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The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

This is the opening issue of what is planned as a monthly newsletter. Its purpose is to make The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan an effective source of grace for restoring the Catholic literary heritage in the English-speaking world.

On her own testimony, the Catholic Church is the Mother and Teacher of nations. Her Founder told His followers to make disciples of all peoples. And St. Paul declared that faith comes from hearing. But how can Catholics, who have access to the fullness of God’s revealed truth, share this truth with others unless they know the truth themselves? The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan is meant to provide easy access to this treasury of Catholic wisdom as found in the thousands of carefully chosen volumes of the reading plan.

The monthly newsletter is directly intended for those who wish to use The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan to deepen their own understanding and appreciation of the Catholic faith. It is also meant to stimulate the zeal of its users to communicate to others what the great Catholic minds have given to them.

Immediately we see that The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan is not just another book to read. It is not a mere reference work to consult. It is not even simply a useful guide to the great Catholic literature of the ages. It is a carefully planned method of self-education whose goal is to acquire the mind of Christ through having our minds influenced by the great Catholic minds of the Church’s two thousand years of literary history.

This literary history is a world of published books in all the written languages of mankind. Yet some of these books stand out as mountain peaks for their height of understanding God’s truth and of man’s struggle to live up to this truth on the way to that possession of eternal Truth for which we were made. They are often surprisingly simple books written not for the wise and learned of this world but for those whose childlike faith will be varnished by associating with these intimate literary friends of God.

The Apostolate of the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

As stated before, the aim of this reading plan is consciously apostolic. Its purpose is to promote not just good Catholic literature but to rediscover where necessary, restore if need be, and certainly revitalize what has been sadly neglected, if not lost, in large segments of the English-speaking world. This is the gold mine of Catholic thought and feeling, Catholic joys and sorrows, Catholic genius and holiness—in a word the treasury of Catholic experience that exists in larger measure than most people realize.

But that is not all. The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan is not to stop with self-education. Its horizon is the millions of persons, whether Catholic or Christians or non-Christians or unbelievers. They may be starving in spirit because no one is ready to feed them with the only food that can satisfy the human mind, namely God’s revealed truth whose fullness is possessed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Profiles of Outstanding Authors

Beginning with the next issue of the Newsletter, there will be a regular biography of one of the Church’s masters of the spiritual life, followed by similar cameo-biographies of the great Marian writers, the masters of Eucharistic spirituality, the great Catholic historians, liturgists and masters of the art and science of prayer.

Masters of the Spiritual Life

Recently, Inter Mirfica published a short home-study course on the Masters of the Spiritual Life. Seven writers are covered in the course, namely: St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas A. Kempis, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Peter Julian Eymard and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

The basic textbook will be The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, which contains

carefully chosen sections from these seven masters of the spiritual life. A companion manual explains the essentials of these writer’s spirituality. And a separate Question Book (along with detachable question pages) provides a hundred objective questions on each of the chosen writers. This course is obtainable at low cost from Inter Mirfica, in Washington D.C.

Great Catholic Books Club

The art of reading is making a rapid comeback in literary countries like the United States. Some were predicting that radio and television would drive book reading into oblivion. But the facts prove the opposite. One catalyst responsible for this phenomenon is the rise of book clubs throughout the country. The largest of these is the Book of the Month Club with a million and a half members. The club receives some 140,000 letters monthly from book lovers who ask questions about the books they are reading. The letters are personally answered by a staff of sixty.

The Great Books Foundation of Chicago is an outgrowth of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It concentrates on books written by authors, ranging from Homer and Aristotle among the ancient Greeks to Elliot and Hemingway in modern times. The Great Books Foundation brings 25,000 persons together in 2,000 groups throughout North America. One explanation for this popularity is that people want to get away from television and do something to challenge their minds. It also provides a sorely needed means of social communication in a culture that is becoming oppressively passive through the electronic media.

Another approach to book clubs is the creation of companies that offer various services to a study group. They will research a book and author; and then help focus a ninety-minute discussion to keep it on track or prevent a dominant voice from monopolizing what should be a collective experience.

All of this should be stimulating to Catholics who wish to develop their own books clubs based on The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

There are no set rules for the formation of a Great Catholic Books Club. However, some suggestions may be helpful:

  • Contact ten to fifteen persons, expecting at least seven to show up, who agree to meet regularly for the discussion of one particular book.

  • The same book may be used over a period of several months, or a new book may be chosen after two or three discussions.

  • Search out kindred spirits with notices in the parish bulletin or diocesan newspaper.

  • Ideally one person should first research the book, read some reviews, know the author’s biography, and be prepared to stimulate an hour-and-a-half to two-hour discussion.

  • The secret of a good meeting is to have the leader ask questions and provoke animated conversation among the participants. But always the focus should be on the book, that is, on the ideas or events it provides or describes.

  • It is recommended that each discussion begin and end with a prayer.

Persons who have already organized a Great Catholic Books club are asked to write Inter Mirifica to share their experience with other users of The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

Those interested in starting a book club based on the Reading Plan should also write to Inter Mirifica. It is recommended that you briefly describe your own particular situation and needs.

Information on Available Books

When The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan was published, it was assumed that many of the books by the one hundred and four authors would be out of print.

Inter Mirfica is doing everything possible to provide information about where these books can be either purchased or borrowed. We are assembling a national reference library of the books in The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

If you wish to know where you can obtain any book or books in the Reading Plan, write to Inter Mirifica.

Question and Answer Page

The next issue of the Great Catholic Books Newsletter will begin a regular Question and Answer page. Readers of the Newsletter are requested to submit their questions, and asked to make them as concise and practical as possible. The purpose of this feature will be to provide an interchange of ideas and information on effective ways to promote the Catholic reading apostolate.

Voluntary Research Assistance

The apostolate of the Great Catholic Books will hopefully become worldwide. Its immediate purpose is horizontal, to promote the reading of authors who typify the Catholic literary heritage from early patristic times to our day. However, there is another and more important purpose in view. This is to encourage a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and a greater love of Jesus Christ, on whom this faith is founded.

In order to advance both these arms of the Great Catholic Books program, readers of the Newsletter are asked to offer whatever service they can provide. Any suggestions you can make or any information you can give will be gratefully received.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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