Stronger Brains, Holier Souls


Photo:by DuBoix (2010) at

Want a stronger, smarter brain? Read. Want a holier soul? Read good Catholic literature.

The research shows that the simple act of reading builds a better brain by improving the “connectivity” between the brain circuits. There’s no research to show that Catholic reading builds a better soul, but I can’t imagine it would be otherwise. No doubt the Holy Spirit is present from the inspiration to the reception. It is the reason I, and other Catholic authors I know, pray daily for those who have our books. The Holy Spirit runs the show.

What we read sinks in like osmosis filling our minds and hearts and driving our souls. So I stay away from shallow and seek out spiritually beneficial books. Given that I write occasional book reviews, books often show up in my mailbox. So in the interest of strong brains and souls, here are a few of my favorites picks that I’ve read during 2015 thus far.

On Human Life: Humanae Vitae

Every Catholic should read this book. No exaggeration. Mary Eberstadt, James Hitchock, and Jennifer Fulwiler contributed commentary, history and sociological evidence surrounding Pope Paul VI’s encyclical that—in the words of Pope Francis: “were prophetic.” It answers the entire “why” questions including: why have families fallen apart; why is society losing its mind; why does the Catholic Church teach against contraception?   It’s hard to follow or defend Catholic teaching if you don’t know the whys, including why it’s ultimately bad for society to ignore it.

Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross

My book study group wanted an easy, enjoyable read for summer. We picked this book and love it. Dr. Edward Sri takes Scripture and shows us how approachable our Blessed Mother is. He deciphers history and culture to reveal Mary as a flesh and blood person who endured physical and spiritual trials with faith and love. If you love Mary, or want to get to know her better and love her more, this is a wonderful book.

Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back

I like drama with happy endings. I especially love to hear of people who came to their senses and left the culture of death to defend life. Ramona Trevino shares her story through writer Roxane B. Salonen explaining how a nice girl like her was doing the dirty work of Planned Parenthood and how she came to her senses.

Sweetening the Pill Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control

WARNING: Author Holly Grigg-Spall does not believe in Catholic teaching on sex and marriage. She’s very cynical of the religious right. Yet, as a health reporter, Holly reveals the science behind hormonal contraception’s destruction of the lives of women mentally, physically and emotionally. Perhaps with enough prayers, Holly will  eventually recognize the spiritual destruction also. As a liberal, she’s frustrated that Planned Parenthood and other liberals generally resisting the facts, even though death and disability are some of the side effects. I recommend this book so that you will be privy to the horrors of contraception and warn your loved ones—many of whom likely also reject Catholic teaching. Faithful Catholics already know contraception is against God’s plan for men and women. This book shows some of the destruction that comes trying to rewrite morality.

Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag: On-the-go Devotions

So, now it’s time for something light, often clever and always edifying. Teresa Tomeo made reading easy in her cute purse-sized book with meditations, inspiration, Scripture passages, and observations for women.

Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity

I thought I had read enough on this subject but I was wrong. Trent Horn meets atheists where they are at, with respect and understanding. But by using science and logic, he takes their arguments to their ultimate conclusions, which leads to a Creator, aka God. Since atheism is contagious and can be lethal, I recommend this book to all good Catholics to read then to share with their atheist loved ones.

Who Designed the Designer: A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence

Yet another book to rebut atheism. Michael Augros gets a bit more specific, however, as he sticks to the ultimate debate stopper: Okay then, who made God? Augros interjects personal stories and humorous antidotes into an understanding of universal principals to rationally prove the existence of intelligent design behind the universe.

Joyful Witness: How to be an Extraordinary Catholic

Author Randy Hain is a successful businessman, senior editor of the e-zine Integrated Catholic Life and Catholic convert. Using his organized and clear writing style, Randy shares his own story as well as testimonies from an assortment of everyday Catholics who explain the ways they live their faith with passion and joy. Each chapter ends with reflections and questions ideal for a book study group.

30 Days with Teresa of Avila

Dan Burke and Anthony Lilles have combined 30 days of advice and reflections from St. Teresa of Avila, a mystic and doctor of the Church. Through letters to friends, which includes a King of Spain, and a cloistered nun to relatives, she leads them through physical and spiritual trials with deep insights. These unedited letters offer advice from one of history’s spiritual giants on developing an intimate relationship with God. It’s much needed spiritual refreshment to shore up strength amid today’s cultural storms.

Visions of Purgatory: A Private Revelation

This is inspiration to live for heaven. Translated from the original French publication, the author (anonymous) under direction of a priestly spiritual director, recorded visions received from his guardian angel and messages from souls in purgatory. Having glimpsed purgatory, the author warned that no one should want to go there. Ultimately, this book conveys that life, death, and the hereafter ultimately revolve around God’s love for us and our love for God. The latter becomes the greatest source of pain through separation in purgatory. “The only way to avoid purgatory is not to do everything to avoid it, but to do everything to go to heaven. It is to work untiringly for your own perfection and salvation, giving yourself to the infinite love of God in conformity in everything with his demands, not having anything else in mind other than the glory of God. Everything else is vanity.” This book inspired me to want to love more and not take sin lightly.

The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church

After 40 years in the often-brutal pro-life trenches and as a college professor, Monica Miller can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any activist. She cuts through the angry façade of the women’s rights movement to define true femininity, designed by God, as revealed through the Catholic Church. The change she is most advocating for is for more women to recognize the authority that is already ours through the Bible and the Church. Monica is perfectly suited to write about the authentic empowerment of women and provides a theology here that can heal a generation that has lost its way.

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Copyright 2015 Patti Maguire Armstrong.
Photo: by DuBoix (2010) at


About Author

Patti Maguire Armstrong, is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at


  1. Patti, a great list. And I’m not just saying that because a book I co-authored is included. A few of these I’ve read, a few are on my list, and now there are a couple more to add to my list. Thank you! I love reading books and hope that activity never goes out of style. 🙂

  2. Brain science studies were conducted with nonfiction books, but didn’t have the results that reading fiction did. I’m not advocating not reading nonfiction, and the Catholic books you listed are wonderful, but don’t forget that fiction is the medium where connectivity is created in our brains. The studies showed fiction had a profound effect upon our brain, making us more empathetic, presenting us with problems we wouldn’t have encountered in our lives, and teaching us how to solve them within our world. Oddly enough, nonfiction didn’t have nearly the effect of fiction, in fact it was negligible. The why is simple. We walk in the shoes of a fictional character as we read, and discover their motivations and their history in real time, in that meditative state we reach when we read a novel. We are there. In nonfiction, we employ a different part of our brain. I believe it’s the same state we achieve when we pray the rosary.

    In a sense, Jesus gave us parables about fictional characters and how they solved their problems, and what their motivations were. They are quite literally unforgettable to us. Although following Saint Teresa’s life, and the choices she made are admirable, and I recommend every child read them, most kids would rather read the Harry Potter stories. The why is obvious. We need our meditative state to heal, to grow, to find our way through the noise. Fiction gives us that. We should encourage our friends and family to read one nonfiction book to every fictional story, and your list is an excellent start. But we also need to encourage Catholic writers to write fiction, to struggle with the thorny issues of life within a great novel, and not just testimonials. Flannery O’Connor’s stories have shown the dark and the light side of mankind, and she’s changed people’s lives. Personally, I’ve read lots and lots of testimonials, encyclicals, histories, and great books about Saints’ lives, but it was Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov that brought me to Christ in a very profound way. Ivan’s encounter with the Devil felt too real, too much like what I was experiencing. I could see it in my head, feel his anger and fear. That is the story that meets us where it counts. Or think of someone like the character in The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham, who discovers a group of nuns sold out to Christ and working in unbelievably dangerous conditions, and still maintaining their faith. It changes her wanton ways, changes her into a believer, showing her a path of true love: The Love of God.

    So, how about a few novels on your list? Just sayin’…

  3. Patti Armstrong on

    Very interesting, Cheri. I have not read much fiction in recent years. I loved “Rachel’s Contrition” and I write children’s fiction, but I’m not the best person to come up with such a list. Maybe that’s something you can do?

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