A screeching canon ball shattered the legs of the valiant Spanish soldier whose name was Inigo, later to be called Ignatius, and still later Saint Ignatius. Brought to safety and then transported to his home in Loyola, the convalescence of the wounded soldier, if indeed he would recover, would take weeks and even months. After painful operations and settings of the leg, Ignatius would have many free hours, days, and months to pass the time.
What could he do? Having learned how to read, it dawned upon him to ask a relative for books to read so as to pass the time. What literary genre? Passionate for the chivalrous tales of the Medieval times, the knight in shining armor and the damsel in distress, Ignatius asked for these mundane and worldly works.
To his chagrin, none of these types could be found at hand or in the house. Therefore, they brought him two books with basically the same theme: The Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. At first Ignatius was repelled, but then he capitulated and started to read, especially his fascination was for Lives of the Saints, in Spanish, a short life for every day.
The effect of reading the Lives of the Saints was an explosion of spiritual bombshells in his mind and heart. Captivated beyond his wildest imagination by these heroes, these soldiers, but heroes and soldiers of Christ, Ignatius yearned to imitate their heroism. Instead of pursuing a career as a Military Leader anymore, He would become a soldier for Christ. In his own words: “If Francis can do it, then so can I; If Dominic can do it, then so can I! From now on these would be his leaders, his examples, his models to imitate—the heroism and holiness of the saints who followed Christ the King and true Military Leader!
THE CONVERSION OF SAINT IGNATIUS! Living a life of vanity, pleasure, sensuality, violence, very distant from God, Ignatius received a powerful grace of conversion, indeed a radical conversion of life. Two of the primary catalysts and triggers that determined this conversion were books—the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. Who knows, if they were to have brought to Ignatius the chivalrous tales of the knights in shining armor rushing to rescue the damsel in distress, perhaps the conversion of Ignatius would have evaporated in thin air! Only God knows.
Therefore, let us proceed to highlight the supreme value for the sake of our soul’s sanctification of reading, most specifically, good spiritual reading. The following are some of the many blessings that flow from constant and assiduous spiritual reading.
1. TIME WELL SPENT. Saint Alphonsus Liguori made a private vow, called “The Seraphic Vow”, in which the saint vowed to the Lord to never waste a minute of his time on earth. My friends, life is short and eternity is forever; it is either Heaven or Hell. Let us work hard in this life and rest forever in heaven. No doubt, good spiritual reading is time well-spent!
2. FORMATION OF THE MIND. Our mind can become a junkyard, garbage dump, or even cesspool, if we so choose. Our mind becomes like what we put into it. However, if we so choose, our mind can become like a precious, noble sanctuary, castle or mansion of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. By noble spiritual reading we are filling our mind, our inner sanctuary, with the most noble words, concepts, ideas.
3. PUT ON THE MIND OF CHRIST. Following up on the concept of the formation of the mind, the great Apostle Saint Paul commands us: “Put on the mind of Christ.” Then he follows up: “You have the mind of Christ.” By practicing good spiritual reading our mind is being transformed from glory to glory and we assume the mind of Christ. His thoughts become our thoughts; His ideas become our ideas; His vision of life becomes our vision of life.
4. PURIFICATION OF THE MIND. On a daily basis we are being bombarded, left and right, up and down, by indecent and impure images and ideas which sad to say, cling to us. They must be purified. What chlorine is to a swimming pool, destroying the bacteria and poisonous residue, so spiritual reading is to the mind. Indeed, a good dose of spiritual reading can dislodge and replace the impure images with the most noble images of Jesus, Mary and the saints!
5. PURIFICATION AND FORMATION OF THE HEART. The dynamic of the human person is such that what enters the mind or intellect sinks down into the heart of a person. A profound spiritual reading can touch the very fiber of our being and that includes our heart. As a result, our feelings are no longer directed towards the mundane, the sensual, the ignoble, or if you like the sinful, but rather the heart is elevated on high toward God and all that pertains to His honor and glory. Saint Paul says to think about the things above and not the things of earth.
6. PRAYER AND UNION WITH GOD. On one occasion, in conversation with a brother Oblate priest, he made this observation and comment: “I notice that when I am captivated by really good spiritual reading, then usually I am praying better!” Bingo! This spiritual reading fills our mind with noble, holy and spiritual thoughts which spill over into our prayer life! Indeed, Saint Ignatius offers a prayer method—the three powers of the soul: Memory, Understanding, and Will (Heart). There is a harmonious interplay of the three. Often prayer of the heart is triggered by a noble thought in the mind!
7. CONVERSATION. All too often it happens among friends, even among spouses, that their conversation ends in quarrels and useless bickering and one of the reasons is an empty mind. Neither of the two have much to offer in the content of what is in their mind. Applying themselves to a daily dose of spiritual reading—half an hour a day—could result in less arguing and bickering and in more profitable and enriching sharing.
8. GOOD EXAMPLE. I like to read! One of the reasons for this is that I would often see both my Mom and Dad reading in their free time. This motivated me to desire to undertake the noble pursuit of spiritual reading. Words are powerful, but united with example, doubly so!
9. APOLOGETICS. Our Catholic faith is being violently and viciously attacked from all sides. We need valiant and intelligent minds, formed by the habit of good solid reading, to defend the faith against the growing enemy forces. Good spiritual reading is a great pasture to prepare for such a noble enterprise.
10. CONVERSIONS. As pointed out at the start of this essay, the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola received a powerful infusion of grace and a sure motivation of conversion by means of spiritual reading—the Lives of the Saints and the Life of Christ. Saint Augustine, by reading in the Garden in Milan the Epistle to the Romans 13:13, received the final push towards his conversion away from sin to the Person of Christ. How many conversions have come about by spiritual reading? We will know this only on the day of General Judgment.
To conclude, why not propose starting right now to incorporate in your daily rhythm the most efficacious practice of SPIRITUAL READING! Spiritual Directors and manuals on spirituality constantly insist on the indispensable quality of SPIRITUAL READING as a tool for progressing in the path to holiness. Converse with your Spiritual Director, if you have one, and if not, ask the Holy Spirit, to help you choose an inspiring book right now and dive into the infinite ocean of God’s riches. You will never regret the practice but thank God now and for all eternity!