Because many people are laid off from their jobs and unable to socialize, eat out, or even go to Mass for the foreseeable future, I’ve included a list of good Catholic books that you can read while you’re staying at home. All of them are available for free online (links included). You don’t need a credit card or a bank account, and you can browse them from the comfort of your laptop or mobile device.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
Thomas à Kempis first wrote this spiritual classic in the Netherlands from ca. 1418–1427. Second only to the Bible as one of the best known and widely read Christian devotional books of all time, the Imitation is divided into four major sections. Book One, “Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul,” consists of 25 short chapters that show the reader how to imitate Our Lord through humility, charity, reading the Holy Scriptures, following the example of the Holy Fathers and loving solitude and silence, among many others; Book Two, “The Interior Life,” continues Book One’s theme and includes “The Joy of a Good Conscience,” “Loving Jesus above All Things,” and following “The Royal Road of the Holy Cross.”
Book Three, “Internal Consolation,” is the longest section. Christ carries on a dialogue with the Disciple, and His disciples can learn how “Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good”; “To Find the Creator, Forsake All Creatures”; “God’s Grace Is Not Given to the Earthly Minded”; and “All Hope and Trust Are to Be Fixed on God Alone” along with 55 other nuggets of spiritual wisdom. The last section, Book Four, “An Invitation to the Holy Communion,” advises us on how we should receive Holy Communion worthily through an examination of conscience, confession, and devout reception. Christ tells the Disciple to “Receive the Body of the Lord, not out of habit or necessity, but with fear, with reverence and with love.” How many of us will do that once we can go to Mass again?
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton wrote this book in 1925 as a rebuttal to H.G. Wells’s The Outline of History, which was an atheistic take on human history from the beginning of creation until the 20th century. What a rebuttal it is! Chesterton demolishes Wells’s view of human beings as just highly evolved animals and Jesus Christ as just another religious teacher. The book starts off with the famous prehistoric cave paintings in what is now France and Spain. If humans are “just another animal,” how were they able to paint drawings with such skill and detail? The evidence, unlike Wells’s made-up fantasy about the “Old Man,” speaks for itself.
Chesterton also picks apart the popular claim that polytheism is the original and natural human religion and that monotheism came later. Instead, he counters that monotheism came first and paganism developed afterward. Using examples from Native American religion, the Australian aborigines, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, and Virgil, he shows that “there was never any such thing as the Evolution of the Idea of God.” Instead, ancient people gradually forgot about the one true God and began worshiping lesser gods who were really demons.
Chesterton tackles another fallacy, as common in his time as it is in ours, that Jesus Christ was a loving ethical sage, but his followers made Him into something wrathful and terrible. Anyone who reads the Gospels can see how false this is. Instead, while Christ does show kindness and tenderness, He also rebukes hypocrites, chastises His disciples, heals the sick, and exorcises evil spirits. If we take the Gospels as a merely human story, it’s a very strange story. It makes much more sense to see Our Lord as He really is than as the modern world would like Him to be, harmless and “inclusive.”
If you’d like to read some of Chesterton’s other works, including The Ballad of the White Horse, Heretics, Orthodoxy, and The Wisdom of Father Brown, please click here.
Robert Hugh Benson’s Reformation Trilogy
Robert Hugh Benson was an Anglican cleric who converted to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest. As well as swimming the Tiber, Benson was a gifted writer who put his literary talents to good use. The Reformation Trilogy were three novels he wrote about the Protestant Revolution in England, told from the Catholic point of view.
By What Authority is set in the small English village of Great Keynes during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and deals with a Catholic recusant family, the Maxwells, and their relations with their neighbors, the Norrises, who are Calvinist. Over the course of the novel, Hubert Maxwell, the younger son, falls in love with Isabel Norris. Hubert joins the Royal Navy and becomes a Protestant to please Isabel, while Isabel, under the influence of Mistress Margaret, an old nun, becomes a Catholic.
The King’s Achievement takes place during King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Benson travels back in time more than thirty years, to the same village of Great Keynes. The main character, Christopher Torridon, follows a vocation to become a monk shortly before the dissolution. Christopher’s sister Margaret is Mistress Margaret in By What Authority. The King’s Achievement shows how Henry VIII forced his religious changes through with propaganda and brute force,and divided families in the process.
Benson wrote The Queen’s Tragedy as his third novel in the trilogy about Mary Tudor. Unfortunately, there isn’t a high-quality digital copy of the book available. Come Rack! Come Rope! is another historical novel that deals with the religious conflict in Elizabethan England. In the little town of Matstead, Mr. Audrey, a longtime committed Catholic, decides that he can’t pay fines for missing Anglican services any longer and declares that he will take Protestant communion at Easter. His teenage son, Robin, refuses to go and eventually leaves England to become a priest. After he’s ordained, Robin returns and ministers to recusant families until he’s caught by pursuviants.
The Catholic Controversy by St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis de Sales was a young priest sent by his bishop to evangelize the Calvinists of the Chablais region of France. The Protestants refused to listen to him until St. Francis wrote tracts defending the truths of the Catholic Faith and demolishing Protestant claims. He slipped these under the doors of their houses, because they would not meet him openly. Using history, logic, common sense, and passages of Scripture, the saint converted 72,000 Calvinists to Catholicism in only four years.
This book is a collection of those tracts. Anyone who has family members who are fervent anti-Catholic evangelical Protestants, comes from that background, or just wants to learn more about how logical and thought out the Faith is and how illogical many heresies are will want to read its pages.
 Thomas à Kempis. “The Twelfth Chapter. The Communicant Should Prepare Himself For Christ With Great Care.” In The Imitation of Christ. Lederu.com. Accessed March 30, 2020. https://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imb4c11-18.html#RTFToC348
 Chesterton, G.K. “Part 1 Chapter 4. God and Comparative Religion.” In The Everlasting Man. World Invisible.com. Accessed March 30, 2020. https://www.worldinvisible.com/library/chesterton/everlasting/content.htm
Jeff Dahlberg is a freelance writer who lives in the Western New York region of the United States. As he is a revert from lapsed Catholicism and practical atheism, his salvation is a work in progress.