Before I got married, I had actively discerned a vocation to the priesthood for about four years. During that time I read a number of books that aided me in the discernment process. Most of the books on this list have been recommended to me by seminary formators or spiritual directors.
None of these books is exclusively for priests and men that are discerning becoming priests. They’re for everyone and anyone who is interested in learning more about the Catholic priesthood or looking to improve their prayer life. These books contain stories, wisdom, and truths that are bound to inspire the heart of any reader.
1. The Priest is Not His Own by Fulton Sheen
In this book, Sheen gives a thorough analysis of the Old and New Testament roots of the priesthood along with a number of keen insights into the nature of priesthood. In addition to a Scriptural outline of priesthood, Sheen also gives practical spiritual advice to priests. His chapter on making a Holy Hour is perhaps one of the best in the book. This book should be at the top of the list of any man discerning a priestly vocation.
2. Priests for the Third Millennium by Timothy Dolan
Cardinal Dolan offers a lot of practical insights in this text by drawing upon his own personal experience as a priest. He does not shy away from speaking candidly about some of the diocesan scandals he had to face as a bishop in Milwaukee. These stories help shed light on the current challenges priests face, but they also serve as a lead in to Dolan’s extensive analysis of the nature and theology of priesthood. By the end of this book you will have learned what it takes to be a priest for the third millennium.
3. Virginity: A Positive Approach to Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven by Raniero Cantalamessa
If you’ve ever wanted a brief introduction to the Church’s teaching on celibacy this is the book for you. In this book you will learn why celibacy is an essential component of priesthood and how it will lead you closer to Christ. Cantalamessa draws upon Scripture and Tradition to explain this fundamental truth of priesthood.
4. Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations by Fr. Gary Selin
Because it’s so important to have a healthy understanding of celibacy, I wanted to add another book on the topic. This is a much more comprehensive study of celibacy that is tailor-made for priests. Selin also draws upon Scripture and Tradition to convey the truths of priestly celibacy, but does so with a more complete assessment.
5. The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Timothy Gallagher
Discerning your vocation can be hard work especially if you don’t know how to navigate your spiritual life. Nothing can take the place of a spiritual director (so get a spiritual director), but this book can help you begin to identify how God is working in your life and introduce you to St. Ignatius’ rules of discernment. Gallagher uses simple stories and examples to guide you through the rules of discernment in a way that is helpful and easy to understand.
6. He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek
Fr. Walter Ciszek was imprisoned for 23 years in Russia for being an alleged Vatican spy. In He Leadeth Me, Ciszek relates how he was able to survive during his captivity and how he cultivated a deep relationship with God in the midst of constant suffering. Drawing upon his Ignatian spirituality, Ciszek provides the reader with keen insights into the spiritual life and the ministry of priesthood.
7. True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort
If you want to be a priest you’ll need to cultivate a strong relationship with Mary. As Louis de Monfort says, “She is the sure means, the direct and immaculate way to Jesus and the perfect guide to him, it is through her that souls who are to shine forth in sanctity must find him.” In this small treatise you will be equipped with the spiritual tools to form a deep and lasting relationship with Mary.
8. Christ: The Ideal of the Priest by Columba Marmion
This might be the most theologically coherent description on the essence of priesthood ever written. In this book Marmion discusses what priesthood is, why it’s important, and the priestly relationship to the Trinity and the Church. This is a must read for anyone interested in gaining a full theological understanding of priesthood.
9. The Cure D’Ars : St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney by Abbe Francois Trochu
St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests. He heroically lived out his priesthood by committing all of his energy to evangelizing the people of Ars through his preaching and administration of the sacraments. In a particular way, he is a great witness to the power of the sacrament of confession, which he celebrated whenever anyone was in need. If you’re interested in becoming a diocesan priest, you’ll want to read this book. There is no greater model for diocesan priesthood than St. John Vianney.
10. The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
This is the fictional story of a priest who, in and through the midst of great suffering, is steadily becoming more Christlike and more of a saint as the story progresses. The irony is that this transformation takes place in him even as he is more convinced of his own failures and inadequacies. A beautiful icon of the truth that God judges the heart, not by appearances.
What books have helped you in your discernment? Let me know in the comments.