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Chapter 13

Spiritual Reading


Spiritual Reading does to the mind
what the Holy Eucharist does to the soul.
—St. Alphonsus Liguori



Spiritual reading in whatever medium (paper book, eBook, audio book, etc.) is of great value in the spiritual life when done according to God’s will and providence.  We are confirmed in our faith, strengthened in virtue, learn to be humble, inspired to love God with our whole heart and soul, come to respect others, become more detached from the things of the world, and learn how to grow in the spiritual life.  We are brought into the presence of God and experience the gift of His grace more fully.  “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  The unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends spiritual reading in this way, “Anyone who aspires to (the gift of) contemplation ought to cultivate Lection, Meditation, and Orison, or to put it differently, Reading (and Listening), Thinking (or Reflecting and Pondering), and Praying.”

The New Testament (especially the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) is the place to begin in your spiritual reading, assuming that you do not already know the Holy Bible very well.  St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” and Christ declared, “My words are spirit and life.” (John 6:64)  The words of Jesus Christ give spiritual life to our soul and make us grow closer to God.  If nothing else, read the “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven.

Then, there is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular, “Part Four:  Christian Prayer.”  It is food for the soul.  Read it as an inspiration for your prayer life, which is the essence of the spiritual life.

Next there comes the writings of the saints and other holy authors down through the centuries, a vast wealth of truly magnificent spiritual reading within the Catholic Church.  We could begin with the famous Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis or the more contemporary, but worthy, My Daily Bread by Anthony J. Paone.  Both are an excellent guide to the spiritual life in general and to putting on “the mind of Christ” or thinking as a Christian, in particular. (1 Cor. 2:16)  Then, we cannot fail to mention that spiritual gem known as Abandonment to Divine Providence by Rev. J. P. de Caussade.  Unique in its ability to inspire confidence in the providence of God and abandonment to His will, it will set your soul free!  Experience for yourself “the incomparable Caussade.”  Be sure to get an edition that includes his letters of spiritual direction.

There are also countless books on the lives of the saints which make for great spiritual reading, if you are so inclined.  For instance, The Perfect Joy of St. Francis by Felix Timmermans and the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, are both considered spiritual classics of their own particular kind.

Really, there is almost no limit to the rich tradition and sacred treasure of Catholic spiritual literature.  Just one more example would be Manual For Interior Souls by John Nicholas Grou, a genuine goldmine of spiritual wisdom and practical advice for the interior life.  However, it should be balanced out with Abandonment to Divine Providence to avoid scrupulosity or misapplication.  Not everything will apply to everyone.  Follow what suits your soul and how God is leading you.  That is the general rule in spiritual reading.  This leaves the field wide open for every spiritual taste and inclination, every divine inspiration, whether that be for the sublime simplicity of Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection in The Practice of the Presence of God or the enlightened and brilliant complexity of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica or for any other work in harmony with the Church.

Today’s readers may not be familiar with some of the older phrases frequently found in the spiritual classics.  So, here is some help.  To begin with, “the interior life,” is another name for “the spiritual life,” which is, in essence, our relationship with God as it develops or diminishes over time.  It refers directly to the presence of God within us, to the Life of Christ in our soul, to sanctifying grace, as it increases or decreases.  It includes all that affects that.  So, the “interior life” or spiritual life includes everything that affects our relationship with God, whether in a harmful or helpful way.  The term, “self-love,” means “self-centered egotistical pride” or simply “selfishness.”  The opposite of this is “self-contempt,” which should be understood as meaning the attitude of true humility in the bright light of God’s presence.  In our fallen state we are nothing but sin, so to speak, compared to God’s goodness.  Even of His perfect humanity, Christ our Lord said, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good, except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)  He was teaching us the attitude of humility or “self-contempt.”  We should add, at the same time, that true “self-worth” comes from knowing our value in the eyes of God and from experiencing His Love in our lives.  We are truly important to Him, even despite all our sin and wrongdoing, and He loves us immeasurably, infinitely, really and truly, even though we do not love Him as we should.  God will make us His friend, becoming ever more one with Him beyond imagining, up to the transforming union of heaven, if we but continue to come to Him with sincere longing and humility, seeking to fulfill His will to the best of our ability.  Which brings us to another word that can be confusing or misunderstood, and that is, “charity.”  Quite simply, “charity” is divine love.  It is God’s love infused into us.  “The love of God (charity) has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)  Charity unites us to God.  It is “the bond of perfection.” (Col. 3:14)  Through charity we love God because He is God, worthy of all love, and not just because He bestows benefits upon us, though indeed, we are grateful for every blessing.  “Charity,” then, is the supernatural love of God and, for His sake, of angels and men.  Because of charity, we are able to love our neighbor in a way that truly benefits them, not only humanly, but also spiritually.  Finally, we have the older phrase, “human respect,” which refers to a self-serving and sinful desire to please others and not offend them, even when doing so displeases God and offends Him.  An example of this would be, going along with some sinful activity, such as the sharing of disparaging gossip, because you want to impress and not upset those in your company.  Another example would be, getting involved in some activity, good though it be, because someone wants you to, even though God wanted you to say “no.”  Either way, you are more afraid of offending others than of offending God.  This cowardly catering to others or “human respect” is contrary to the teaching of St. Peter and the Apostles—“We must obey God rather than men” (when these are in conflict with one another). (Acts 5:29)  With that declaration and corresponding action, St. Peter and the Apostles made up for their former sins of “human respect.”

Now, when you begin to do spiritual reading, let go of your own pre-conceived ideas of what it will mean for you.  Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through this reading?  Are you being led to give up some particular sin or attachment, to love God more than before or give yourself completely to Him?  Are you learning how to pray in a deeper and better way?  Are you being inspired to grow in virtue and obedience to God’s will.  Are you learning how to love like Jesus does?  Maybe you are being strengthened against temptation, doubt or distraction.  Or, does this spiritual reading confirm your spiritual experience and direction?  When our experience is confirmed by a trusted source, such as the saints, we grow stronger in faith, hope and love, and are brought more into peace and order, with a touch of heavenly sweetness and spiritual joy added in.  Then again, you may be simply receiving some new knowledge or wisdom that will help protect you or direct you in the future.  Only God really knows what He wants to do with you through your spiritual reading.  Give Him free reign, and let Him lead you.  First read this book, then another.  Or, go back and forth, or just open a book and read wherever.  Let the Holy Spirit lead you in spiritual reading, what to read and where, when to read and how much.  Read in prayer.  Maybe you do not see what God is doing with you right now, but you will eventually see how everything, including spiritual reading, is bringing you closer to Him, your eternal joy and everlasting salvation, your one true happiness and heaven.


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