As a child, whenever I was craving sweets or junk food, my mother would say to me – You are what you eat. The implication of course was that if I filled my body with “junk” then I’d become, or rather feel like junk.
The same can be said for my mind.
If I am constantly filling my mind with popular literature, news feeds, and tabloid gossip it is extremely hard for it to be elevated to the things of God. This is personal experience talking…I used to easily fall into the mental pursuit of all things worldly.
Over the past year, I have had to stop filling my head with the latest. This wasn’t easy. But, it all started with a honest, simple question…
Is any of this leading me closer to God?
I had hit a bottom and knew that something in my life had to change.
For me, it came down to an age-old choice:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days… – Deut 30:19-20
I knew that, for me, there was no standing still in the midst of the flowing river of life. I was either growing in my relationship with God or I was drifting away.
God, in His Goodness, placed in my heart a desire to try. Today, by His Grace, I make time for prayer and spiritual reading.
Why do I need spiritual reading?
Many of the Early Church Fathers and Saints of the Catholic Church have recommended, or rather insisted, upon the habit of spiritual reading, beginning with Sacred Scripture. For me though, the real motivation was an increasing desire to grow in knowledge of God and those things pertaining to spiritual growth.
Fr. Anthony Paone, S.J., in his “summary of the spiritual life” My Daily Bread wrote the following reflection on spiritual reading:
Reading brings me many thoughts. It helps me to understand better what I already believe. It keeps my outlook on life fresh and unconfused. It also keeps my enthusiasm alive. One who does not read, is like a man who tries to live on the smallest possible amount of food and sunshine. His spiritual life will eventually shrivel up and become anemic. It may even die when a strong temptation comes along. I can read safely only when I follow the guidance of Christ’s Church. He has given Her power and authority to direct me in all matters of faith and morals. I want to read, reflect, and pray a little each day so that I may follow Our Lord more intelligently in my daily activities. – pg 242-243
How true this has been in my own life. When I’m spending, even just a little time, in spiritual reading each day I find that I have a greater awareness of God in my life and my need for His love and mercy.
What then is spiritual reading?
Thomas Dubay, S.M. in his awesome work, Seeking Spiritual Direction provides three elements which distinguish spiritual reading from other types of religious reading.
- It nourishes a person with God’s word, even when the content is not expressly biblical (Deut 32:1-3)…it aids us in growing in faith, hope, and love and in all the concrete details of living our new life in Christ.
- It enlightens the reader with divine truth – a light that enables one to love, praise, delight, and live in the new way that St. Paul calls a spiritual revolution (Ps 19:7-8; Eph 4:23)
- It is a prayer experience, a dialogue with the indwelling Lord living within His Church and in each member as His temple.
What then should I read?
Fr. Dubay recommends, and I personally find most useful, the reading of Sacred Scripture as well as the writings of the Saints.
Fr. Dubay, while pointing out “the weaknesses and disadvantages of long lists of books” and the need for knowledge of the individual person, names a few classics he believes shouId be read “somewhere early in one’s serious pursuit of God”:
That list can be a bit daunting. When I first began reading I was so disconnected that I had to start small and easy.
I came across a little book, by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The Way to Happiness. It contained short topical essays that were perfect for where I was. Archbishop Sheen spoke to me with such joy and certitude that I had a real desire to prayerfully meditate on what he was saying. He led me closer to God, and in doing so, Archbishop Sheen became my mentor and I am better for it. I would also add Sheen’s Lift Up Your Heart as another must read.
So how do I go about spiritual reading?
Fr. Dubay, again, provides some direction here:
…read for spiritual profit, not for mere curiosity or to ‘get through with it’ or to be delighted with the wit or brillance of the author. We choose a suitable time and a quiet place, so that the message may more readily settle in. We read slowly, mingling prayer and pondering into the reading itself…We avoid craving it, a spiritual gluttony that dissipates rather than deepens our inner life. Better to read a few books prayerfully than many superficially.
I remember when I first started making time for spiritual reading, I felt a real sense of being overwhelmed. I hadn’t been doing any spiritual reading. It seemed rather hard, focusing took work. I started asking myself questions like - Will I have the “time” to keep this up? Do I really need to be reading this frequently? Maybe it would be better if I waited until a more opportune time?
The answer to each of my “roadblock” questions came to me in the words of our Lord Jesus to Martha:
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her. – Lk 10:41
Christ offers me the good portion too. For my part, I have to set aside the many things. I knew Jesus was calling me to the one needful thing, in a word, Himself.
Spiritual reading, for me, has become a necessary and joyful part of my relationship with God, Whom I am to love with all my mind (Matt 22:37).
May God bless you and keep you.