Francis Phillips picks out her favourite books of 2016

To celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe today, Ignatius Press has brought out an illustrated book, Guadalupe Mysteries, by Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon, which is a feast both for the eyes and the mind. The “mysteries” refer to the extraordinary image, imprinted on the tilma (cloak) of the Indian Juan Diego, when he uncovered it under the gaze of Bishop Zumarraga and others on December 12, 1531, in what is now called Mexico City.

Rather like the Holy Shroud of Turin, this image is indeed inexplicable to modern science: after nearly 500 years the agave material of the tilma has not decayed; the stars visible on the robe mirror the constellation in the sky over Mexico on that exact date; most strange of all, the eyes of Our Lady appear to be like those of a real person, with the pupils distinctly reflecting back those in the room who were observing her image. This last phenomenon was only discovered in the 20th century, using powerful optical instruments.

Now for some other memorable books I have discovered during 2016…

The Rural Gentleman by Delia Maguire (Grosvenor House Publishing): a novel about an Anglo-Irish country priest with a sad past, which is slowly revealed to his uncharitable parishioners. It tackles themes of abuse, neglect and secrecy with a sensitive and humane touch.

Sacred and Profane Love, two plays by Edmond Rostand, translated by Sue Lloyd (Genge Press): the profane love concerns the last night of the notorious womaniser, Don Juan, who pays an appalling price for his wasted life, forced to play the role of a puppet adulterer under his puppet-master, the Devil, for all eternity.

Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists by David Aaronovitch (Jonathan Cape): written with a mixture of irony, affection and exasperation, Aaronovitch describes life with his parents in a north London communist outpost in the 1950s and 60s. Worth reading for his analysis of what forms the strange mindset of an English Jewish Communist, the author draws apposite parallels with the faith world of cradle Catholics.

The Walls Are Talking by Abby Johnson (Ignatius): These testimonies of former abortion clinic workers should be read by everyone, whether pro-choice or pro-life: they are harrowing, tragic and authentic. Behind the propaganda put out by organisations like Planned Parenthood, Johnson describes what actually takes place.

An Exorcist Explains the Demonic by Fr Gabriele Amorth (Sophia Press): if Don Juan is fictitious, Satan isn’t; the late chief exorcist of Rome gives a master class in what hatred of souls really means. Read it and understand that Hell is real and we can end up there.

The Time Before You Die by Lucy Beckett (Ignatius): A fine novel of the Reformation period, the author brilliantly conveys the life of a former Carthusian monk, forced from his priory after the dissolution of the monasteries, in all its disillusionment and theological perplexity.

Night’s Bright Darkness by Sally Read (Ignatius): Read, a poet, gives a vivid account of her conversion from strident feminism to Catholicism: “When you receive the Sacraments they transform you.”