Reading Indeed Has Made Many Saints
“Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
The Way, no. 116
The purpose of our lives as Catholics is to become saints. By God’s grace, we can collaborate with Him on that lifelong task. One nearly indispensable means is spiritual reading, which is accessible to all who are literate.
Unfortunately, the majority of Catholics in North America and Europe only encounter the Bible for about 10 minutes weekly at Sunday Mass. Most of these Catholics have only a rudimentary Catholic catechetical education, and only a paltry few are familiar with any of the great Catholic spiritual classics.
On the other hand, their sight and hearing are assaulted daily by a barrage of stimulation that appears to be designed by the devil or his minions to deflect us from consideration of the supernatural life. The books and magazines that most people read are consistently and increasingly trashy. Much movie and television viewing is violent, sexually explicit, and morally bankrupt, as is much popular music. Aside from television, leisure hours are increasingly devoted to social networking, computer games, or the Internet, where serious temptation is only a click away.
I think this is an accurate portrayal of everyday life for hundreds of millions of Catholics. One remedy is Catholic spiritual reading.
“Reading indeed has made many saints.” Consider St. Augustine, who heard a voice repeating “Tolle et lege” (Pick up and read!) and opened the Gospel to a passage that changed the course of his life—and of Christian civilization. St. Anthony, the founder of monasticism, was so moved by the Gospel story of the rich young man that he followed the injunction to “Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come follow Me.” Without his obedience to the Word, who knows if Christianity could have survived the onslaught of the barbarian invasion? St. Ignatius of Loyola, recuperating from grave battle wounds, was inspired by reading the lives of the saints to radically change his life, ultimately founding the Jesuits, who became the great champions of the Catholic Reformation.
More recently, John Henry Newman’s close reading of the Fathers of the Church brought him to recognize that the Anglican Church was not the Church Christ founded. And, Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern Catholic author, made a point of reading from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa at least 20 minutes each day.
In St. John Paul the Great’s apostolic blueprint for the 21st century, “At the beginning of the New Millennium,” he urged us to “Contemplate the face of Christ,” in particular through Sacred Scripture: “It is especially important that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever new tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs, and shapes our lives.” The Bible, by far the most quoted book in history, must become our favorite book, to be read and meditated upon for at least a few minutes each day.
Because the Holy Spirit worked through multiple human authors using many literary forms in the Bible, we need to rely on Christ’s Church to guide us to the proper interpretation. After all, even St. Peter found some of St. Paul’s writings puzzling! In addition, we must learn how to live from the Bible and make daily resolutions to that effect. Over time, as the stories of the Bible (especially those from the New Testament) become as familiar as our own life story, we will begin to live in Christ, soaked in His words and example.
Having a large Bible for home and a pocket-sized version of the New Testament (as Pope Francis advised and indeed facilitated for pilgrims to Rome by dispensing copies in St. Peter’s Square) will ensure that our book is never far from us. If possible the home version should have a sound commentary concentrating more on the practical, spiritual, or ascetical sense of Scripture, since above all the Bible is a book for learning how to live the Christian life. Also useful are such books on Christ’s life as Frank Sheed’s classic To Know Christ Jesus, Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ, and Benedict XVI’s more recent three-part Jesus of Nazareth. Complementing daily Scripture reading should be other spiritual reading, including works from the Church’s magisterium, lives of and books by the saints, works of theology, and a plethora of Catholic spiritual classics.
As a general rule I advise working on just one book at a time, read from beginning to end, perhaps taking notes or otherwise highlighting particularly striking points that might later be brought to prayer or spiritual direction. The fruits of good spiritual reading should be prayer, self-denial, and an ever-growing desire to evangelize family, friends, and culture.
Finally, a few words of practical advice: When you do your spiritual reading, put yourself in God’s presence and invoke the Holy Spirit. Make sure you are fully alert and in a well-lit space, far from distractions. That’s right–not late at night and in bed. Don’t you think God’s Word and great spiritual classics deserve better than that? The day’s reading need not last more than 15 minutes, but should never be less.
All of our recent impressive pontiffs, climaxing with our current Pope Francis, have urged us to spread the joy of the gospel. Our commitment to daily spiritual reading will help us become “fishers of men” unafraid, as St. John Paul II quoted from the Gospel, to “Go out into the deep for a catch.”
Father C. John McCloskey, III, STD is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei. This article is © CatholiCity.com 1996-2014 The Mary Foundation. For more articles and videos from Father McCloskey visit http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/
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