On Reading Spiritual Books

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Some books pose a real danger to one's complacency. For each person these books will be different, but they all threaten in the same way--they force one to think about God and how one is living life with respect to Him. This is not something I do readily. Often I go out of my way NOT to think about God because it will get in the way of what I really want to do. It's a whole lot easier to get along if God doesn't keep nosing in.

However, the spiritual life is not that way. In fact the spiritual life is enough to make one think that Freud actually got something correct in his hypotheses about the functioning of the personality. We have all experienced St. Paul's, " For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (KJV, Romans 7:19) This suggests that there is an internal battle raging constantly between our fallen nature and the nature God wants us to take on. Spiritual reading, properly done, spurs yet another encounter in the battle. This is why many avoid it.

Of recent date one book that has had the full strength of convicting force is St. Teresa Benedicta's work on St. John of the Cross--The Science of the Cross. Perhaps because the work is about poetry, perhaps because it is about St. John of the Cross, perhaps because it is written by St. Teresa Benedicta, but certainly because the Holy Spirit is using some connection between the work and my personality, nearly every line of the book speaks to me. Were I underlining it, the entire text would be underlined and annotated. It is one of those works I wish were readily available in electronic format so I could copy out sections and write all of my thoughts on it. It is a work that calls me to really think about Christ and God. It forces me out of comfort and complacency and into the challenging arena of spiritual warfare.

There are many books like this. Through time some have been tested and found excellent by many sources. The Imitation of Christ is chief among these. While there may be passages that do not speak to you at this very moment, there will be others that direct your attention to things you'd really rather nor look at. I am reminded of the scene of Judas's death in The Passion of the Christ. Just prior to it we are offered a brilliant image of the nature of sin in the form of a maggot-ridden, fly-blown corpse so distorted it is difficult to say what kind of animal it is. We very naturally don't want to look at such things. Nevertheless it is necessary and salutary work. If we are harnassed or shackled to such a thing, surely we would want to be aware of it. And we live in a world of people harnessed just so.

Another work that has helped many has been Fray Luis of Granada's A Sinner's Guide. So too with Scupoli's Spiritual Battle. These are all works that convict. But even those that do not address sin straight on, can still convict. St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary Jean-Pierre de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence, St. Thérèse of Lisieux Story of a Soul, in fact all the great works of the saints are designed with one purpose. They are designed for the sole purpose of any great Christian writer: to get you to open your eyes and walk toward God and to get you to see, if only momentarily how far you are from where God would have you be. And then to prompt you to move toward Him. This is true of the works of Flannery O'Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene (at his best), and Walker Percy. When you read this fiction, you should stand convicted.

All reading should be spiritual reading and all spiritual reading should be directed toward the transformation of life. Yes, I know there is a place for eutrepalia, and yes, there is a place for leisure. Nevertheless, we would do far better for ourselves were we not to coddle and nurture these notions. Time spent with what does not lead to God is time wasted. Surely eutrepalia is as possible and even as likely in great works that lead to God as in the collected opera of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton. Indeed, I think these latter works, and others as well, serve more to insulate us from God than to bring us to Him.

Whatever it is we do it should be directed toward God's glory. This includes even those little choices such as what to read and what to watch on television. When we surrender to God it must be all the way. It isn't just part of us that goes to heaven, but the entire person. So spiritual reading, as uncomfortable as it may be, should occupy a major portion of our reading time. We should seek our joy and consolations in the presence of the Lord. And where there is great beauty, there also is the Lord. Reading any worthy work with the idea of learning more about God will likely result in learning more about God. Thus, much of our reading can become spiritual reading (assuming of course that the work is worthy to begin with.)

It's obvious I've strayed from my initial point, but these notes should help a bit. Perhaps in the future I'll share some of my favorite works of spirituality. It seems that there is a great hunger in St. Blog's for advice concerning these matters. Or perhaps not. Even if no one else should ever cast an eye over these ruminations to myself they are fruitful as a reminder of the path I should be following. I pray they may also help those who are really seeking after God's will in all that they do.

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There's a promising beginning, Mr. Riddle. I'm eager to read your coming posts on the subject.

My family is nuts for Dean Koontz audio books on car trips! He's a Catholic, you know!

Thank you for these wonderful thoughts on spiritual reading. I concur 100%. As a matter of fact, what I am experiencing in my personal life is that the more spiritual reading I actually DO, the less I am even interested in novels, fiction and of course the biggest TIME WASTER of all.....Television (except for EWTN)..God Bless, Bob



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 29, 2004 8:00 AM.

Prayer Requests 3/29/04 was the previous entry in this blog.

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