So you want to be an (educated) Catholic evangelist?
Not everyone can run out and get a degree from a Catholic institution, so we are often asked what books we recommend our street evangelists read to continue their formation. An evangelist does not need any kind of advanced training to tell others what God has done in their own life. It takes little training to learn how to share the basic story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, ongoing formation is important. So, on top of our stellar training courses – Basic Evangelization Training & Evangelical Apologetics (bring us to your parish!), we have compiled a short list of great books to both learn about your faith and learn how to share your faith in the world today. Many of these books are read by college students at places like Franciscan University, Ave Maria, and Christendom. We asked thousands of Catholic leaders for their own thoughts on this list and have taken the best suggestions to present what is offered here. There are many excellent books that we left off of the list that cover similar material in order to keep the list manageable. SPSE recommends that you pick a level below that you are comfortable with and choose 1 book from each section to read.
If you are just starting out, perhaps a new Catholic or a cradle Catholic who feels like they never learned their faith, there are two foundational documents all Catholics should own and study.
- The Holy Bible – Through daily Mass, lectio divina, individual and group Bible study every Catholic should be saturated in the Word of God. It is inexcusable for a Catholic evangelist not to be immersed in the Bible on a daily basis. Our recommendation is the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. It is better suited for study than the New American Bible and the language is not archaic like the Douay-Rheims or Confraternity. Those other Bibles are great to have and read too, but if you own just one, go with the RSV-CE edition 2.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church – According to St. John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the sure norm for teaching the Catholic faith today. It is split into four primary sections: Creed, Sacraments, Christian Living (morality), and Prayer. If you want to know what Catholics believe, read the Catechism.
- The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – The full catechism comprises of over 2,000 numbered sections. It is long and difficult for some beginners to read. It is reference material, but essential reference material. For those just starting out the Catholic Church published a shorter compendium with the same information broken down into bite size pieces through the well-known question & answer style that the Church often uses.
The School of the Eucharist. Not a book, but the One in whom we are in love with. The purpose of evangelization is to put a person into communion with Jesus Christ. The Catholic evangelist should spend copious amounts of time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament where we will grow in wisdom and understanding. Street evangelist or not, every Catholic should be well versed in these foundational titles.
For the Beginner
Okay, we’re going to assume that you do own a Bible & a Catechism and you are reading them. Where to we begin to branch out?
- The Catholic Bible Dictionary by Scott Hahn – Everyone who studies the Bible should have access to good commentary and a good Bible dictionary. Until the entire Catholic Study Bible by Ignatius Press is released next year, the Catholic Bible Dictionary is a good supplement to your Bible reading. We also recommend the little known African Bible available from the USCCB.
- You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft – Peter Kreeft gives us a bird’s eye view of the entire Bible, explaining each book and what we are reading when we do read the Bible. We get pieces of the Bible each time we listen to the readings at Mass. This text will help us understand how each piece fits into the whole.
- Bible Basics for Catholics by Dr. John Bergsma – Dr. Bergsma provides a strong overview of how the Bible works together as one whole to teach us the story of salvation history. This book won’t give you an overview of the content of the entire Bible, but instead will help you understand and explain the entire story of salvation history through each of the major covenants (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and Jesus).
- Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed – This classic book on Catholic theology is a simple approach for people who have never studied theology before. It is the “starter” version to his excellent but more intimidating volume Theology & Sanity. If you have never read theological works before this is a great place to start.
- 4 Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly – Before we start inviting others to become a Catholic, we should ask ourselves if we are converted. What does Pope Francis’ missionary disciple look like? This easy to read book addresses for habits that dynamic, converted, evangelistic Catholics have in common.
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie – Every evangelist, catechist, priest, faith formation director, and otherwise anyone involved in ministry needs to read one of the bestselling books of all time. Carnegie reminds us of the most simple principles to being a decent human being. Remembering a person’s name. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Smile. Simple techniques used in business and that can be equally applied to ministry.
- Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft – Peter Kreeft brings his unique insights to this most important area of our spiritual lives. He claims he himself is still a beginner in prayer, and this book is for all those, like him, who feel that they are not good at praying but desire to become much better at it. In order to pray with the Church it is helpful to have a Daily Roman Missal. Especially one with comprehensive supplements, such as a guide to Christian living and an examination of conscience.
- Evangelii Nuntiandi by Blessed Pope Paul VI – We need to study some of the works of the ordinary Magisterium too. These are the guideposts from which catechisms, theological books, and classes are written and taught. Evangelists should read this work on evangelization from Paul VI once a year. He reminds us, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
If you feel as though you have a basic grasp of Christian teaching, prayer, and discipleship and are ready to dig a little deeper, these books are often used as foundational texts in undergraduate courses.
- The Shape of Catholic Theology by Aidan Nichols – Not as easy a read as the books in the beginner’s section, Nichols book is notable for the scope of material that he covers in giving us an overview of Catholic theology. It is one of the best introductions available today for the student of theology. What is the task of theology? How does philosophy connect to it? What about the authority of Scripture and its interpretation? What about Tradition and the Magisterium?
- The Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council – The shape of theology today cannot be rightly understood without knowing its history. Within that history is that of the 21 ecumenical councils. The Church produced 16 documents in the Second Vatican Council which was held in the 1960s. The 4 constitutions on the liturgy, divine revelation, the church, and the church in the modern world are available with commentary from Ignatius Press. Or, if you really want to go all out, you can get the documents from every ecumenical council of the past 2,000 years.
- Mere Christianity by CS Lewis – Is “mere” really the right adjective for Christianity? C.S. Lewis makes one of the most compelling cases for Christianity in this seminal work.
- The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church – The Church lives in the world and it is the obligation of Catholics to fight for a just society. What is Catholic social justice? This compendium brings together the authoritative teaching of the Church on topics such as work, government, and war. Evangelists should be able to speak about these topics because they affect how every one of us lives.
- The Compact History of the Catholic Church by Alan Schreck – Catholics need to know the basic events of Church history to answer questions and to avoid making the same mistakes as our predecessors over again. This short introduction does a remarkable job of covering 2,000 years.
- Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Thomas Dubay – “Fr. Thomas Dubay, one of the most popular and respected retreat masters and spiritual directors in the USA, is the author of the perennial best-selling book on prayer and contemplation, Fire Within. In this book, he responds to the call of both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI to priests to help believers and all spiritual seekers develop a deeper prayer life and union with God.”
- How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice by Austen Ivereigh – Ivereigh gives us a well thought out apologetics book, but the real gem is in the back with principles for engaging others in talking about the faith in order to help them open up to the possibility of conversion.
- Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard – Evangelists need to learn how to balance the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer. This is one of the most important spiritual guidebooks for Catholics today.
- Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church by Christopher Kaczor – These two books explain Church teaching on controversial topics and give us the language to clearly explain truth to other people. If you are an evangelist, you are going to run into questions about these topics.
- Redemptoris Missio by St. John Paul II – John Paul II continues the conversation on the New Evangelization and how to live it today. The time has come for the Church to spend all of her energies on evangelization.
- Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis – Pope Francis’ encyclical on evangelization. The Holy Father shares his vision for evangelization today.
If you are still with us and have been studying some of the books above, here is a list for those who are a little more advanced in their reading.
- The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin – Ralph Martin helps every Catholic advance through the spiritual life through the spiritual teachings of the doctors of the Church. Heaven and hell are real. How are we going to avoid the later and get to the former?
- Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture by Peter Williamson – An advanced work on how Catholics interpret scripture from a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
- Early Christian Fathers by Cyril Richardson – Catholics should read the writings of the early Christians. This volume brings together many of the early writings of the Church that are very clearly Catholic. By connecting to our history we see that the Catholic Church is indeed 2,000 years old and the one Church that Jesus founded. We read language about the doctrines of the Eucharist, purgatory, the liturgy, salvation, the Magisterium, Mary, and more that prove the Church has always believed the same truths of the faith given to her by God through divine revelation.
- The First Catechetical Instruction by St. Augustine – When St. Augustine was asked how to proclaim the Gospel, this was his answer. It includes all of the main topics that cannot be missed when telling the story of salvation history.
- Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell – Weddell’s work has recently influenced thousands of Catholics, bishops included. What is the shape of the Church today? She brings empirical evidence of declining faith and practice in the Western Church today due to a lack of conversion to Jesus Christ. She lays the ground work and begins to cultivate how evangelists can talk to people about their faith and help them “cross thresholds” leading to conversion.
- The Good News & Its Proclamation by Johannes Hofinger – A foundational text for professional catechists, this book teaches how and what to teach when proclaiming the Gospel.
- Unbound by Neal Lorenzo – We all see evidence of spiritual warfare. Lorenzo talks about Christian principles to living in the freedom of grace instead of slavery to sin and overcoming the devil in spiritual warfare. Spiritual Combat is an excellent companion to this work.
- Renewal by Anne Hendershott – Another volume on the real life experience of Catholics working in ministry today and how they are shaping the New Evangelization.
- Novo Millenio Inuente by St. John Paul II – This is a short instruction from St. John Paul II on the main areas for dioceses and parishes to focus on for ministry in the new millennium.
Honorable mentions and other books that we just can’t leave off of our list.
- Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft – “This unique book combines selected essential philosophical passages from Thomas’ Summa with footnotes and explanations by Kreeft, a popular Thomist teacher and writer. Kreeft selected those passages from Thomas that are intrinsically important, non-technical enough to be intelligible to modern readers, and most likely to be used in a class or by independent readers who want to study the Summa on their own.”
- The Philosophy of Jesus by Peter Kreeft – Jesus was not only a philosopher, but the greatest of all philosophers. When evangelists understand the basic questions of philosopher they are better equipped to meet people wherever they are at.
- Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer Jerome Adler – “Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) taught logic to Alexander the Great and, by virtue of his philosophical works, to every philosopher since, from Marcus Aurelius, to Thomas Aquinas, to Mortimer J. Adler. Now Adler instructs the world in the “uncommon common sense” of Aristotelian logic, presenting Aristotle’s understandings in a current, delightfully lucid way.”
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken – A powerful memoir of what true, sacrificial love looks like with letters from C.S. Lewis. Watch how God breaks into Sheldon & Davy lives.
- The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon – This phenomenal work by Fr. Corbon explores the meaning of the liturgy as the source of the Church’s life and worship. “The Liturgy itself is a sharing in the mystery of the Triune God and in the Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Fr. Corbon writes that it is ‘the mystery of the river of life that streams from the Father and the Lamb.’”
- Introduction to Christianity by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – Anything but an easy read, this introduction to Christianity is well known among students of theology.
- Love & Responsibility by St. John Paul II – St. John Paul II explains the difference between utilitarianism and the personalistic norm of love. This is his Theology of the Body.
- The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Daniélou – The sacramental signs and wonders of the Catholic liturgy are missed by many people who do not know what to look for. How often do Catholics fade out of listening to the words of the Eucharistic liturgy because they have never been taught their meaning? This excellent work walks through the rites of the Catholic Church and opens them up through the Church fathers in light of divine revelation.
- The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn – There is nothing quite as fun for the Bible student as typology and Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper is replete with it. It will give the evangelists further tools for explaining the Eucharist. Better yet, just buy copies of it and give it away.
- Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn – Scott Hahn does for Mary what he did for the Eucharist in this work.
- Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI – Pope Benedict’s meditation on the life of Jesus Christ in three volumes is worthy devotional reading that will continue to open our hearts to conversion.
- What’s Wrong with the World? by G.K. Chesterton – His own answer “I am what’s wrong with the world.” Chesterton gives a social commentary that is relevant to our own world today. That some of his brilliance would rub off on each of us. Don’t forget to add Heretics & Orthodoxy to your library as well.
- Humanae Vitae by Blessed Paul VI – Written to the surprise of many Catholic theologians, Paul VI closes the door on the possibility of Catholic use of contraceptives as he defends the Sacrament of marriage and the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.
- New Proofs for the Existence of God by Fr. Robert Spitzer – An advanced scientific work on proofs for God’s existence.
Beyond what we already shared above, here are a few of the other great spiritual works of the Catholic faith. In many ways these books are more important than most of those listed above. Rather than belonging in every evangelists library, they belong in every Christians library.
- The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila
- True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort
- The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
- The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena by St. Catherine of Siena
- The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by St. Ignatius of Loyola
- Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
- The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure
- An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
- Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade
- Witness of the Saints: Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours by Milton Walsh