Good Books on Suffering for Catholics

Suffering. We all experience little sufferings on a daily basis. And sometimes, we experience great sufferings: when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, when a baby is lost, when a marriage crumbles, when a hurricane destroys one’s home, when a child falls away from the faith.

In moments of intense pain, we find ourselves confronted with the age old question: how can a loving God allow His children to suffer such pain? We ask, “Why, God? Why me? Why my child?” Or we meet friends who have fallen away from the Catholic faith because, “God let bad things happen to me.”

Fortunately, as Catholics, we have thousands of years of the human race’s most brilliant minds to look to for answers. Here are some of the books which have helped me come to terms with “The Problem of Pain,” as C. S. Lewis calls it.


To begin with a little philosophy, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius is a particularly powerful tool in dialoguing with agnostics and atheists. Boethius relies solely on natural reason and Hellenic philosophy as he explains why bad things happen to good people.

 

 

 


Historically juxtaposed to Boethius is the Book of Job, the Hebrew look at the problem of evil and suffering. Although much of the Old Testament seems to imply that God inflicts suffering as a punishment for sins committed by individuals, the story of Job offers a completely different perspective. Job is the innocent, good man who still loses everything he loves and undergoes intense suffering. Look it up in your Bible if you’ve never read it. Also, if you enjoy fiction, G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday explores many of the same themes found in Job.

 

Saint John Paul II wrote a wonderful Apostolic Letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. In it, he reflects on suffering in the light of Job and the Gospels. You can even read it for free on the Vatican website: Salvifici Doloris.

 

 

 

 


In a personal favorite of mine, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis contemplates suffering and human pain with his usual lucidity and conciseness. I find his way for harmonizing a good God and the problem of suffering particularly helpful. He also has a fascinating chapter towards the end of the book in which he speculates about animals and heaven.

 

 

 


Another favorite author of mine, Peter Kreeft, takes on suffering in his book Making Sense Out of Suffering. Kreeft’s book is an apologia for the Catholic understanding of suffering as meaningful.

 

 

 

 


Sheldon Vanauken lost the love of his life to a terminal illness after a far too short marrigae. A Severe Mercy is both heartbreakingly tragic and breathtakingly beautiful. This is a powerful true story of how the death of a loved one can lead to a greater good.

 

 

 


Another powerful personal testimony, in Man’s Search for Meaning Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl describes his soul-crushing experience of spending three years in concentration camps during World War II. During his imprisonment, Frankl had to watch his pregnant wife and family all die from hardship and starvation. Yet Frankl’s book is full of hope and a message about finding meaning in suffering.

 

 

 


Suffering: The Catholic Answer: The Cross of Christ and Its Meaning for You is a meditation on the Stations of the Cross. The author examines Christ’s suffering to find meaning and purpose in suffering.

 

 

 

 


In another favorite of mine, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, Fr. Jacques Phillippe offers a path to interior peace. Phillippe focuses primarily on finding peace in suffering rather than trying to explain suffering itself. His spirituality is similar to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Alphonsus di Liguori.

 

Good books to read on vacation

I love reading almost anything. Even calculus books and Russian novels. But when on vacation, I generally crave lighter literary fare. If sandy beaches or mountain views are in your not so distant future, here are some fun light novels to help you rest and rejuvenate. They’re organized by genre so pick your favorite flavor.

CHRISTIAN FICTION

Christian fiction is a genre I recently spent some time exploring. My research netted me many poorly written novels I dropped after a few chapters, but also some clean, enjoyable mysteries, adventures, and romances, perfect for a vacation.


Dani Pettrey’s Submerged is a fast-paced mystery/romance set in beautiful Alaska. Pettrey is a decent writer and this book has a sweet theme about second chances and redemption. If you fall in love with the characters, there are several sequels including Shattered and Stranded.

 

 

 


Dee Henderson’s books vary greatly in quality, but I did enjoy her O’Malley series. The Negotiator is the first in a series of seven books about a family of adopted siblings who each work in a law enforcement or first-responder type career. Each book recounts an exciting mystery while also tackling a faith-related question such as the Resurrection, trust in God, or why bad things happen to good people. The answers Henderson provides to these questions are not always complete, but a Catholic reader can practice their apologetic skills and think about even better answers!

 


Long Time Coming by Edie Claire was a thriller with a twist: the biggest villain may not be a villain. A thought-provoking look at psychology, prejudice, and buried memories, with a healthy dose of romance to lighten the mood.

 

 

 

 


Leslie Lynch is actually a Catholic author, and the mention of subjects like theology of the body gives her novels a unique flavor. Her Appalachian Foothills series is another sequence of adventure-romance style novels about young women with dark troubled pasts who find healing through friendship, love, and the Catholic church. Kudos for a positive portrayal of Catholics, but also a warning that Lynch’s books are darker than most other Christian fiction, involving subjects like rape, abortion, and addictions.

 

SCIENCE FICTION


C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength are some of my very favorite books, even though science fiction is not one of my favored genres. Lewis offers a truly cosmic worldview of salvation history and a new twist on planet exploration.

 

 

 


Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri: A Novel might not actually be the best book to haul on vacation if you’re flying at over 800 pages, but if you’re not worried about tonnage, it is a typical O’Brien novel: thought-provoking, creative, and well-told.

 

 

 

 

MYSTERY
I love a good mystery, and have yet to find a modern author that matches the brilliance of the writers in the golden age of mystery! Also, I appreciate that these writers were able to tell a captivating story without needing to have the sleuths be sidetracked with lurid sex scenes.


You can’t go wrong with an Agatha Christie such as Ordeal by Innocence. Her mysteries are fast-paced, well-plotted, and utterly bewildering. She is truly the Queen of Mystery.

 

 

 

 


However, don’t overlook her contemporary and fellow female author Dorothy Sayers. I actually enjoy Sayers’ books even more than Christie’s. Her sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, introduced in Whose Body?, actually does fall in love with a woman on trial for murder in Strong Poison. Their tempestuous courtship and marriage add interest to the mysteries they make a hobby of solving together.

 

 


Margery Allingham is another golden age mystery author. Her detective, Albert Campion, stars in a long series of novels including Look to the Lady, a whodunit, and The Tiger in the Smoke. Allingham’s mysteries are clever, but also follow the life events and character development of Campion.

 

 

 

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS


I hesitate to use the word adore for anyone other than God, but I do greatly admire and love James Herriot’s books. All Creatures Great and Small: The Warm and Joyful Memoirs of the Worlds Most Beloved Animal Doctor and its seven sequels are truly heart warming and funny and refreshing.

 

 

 


Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is a new favorite of mine. Check out my Review of My Family and Other Animals for more details about this hilarious book, perfect for lovers of all creatures great and small.

 

 

 

 

COMEDY


Leave It to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse could, or to be more accurate has, made me smile during some of the most trying seasons of life. And on vacation? My husband and I laugh till we cry at this master writer’s spot on similes and knack for situational comedy. If you have not read Jeeves & Wooster, you need to. You will be a more cheerful person after encountering Wodehouse. Also your vocabulary will expand tremendously.

 

 


Although you may not immediately think of L. M. Montgomery in conjunction with comedy, I actually find her depictions of small town life and insight into human flaws and foibles quite amusing. Anne of Green Gables‘s escapades are even funnier to read as an adult, and the later Anne books are actually meant for adults.

 

 

 

CLASSICS


I won’t deny that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma are her best works, but if you haven’t read some of her lesser known books, they are a perfect length and lightness for a vacation! For example, Northanger Abbey is a clever satire of Gothic novels.

 

 

 


Kristin Lavransdatter is has a graver theme and tone than most of the books on this list, but if you are more of a classics fans, then you won’t be disappointed by this sweeping tale by the master writer Sigrid Undset. If you have already enjoyed reading about Kristen, Undset’s The Master of Hestviken trilogy is also excellent.

 

 

 


Rumer Godden is one of my new favorite authors. Five for Sorrow Ten for Joy is a wonderful novel about one woman’s journey from the depths of sin to life in a convent. (Review here)

 

 

 

 

HISTORICAL FICTION


Gone with the Wind is certainly worth reading. Margaret Mitchell’s novel captures the aura of the Civil War so vividly, and her heroine is so unforgettable (both for spirit and selfishness), that this novel just flies by despite its length.

 

 

 

 


If you are fascinated by World War II, read Aline’s unique account of her involvement in The Spy Wore Red. From clothing model in a department store to undercover agent to Countess, Aline’s life is colorful and captivating.

 

 

 


I also enjoyed The Zookeeper’s Wife, an account of how one family’s courage made a small difference and saved lives during the turmoil and persecution of World War II.

 

 

 

 

BIOGRAPHY


Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler is the story of her conversion from atheism to Catholicism. I find her books both inspirational and funny, which is a fantastic combination.

 

 

 


Without having watched a single episode of the hit TV show Fixer Upper, I read The Magnolia Story on a friend’s recommendation. What a beautiful story about a couple filled faith in God and each other.

 

 

 

 


Who doesn’t love the Sound of Music? But I love The Story of the Trapp Family Singers even more. Maria Von Trapp recounts the real story which inspired the beloved movie. Heartwarming and imbued with love for the Catholic faith, this book has always been a favorite of mine.

Thoughts on “One Beautiful Dream”


I am not presumptuous enough, or perhaps not daring enough, to judge myself capable of writing a critique of Jennifer Fulwiler’s work, but I so enjoyed her latest book that I felt compelled to post a few commendatory remarks on One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both.

I know Jennifer Fulwiler by repute but this was my first time reading a single word she had written because- prepare for a deep dark secret- I do not read blogs. That’s right, I am the hypocritical blogger who loves to write but doesn’t bother to read other people’s blogs. Okay, in my defense I’m sure I’d love to read other people’s blogs, but equally sure that I would sink so swiftly and surely into the bottomless quicksand of blog surfing that I would never read a real, full-length book again. And then what would I write about?

To return to Jennifer Fulwiler and One Beautiful Dream: from the first page, her story resonated with me. She describes herself as a cerebral introvert who often feels that her gifts are not the best adapted to being super mom. Yep, that’s me too. And she even had the same theory I posit to my husband regularly:

“Decades of living in big houses with few people had carved deep grooves into my habits; I had a great need for quiet and for complete control of my surroundings. Sometimes it felt like my current life was a macabre psychological experiment to see exactly where the mental breaking point was for someone with my temperament.”

See I knew I wasn’t the only one with the theory about God running some kind of psychological experiment giving me this type of kid! (Actually, I’ve decided He just has a really good sense of humor.) The further I read, the more I felt like I was reading my own story of difficult pregnancies, high need children, and deep down a longing to just be alone with silence, a stack of books, and a computer for typing. At least, both Jennifer and I would have described our dream as such in our early years of motherhood.

But as Jennifer describes so lucidly, and as I am slowly realizing also, this individualistic dream of what my perfect imaginary life will someday be, is not cut out of the fabric of happiness, or even reality. Jennifer calls life a symphony, and that analogy struck home in my classically grounded soul. A mother, a wife, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a friend.  A woman’s life and dreams are intertwined and harmonized with those of her loved ones.

Do not for an instant think that Jennifer is advocating a sacrificial immolation of all a mother’s dreams. On the contrary, she would be the first to tell you to nourish your “blue flame, the passion that ignites a fire within you when you do it.” She urges women to follow their dreams and utilize the gifts God has given them: to pursue the work that gives them energy and joy. On a personal note, I have come to the same conclusion. Writing fills me with energy and joy, which I can then channel into caring for my family with renewed vigor.

Jennifer is inspiring, but practical. At first I thought she was an advocate of the “have it all” mentality, but she tackled that topic with her usual forthrightness and pragmatism.

“I had set out on this quest to try to “have it all,” to use the terminology of the age-old debate about women and work. Now that I considered everything I’d learned along with what Joe was saying, I saw the entire concept differently. It occurred to me that you can have it all in the sense of having a rich family life and pursuing excellence in your work, but you’re going to need to re-imagine what having it all looks like. Your work will never be your number-one priority. You might need to walk away from glamorous opportunities that don’t allow you to live a love-first life. You’ll be bombarded with one interruption after another, yet you’ll find that those interruptions are the very building blocks of a good life.”

A good life. A love-first life. A life grounded in a wholeness of vision that melds family and personal goals. I think every woman really wants just this.

I have read a LOT of books by Catholic moms, for Catholic moms, and inevitably take away some nuggets of wisdom. But Jennifer’s story really spoke to me because she has had what some might call a difficult life: chronic money problems, difficult pregnancies, high need children, one setback after another in her personal goals. But if she hadn’t had all those experiences, how could she have given the world the wisdom in her books and blog? Each difficult moment shaped her into the woman who can inspire thousands of other Catholic mothers.

My own life has been a bit rocky for the last decade, and if Jennifer had an easier life or more natural inclination towards being a mom, her words would not have had this power to lodge deep in my soul and make me question my priorities and preconceived notions about what my life should look like or can look like.

Jennifer’s words have encouraged me to pursue writing more seriously again now, as opposed to waiting for the someday when my children are less demanding. I hope you read One Beautiful Dream too and it challenges and inspires you to recognize and nurture whatever gifts God has given you. And if you are that lucky mom whose gift is to be a home maker, pray for the rest of us!

Good Books on Spirituality, Womanhood, and Motherhood for Catholic Moms

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All of us moms need some fresh inspiration occasionally, and what better place to find it than in good books? I am passionate about making time to fill my own mind with nourishing food for thought. Here are some of my favorite books on Catholic motherhood, parenting, spirituality, and family life.

The Foundation

I believe that the key to a happy family is a serene mother. The foundation for this peaceful spirit can be found in a deep trust in God’s will, as St. Alphonsus de Liguori explains in his classic work Uniformity with God’s Will. This little gem is only $5, and can be read in less than an hour. St. Alphonsus explains the key to happiness and serenity is resignation to God’s will as seen in your lot in life.

Father Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart outlines a similar vision to St. Alphonsus: that finding peace is tied to confidence in and surrender to God. I love how Father Philippe not only explains the path to interior peace in theory, but then spends the majority of the book explaining how to maintain that peace in real-life circumstances.

Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere is a third spiritual classic explaining that peace lies in surrender to God’s will. Written over 300 years ago, this is a denser read than the two previous titles.

Retreats and Reflections
Daily Bible reading has been recommended by several popes and countless saints as a fast track to deepening your spirituality, and Take Up and Read is doing amazing work in creating daily Bible Study guides by Catholic women, for Catholic women. I loved Consider the Lilies, and Rooted in Hope is on my wish list!

St. Therese of Lisieux’s little way is infinitely practical for and applicable to motherhood, so I highly recommend I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

For the overwhelmed mom, Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss have created the perfect daily verse, reflection, and action prompt all on one page: Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Your Daily Call to Think, Pray, and Act

Catholic Womanhood


Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women is a wonderful introduction to seeing your very womanhood as a vocation to embrace. Donna Cooper O’Boyle quotes extensively from encyclicals, John Paul II, and a plethora of saints in this extremely readable exploration of our calling as Catholic women.

Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman’s Guide to Catholic Motherhood is a funny, affirming, inspiring book that will leave you empowered to dive back into the beautiful mess that is raising a Catholic family. A quick read with thought-provoking questions in each chapter.

The Reed of God is a spiritual classic which explores Mary and her relationship with God. Carryl Houselander makes Mary seem human and accessible, and thus teaches the reader to imitate Mary’s example of womanhood.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s books on womanhood are insightful and inspiring. I enjoyed The Privilege of Being a Woman, which is a response to feminist ideology about man and woman’s equality. Man & Woman: A Divine Invention is an even more fascinating sequel in which von Hildebrand reflects on how man and woman are each part of God’s infinitely wise plan.

Catholic Motherhood and Parenting

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect blueprint for what Catholic parenting should look like. Catholic psychologist and father Dr. Greg Popcak joins with his wife Lisa in writing this awesome guide to raising Catholic children. Dr. Popcak takes John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and applies it to raising children in a unique and perspective-changing way, that is backed up by extensive scientific research.

I also love Dr. Popcak’s Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids as a practical, how-to guide for teaching kids about sexuality from a Theology of the Body perspective.

Matthew Kelly’s The Seven Levels of Intimacy is a wonderful resource about building healthy relationship- whether with your spouse, your children, extended family, or friends. Kelly’s books are deceptively simple reads, but the concepts he shares are of immeasurable importance.

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children by Art and Laraine Bennett brings the classical concept of four temperaments into the modern day and age. Complete with quizzes and plenty of examples of each temperament, this book will help you understand how best to parent your children’s different personality types. I also highly recommend the Bennett’s book on temperaments for adults: The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord.

The 5 Love Languages books have gotten a lot of publicity in recent years, and I did find some good ideas for helping my children feel loved inThe 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively. Personally, I consider this less helpful than the temperament books.

The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy With Young Children by Sofia Cavaletti is the landmark work that established Catechesis of the Good Shepherd principals. This program is a way of teaching children to approach their relationship with God in a natural, free, joyful manner. Although the book is aimed at an Atrium experience, many of these ideas can and should be implemented in the home with young children.

A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul is an interesting work that applies classical monastic wisdom to the home. If you are seeking a way to better order your life, this would be a good book for you.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace is the sort of book you read and immediately pass on to a friend because it’s so good you can’t wait to share it! Sarah Mackenzie has broken down homeschooling into manageable steps and strategies, all based on the foundation of trusting God and aiming to create a well-rounded child who loves God. If you are a homeschooler, or considering being one, or know one, read this book!

Good Book Series to read aloud to a Catholic Family

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If you have a range of ages in your children and still want to attempt a family read-aloud time, then it is best to select a book which is interesting enough for your older children, but not too intense for the younger ones. You can expect that under fives will need a quiet toy to play with while listening since the lack of illustrations in moat chapter books will leave them searching for visual stimulation. A series can be a fun choice to read as a family since it gives your children more investment in the characters.

The number one series I recommend for a family read aloud is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Both you and your child will enjoy the adventures and misadventures of the four Walker children, responsible John, motherly Susan, dreamy Titty, and active Roger, and their friends wild Nancy, timid Peggy, bookish Dick, and his twin cheerful Dot. The Swallows and Amazons’ adventures take them all over England, out on the ocean, and even to China. Arthur Ransome’s fine writing and skill as a storyteller make the books in this series true classics. There are 12 books in the series, all wonderful, so plenty of hours of reading! Our favorites are Winter Holiday (Swallows & Amazons) and The Picts & the Martyrs (Swallows & Amazons) but really all the books are worth reading.

Another favorite series of mine is Catholic author Hilda Van Stockum’s wonderful Mitchell’s series, consisting of three books: The Mitchells: Five for Victory , Canadian Summer , and Friendly Gables . These books are about the five children of the Mitchell family growing up in World War II era America. Later, the family moves to Canada, which provides some nice exposure to Canadian culture. These books are memorable because the children are so very realistic. Your children will immediately connect to the Mitchells, with their dreams and disasters, as they grow both individually and as a family.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are amazing books about a Hungarian family in the 1930’s. The first book describes how Jansci’s patient family gentles his wild young cousin Kate and also offers a lovely portrait of life, tradition, and cultures in Catholic Hungary. The second book is a bit more intense, describing the dark War years’ impact on the family farm and the children.

What better choice to read to a Catholic family then a book about saints? Mary Fabyan Windeatt‘s books are my favorite for this purpose. The language is simple enough for younger listeners, but the books also have solid content and details to engage older listeners. She wrote about a wide variety of saints so there are many choices!

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House series is an American family classic. Not only do these books provide a realistic historical portrait of pioneer life, they also offer many life lessons about hard work, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and perseverance. And of course they also provide an enjoyable story line. Girls will identify with these more than boys since all the books except Farmer Boy are about the Wilder girls, but boys can still enjoy these classic all-American stories.

Reminiscent of the Little House books, the Happy Little Family series chronicles episodes in the lives of an early American family, the Fairchilds. Beautifully written, with characters that jump off the page, these four books are very enjoyable read alouds with great lessons and vivid descriptions of nineteenth century life. For example, in a chapter of the first book, Happy Little Family , the father offers a special arrowhead for whichever of his children first shows true bravery. Stories like these provide great discussion themes: what is bravery or courage, are there different types of courage, how would your child act in the story, how could your child show courage in daily life?

All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels More All-Of-A-Kind Family and All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown are charming stories about a Jewish family living in New York City about 100 years ago. These stories about a family with 5 active, engaging young girls are sure to be favorites. They also provide good information about the different holidays and culture within a Jewish family.

Depending on your children’s ages and sensitivity limits, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia may be a good choice. These books are certainly more intense than the others on this list, so be advised that they may not be a good choice for younger, sensitive children, but slightly older children love these magical tales by a master story teller. The plethora of Christian symbolism and allegory makes these books a rich, thought-provoking read. If your family spends a lot of time driving, here is a wonderful audio version read by a full cast of actors: The Chronicles of Narnia Collector’s Edition (Radio Theatre).

The Happy Hollisters is the first in a long series of mysteries featuring the Hollister family. Each book features the large Hollister family who exemplify cheerfulness and teamwork as they help others by solving mysteries. These are not great classics of literature, but wholesome, simple, enjoyable books for if you are looking for a light read aloud. Check out my review here!

If your children are a bit earlier, say eight and older, they will love the Letzenstein Chronicles, which begin with The Crystal Snowstorm. Catholic author Meriol Trevor sets these adventurous stories about orphaned children in the fictional Catholic country of Letzenstein, a tiny European kingdom. These books have heroes and villains to please the adventurous souls. I find their portrayal of the lowly and childlike characters as integral and important both noteworthy and admirable.

E. Nesbit’s books are great read-alouds for children who love a touch of fantasy in their literature. Her stories are not exactly a series, but some are loosely connected like Five Children and It and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

For animal lovers, I can’t recommend Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series highly enough! Based on true events, these stories about two children’s hard work and love for horses is really inspiring. Don’t stop at the first book! Read more about Misty, Stormy, and other great horses in Marguerite Henry Stable of Classics.