What Is “Spiritual Reading”? How Do Busy People Find Time For This? (By Fr. John Bartunek, LC)
Dear Father John, My spiritual director recommended that I do some spiritual reading. He said spiritual reading is just reading about spiritual things. I don’t have a lot of extra time, and I am finding it hard to motivate myself to squeeze this new obligation into my schedule – it’s hard enough for me to get my daily meditation in! Can you give me some advice?
It sounds like you have found a wise spiritual director. If daily meditation is like the bread-and-butter of your spiritual diet, spiritual reading is your multi-vitamin supplement. First let’s reflect on why that is the case, then we can make some practical recommendations for squeezing it into your schedule.
What Is Spiritual Reading?
Spiritual ReadingSpiritual reading consists of reading something that explains some aspect of Catholic truth in an attractive, enriching way. Its function is to help reinforce and deepen our Christian view of ourselves and the world around us. In previous eras, popular culture itself was imbued with the Christian world view, so even popular books and dramas would reinforce the Christian value system. But now that is not the case. Instead, our minds are flooded every day by messages (advertisements, films, TV shows, news, music) that directly contradict the Christian world view. That will have its effect on how we think and what we value. In fact, this is one of the reasons the Church is suffering so much from so-called cafeteria Catholics. They get their Catholic formation from secular sources (The New York Times, Newsweek…), and so they simply can’t understand why the Church would ever be against such popular and seemingly reasonable propositions like artificial contraception, artificial reproduction, and gay marriage. Because of this ongoing flood of secular ideals, we have to consciously nourish our minds with authentic Christian teaching in order to avoid being poisoned. That’s what spiritual reading can do.
Spiritual reading is either instructive or refreshing. It either informs our minds so that we learn to think and understand more and more in harmony with Revelation, or it refreshes what we already know/have learned by making it shine out more clearly once again. In either case, it counteracts the seductive, secularizing messages that saturate our cultural atmosphere. This is why it’s such an important spiritual discipline. It plants seeds of Christian truth in your mind, and they grow and germinate in your subconscious as you go about your daily business. These seeds often flower during your daily prayer and meditation; in fact, spiritual reading frequently provides topics, ideas, or insights that are excellent material for Christian meditation.
Spiritual reading differs from plain reading not only in the content, but also in the method. You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing spiritual reading; fifteen minutes a day is fine. And you don’t need to read fast. The idea is simply to taste, chew on, and swallow some healthy Catholic concepts every day. The difference between spiritual reading and meditation is the end result. The goal of your meditation is to converse with the Lord about what matters to him and what matters to you. The reflection and consideration that forms part of your meditation is meant to spur that conversation in your heart. The goal of spiritual reading is to inform your mind; it doesn’t finish with a prayerful conversation (though that can sometimes pop up spontaneously, which is fine!).
A lot of the books we have been recommending on this Web site are prime material for spiritual reading. But if you’re not a reader, or if you think you don’t have time, you can also get creative. Good Catholic novels (novels imbued with a Catholic world view, where characters exemplify Christian virtue in a realistic but inspiring way) can serve as a kind of spiritual reading. Listening while you drive or exercise to recordings of spiritual talks, homilies, or conferences (or books on tape, or even good Catholic podcasts) can also do the trick.
The point here is that we all need to be always growing in our knowledge of the faith, because if we are not growing, we’re withering.
Yours sincerely in Christ, Fr John Bartunek, LC, ThD
SPIRITUAL READING: RENEW YOUR MIND IN CHRIST! (by Fr. Ed Broom)
On our pathway to holiness, we should use all of the means and helps we can to arrive at our eternal home: heaven. Spiritual writers and spiritual directors are unanimous in the invaluable importance of frequent SPIRITUAL READING. Forming the habit of frequent, methodical, well-ordered “Spiritual Reading” can fortify our spiritual life, as vitamins do to the body. Consult your confessor or Spiritual Director as to what would be the “best” spiritual reading for you now, how to do and when to do it and without a doubt your spiritual life well skyrocket! To encourage you, these are the many fruits that can be picked from the tree of the person who takes seriously “Spiritual Reading”.
1. LOVE OF GOD. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love Him with all our soul, strength, and MIND. We cannot love someone who we do not love. Good Spiritual Reading puts us in contact with God, through knowing Him better and knowledge of Jesus generates love for Him.
2. PURIFICATION OF THE MIND. Today we are exposed to much moral dirt– t.v. the radio, the Internet, the street, maybe even the workplace— good spiritual reading serves to purify the mind. As chlorine is to your backyard pool, so is good spiritual reading to the mind, sullied by the dust of the world!
3. HOLY THOUGHTS AND HOLY ACTIONS. By reading the mind is filled with holy thoughts that lead to holy actions and eventually to holy lives and finally heaven! St Paul says we should focus on heavenly things.
4. PRAYER ENRICHMENT. Notice that when you have formed the habit of “Spiritual Reading” then when you go to your prayer it is easier because this “Holy mind-set” and holy thoughts can be brought to prayer. A good spiritual reading and a fervent meditation are like hand in glove.
5. PERMANENT FORMATION/CATECHESIS. Many today have never been properly educated in the faith, have been poorly catechized, or not even catechized at all. Therefore, spiritual reading— for example, reading the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH— can fulfill a catechetical void that many have been immersed in!
6. FROM DESOLATION TO CONSOLATION. We all experience moments(maybe hours) of desolation, in which God seems distant and we have lost the “Taste” for spiritual things. St. Ignatius insists that we must fight against desolation and not give in to it. If we give into desolation then it can cause irreparable damage to our spiritual life. An extraordinary help in desolation can be quiet, peaceful recollected spiritual reading. Personally, if find reading from the DIARY OF ST FAUSTINA: DIVINE MERCY IN MY SOUL is an oasis of peace and consolation in moments of aridity, temptation and desolation. Have in store your favorite books to conquer desolation!
7. APOLOGETICS. Reading can lead to knowledge of the faith and defense of the faith. At Confirmation, the Bishop sent the newly confirmed as an apostle to “Spread the faith and to defend the faith.” Read the spiritual topic you love; defend it when the opportunity arises!
8. CONVERSION! St Ignatius, St Augustine, St Teresa of Avila— all of these great saints received signal graces through “Spiritual Reading”. Ignatius read the lives of the saints and was moved by their heroic lives and exclaimed: “If Dominic did it so can I; If Francis did it so can I….. Your own deeper conversion can take place through spiritual reading!!! Try it!
9. AVOID MENTAL STAGNATION. The mind has to be constantly renewed and replenished and reinvigorated; otherwise mental stagnation can set in! Many spouses could improve markedly their married life if they both applied themselves to Spiritual Reading. Therefore, upon meeting they can share their day as well as the fruits and lights and insights derived in from their Reading!
10. GOOD EXAMPLE! Jesus said He is the Light of the world; also He said that we are to be the light of the world. Parents, apply yourself to good reading and your children, hopefully, will follow your good example. Spiritual Reading is spiritual light to illuminate the home and the family!
In conclusion, start today your spiritual reading. What to read? Suggestions: Bible, lives of the saints, Catechism, teachings of the Popes, moral theology to form one’s conscience, Prayer…. and many more! Consult your Spiritual Director. With the habit of Spiritual Reading your knowledge of Jesus will increase, your love for Him will abound and your sharing with others will multiply and your home in heaven prepared!
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