Three Spiritual Workbooks

Three recently published workbooks offer great promise as aids for readers’ spiritual progress in 2016: the first is The Holy Year of Mercy, a Faith-Sharing Guide with Reflections by Pope Francis; the second is God’s Healing Mercy, Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace, and Joy; and the third is A Year with St. John of the Cross.

Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be a holy year of mercy—a year in which the Pope hopes people will deeply experience the Mercy of Christ and begin a lifetime of sharing this Mercy with others. The two workbooks on Mercy should help readers in both aspects of the Pope’s aspirations, as will the book on the writings of St. John of the Cross.

A Year with St. John of the Cross (392 pages)

A Year with St. John of the Cross by Leonard Doohan, Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University, is a collection of his daily reflections based on the writings of the great Carmelite mystic. Prof. Doohan’s book is not just another daily-reflection book that reprints 365 sentences extracted from a saint’s writings; rather, it is Doohan’s thoughts and insights that make up the daily reflections, and therein lies the value of this workbook, as Doohan has spent a lifetime writing, speaking, and living the spirituality of St. John of the Cross. Author of over 24 books, Prof. Doohan has given over 350 workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. As a former university professor of religious studies, his insights are well thought-out and timely; he shows how the writings of the 16th century Spanish Doctor of the Church are highly applicable to the obstacles to interior growth and the spiritual inertia which are inherent in our age. Like St. Teresa and St. John, Doohan writes from a lived experience.

The structure of the workbook is simple. There is one page for each day of the year, each page consisting of Prof. Doohan’s reflection based on St. John’s writings, along with four narrowly-tailored reflection points and a section titled Challenges for Today. Each page has enough white space at the bottom to record personal thoughts and reactions to the reflection, creating a record for the reader’s later review to gauge progress. The four reflection points are psychologically apt, aimed at raising the reader’s awareness of the challenges he or she will face on the spiritual journey mapped out by St. John of the Cross. If one commits to the daily readings and perseveres in the practices presented, this workbook will give one a deeper comprehension of the spirituality of St. John of the Cross, and as a result draw one closer to God. Indeed, this is the overall objective of the book.

The next two workbooks were made specifically to coincide with the Year of Mercy. The first contains a reprint of the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis’ formal and official proclamation of this special year. The second workbook is notable for its moving “Profiles in Mercy.”

The Holy Year of Mercy, a Faith-Sharing Guide with Reflections
by Pope Francis (146 pages)

This workbook, published by The Word Among Us, consists of eight faith-sharing sessions, though the book can certainly be used privately and individually. Each session begins with a Scriptural reading that reveals an aspect of Christ’s Mercy. The Scriptural passage is followed by a homily that has been given by Pope Francis, which in turn is followed by a series of questions designed to aid the reader’s comprehension of the passage and Pope Francis’ interpretation of it. Another set of questions (titled “Grow!”), are intended to elicit the reader’s personal response to the Scriptural passage and Pope Francis’ insights; final sections (“Reflect” and “Act”), give suggestions for putting mercy into action. Following each question are blank lines where the reader can write his or her answers. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer to any of the questions; the writing prompt is there to help the reader clarify thought and gain healing insight into Christ’s Mercy.

God’s Healing Mercy, Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace and Joy
(187 pages)

This workbook, written by Kathleen Beckman, with a foreword by Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, JCD, DD, Bishop of Orange, California, consists of reflections on twelve aspects of Mercy. There are questions for group discussion and “a Letter from God” with a blank page for the reader’s return letter.

I found this workbook to be inspirational due to the conditions under which it was written and for the “Profiles in Mercy”— reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage—based on true stories of mercy in action. In my opinion, this is the better of the two workbooks on Mercy. Sophia Institute Press ( publishes this excellent book.