My Top Ten Books for 2023

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Originally Published on

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

There are thousands of new books published each year and they join the millions that are already in print.  And so, a book has to find you as much as you have to find it. Also, it is said that the book you need to read finds you at just that time when you most need to read it. With this as a background, let me list the top ten books that found me in 2023 at an apropos time.

In the area of spirituality …

  • Tomas Halik’sTouch the Wounds – On Suffering, Trust, & Transformation, takes the biblical image of Jesus inviting the apostle Thomas to touch his wounds so as to overcome his weak faith and universalizes it as an invitation for each of us. Are you having faith doubts? Reach out and touch those places where Christ is still wounded in our world.
  • Karl Rahner, Servants of the Lord. This book is more than fifty years old but is worth reading and rereading. It’s in one of the essays in this book that Rahner offers us his famous maxim: In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we learn that ultimately in this life there is no finished symphony.
  • Bill Cain, The Book of Cain. This is a very personal book written by a man, a Jesuit, who keeps a journal while he is keeping vigil with his mother as she is dying of a terminal disease. The book is full of poignant reflections on life, love, imperfection, and letting go.
  • Ben McBride, Troubling the Water – The Urgent Work of Radical Belonging. This is the book on social justice that I most recommend this year. McBride works among the poor in Oakland, California, and beyond some of his practical recommendations as to how each of us might become more involved in justice work, the great strength of this book is what he invites us to in terms of heart and attitude while working for justice. He puts some practical skin on what this means in terms of working with a community as opposed to being a lone ranger, and on how to sustain yourself for the long haul and remain empathic in the face of opposition and hatred.
  • Connie Zweig’s, The Inner Work of Age – Shifting from Role to Soul, is an excellent book on aging. Her subtitle says it well; the task in aging is to shift from role to soul. The book makes some valuable suggestions on how this is done.
  • Kim Colella, Spirit Embraced, AS A Guiding Memoir for a Life Authentic. This is a very personal book, a memoir, which traces out her own journey in life. How does someone mature? We each have our own path, but Colella shares the path she took and there is much we can learn from reading her story. I’m also proud to say that she is a former student of mine.

In the more academic realm …

  • Brian Swimme, Cosmogenesis, An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe. Leaning on great theological thinkers (such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry) Swimme (who is a scientist) proposes a vision that incorporates how our universe began, how it is bent in terms of its ongoing evolution, and how all of this is meant to all end up in a powerful vision of hope. Contemporary astrophysics and the Bible can befriend each other. Brian Swimme will give you that link.
  • Philip Sheldrake, Julian of Norwich: In God’s Sight – Her Theology in Context. The book is somewhat heavy academically, but it is a first-rate textbook on Julian of Norwich.
  • Lisabeth During, The Chastity Plot. This is a brilliant (and basically very fair) history of the concept of chastity within Western culture. From its ascetic roots in Christianity, through its social roots in the centuries of arranged marriages in which women were often the victims of patriarchy, through its romantic roots in Victorian England, this book highlights the various nuances and modalities of chastity – and leaves us with the question, Can anyone today say the word purity without a cringe? 

Novels …

  • 2023 was not a good year for me in terms of reading novels. Although I read a number of novels, all of which had received good reviews, only one of them stood out for me, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Unsheltered.  

Special mention …

The renowned scripture scholar Raymond E. Brown wrote monumental works on both the birth and the death of Jesus. The editors at Worship, recognizing that these great commentaries would be inaccessible to most everyone outside of an academic classroom, invited him to condense these into a series of short, popular booklets. Brown did this brilliantly and has left us five short popular books (all by Liturgical Press) that contain his deep insights.

  • Coming Christ in Advent
  • An Adult Christ at Christmas
  • A Crucified Christ in Holy Week, Essays on the Four Passion Narratives,
  • A Risen Christ at Eastertime
  • A Once and Coming Spirit at Pentecost

They are a treasure, worth rereading every year during their proper season.