Recommended Reading: Books for Discernment

Looking for a little inspiration as you discern your next steps? We asked some former volunteers who’ve done a lot of discernment to share their recommended reading.

Recommendations from Caitlin Cipolla McCulloch, former Marianist Volunteer

The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham: This book takes a look at the desert fathers and couples their inspiration with the story of AA in the United States.  It provides helpful insights about the spiritual life and how we are striving to be best who God called us to be.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris: This book tells the story of Kathleen's education about monastic life through her lived experience of staying with the community.  It shares many rich nuggets about the vows and also humorous stories which resonate with my own experience of community life. 

Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser: This book deals with spirituality in a real, raw and honest way.  It looks at who we are as person's living lives rooted in Christ and deals with love, celibacy and faithfulness to the Christian vocation.

Recommendations from Sr. Meg Kymes, DC, former Vincentian Service Corps volunteer

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne:  I found this book to be helpful during my volunteer year since it spoke to social justice issue of living in solidarity with those living in poverty by living simply and in Shane's case living with the poor.  It also went deeper by talking about how his relationship with Jesus and the Scriptures were his motivation for living the counter-cultural life he was called to.

My Life with the Saints by Fr. James Martin, SJ:  I read this book twice during my time in the Seminary (also known as Novitiate in other communities).  I really enjoyed the way he spoke about the saints as real people with flaws and struggles.  I found these stories helpful for me to realize that even though I am flawed I, like the saints, are called to a live of holiness. 

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen:  I received this book as a gift when I moved in as a discerner with the Daughters of Charity.  I used it every morning as part of my meditation and always found it a comfort to remember that God is our loving Father waiting for us to come home and renew our lives with Him.

Recommendations from Sr. Sydney Moss, FMA, former VIDES and Cap Corps volunteer

What Does God Want by Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR: This book is really helpful because it goes through five steps to consider when discerning any decision- conformity, conversion, consistency, confirmation and conviction. It's very easy to read and has many practical examples.

Five Loaves and Two Fish by Cardinal Van Thuan: The Cardinal uses examples from his own life and shows how we have to discern between doing God's will and our own will. One of the main themes is "to live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love." The book isn't specifically about discernment, but it's super encouraging and a great reminder to live a radical life dedicated to God.

Discerning Your Vocation:  A Catholic Guide for Young Adults by the Community of the Beatitudes: This is a very practical book that looks at all three vocations and gives real life stories of people who have discerned. It's kind of like Fr. Scanlan's book but updated for our modern times.

Recommendations from Ellis McCulloh, Sisters of the Humility of Mary and former Franciscan Community volunteer

This Our Exile by Fr Jim Martin, SJ: I read this near the end of my volunteer year with the refugee community in Minnesota. It helped me process the year and recognize a call to continue to work with refugee communities. I read it again while seriously discerning religious life and resonated with Fr Jim Martin's own discernment and stories.

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day: Dorothy Day's life and journey inspired me to serve at a local Catholic Worker house the year after I ended my volunteer service.

They Come Back Singing by Gary Smith SJ: Again, I read this book during my volunteer year as I was struggling to grasp the beginnings of a call to religious life and process my experiences with the refugees.

Recommendation from Rachel Carey, former volunteer with the Srs. of St. Joseph Volunteer Corps

Waiting for God by Simone Weil:  This is a collection of letters to her confessor and a handful of her essays. She was clearly a woman who loved God, and her story has provided much support and guidance to my journey.  

Recommended by Sr. Cecilia Canales, L.A. Archdiocese

Vocations Anonymous: A Handbook for Adults Discerning Priesthood and Religious Life by Sr. Kathleen Bryant

Recommended by Rev. Martin O. Monan, III

Catholics on Call – Discerning a Life of Service in the Church (available here: This book contains the major talks from the young adult conference together with reflection questions and more resources. This book is a wonderful resource for anyone who is in the process of vocational discernment. It is equally valuable for those who know someone who is considering an ecclesial ministry. A must read.


Do you have any books to add to this list? We'd love to hear from you! Share your contributions with Katie Mulembe at [email protected].


Shared Visions is a collaborative effort of Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.