I have a fairly major addiction to books. I absolutely love buying books, reading books, borrowing books, talking about books, the whole nine yards. My obsession for the written word isn't completely my fault – both of my parents are bibliophiles who have a persistent problem finding enough wall space for more bookshelves in their home.
Whether it's a fun novel, a helpful spiritual work, or just a great source of personal enrichment, I am always appreciative when a friend or family member recommends a book to me that has influenced or inspired them. In this month's column, I'd like to do the same for you. I'd like to share some titles from my own reading list – books that have most definitely impacted my life as a single Catholic, and helped me grow in several different areas.
These titles are a little out of the ordinary when it comes to books discussed in singles groups or Catholic circles. But I believe they have the potential to leave a significant and lasting impact on your life in terms of your career, your vocation, your relationships, and your walk with the Lord.
Don't Settle for Good, When You Can Be Great
When I began working in youth ministry, the very first assignment my boss gave me was to read the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don't , by Jim Collins (Harper, 2001). At first I thought it was incredibly strange that my boss would have a fledgling youth leader read a book written about Fortune 500 companies and what makes a CEO great instead of merely status quo. That is, until I read the book. Good to Great became one of the most valuable tools of my new job, because it taught me the qualities and characteristics of real leaders, successful companies, and great teams.
Jim Collins (also best-selling author of Built to Last ) gathered a team of research specialists who spent five years analyzing Fortune 500 companies and asking "How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?" In other words, Collins set out to find the answer to the question: "what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?"
Have you ever wondered what made Walgreens the most successful drug store in America, instead of Eckerd, who previously lead the industry? The answer is what Collins calls Level 5 Leadership. He found that the attributes of a Level 5 Leader are humility, a willingness to constantly learn and try new things, diligence, striving for the success of the company (instead of personal recognition and gain), and knowing what NOT to do as well as what should be on your "to do" list.
Collins also found that a key determinate between an average and truly great company is finding the right people, and then assigning the right people to the right tasks: "Get the wrong people off the bus, the right people in the right seats, and then decide where to drive." This advice can be a lifesaver to any team working together. If people are placed in positions where they can excel in the ways they are naturally wired to work best, the entire team will have a much greater chance of success.
Good to Great will teach you the attributes of a truly great leader. Collins explores the importance of humility, modesty, discipline, and other virtues that are crucial for the success of any venture. Whether you utilize the information in Good to Great to pursue your career, your personal life goals, or in ministry, it will help you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and focus your efforts on becoming great at what God has called you to accomplish in this life.
Take a Trip to Financial Peace University
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to pick the brain of a marriage counselor who had been counseling couples for over two decades. "In my experience, ninety percent of marriage fights and squabbles are about money," he said. I've heard similar comments from other marriage counselors, therapists, and experts. It seems that in most relationships, money will always be a hot topic.
Unfortunately, we live in an exceedingly debt-saturated culture. For most Americans, our financial philosophy includes allowance for a lot more debt than should ever be accumulated. Regardless of the current state of your finances, I'm confident that all of us could benefit from re-thinking the choices we make with money. Especially for single adults, it is important for us to start making wise financial decisions now, during our single years, as a means of solid preparation for married life.
Although there are numerous sources of financial advice available to us in the form of books, CDs, workshops, and online courses, I have personally found financial expert Dave Ramsey to be the best source of advice, motivation, and practical help on the difficult road to restoring financial peace in your life.
I wish I had the space in this column to share stories of miracles I have witnessed in friends, relatives, co-workers and colleagues whose lives were transformed in the area of financial discipline through a single book: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness , by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, 2007). [Note of caution: Dave Ramsey does speak about Christian and spiritual principles which may not be compatible with the Catholic Faith, so please discern accordingly.]
Dave Ramsey will change your attitude about money. He condenses two decades of financial teaching and coaching into this New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller. In The Total Money Makeover , Dave outlines seven easy-to-follow steps that will lead you to a debt-free lifestyle. While his advice and recommendations are certainly not easy to follow, Dave offers the encouragement and practical advice you need to make the painful step-by-step journey out of debt and into financial freedom.
A Bishop Speaks to Young Adults
It's not often that you find a bishop willing to write an 800-plus page book to Catholic young adults. It's probably more unusual that such a book is written to explain the Bible to young people. But that's just what Bishop Frederick Justus Knecht did in 1893 with his book A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture (TAN, 2003).
I know it sounds like a daunting book, but if you work through the book as a devotional study, and read just 5 minutes worth of Bishop Knecht's Commentary every day, you can get through this entire book in a year.
The German Bishop's Commentary is deep, but it's also exceptionally clear and easy to understand. This is not a verse-by-verse commentary on the Bible, but instead is a look at the big picture of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, you will read the stories of the Bible, followed by a brief explanation and commentary on the Scripture passage. Bishop Knecht usually ends his commentary with a third section containing a moral challenge and practical application for the modern reader.
Besides its easy-to-understand language, insightful pictures, diagrams, maps, and a very helpful concordance, one of the major bonuses of this Commentary is that it was written before modernism entered Scripture scholarship. You won't find a lot of mumbo-jumbo that belongs in your trash and not on your shelf in this book. Bishop Knecht's Commentary provides solid, orthodox explanations of the Scriptures, and draws pastoral lessons and insights that will have a deep impact on your life as you strive for holiness.
St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," and the reverse is also true: knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ. As single Catholics, we need the Word of God planted deep within our souls. Bishop's Knecht's Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture is the perfect place to start.