The following books and materials provide a deeper insight into religious life, and most importantly, a treasury for the life of the soul:
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict
This is definitely a must and a classic for Western culture in general. There are several editions of the text itself. Many commentaries have also been written throughout the centuries. One that is particularly useful and applicable to the laity is Commentary for Benedictine Oblates on the Rule of St. Benedict, by Canon G.A. Simon (original in French; there is a good translation to English by Leonard J. Doyle). One geared specifically toward religious, that is, Benedictine monks and nuns, is Rule of St Benedict, A Commentary by Dom Paul Delatte (1848 – 1937). Dom Delatte was third abbot of the Abbey of Saint Peter of Solesmes, after it was refounded by Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805 – 1875) following the ravages of the French Revolution. Dom Guéranger, among many other things, brought Benedictine life back to France after much of religious life in that country had been decimated by the revolutionaries.
Life and Miracles of St. Benedict (Book Two of the Dialogues)
By Pope St. Gregory the Great (540 – 604), who obtained input for his book first hand from monks who had known and been monastic sons of St. Benedict.
The autobiography of St Teresa of Jesus (1515 – 1582)
Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites. There are several editions. The translation by E. Alison Peers is a classic. Of course, if you can handle 16th-century Spanish, that is the best option–the very words of the saint herself! March 28, 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of her birth in Avila, Spain.
Story of a Soul
Autobiography of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1973 – 1997), Carmelite nun in Lisieux, France. The Institute of Carmelite Studies has an excellent edition, and has published her letters as well. Another book that perhaps even more clearly portrays how St. Thérèse lived out her religious life is the account written by her own blood sister, also a Carmelite in Lisieux, Sr. Geneviève of the Holy Face (Céline Martin): My Sister Saint Thérèse.
Another very informative and revealing source for cloistered life, specifically Carmelite, is the video series Santa Teresa of Los Andes (available in English), a beautifully acted and produced, and carefully researched, mini-series on the life of St. Teresa of Los Andes (1900 – 1920) who entered the Carmel of Los Andes, Chile, and died a saint at the tender age of 19.
Light and Strength: Mother Cécile Bruyère, First Abbess of Solesmes
By Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. (original in French; English translation by M. Cristina Borges). Mother Cécile Bruyère (1845 – 1909) was the spiritual daughter par excellence of Dom Prosper Guéranger. She was the first abbess of the female branch of the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes. Besides showing the several facets of the beginnings and building up of a monastic community, this biographical work is at once a fascinating account of religious life in post-Revolutionary France, an exposition which brings to light the interior life of a great woman of God and her teachings as a religious superior, and a revealing analysis of a little known dimension of Dom Guéranger’s life and work.
The Spiritual Life and Prayer According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition
By Mother Cécile Bruyère (original in French; translated by the Benedictines of Stanbrook in 1900 by request of Cardinal Manning). This book was written in 1895 by Abbess Cécile Bruyère for the use of her own community, the nuns of Saint Cecilia of Solesmes. However it spread to the circle of friends of the monastery, and from there beyond throughout Europe. Members of the hierarchy in Germany and England had it translated for their flock, and it also enjoyed translations to Dutch, Italian and Spanish. A treasure to be discovered in our day.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
By Fr Theodore Ratisbonne (original in French; translated by the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent in Greenwich, England by request of Cardinal Manning). While an account of the life of “the Mellifluous Doctor” of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091 – 1153) and the great influence he had at his time and beyond, this biography exemplifies the heights of sanctity lived out in religious life. St. Bernard founded numerous Cistercian monasteries. Written by the brother of Fr. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, Jewish convert, once derisive of Christianity, who famously converted in an instant through direct action of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His own account of his astounding conversion is available in print: The Conversion of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne.
The Little Flowers of St. Francis
A classic, this book was written by Brother Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria, a century after the death of St. Francis of Assisi (1183 – 1224). (Translated to English from the original Latin and Italian by Raphael Brown). A treasury of stories related to the founder of the Franciscan order that aptly provides a flavor of Franciscan spirituality and the life of the first friars.
The Life of Father de Smet, S.J.
By Fr. E. Laveille, S.J., translated to English by Marian Lindsay. A fascinating account of the the life and mission of the Apostle of the Rocky Mountains, Fr Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J. (1801 – 1873), Dutch Jesuit.
Into Great Silence
A three-hour artistic film portraying the day-to-day of Carthusians of the Grand Chartreuse, the motherhouse of that venerable order of hermits living in community. Make sure to listen to the interview with the elderly blind monk toward the end.