Vacation Reading

Once again, the old timers are right: things don't seem to ''slow down'' anymore. It used to be, they recall, that, from about the end of June, when the weddings stopped, until the end of August, when the new school year started-up again, things would relax some. Not anymore. The meetings go on, the budgets have to be in, school and religious ed planning starts in early August . . . and the fishing poles and golf clubs gather dust.

True enough, but most of us still manage to get at least a couple of weeks away every summer. We had better . . . vacations, study weeks, retreats, whatever. And so, many of us look forward to some ''down- time'' each summer just to read. I have a whole box of books for the trunk, and they're as essential to me for a good vacation as the golf.

And the good news is that there has been a harvest over recent years of sterling books on the priesthood. Further evidence that a genuine renewal in priestly life is occurring, as we survey books of substance which treat Holy Orders realistically and thoughtfully. Here are a few I have found helpful:

Start with a work of sound theology, Holy Order, by Aidan Nichols, O.P. This is a cerebral yet readable classroom-like trek from Jesus through the Council, with an appendix on the hot-button issues of ordination of women and celibacy. You'll think you're back in the Aula, but, that's not a bad place to return to occasionally.

The rector of St. Meinrad Seminary, Mark O'Keefe, O.S.B., has made a real contribution to priestly life and understanding with his series of five crisp volumes on the priesthood, the latest being Priestly Wisdom Insights from St. Benedict. All five are classic, but I especially enjoyed In Persona Christi.

A real winner is Parish Priest, the life of Father Michael McGivney, the Knights of Columbus founder, by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster. Even Andrew Greeley reviewed it well. Not only is it a biography of the man we hope to be a future saint, but it is an attractive treatment of an important era in American Catholic history.

Father Stephen Rossetti has, of course, a box seat on the challenges and difficulties of contemporary ministry, so I was hardly surprised that his The Joy of the Priesthoodwas so pointed and moving. Likewise is the name of George Aschenbrenner, S.J., synonymous with spirituality of the priesthood, and his Quickening the Fire in our Midst: The Challenge of Diocesan Priestly Spirituality does not fail to satisfy.

Michael Heher is a pastor and a diocesan official of the diocese of Orange, and has given us a real gift in his The Lost Art of Walking on Water. I recall Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once remarking that ''the priesthood faithfully lived is nothing less than the miracle of walking on water.''Father Heher agrees.

Yet three other rectors of seminaries have given us solid summer reading on the priesthood. Thomas Acklin, O.S.B., has weighed in with his splendid The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood, View from the Altar: Reflections on the Rapidly Changing Catholic Priesthood, by Howard Bleichner is equally worthwhile, as is Roderick Strange's The Risk of Discipleship- and his even has a British accent to it!

Three veterans of service to priests - Melvin Blanchette, S.S., Daniel Danielson, and Paul Philibert, O.P. - have given us Stewards of God's Mysteries: Priestly Spirituality in a Changing Church.

Back to the sources: Matthew Luening serves us well with his On the Priesthood, a valuable array of texts from the Fathers through John Paul the Great. And, finally, the Archbishop of Philadel- phia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, has written from his heart in I Call You Friends, a moving treatment of the priest as an ambassador of the Lord's mercy.

There you have it, enough reading to last all summer . . . have a good vacation! TP