers similar ground as The Three Ages but in a way that is unique enough to provide specific insights into mystical and ascetical theology. This book is thick but only about half the size of The Three Ages.
- Spiritual Theology by Fr. Jordan Aumann, also covers much of the ground of The Three Ages and The Spiritual Life, Fr. Aumann provides the best summary of the systematic stages of prayer according to the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila that I have ever encountered. Fr. Aumann is comparatively direct and concise. The one area that Fr. Aumann neglects to cover is the important teachings on the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways.
- Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher is a very practical and insightful guide to St. Ignatius rules of discernment.
- The Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay will help the reader gain proper perspectives on prayer and avoid common misdirection and misinterpretation of Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
- The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin is a delightful treatment of the three ways through the lives and insights of the saints.
- Seeking Spiritual Direction by Fr. Thomas Dubay is a helpful summary of important thoughts about spiritual direction along with a long list of Q&As that will help any reader better understand common issues dealt with in spiritual direction.
- Anything by St. Teresa of Avila – particularly The Interior Castle, or St. John of the Cross
PS: Regarding common modern issues with misdirection in prayer, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote this “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.”