The stories we read have a particular power to shape our understanding of ourselves, of other people, of our world, and of God. The following books have been identified as significant texts and are recommended for use in adult faith formation, as described in my recent essay “Forming Adults in Faith through Fiction.”
1) Dante Aligheri, The Divine Comedy
The fourteenth century epic poem that chronicles the author’s journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, and provides some of the most profound reflections on faith, language, and love in all of literature. It will be important to choose an edition of the text that provides substantial notes in order to help readers understand the poem’s context.
2) George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest
A novel about a young French priest and his struggles to come to peace with the persistent unfruitfulness of his parish ministry. An excellent text for considering the differences between the feeling of faith and the reality of faith.
3) Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
At the beginning of the novel, protagonist Jayber Crow considers becoming a minister in order to get answers to all his questions about life and God. A Scripture professor tells Jayber that one cannot get answers, but live them out. The story follows Jayber’s patient and profound living out of possible answers on loss, community, belonging, and love.
4) Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons
A play on the life of St. Thomas More and his courage to stand by his convictions at all costs.
5) Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle provides his apologetic for acknowledging the sacredness of every life by sharing stories from his work with gang members in Los Angeles. Each vignette bears witness to the uniqueness of every human life and the heights of joy and despair that are an inevitable part of his courageous ministry of accompaniment.
6) Albert Camus, The Plague
An existentialist novel by Nobel Prize winning and atheist author Camus, this story probes the depths of human vulnerability and resilience through its consideration of a community that is ravaged by a deadly disease.
7) Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
This novel depicts the lives of a priest and bishop on mission in New Mexico. With its masterful and eloquent prose, the story provides rich consideration of mutual dependency and friendship, as well as the challenges and opportunities of inculturating the faith.
8) G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
A fantastical thriller about anarchists and a government plot to thwart their efforts. Set in a surrealist context, the novel provides incisive reflections on the human condition.
9) Myles Connelly, Mr. Blue
Written in 1928, this is the story of a young man in New York City who decides to follow literally the tenets of the Gospel. J. Blue’s decision to cast off his wealth, live in poverty, and befriend the poor echoes of the life of St. Francis recast in a modern key and raises questions as to the possible implications if more believers were to do the same.
10) Walter Csizek, With God in Russia
Jesuit priest Walter Csizek recounts his twenty-three year imprisonment in Siberia’s Russian prison camps and his dependence upon God’s love and providence in the face of constant danger and threat of death.