Christianity is certainly not a do-it-yourself faith. It implies a community framework, adorned with its teachers, from where teaching is imparted and interiorised. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).
Through this “cloud of witnesses” the Holy Spirit energises the Church by bestowing on her His divine gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, fortitude, good counsel, and fear of the Lord, piety. Spiritual reading serves as developing further these sealed gifts in us received at our confirmation. Besides helping us deepen these seven gifts of the Holy Spirit spiritual reading introduces us to the saints’ witness. From the latter’s life testimonies and writings we learn how to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.
There is a whole universe ready for us to be explored by spiritual reading. If one is interested in the spiritual and human dynamics of married life Saint John Paul II offers his Theology of the Body. If others want to delve deeper into humility and simplicity there is, for instance, the life and autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Others may opt for mysticism. The works of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John Bosco or Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and others can’t wait to be explored. Conversion stories are compelling too since they shed a shinning light on the great value of our Christian faith. The stories of Saint Augustine or that of Blessed John Henry Newman are really helpful in this area. Century after the other the Holy Spirit keeps beautifying the Church through the saints!
Various saints have spoken about the great benefits of spiritual reading. The 6th century Benedictine Rule greatly accentuates spiritual reading. Furthermore, Saint Alphonsus Ligouri observed that “we cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions, and particularly in our doubts; but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us lights and directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.”
My Capuchin confrere, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, highly exhorted the reading of the saints lives since by such reading one is exhorted to undertake the road of holiness simply by following one or more models of holiness. Saint Pio was wise enough to counsel spiritual reading particularly in the harshest times of adversity.
“Help yourself during this troubled period by reading holy books. This reading provides excellent food for the soul and conduces to great progress along the path of perfection. By no means is it inferior to what we obtain through prayer and holy meditation. In prayer and meditation it is ourselves who speak to the Lord, while in holy reading it is God who speaks to us. Before beginning to read, raise your mind to the Lord and implore Him to guide your mind Himself, to speak to your heart and move your will.”
Spiritual reading helps us grow humanly, spiritually, intellectually and vocationally. Why so? Spiritual reading encourages us to become the best version of ourselves. It also opens us to a deeper communion with our Lord. It aids us to know what we truly believe in by uncovering for us the underlying reasons of our faith. Finally, spiritual reading informs and forms us about how to be a good parent, spouse, father, mother and so forth.
On the human level fiction novels like Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown Mysteries or J.R.R. Tokien’s Lord of the Rings are a good start since they guide us to see spiritual and moral theology at work. On the spiritual perspective books like Saint Faustina’s Diary or Story of a Soul of Saint Therese of Lisieux assist us greatly in our spiritual journey. Intellectually motivating are Saint John Paul II’s encyclical letter Fides et Ratio and The Cathecism of the Catholic Church. Lastly, vocational reading include authors like Christopher West, Patrick Coffin and Mary Healy.
In his autobiography St John XXIII wrote: “Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading…[which] is necessary to the life of the soul”. Before doing your spiritual reading pray:
Lord, enlighten my understanding and inflame my will, that I may know and do what is pleasing to Thee. Amen.