While on retreat, a priest discussed the benefits of spiritual reading. He advised the retreatants to begin by reading authors whose name started with “St.” We all smiled a bit and tried not to laugh, since it was a silent retreat. Yet there is great wisdom in these words, for the Saints can be great teachers to us as we travel along the road to holiness.
However, we don’t always take the chance to get to know them. The pervading wisdom in our culture is to follow the trends. Whether the new tv show, restaurant or band, we tend to gravitate towards what is fresh and exciting. Once something becomes a little stale, we leave it at the drop of a hat and move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, this sort of thinking seeps into our spiritual practices as well.
A quick glimpse at the Catholic best sellers on amazon.com shows that only three of the top 40 best sellers in the Catholicism section are written by Saints. In fact, most of the top sellers are books that have been written in the 2010s. There are not many spiritual classics on the list. It is possible that everybody has already the great works such as Introduction to the Devout Life and The Interior Castle, but maybe we are simply too quick to read what is popular, instead of what is good for us.
Reading the works of the saints can be hard work. Their reflections are deep and their insights convicting. Yet this is what we need in our lives. In the land of prosperity there are not many voices challenging us to grow in holiness and become saints. In a time where complacency among the laity is high, we need to be roused to live lives of heroic virtue. This is what the saints can do for us.
Now I’m not saying to abandon all modern Catholic books since there are some true gems out there. Nevertheless, it would be quite beneficial to expand our knowledge of the Catholic faith beyond the authors of the 20th and 21st century.
So, where do you start? First, take some time to pray and ask God to show you what he wants you to read. It may be helpful to bring a list of spiritual classics with you. Select one and start reading. Don’t try to read it quickly so you can check it off your list. Don’t try to read five books at once. Simply take one book and carve out some time daily to meditate on the words of the author and see how they apply to your own life. Before you read each day, pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and write down one thing that stuck out to you in that day’s reading.
I have found that it is important to sprinkle in some lighter spiritual reading into my prayer life to balance the deep insights with practical living. For example, if I just finished a papal encyclical, I may go over to dynamiccatholic.com and select something by Matthew Kelly before heading into another deep book. Find the reading schedule that works for you. The most important thing to do is to start reading.
With Christmas quickly approaching, set a goal to spend time daily reading a spiritual classic as part of your preparation for the coming of Christ. Ask God to use this book as a way of drawing closer to Him, and then see what happens.