I can’t recall when I first began to receive books as Christmas presents, but by the age of 10 I always found several books under the tree.
After all the excitement of the morning was over, after the opening of presents, the family meal, I would go to my room and read one of my new books. It was one of my greatest joys on Christmas day. It still is.
While there are other books I may give this year, five in particular are on my list to give to friends and those I love so they can experience joy on Christmas and throughout the year.
1. Fr. Jacques Philippe, Thirsting for Prayer, Scepter Publishers
Like each of his previous six books, Thirsting for Prayer is a compact book packed with excellent guidance and practical advice from a contemporary prayer and retreat master who has a unique gift for reaching audiences of all levels.
His main point in this book: Remaining faithful to daily prayer said every day at particular times, and perseverance to this practice even in the most difficult of times, is necessary for us to grow close to the Lord; it is also what Our Lord demands of each of us.
Reading Fr. Philippe’s books is like spending time on retreat with a gentle and wise holy monk as guide. Thirsting for Prayer is no different.
2. St. Basil the Great, On Christian Ethics, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press
This clear and accessible translation of On Christian Ethics by Jacob N. Van Sickle is the perfect way to gain a greater understanding of the faith of the Church Fathers and Scripture. One of the top books on my required reading list for Christians, this is a book to be read and savored.
3. Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press
While the feats of these great ascetics recorded in this excellent translation by John Wortley are most likely beyond our reach, they still can teach us much about prayer, living the faith as demanded by Scripture, and ourselves. At the very least, the desert fathers teach us humility and what we lose when we fail to put God first.
Give Me a Word is also a perfect companion work to St. Basil’s On Christian Ethics.
4. Jean-Charles Nault, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, Ignatius Press
While it would be difficult to choose just one book on this list to give, if forced to do so I would choose The Noonday Devil.
Although sometimes thought of as sloth or laziness, acedia is better defined as a deep weariness of the soul, or sadness, that prevents us from developing a relationship with God. It takes a variety of forms, from activism to depression, and Fr. Nault, abbot of Saint-Wandrille monastery in Normandy, France, shows how this vice has seeped into every aspect of contemporary life.
This is a book, therefore, not just for Christians but for readers open to learning about what is truly wrong with the world in which we live today, and ourselves, and who seek answers about the changes we must make individually and as a civilization.
5. Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing: A Conversation with Nicolas Diat, Ignatius Press
Robert Cardinal Sarah is one of the luminaries of sound doctrine in the Catholic Church today. Named Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014, Cardinal Sarah has been unrelenting and fearless in defending the truths of the faith, even if it means he bumps heads with others.
Toward the end of God or Nothing, he makes a statement that gives us a summary of what this man is all about:
“Our life of faith most often walks in the night. The more faith has to confront trials, the stronger it becomes. Nights of faith always end with finding the little light of God.”
This is a superb introduction to the spirituality of the West African Cardinal and his strong voice of reason in our all too often unreasonable world.
If you can, give all five of these books to those on your list. They will gain a lifetime’s education in faith from them.
But if you must, choose just one and give it knowing that the gift you have given on the feast of the nativity of Our Lord is one that is worthy of honoring the great king and our God.