Charlie's Blog: Suggestions For Spiritual Reading


Suggestions For Spiritual Reading

Don't neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.

When it comes to the spiritual life, prayer is the primary practice and discipline. A close second would be reading. Prayer is when we talk to God, but reading is how God talks to us. I have lost count of the number of times when I have had troubled thoughts that I took to prayer and the answer was found in the very next thing I read. Without a doubt, spiritual reading has helped me tremendously in my walk on the narrow path. Here are a few books that I have found helpful and still continue to find helpful.

1. The Bible

This sounds like a no-brainer, but the Holy Bible is the best spiritual book you can ever read. I put this on the list because of the running joke about Catholics not being Bible readers. Catholics are not illiterates when it comes to the Bible since it is an essential part of each Mass. But few Catholics read the Bible as an integral part of their day.

When I was a Protestant, I would get up each morning and read the Bible. I didn't skip around and read a piece here or there. I read it like any other book from beginning to end. When I finished, I would start over. I would read a different translation each time or pick a study Bible to read. I now carry this practice over to my life as a Catholic. My wife does the same thing.

I recommend at a minimum that you read and follow the daily readings that are recited at Mass each day around the world. You can find these easily here at the USCCB website. I have them sent to my email address. There are smartphone apps that also help in this regard, but I am a flip phone luddite.

Another recommendation is to read the Bible straight through each morning at breakfast. I am currently reading through the Douay-Rheims translation on my Kindle. After that, I am going to read the Navarre Study Bible which is my wife's favorite.

Finally, I recommend getting a pocket New Testament. I would read mine when I used to get a lunch break, and I made quick work of it. It will amaze you how much you can read in those daily chunks. Binge reading is not nearly as good as bite size reading. By having a New Testament handy, you will find moments here and there when you can read a chapter or two. You will also find that reading more profitable than checking Facebook on your smartphone.

Reading the Bible will pay rich dividends in your spiritual life especially the reading of the Gospels. In becoming like Christ, it helps to read about Christ. I am always fascinated with His interactions with people. Jesus dealt with difficult people just like you do in your daily life. I find great comfort and insight in learning how Jesus interacted with all those personalities.

2. The Way/Furrow/The Forge by St. Josemaria Escriva

After the Bible, the second most helpful volume I can recommend are the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva. The primary criticism of Escriva is that his writings and spiritual advice are utterly simple. Here is Fr. James Martin, SJ on Escriva:
Some of the group’s spirituality can be gleaned from Escrivá’s numerous writings, most notably his 1939 book, The Way. The book is a collection of 999 maxims, ranging from traditional Christian pieties (“The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue”) to sayings that could easily have come out of Poor Richard’s Almanack (“Don’t put off your work until tomorrow”).
This damning criticism was meant to castigate the unsophisticated nature of the spirituality of Opus Dei. Yet, I don't see the Society of Judas producing any saints since they traded St. Ignatius for Karl Marx.

Escriva is simple. Yet, I cannot read this volume without feeling the burn of the Catholic Guilt Ray and a resolution to do better. The simple fact is that sanctity is not produced by sophistication but love. St. Josemaria Escriva loved our Lord, and these three books are like a notebook of sanctity. The Stoics had the Enchridion of Epictetus and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius as handbooks for living as philosophers. The Way/Furrow/The Forge is written in a similar manner to those volumes. They represent a handbook for becoming a saint.

These books can be found and read for free here. You can also have daily selections sent to your email here.

3. Abandonment to Divine Providence by Father Jean Pierre de Caussade, SJ

The title of this book alone is enough to produce a spiritual benefit in the reader. Life is not always pleasant and shouldering your cross daily can be discouraging at times. Suffering and bewilderment produce anxiety. Abandonment to Divine Providence is the antidote to anxiety. Caussade writes,
You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies - though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet [God's] beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.
Nothing happens to you or can happen to you that is not part of God's plan for you. Our anxieties come when we forget this simple fact. Here is how Cassaude tells us to live:
In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace. Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal. As this takes any form according to the mould into which it is poured, so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them. In a word, their disposition resembles the atmosphere, which is affected by every breeze; or water, which flows into any shaped vessel exactly filling every crevice. They are before God like a perfectly woven fabric with a clear surface; and neither think, nor seek to know what God will be pleased to trace thereon, because they have confidence in Him, they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it.
We have to trust in God's providence like children. Here is Caussade again:
To escape the distress caused by regret for the past or fear about the future, this is the rule to follow: leave the past to the infinite mercy of God, the future to His good Providence, give the present wholly to His love by being faithful to His grace.
This volume is filled with these nuggets of wisdom and consolation. Abandonment is the cure for distress in your life. You can read it for free here.

3. Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

If you are going to walk on the narrow path, you must get used to walking in the dark. This is the message of St. John of the Cross in his masterpiece, Dark Night of the Soul. St. John writes,
God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.
This book is a treasure to read during the dark times of life, and there will be dark times. Times of suffering and not feeling that God is even there are a natural part of the walk on the narrow path. Mother Teresa suffered for years in a dark valley until the end of her life. The true test of a saint is not their confidence in the light but their fidelity in the dark night of the soul. Though it can be distressing and painful, the dark nights of the soul will produce wonderful things in you. St. John writes,
Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.
There is no progress in sanctity without suffering and darkness. Dark Night of the Soul will help you to accept this aspect of spiritual growth, and it will be comfort for you in the darkness. You can read it for free here.

4. Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.

This volume is a hidden treasure, and I regret that I cannot find it for free on the internet. My copy was pricey. Yet, I admit it is worth every penny I paid for it. Divine Intimacy is a classic and a masterpiece of Carmelite meditation. Each chapter is a reading for the day, and you can read it along with the liturgical year. Or, you can read it straight through or skip to the interesting bits like I do. No matter how you choose to read it, each meditation will improve you and encourage you in some way.

5. The Hidden Treasure by St. Leonard
I believe that were it not for the Holy Mass, as of this moment the world would be in the abyss.--St. Leonard
The Mass is the center of a Catholic's life because it is the Mass where we encounter our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. When I first became Catholic, this volume first bought for $4 at a Catholic shop was invaluable in helping me to prepare for Mass. My wife praises it endlessly and gives out copies as gifts. It is a short read, but it will enhance your preparation for Mass and reception of communion. You can read it here for free.

These are a few suggestions for spiritual reading, and I think you will find them beneficial to your spiritual life. They have been beneficial to me and rewarded me greatly. I pray they will work their wonders in your life and your walk on the narrow path.