To advance in our spiritual life, we should utilize all of the means, methods, and practices that are at our disposal. Jesus calls all of us to seriously pursue our own sanctification, as well as the sanctification of the whole world. His words are clear and to the point: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.” (Mt 5:48) Also, in the Sermon on the Mount, in one of the Eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), Jesus teaches: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (holiness), for they will be filled.”
A soldier must be well-armed and equipped; an athlete must be fit and trim and prepared; a student must know the subject; married couples must know and use the tools and means to form a noble and holy family. In a parallel sense, if we truly want to be followers of Christ, Saint Paul expresses it as athletes of Christ, to run the good race and fight the good fight (2 Tim 4:7-8), then we must have the tools and arms at our disposal and use them so as to be victorious. The victory is of paramount importance—the victory is nothing less than attaining the salvation of our immortal soul for all eternity! There is no greater endeavor or enterprise underneath the sun!
THE VALUE AND IMPORTANCE OF SPIRITUAL READING.
This being said, one of the great tools to utilize in growing in our spiritual life is the practice of frequent and well-done spiritual reading. Books written on spiritual Theology, spiritual advancement, spiritual progress, will often have a chapter on the capital importance of applying oneself to a formal habit of spiritual reading! Religious Orders, also known as Religious Congregations, both male and female, accentuate the dire importance of incorporating into the daily routine the practice of spiritual reading.
SPIRITUAL DIRECTION AND SPIRITUAL READING, FEEDING THE SOUL!
It should be mentioned that all who take the spiritual life seriously should strive to locate and connect with some form of periodic spiritual direction. Due to the lack of priests today, lay spiritual directors are being formed, and with great competence, under the supervision of priests and their own supervisors. The essence of spiritual direction is to help the person directed to grow in his prayer life and in his relationship with God. One of the tools of the growth process is the practice of Spiritual Reading. Through prayer and discernment, the spiritual director should help the person being directed towards the practice of good Spiritual Reading. Each soul is different and has different specific needs, but competent spiritual direction should include the discernment and selection of efficacious Spiritual Reading.
Indeed, much can be said on the topic of Spiritual Reading; however, the essence of this short essay will be to encourage the readers to undertake the practice of Spiritual Reading and in time to establish in their lives the most noble habit of Spiritual Reading. Once done, you will never regret it and you will reap most abundant fruits in time and eternity from this most noble of endeavors! May your spiritual reading be your spiritual feeding!
THE ABUNDANT BLESSINGS FROM SPIRITUAL READING:
1. CONVERSIONS! Actually one of the many benefits that flows from Spiritual Reading is the conversion of the soul to God. One of the most well-known examples of someone being converted by solid and substantial Spiritual Reading is the conversion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Lying in bed after a serious leg shattering wound in the battle of Pamplona, Ignatius was given by a relative a book, Lives of the Saints. At first he resisted, but then accepted the reading. Almost immediately his heart was set on fire by reading the glorious lives, sayings, and laudable deeds of God’s heroes—the saints! Ignatius cried out: “If Dominic could do it, so can I; if Francis could do it, so can I!” Therefore, the initial impulse in the conversion of Saint Ignatius came about through reading the lives of the saints. With respect to literary genre and choice of reading, that of reading the lives of the saints should have a primary place of importance!
2. LEARNING! Every serious professional must pursue constant and assiduous Permanent Formation—that is to say, pursue a channel of growth through seminars, meetings, reading, and much more. This all-important concept of Permanent Formation in the professional life can easily and rightly be applied to our spiritual life. As the modern saying goes: We are all a work in progress! We are mountain climbers who have not yet reached the peak! I would like to coin a new phrase: we are called to be Professional Catholics! In other words, there is always room for growth; there is always something new to us that we can and should learn; there are still many blind-spots in our spiritual life that must be brought to the light of truth!
3. MIND TRANSFORMATION. Saint Paul offers us two ideas worthy of reflection, prayer, meditation, and application to our lives. The first is the following: “Put on the mind of Christ.” Then: “You have the mind of Christ!” For many who have been immersed and engrossed in the world and its values, this is indispensable transformation of the mind. The world presents the following values: buying, consuming, enjoying, pleasure, power, importance, prestige, sensuality. Live it up! It’s Miller-Time!!! Being inundated and immersed is this deluge of worldly values, the mind must go through a gradual but secure transformation. In this endeavor application to Spiritual Reading is a must!!!
4. JOY IN DISCOVERING THE TRUTH!!! In our human experience, when we discover something of great value we rejoice. A treasure discovered results in immense rejoicing! So it is in the case of Spiritual Reading! Authentic Spiritual Reading is always related to the Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life… and the Truth will set us free!!!
5. PURPOSE IN LIFE. Another positive fruit emanating from good and solid Spiritual Reading is clarity as to the purpose of our life: who God is, who we are, where we come from and where we are heading, and what tools we must use to arrive at our final destiny. Saint Ignatius of Loyola calls this Principle and Foundation. Being exposed to and nourishing oneself on worldly magazines, books, and articles terminates in worldly desires and pursuits. Good, solid, efficacious Spiritual Reading lifts our mind to the higher realms of heaven and heightens our desire to reach our heavenly home!
6. PRAYER GROWTH. Once when I was engaged in a conversation with a fellow priest-friend, he stated: “Whenever I am engaged and absorbed in captivating spiritual reading, I actually pray better!” Bingo! It must be said that Spiritual Reading elevates and perfects the intellect. Part and parcel of a serious prayer life is the use of the mind, which leads to the heart! Do you want to grow in your prayer life? Then why not use Spiritual Reading as the grazing ground!
7. CHARITY TOWARDS OTHERS. So true is the saying: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” A ripped and torn bag cannot contain anything; an empty wallet cannot give cash; an empty gas-tank will not get your car out of the parking-lot! In the same vein, with a spiritually empty head and heart you cannot edify and sanctify others. However, by reading and retaining good and noble spiritual ideas, when you are in conversation with others, you can share these gems, these treasures, these noble spiritual insights. Indeed, this is true and authentic charity. What is charity according to Saint Thomas Aquinas? “Charity is willing the good of the other!” In your conversations, formed by good Spiritual Reading, you are sharing the treasures of the Truth, the treasures of the Word of God!
8. PEACE AND JOY. In my own personal experience, after I have finished a good period of Spiritual Reading, my heart experiences greater peace and joy which overflows into my life and dealings with others. Saint Paul exhorts us with these words, pertinent to our topic: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)
9. CONQUERING MENTAL LAZINESS. How thankful I am, that as teens our parents encouraged me and my brother to read some good book during the course of the summer months. Somewhat resistant at first, I started to read, and then found the reading delightful. How important it is for adults, for parents to apply themselves to good Spiritual Reading. But also, given that the parents are the first teachers of their children, what a great tool in the spiritual and moral formation of their children and teens to form in them the habit of systematic, regular Spiritual Reading! Mental laziness can easily lead to sin and vice. Solid Spiritual Reading, on the contrary, can lead to holiness and virtue!
10. IN DEFENSE OF THE TRUTH OF THE TREASURE—OUR FAITH! Now more than ever, the Catholic Faith is being ruthlessly attacked on a constant and relentless basis. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once asserted: “Very few leave the Catholic Faith for what the Church teaches, but for what they think the Church teaches.” In other words, what most believe about the Catholic Faith is erroneous, untrue, falsified, perverted! By the application of solid Spiritual Reading, especially that of Apologetics, you can be forming yourself to be a solid brass wall to defend the most noble principles and teachings of Truth in the Catholic Faith. How admirable are Patrick Madrid, Tim Staples, Scott Hahn, and many other lay-leaders who truly know the Faith, study the Faith, teach and preach the Faith. These three great and noble men of God have obviously spent long hours in the practice of Spiritual Reading and study so as to be a shining light for countless souls and their eternal salvation!
In conclusion, we hope and pray that as a result of this humble, short essay, all of you will feel motivated, with the assistance of a good spiritual director, to undertake the most noble enterprise of Spiritual Reading. Indeed, this practice will redound to your great good, to sanctify you personally, your family, the Church, and the whole world! The last words of Jesus before ascending into heaven were: “Go out to all the world and tell the Good-News…. And I will be with you always until the end of the world.” (Mt 28: 19-20)