What makes a literary classic? That was the opening question of a lecture during my last graduate theology course. The premise of the course was that the Lectionary can be read as a classic would. So, what is a classic?

Four characteristics come to mind:

  1. A classic’s relevance endures despite the challenges that social, political, economic, and religious conditions present to it.
  2. A classic has to be able to last the test of time—a truly significant amount of time. While elements of a classic work will always reflect the unique circumstances of the time and place in which it was written and that it describes, the story and its meaning transcend their context.
  3. A classic reflects the core of life experiences that unite human beings, the deep themes, drives, and callings that we hold in common. Classics engage with ideas and questions that concern all of us; like hope, love, sacrifice, redemption, and salvation.
  4. A classic work inspires awe. Engaging with a truly awesome classic takes more words than we can find, more images than we can create, and more time than we can ever have. This inexhaustible awe drives us back to engage with the story and its meaning again and again.

This week’s quintet of CatholicsRead titles all begin with, expand upon, or reexamine a Catholic classic—whether of reading or practice.

One of the most enduring images of Jesus in the Gospels is that of a caregiver—feeding others, praying with them, consoling them in their grief—an image that Pope Francis expands in his metaphor of the Church as a field hospital. Daily Companion for Caregivers from Catholic Book Publishing presents a collection of our tradition’s prayers that is intended to strengthen the compassion and mercy of caregivers to heal and to suffer with whomever they help.

A classic that is second only to the Bible in popularity among Catholics, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis has been released by Catholic Book Publishing in an easy-to-read giant type format. This edition will bring readers to experience the peace and wisdom that have comforted believers from all corners of the world, over centuries.

Praying with St. John Paul II, also from Catholic Book Publishing, is a novena to pray with St. John Paul’s own words that reveal the life of faith and discernment that led to his becoming priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, and Saint.

The Bible—a classic among classics—gets a new treatment in Michael Guinan, OFM’s The Bible and the Life of Faith: A New Approach by Paulist Press. This book demonstrates the durability of the Bible as a classic as it provides the reader with different ways to approach buying, reading, studying, and praying with Sacred Scripture.

The last book, Grassroots Ecumenism from New City Press, takes a classic topic and looks at it from a completely different perspective. Rather than beginning the conversation on ecumenism at the highest level, author Rev. Dr. Karen Petersen Finch upends this process, proposing an approach to Christian unity that begins in your neighborhood.

Consider visiting or revisiting one of these “classics” for your next read.


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Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.

Reading the Catholic Classics
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