I’m going to warn you right up front: Junior year is a time to put the pedal to the metal. High school’s halfway over and the life beyond these four years is starting to creep in. A new job, a spot on the varsity team, AP classes… throw in the start of college applications and ACTs and it might seem like there’s no time for your faith life.
Not true. Actually, junior year is one of the best times to grow in faith and to make it something personal; it’s a chance to put what’s been learned into action. So that’s why this list is tougher than the others (you’ll have to check out the others and see if you agree with me). I picked works that didn’t just challenge me when I was a junior, but still challenge me today. You might not have time to read all of these, but give them a shot and you’ll be giving your spiritual muscles a serious workout.
1. Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) by Pope John Paul II
Where to start with this one? Written in 1995, Evangelium Vitae is basically the a monument in not only the pro-life movement, but in the entire understanding of the dignity of the human person. ‘Why do people matter? What does it really mean to love all persons? How does the Church strike back against the culture of death?’ These are the kinds of questions JP2 answers in the patient, gentle way only he can. This is flat-out a must read for anyone who loves Jesus. You can read the whole thing online for free, although you’ll probably want a hard copy to take notes on.
2. How to Win the Culture War by Peter Kreeft
I love rallying cries. In war movies, at sporting events, in the office… wherever it’s possible, I love getting people stirred up and ready to go. That’s what How to Win the Culture War is, only in book form. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy in Boston and has written quite a few books on the world, the Church, and culture – but this is his all-out plan of attack. Literally, the book is laid out like a very logical battle plan: “What’s our war? Who are we fighting? What’s the battlefield? How do we win?” Throughout the book, Kreeft shows how high the stakes are in this war while at the same time getting you excited to fight it. Be warned: after reading this, you’re probably going to want to be a lot holier.
3. The Divine Office by The Catholic Church
Want to unite yourself to the universal Church? Well, the first thing you should do is get to Mass! After that, though, one of the most ‘Catholic’ ways you can pray is through the Liturgy of the Hours. Using reflections from scripture, the psalms, and the writing of the saints, this is how priests and religious all over the world pray every day. If you’ve ever heard someone reference their ‘breviary,’ this is what they were talking about. Find a local Catholic bookstore and make sure to ask whoever’s working there to show you how to pray the Office… or ask your youth minister or pastor!
4. Theology for Beginners by F.J. Sheed
Someone gave me this book when I was in high school, and I remember thinking “I’m at every Life Night and working hard at loving Jesus; am I really just a ‘beginner’ in theology?” What I didn’t know then was that we’re all really beginners. Sheed lays out some of the most basic (and some of the most confusing) parts of our faith in a way that’s understandable and profound. It’s broken up into topics like the Sacraments, the end of the world, and Christ’s incarnation. It’s a great first step into the world of theology, and what it means to try to understand God.
Take some time this year to turn off your phone, step away from your computer, and spend time with God. Bring a book to the chapel, or throw it in your backpack when you head to class. Who knows – sainthood might be your toughest class this semester.