Five books for those in social – but not spiritual – isolation

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Home > Media > News > Five books for those in social – but not spiritual – isolation
Five books for those in social – but not spiritual – isolation

Social distancing measures have meant that we are all spending more time at home. However, being socially isolated doesn’t mean we have to be spiritually isolated.

Here are five books to help you use your free time more fruitfully.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
A profound testimony of God’s providence and the importance of being steeped in scripture and prayer, The Hiding Place tells the true story of Corrie ten Boom and her family who respond to the upheaval and dangers of World War II Holland.

Unmarried and middle-aged watchmaker Corrie lives a quiet and uneventful life with her sister Betsie and elderly clockmaker father. When the Nazi occupation begins, the ten Booms are approached by local Jewish families for help, and initial acts of kindness become a fully-fledged network to hide Jews from the occupying forces. When their work is uncovered by the Nazis, the family are sent to prison, and Corrie and Betsie are later sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. There they lead prayer services and encourage other prisoners with scripture smuggled into the camp.

Their intimate friendship with Christ, built through years of their family’s habitual prayers and scripture reading, allows them to view their sufferings through spiritual eyes. When stripped naked for a medical inspection, Corrie realises for the first time Jesus’ total nakedness on the cross, and whispers, ‘They took His clothes too,’ to Betsie, who replies, ‘Oh Corrie. And I never thanked Him…’

The miracle of the strength and faith of Betsie and Corrie is a miracle open to all of us: to use our family time well, to grow in faith and prayer together, so that when suffering comes we are able to continue in love and be strength for others.

The Shadow of His Wings by Fr Gereon Goldmann OFM
A very different spiritual read set in World War II, The Shadow of His Wings is a reminder of the importance of praying for our priests.

Written by Fr Gereon Goldmann OFM, the book recounts the Franciscan friar’s experience of being drafted from his seminary studies into the German army. Assigned to the SS, Fr Golding lives out his religious convictions with stubborn fearlessness, facing court martial for his denouncing of Nazi practices. The prayers of a determined religious sister who knew him from his childhood altar serving days sees miracle after miracle in his circumstances – including being secretly ordained a deacon and then a priest during the war, in order to minister to the dying. Serving as a medic, Fr Goldmann recounts that by the end of the war he had been yet to fire a single shot, despite times of extreme danger.

Following the war, his imprisonment in Algeria, and his almost-execution after being framed as a Nazi war criminal by his fellow soldiers, Fr Goldmann realised his childhood dream of becoming a missionary in Japan.  COVID-19 is not World War II, but with so many priests around the world contracting the virus through their ministry, The Shadow of His Wings is a reminder that we carry our priests through our prayers.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin
Immaculee Ilibagiza spent three months hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Her experience of prayer while cramped and often unable to move (the women were so tightly packed that they were sitting on top of one another) led her to develop a deep relationship with God, and forgiveness and love for those who had killed her family. Given a set of rosary beads by her father before they were separated, during her 91 days in the bathroom, while almost one million Tutsi Rwandans were killed, Immaculee prayed 27 rosaries and 40 Divine Mercy chaplets a day. For a break, she would meditate on scripture. The need for prayer was real: machete-wielding killers repeatedly searched the house where they were hiding, with some searching for her personally.

Immaculee’s raw honesty is powerful: not trying to sugarcoat the rage she felt towards the murderers, or her fear of being discovered, she takes us through her conversations with God and her temptations to bitterness and despair.

When French peacekeeping soldiers arrive in Rwanda, she and the other women manage to reach safety.
Immaculee was eventually reunited with her one surviving brother. She has since moved to America, is married with two children, and speaks and writes about the grace of forgiveness and prayer.

If we are finding being restricted to our homes frustrating, Immaculee’s experience should be a wake-up call to devote more time to prayer, speaking honestly to God about the struggles we face, and allowing his grace to move our hearts and change our lives.

Story of a Soul by St Therese of Lisieux
One of the bestselling books of the twentieth century is Story of a Soul, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should.
Story of a Soul is the spiritual autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux who entered a Carmelite monastery in her hometown at the age of 15, and died of tuberculosis nine years later.

In these times it might be worth reading the inner movements of the heart of someone who as a teenager embraced a hidden, socially isolated life.

Her vocation to Carmel was many years in the making: as a young girl she would play-pretend to be a hermit, and yearned for a desert to be alone with the Lord. In Carmel, she discovered that desert.

St Therese is remarkable for her extraordinary ordinariness. As a child she was excessively stubborn, suffered for years from the ongoing effects of the trauma of her mother’s death, and was shy and picked on at school.

However, her heart was set on God, and she discovered that the secret to her becoming holy would lie in her very lack of greatness. It was her littleness that would be attractive to Jesus.

Her lesson is not that people should be shunned (Story of a Soul is full of her interactions with her family and fellow nuns) but that solitude is a gift to be embraced in order to connect with God.

The Bible
If there was ever going to be a time to start regularly reading scripture it is now.

No-one needs to be reminded that we’re all missing being able to receive the sacraments.

The gift of this situation is that each of us now have to be more intentional about making sure that God has the central place in our lives.

Reading the Bible is such an easy way to draw close to God that it’s almost like cheating. As soon as you begin reading,
God is speaking to you.

There are many ways to read the Bible. A common piece of advice is to read the daily Mass readings, but there is great value in simply beginning a book and reading it through. The Gospels are a wonderful place to begin.

If you’re struggling with prayer, pray the Psalms. If you feel you’re lacking in zeal, read Acts of the Apostles. If action, battles and heroes are your thing, turn to Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles or 1 and 2 Maccabees (there’s quite a few). If you’re looking for inspirational women, Ruth, Judith and Esther are heroines of Israel – and they have their own books. If you’re single and wondering whether God will ever answer your prayers for a spouse, read Tobit. Mourning? Job. Wanting to avoid God’s call for your life? Jonah. Looking for practical advice on Christian living? Anything by St Paul.

A minute of reading scripture is a minute of letting God speak into your life. And that is one of the best uses of a minute possible.