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Link’s Library: Catholic Human Formation Resources

May 17, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

Link, a Resilient Catholics Community member, recently asked, “Dr. Peter, what would you recommend I read to work on developing my understanding of Catholic anthropology?”

Inspired by Link’s question, Dr. Gerry and I are collaborating on a new project: a living, working document – an annotated bibliography of the best human formation resources grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person.

Today’s launch of “Link’s Library” will include a list of recommended non-fiction reading to guide, inform and educate not only mental health professionals, clergy, spiritual directors, teachers, coaches, mentors, and others who are directly forming others – but also ordinary lay Catholics like Link who want to learn about human formation from a Catholic perspective. This reflection helps address where we can find what we need for a proper conceptual understanding of an ordered human formation. We will keep this document posted in the archive of weekly reflections under its original publication date, May 17, 2022.

Two fundamental resources

The Bible

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

These two primary, fundamental written works for Catholics may not have specific sections labeled “human formation,” however each is a treasure trove for developing a greater understanding of the human person.

As the inspired Word of God, the collected books of the Bible teach us so much about man, beginning with the first book. In Genesis, we see the full spectrum of human qualities on display. The deep connection between God and man, clearly and beautifully develops even as the fallen human nature complicates the created simplicity.

The Wisdom books of the Bible — Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), Song of Songs (Canticle of Canticles), Wisdom, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) offer us questions and answers about the human condition, suffering, death, wickedness, virtue, and justice. The Wisdom literature shares with us the intensity of human experience, the rules to live by, and guidance for how to form ourselves and others.

In the New Testament, the Gospels encompass both the spiritual and the natural realm as Jesus teaches and models our true identity as beloved little children of God the Father and shows us how to live from that identity in loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

Taking ‘first place’ in this list of recommended books, the Bible is rich with human formation material and holds timeless examples both for our education and our edification. For an easy-to-use online version of the Bible, with several Catholic translations to choose from in the drop-down menu, visit the Bible Gateway.

‘Second place’ is given to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which contains and explains the basic and most fundamental truths of the Catholic Faith to the universal Church, and is the standard resource and reference point for understanding Church teaching.

“The Dignity of the Human Person” in Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1 (paragraphs 1700-1876) is of particular importance for human formation. Chapter 2, titled “The Human Community” (paragraphs 1877-1948) and Chapter 3, “God’s Salvation: Law and Grace” (paragraphs 1949-2051) are also important reference points.

Other CCC paragraphs relevant to human formation, all of which deal with aspects of our human nature and human formation are as follows: 1, 27-35, 355-390, 396-412, 781-786, 897-913, 2258-2330 and 2777-2793.

An easy-to-search online version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is available here, and the USCCB offers an online flip-book.

Official Church documents on human formation

Pastores Dabo Vobis

“I will give you shepherds.” PDV is an apostolic exhortation by Pope John Paul II, released on March 25, 1992, addressed to the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church throughout the world. This was the first major Church document to expressly name and address human formation, specifically in paragraphs 43 and 44. PDV stated that human formation is the “necessary foundation” for priestly formation (paragraph 43). Paragraphs 43 and 44 are the seminal text for understanding the mind of the Church on human formation and are essential reading. While specifically addressing seminarian and priestly formation, they also apply to the laity and religious.

The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests

A 2001 statement from the U.S. Catholic Bishops that seeks to complement and expand upon Pastores Dabo Vobis for the United States. Section J specifically addresses human formation of priests and seminarians, and briefly lists some means of human formation.

The Gift of the Priestly Vocation

Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis by the Congregation for the Clergy, updated and published in L’Osservatore Romano December 8, 2016.

The Program for Priestly Formation (Sixth Edition)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published this new edition in 2022. Paragraphs 181-224 make up the chapter entitled “Human Dimensions” and are the longest treatment of human formation in a Church document that I’ve discovered thus far. The PPF6 defined human formation for the first time in a Church document: “Following St. Thomas Aquinas, human formation should be understood as education in the human virtues perfected by charity.” [p. 204]. The PPF6 also identifies the goals of human formation for seminarians, providing benchmarks to assess the progress of these men in their human formation at different stages of seminary formation. See the flip book here.

Works by Catholic clergy who are experts in human formation

Hedging the heart: Five preconditions of an authentic human formation

A 2023 article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review by Fr. John Nepil. This may be the best article I’ve read on the topic, discussing the prerequisites for human formation: 1) Education is the art of being human; 2) A milieu is educative; 3) The primacy of the heart; 4) The relational dynamic of self-knowledge; and 5) Trust: The primordial relational grounds. Fr. Nepil does not mince words about the potential deficits of human formation and their causes, getting more into the messy reality of human formation than many other authors.

Catholic Priesthood: Formation and Human Development

A 2006 book by Fr. Gerald D. Coleman, S.S. This was one of the earlier discussions of human formation and Chapter 4 on human formation is still a valuable resource.

Christ as the Foundation of Seminary Formation

A 2016 book edited by James Keating, featuring essays by Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Cardinal Francis George, Fr. Richard Gabuzda, and Edward Hogan. Archbishop Aquila’s essay, The Priest as a Man of Charity: Integrating Human and Spiritual Priestly Formation is particularly relevant.

The four pillars of religious formation: Human formation

A 2019 article in Religious Life by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P, is worth reading as he focuses on the family as the “bedrock” of human formation, and discusses how human formation challenges impact obedience in religious life. A downloadable PDF is available here.

Christ is the sure foundation: Priestly human formation completed in and by spiritual formation

A 2010 article in Nova et Vetera by Deacon James Keating. Downloadable PDF here

Models of priestly formation: Assessing the past, reflecting on the present, and imagining the future

A 2019 book edited by Salvador Ryan, Declan Marmio, and Michael Mullaney which is particularly useful for its historical and international perspectives on seminary formation.

Works relevant to human formation written by lay Catholics

Handbook Of Human Formation: a Resource for the Cultivation of Character

A short 2014 book by Cameron Thompson which states “… Human Formation aims at the perfecting of the natural human qualities of the person as the “raw material” for sanctity. It is the process of attaining the highest and best of one’s human nature and the fulfillment of that human nature as it is instantiated in this or that particular person.” [pp. 1-2]. This book is notable for focusing on human formation for all Catholics, not just priests and seminarians. We are using it in the Resilient Catholics Community for those in the advanced RCC cohort, the Formation Fellowship. It needed a copy editor to correct some idiosyncrasies in language usage and Thompson sometimes fails to define his terms, but these are minor complaints in light of the content and the effort to reach out to non-clerical Catholics.

A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person: Integration with Psychology & Mental Health Practice

A 2020 book edited by Paul Vitz, William Nordling, and Craig Steven Titus. This 800+ page book integrates philosophy, theology, and psychology to better understand the human person and is the fruit of many years of deep reflection and collaboration by the faculty at Divine Mercy University. What is particularly remarkable about this book is the breadth and depth of its scholarship. This book follows the counsel of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 62: In pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology, so that the faithful may be brought to a more adequate and mature life of faith. Highly recommended.

The Human Person: A Beginner’s Thomistic Psychology

A 2018 book by Steven Jensen I have not read yet, but was recommended to me by two colleagues as an accessible introduction to understanding psychology and human formation from a Thomistic perspective.

Resources on ordered self-love

Our mission at Souls and Hearts focuses on human formation in the service of the three loves identified in the two great commandments: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. According to Aquinas, an ordered love of self is indispensable for loving God and neighbor as I detailed in my October 5, 2022 weekly reflection. Thus, I am including in this bibliography the best resources on ordered self-love, given how important it is in human formation.

Christian Love: How Christians Through the Ages Have Understood Love

A 2003 book by Bernard Brady which is essentially a history of love as expressed in Christian thought and belief. About 35% of the text are quotes from primary sources, from Genesis to 20th century Catholic and Protestant writers. Remarkably broad and well-written, thought-provoking, especially for those interested in a historical progression of Christian understandings of love, including ordered self-love.

The Metaphysical Foundations of Love

One of the most influential books in my life, this 2018 book by Catholic philosopher Anthony Flood, asserts that love is “the structuring notion of Aquinas’s practical philosophy.” (p. ix). Flood’s book is a particularly helpful synthesis of Aquinas’s thought on self-love and internal unity (or interior integration), which is essential in human formation.

The Root of Friendship: Self-Love and Self-Governance in Aquinas

A 2014 book by Anthony Flood, drawing out the importance for Aquinas of self-experience. Proper self-governance requires ordered self-love, which in turn is essential for loving others. Flood’s books, while conceptually rich, are relatively easy to read, especially compared to other books on metaphysics.

Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering

A 2010 book by Eleonore Stump that is simply excellent in its description of the necessity of interior integration in human formation. This book focuses on Aquinas’ understanding of theodicy, but in the process draws out so much from Aquinas on human formation. This book is also relatively easy to grasp, and uses very clear, human examples to illustrate the main points.

Thomas Aquinas on Self-Love as Perfective of the Human Person

A 2015 doctoral dissertation by Sr. Marian Julian Ekman, RSM (downloadable PDF here). This work develops an Thomistic understanding of how the “self” as both the lover and beloved is perfected through ordered self-love. This is an academic work, heavily referenced, and a demanding read. I am fascinated by it, but I have yet to complete it.

New Catholic Scholarship

Integratus: The Journal of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association

Earlier this year, the Catholic Psychotherapy Association launched its own journal, Integratus. According to the CPA, the mission of the journal is to “publish professional, peer-reviewed scholarship that integrates mental health sciences and Catholic thought. In addition to mental health professionals, Integratus will be a resource for Catholic clergy, men and women religious, pastoral ministers, lay ministers, and the broader public.” In Volume 1, Issue 1, Robert Kugelman published an article titled “Flourishing: Catholic Psychological Approaches.”

Being formed by our primary parents

I make the case in in my August 3, 2002 reflection and elsewhere that the Blessed Virgin Mary and God the Father are our primary parents, with our earthly parents taking a distant second role. As our Father and Mother, God and Mary form us not only spiritually, but also on the natural level.

I have some hesitations to start including spiritual works in this library of human formation resources – but it is clearly not spiritualizing or spiritual bypassing if we bring our human needs for formation to God and Mary. Sometimes they do this directly, instead of using intermediaries, especially if others near us are unwilling or unable to help us.

Two books stand out for me in describing how God the Father and Mary our help us in our human formation.

My Ideal: Jesus, Son of Mary

A classic by Fr. Emil Neubert, this book introduced me to how Mary is my primary mother, and what it really means for me to accept my identity as her beloved little son. It is short, simple and powerful, written with Jesus and Mary speaking in the first person to the reader.

Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love

This book is by Benedictine monks and spiritual directors Fr. Thomas Acklin and Fr. Boniface Hicks draws the reader into the reality of being a cherished son or daughter of God the Father. Both these men are psychologically-minded and well-informed about human formation. Fr. Acklin is a psychoanalyst and Fr. Boniface, a longtime friend and supporter of Souls and Hearts, has a deep grasp on Internal Family Systems and parts work. This book is a prime example of how human formation and spiritual formation should be integrated.

Souls and Hearts weekly reflections

There are so many valuable resources on human formation archived at Souls and Hearts. Here are the most recent weekly reflections in the archive:

  • March 29, 2023: Catholic Understandings of Human Formation. In this reflection I examined the what of human formation, the different definitions of human formation.
  • April 5, 2023: Catholic Human Formation Is a Lifelong Pilgrimage. In this one, I explored the when of human formation, how it spans your lifetime.
  • April 12, 2023: Who Forms Your Clay? In this piece, I identified the who of human formation – who are the agents of human formation?
  • April 19, 2023: The “Whys” of Human Formation. Here, I discussed the critical importance of human formation for Catholics, answering the question, “Why do you need to pursue human formation deliberately in your life?”
  • April 26, 2023: On The Metaphysics Of The Human Person, Here, our guest philosopher Monty De La Torre introduced us to a deeper understanding of who a human person is through the lens of an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. A sound conceptualization of the human person is a necessary prerequisite to understand how a person should be formed.
  • May 3, 2023 On The Metaphysics of Human Formation. In this piece, our guest philosopher Monty De La Torre explored what goods of the body and soul we should pursue in order to flourish. He outlined and described those goods from a Thomistic perspective, drawing from the work of David Oderberg.
  • May 10, 2023 On the Importance of C+ Work in Human Formation. I returned to discuss how messy and approximate human formation work is, to counter perfectionistic tendencies common in Catholics sincerely trying to live out their faith.

Under construction

“Link’s library” is off to a good start with the launch of this non-fiction bibliography. A future section will include a list of fiction works – children are not formed by reading the academic and professional literature – rather, they are formed by stories. We are all little children in God’s eyes, and we each have ‘young’ parts that will benefit from fables, stories, novels, and other works of fiction that foster positive human formation.

Another section, currently under construction, will provide a compilation of Catholic organizations which focus on human formation. Perhaps other sections will also come into being including audio resources, etc.

Team of builders for a dynamic project

The list of non-fiction works in “Link’s Library” is meant to be a living, dynamic resource, updated periodically as new titles are discovered, re-discovered or created. Please reach out to me at if you have suggestions for written sources to include in the non-fiction bibliography or in the other sections under construction.

Dr. Gerry and I appreciate your input and suggestions for this dynamic library of resources and welcome feedback and highly regard the interconnections made possible by your participation.

Interior Integration for Catholics podcast episode

Titled A Demonstration of IFS and Your Questions About Anger, IIC episode 113 featured Resilient Catholic Community Lead Navigator Marion Moreland and I leading a demonstration of Internal Family Systems work around anger, followed by a Q&A where we discussed with our live audience member the topics of exiled anger, forgiveness, and legacy burdens. Don’t miss it!

Come and experience the Resilient Catholics Community

Human formation. Interior integration. Love of God, of neighbor, and of self. That is what Marion and I focus on in the Resilient Catholics Community as we walk together with our RCC members on a pilgrimage to overcome the natural level obstacles that keep us from fully embracing our identity as beloved little sons and daughters of God. We bring the best of psychological and human formation resources and grounded them in an authentic Catholic understanding of the human person. And we are pioneers in exploring what it truly means to love oneself in an ordered way – and that is such a difficulty for so many Catholics in our modern world. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, if we do not love ourselves properly, we limit how much we can love God and our neighbor. Find out much more about the RCC on our landing page.

Be With the Word for the Ascension of our Lord

Join Dr. Gerry and me for a 43-minute discussion of the psychology of doubt in this week’s episode. Just as the apostles doubted during this period between Easter and Pentecost, we often find doubt entering our own minds. Frequently, there are psychological causes of that doubt that must be addressed to help open our hearts further to God’s grace and the gift of faith. Dr. Gerry and I read the Mass readings out loud here.

Please keep Souls and Hearts in your prayers

Please keep us in your prayers as we experience the growing pains of transitioning from a little start-up to a more established organization. We are in the process of hiring and training more staff to handle all the increased interest in what we offer. That’s exciting. But it’s also demanding. Dr. Gerry and I know full well that everything we do at Souls and Hearts needs to be fueled by prayer. So please support us in your prayers. We are praying for you.

Warm regards in the Risen Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Please forward this reflection with anyone you think might benefit from it – we really want to share these excellent human formation resources far and wide – sharing buttons are below. And don’t forget to check out all of our offerings, organized in alphabetical order on our resource page.

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