“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.”
(St. Athanasius, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church)
When thinking about prayer, spiritual reading isn’t the first thing that normally comes to mind. The Our Father comes to mind. The Rosary comes to mind. And, depending on the time of day, the Prayer Before Meals comes to mind. But reading books?
Yes! In fact, prayer and spiritual reading have gone hand in hand for a long time. Consider St. Augustine who said, “he who wishes often to be with God ought to pray frequently and read pious books.”
The Catechism teaches us “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” But how do we raise it? If you are anything like me, there are times when I try to do the raising myself. I think hard. I meditate harder. But ultimately, these methods are fruitless. We can’t force ourselves to God.
But, there are elevators to heaven, in a manner of speaking.
By reading spiritual books, our mind is instructed on the finer things of the faith. We have ideas, teachings, and examples of the saints that we can watch, imitate, and meditate upon. In turn, by meditating on these things, they become such a part of us that we begin to contemplate them, in essence, raising ourselves to heaven.
Of course, there are instances where God speaks directly to his people. He spoke directly to Moses. He spoke to St. Faustina. He used Mary to speak directly to the three children at Fatima. But speaking directly to us isn’t his usual method of instructing us.
Usually, God works in the ordinary scheme of things. He isn’t prone to sending in plagues, talking to us in the garden, or setting the sun spinning. He operates in the usual ways. Instructs in the usual ways. And the usual ways that we learn anything, is through teaching and books.
So God teaches us through books and we meditate on these teachings. Eventually - or in my case, hopefully - these meditations become a part of us, and the truth and beauty bring us to contemplative prayer.
Paul said as much in his letter to the Philippians.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Reflect: Do you find you “hear from God” by meditating on spiritual books? Do you have a favorite spiritual book you return to again and again?
Act: If you aren’t reading a spiritual book now, consider taking a look through our archives of “Soul Saturday” to find one. Alternatively, read something written by one of your favorite saints. Commit to reading a spiritual work for just 15 minutes a day for the next day. Highlight or make notes of the things that stand out to you.