Friday, March 7, 2008

Some Helpful Books

As it's notoriously difficult to find reading material which is really useful and pertinent to someone discerning a vocation to consecrated virginity in the world--I think people discerning priesthood or religious life may have it easier in this regard--I though I would share some of the books which I lately have found helpful.

Virginity, by Raniero Cantalamessa. I read this book for the first time when I was nineteen, and I just loved it. This is a very warm and "human" introduction to consecrated celibacy in general, but at the same time it is also intelligent and even poetic. It does a good job of presenting virginity in an appealing way without watering down the impact of some of the underlying theology.

Virginity, by J.M. Perrin, O.P. This is an older book (c. 1955), and I don't think it's still in print. However, I would think any reasonably well-stocked Catholic library would have a copy.

This book focuses on the nature of consecrated virginity specifically as it is embraced by women. Although he certainly refers to some conditions unique to religious life, Perrin doesn't restrict the discussion to religious. He frequently remarks on the particular issues which pertain to women living some form of consecration in the world. Though the revised rite for consecration to a life of virginity was not promulgated until 1970, Perrin was obviously amenable to the idea of women living these "newer" forms of consecrated life (and I believe co-founded a secular institute for women).

The places where he describes the blessings of virginity basically functioned as spiritual reading for me, but I think I most appreciated his discussion of the challenges and dangers inherent in a consecrated life. I'm always grateful to find an honest presentation of these issues which isn't tinged with an undue pessimism.

We Look for a Kingdom: the Everyday Lives of the Early Christians, by Carl Sommer. This is a popular description of the culture in which the early Church was born. While it is not a book on consecrated life, it helped me understand how the earliest consecrated virgins would have understood their life and their vocation. I was particularly interested in the parallels that could be drawn between the Church as it existed in its first few centuries and the Church as it exists today.

Even though this was not written as a scholarly work, I think it was intended for an educated audience. Its footnotes are very good. I learned a lot from this book, and I had a lot of fun reading it. (Would that I could say the same about some of my Philosophy texts!)

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