On Spiritual Reading


Virgin Annunciate - by Messina, Antonello - from the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo

During her Annunciation Dialog with the Archangel Gabriel, the Blessed Virgin Mary had Prior Knowledge
of the Messiah, through her Spiritual Reading of the Words-of the Inspired Writers-of Genesis and Isaiah.

 

Spiritual Reading and Prayer, are the Arms by-which
Hell is Conquered, and Paradise Won.

Saint Bernard


We find no one Devoted-to the Service-of the Lord,
that did not 'Practice' Spiritual Reading.

Saint Athanasius

 

On Spiritual Reading

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

angelbar.gif (3645 bytes)

To a Spiritual Life, the Reading-of Holy Books, is perhaps not-Less Useful, than Mental Prayer. Saint Bernard says, Reading 'Instructs' us at-once, in Prayer and in the Practice-of Virtue. Hence, he concluded that Spiritual Reading and Prayer, are the Arms by-which Hell is Conquered, and Paradise Won. We cannot always have Access-to a Spiritual Father (Spiritual Director), 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. Hence Saint Athanasius used to-say, that we find no one Devoted-to the Service-of the Lord, that did not 'Practice' Spiritual Reading. Hence, all the Founders-of Religious Orders, have Strongly Recommended this Holy Exercise, to their Religious. Saint Benedict, among the Rest, Commanded-that each Monk should every Day, make a Spiritual Reading, and that Two (2) Others should be Appointed-to go-about Visiting the Cells, to see if all 'Fulfilled' the Command; and should any Monk be found Negligent, in the Observance-of this Rule, the Saint ordered a Penance, to be Imposed-upon him. But before All, the Apostle 'Prescribed' Spiritual Reading to-Timothy. Attend unto Reading. Mark the word Attend, which Signifies-that, although Timothy, as being Bishop, was Greatly Occupied-with the Care-of his Flock; still the Apostle Wished him to-apply-to the Reading-of Holy Books, not in a Passing-Way, and for a 'Short' Time, but Regularly, and for a 'Considerable' Time.

The Reading-of Spiritual Works is as-Profitable, as the Reading-of Bad Books is Noxious. As the Former has Led-to the Conversion-of many Sinners, so the Latter is every day the Ruin-of many Young Persons. The First (1st) Author-of Pious Books is the Spirit-of-God; but the Author-of Pernicious Writings is the Devil, who often, artfully-Conceals from certain-Persons, the Poison that such Works contain, and makes these Persons Believe-that the Reading-of such Books, is necessary in-order-to Speak Well, and to-Acquire a Knowledge-of the World, for their own-Direction; or at-least in-order-to Pass the Time, Agreeably. But I say that, especially-for Nuns, nothing is more Pernicious, than the Reading-of Bad Books. And by Bad Books, I mean not only those that are Condemned-by the Holy See, either because they contain Heresy, or Treat-of Subjects Opposed-to Chastity; but also, all Books that Treat-of Worldly Love. What Fervor can a Religious have, if she Reads Romances, Comedies, or Profane Poetry? What Recollection can she have in-Meditation, or at-Communion? Can she be-Called the Spouse-of Jesus Christ? Should she not rather be-Called the Spouse-of-a-Sinful-World? Even Young Women in the World, that are in the Habit-of Reading such Books, are generally not Virtuous Seculars.

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)

Body/Inferior Will/
Psychosomatic Powers
Passions/Emotions/
Sensory Appetite/
Memory/Imagination
(Subordinate-Partner)

Soul/Intellect/
Superior Will/
Reason/Grace/
Understanding/
Heart/Conscience
(Dominant Partner)

The Soul includes the Rational Thought Process (Intellect/Will/Understanding), and the Bodily Passions and Senses that Influence the Will.

God's Grace, Strengthens the Rational Appetite of the Soul.

 

But some one may say, What Harm is there in Reading Romances and Profane Poetry, when they contain nothing Immodest? Do you ask What Harm? Behold the Harm: the Reading-of such Works, 'Kindles' the Concupiscence-of the Senses, and 'Awakens' the Passions; these easily-Gain the Consent-of the Will, or at least 'Render' it so-Weak, that when the Occasion-of any Dangerous Affection 'Occurs', the Devil finds the Soul already-Prepared to-Allow itself to be Conquered. A Wise Author has said, that by the Reading-of such Pernicious Books, Heresy has-Made, and 'Makes' every-day, Great Progress; because such Reading has-Given, and 'Gives' increased-Strength, to-Libertinism. The Poison-of these Books enters gradually-into the Soul; it First (1st) 'Makes' itself Master-of the Understanding, then 'Infects' the Will, and in the End, 'Kills' the Soul. The Devil finds no-means more-Efficacious, and Secure-of 'Sending' a Young Person to Perdition, than the Reading-of such Poisoned Works.

The Vision of Saint Jerome - by BORGIANNI, Orazio -
from Musée du Louvre, Paris

Satan can not Attack the Soul Directly. However, he can easily Influence the Soul through the Body's Sensual Appetite. Saint Jerome, who Brilliantly Translated the Latin Vulgate Bible in his Solitude at the Cave-of-Bethlehem, is reminded-of this by God's Holy Angels.

 

Remember also that for you, Certain Useless Books, though not Bad, will be Pernicious; because they will make you Lose the Time that you can Employ-in Occupations, Profitable-to the Soul. In a Letter to his Disciple, Eustochium, Saint Jerome stated-for her Instruction, that in his Solitude-at Bethlehem, he was Attached-to the Works-of Cicero, and frequently Read them, and that he 'Felt' a certain Disgust-for Pious Books, because their Style was not-Polished. He was Seized-with a Serious Malady, in which he saw himself at the Tribunal-of-Jesus-Christ. The Lord said to him: "Tell me; what are you?". "I am", replied the Saint, "a Christian". "No", 'Rejoined' the Judge, "you are a Ciceronian, not a Christian". He then Commanded him to be Instantly Scourged. The Saint promised-to Correct his Fault, and having Returned-from the Vision, he found his Shoulders Livid and covered-with Wounds, in-consequence-of the Chastisement that he had Received. Thenceforward, he gave-up the Works-of-Cicero, and Devoted himself to the Reading-of Books-of-Piety. It is true that in the Works like those-of Cicero, we sometimes find Useful Sentiments; but the same Saint Jerome, Wisely-said in a Letter-to another Disciple: "What need have you of Seeking-for a little-Gold, in the Midst-of so-much Mire", when you can Read Pious Books, in which you may find all- Gold, without any Mire?

 

As the Reading-of Bad Books, 'Fills' the Mind with Worldly and Poisonous Sentiments; so, on the other-hand, the Reading-of Pious Works, 'Fills' the Soul with Holy Thoughts and Good Desires.

As a Mirror Exhibits the Stains-of the Countenance,
Holy Books show us the Defects-of the Soul,
via our Conscience

In the Second (2nd) Place, the Soul that is Imbued-with Holy Thoughts in-Reading, is always Prepared-to-Banish Internal Temptations. The Advice that Saint Jerome gave to his Disciple Salvina was: "Endeavor to-have always in your hand, a Pious Book, that with this Shield, you may Defend yourself against Bad Thoughts".

In the Third (3rd) Place, Spiritual Reading serves-to make us see the Stains that Infect the Soul, and Helps us to-Remove them. The same Saint Jerome recommended Demetriade to-Avail herself of Spiritual Reading, as of a Mirror. He meant to say that, as a Mirror 'Exhibits' the Stains-of the Countenance; so Holy Books show us the Defects-of the Soul. Saint Gregory, speaking-of Spiritual Reading, says: "There, we Perceive the Losses we have Sustained, and the Advantages we have Acquired; there we Observe our Falling-back, or our Progress-in the Way-of-God".

In the Fourth (4th) Place, in Reading Holy Books, we Receive many Lights and Divine Calls. Saint Jerome says that when we Pray, we Speak-to God; but when we Read, God Speaks-to us. Saint Ambrose says the same: "We Address Him, when we Pray; we Hear Him, when we Read". In Prayer, God 'Hears' our Petitions, but in-Reading, we 'Listen'-to His Voice. We cannot, as I have already said, always have at-Hand a Spiritual Father, nor can we 'Hear' the Sermons-of Sacred Orators, to 'Direct' and 'Give' us Light, to Walk-well in the Way-of-God. Good Books 'Supply' the Place-of Sermons. Saint Augustine 'Writes' that Good Books are, as-it-were, so many Letters-of-Love, the Lord sends us; in them He:

'Warns' us of our Dangers,
'Teaches' us the Way-of-Salvation,
'Animates' us to Suffer Adversity,
'Enlightens' us, and
'Inflames' us with Divine Love.

Whoever, then, 'Desires' to-be-Saved and to-Acquire Divine Love, should often Read these Letters-of-Paradise.

How many Saints have, by-Reading a Spiritual Book, been Induced-to 'Forsake' the World, and to-Give themselves to-God! It is known to all that Saint Augustine, when Miserably Chained by his Passions and Vices, was, by-Reading One-of the Epistles-of Saint Paul, Enlightened-with Divine Light, went-forth from his Darkness, and began to-lead a Life-of-Holiness. Thus also Saint Ignatius, while a Soldier, by-Reading a Volume-of the Lives-of-the-Saints, which he Accidentally took-up, in-order-to get Rid-of the Tediousness-of the Bed, to-which he was Confined-by Sickness, was Led-to 'Begin' a Life-of-Sanctity, and became the Father and Founder-of the Society-of-Jesus — an Order which has done so-much for the Church. Thus also by-Reading a Pious Book, Accidentally and almost Against his Will, Saint-John-Colombino left the World, became a Saint, and the Founder-of another Religious Order.

Saint Augustine Relates-that Two (2) Courtiers-of the Emperor Theodosius, entered One-day into a Monastery-of-Solitaries; One-of them began to-Read the Life-of Saint Anthony, which he found in One-of the Cells; so-Strong was the Impression made-upon him, that he Resolved-to take Leave-of the World. He then Addressed his Companion, with so-much Fervor, that both of them Remained-in the Monastery, to-serve God. We Read-in the Chronicles-of the Discalced Carmelites, that a Lady-in Vienna, was prepared-to go to a Festivity, but because it was given-up, she Fell-into a Violent Passion. To-Divert her attention, she began-to Read a Spiritual Book that was at-hand, and Conceived such a Contempt-for the World, that she Abandoned it, and became a Teresian Nun. The same happened-to the Duchess-of-Montalto, in Sicily. She began also by-Accident, to-Read the Works-of Saint Teresa, and afterwards Continued to-Read them, with so-much Fervor, that she Sought and Obtained her Husband's Consent, to-become a Religious, and entered-among the Discalced Carmelites.

But the Reading-of Spiritual Books, has not only Contributed-to the Conversion-of Saints, but has also 'Given' them during their Whole Life, Great Aid to-Persevere, and to-Advance continually, in- Perfection. The Glorious Saint Dominic, used to-embrace his Spiritual Books, and to-Press them to his Bosom, saying, "These Books give me Milk". And how, except-by Meditation, and the use-of Pious Books, were the Anchorets enabled-to-spend so-many Years in the Desert, at a Distance-from all Human Society? That Great Servant-of-God, Thomas-a-Kempis, could not enjoy Greater Consolation, than-in Remaining-in a Corner-of his Cell, with a Spiritual Book in his hand. It has been-already Mentioned-in this Work, that the Venerable-Vincent-Carafa, used-to say-that he could not-Desire a Greater Happiness in this World, than to Live-in a Little Grotto, provided-with a Morsel-of-Bread and a Spiritual Book. Saint-Philip-Neri, Devoted all the Vacant Hours that he could Procure, to the Reading-of Spiritual Books, and Particularly the Lives-of the Saints.

Oh! How Profitable is the Reading-of the Lives-of the Saints! In Books-of-Instruction, we Read what we are Bound to-do, but in the Lives-of the Saints, we Read what so-many Holy Men and Women, who were Flesh, as we are, have Done. Hence, their Example, if it Produce no-other Fruit, will at-least Humble us, and make us Sink-under the Earth. In-Reading the Great Things that the Saints have done, we shall certainly be Ashamed-of the Little that we have-Done, and still-Do for God. Saint Augustine said of himself: "My God, the Examples-of Thy Servants, when I Meditated-on them, Consumed my Tepidity, and Inflamed me with Thy Holy Love". Of Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure writes: "By the Remembrance-of the Saints, and of their Virtues, as if they were so-many Stones-of-Fire, he has Inflamed-with new Love for-God".

Saint Gregory also Relates that in-Rome, there was a Beggar called Servolus; he was Afflicted-with Infirmities, and Lived-on the Alms that he Collected: he gave a Part-to the Poor, and 'Employed' the Remainder, in-Purchasing Books-of-Devotion. Servolus could not Read, but he Engaged those whom he Lodged-in his Little House, to Read-for him. Saint Gregory says that, by Listening-to these Spiritual Readings, Servolus 'Acquired' Great Patience, and a Wonderful Knowledge-of the Things-of God. Finally, the Saint states-that at-Death, the Poor Man besought his Friends, to Read-for him; but before Breathing his Last, he Interrupted the Reading, and said: "Be Silent, be Silent, do you not Hear how all Paradise Resounds-with Canticles and Harmonious Music"? After these words, he Sweetly Expired. Immediately after his Death, a Most Agreeable Odor was Diffused-over the Room, in Testimony-of the Sanctity-of the Beggar, who Left the World, Poor-in Earthly Goods, but Rich-in Virtue and Merits.

 

But to-Draw Great Fruit from Spiritual Reading:

It is, in the First (1st) Place, necessary to-Recommend yourself Beforehand-to God, that He may Enlighten the Mind, while you Read. It has been already said, that in Spiritual Reading, the Lord Condescends-to Speak-to us; and, therefore, in Taking-up the Book, we must Pray-to God, in the Words-of Samuel: Speak, Lord, for thy Servant Heareth. Speak, O my Lord, for I Wish-to Obey Thee in all that Thou wilt make-Known to me, to be Thy Will.

In the Second (2nd) Place, you must Read, not in-order-to Acquire Learning, nor to-Indulge Curiosity, but for the Sole Purpose-of Advancing-in Divine Love. To Read-for the Sake-of Knowledge, is not Spiritual Reading, but is, at the Time-of Spiritual Reading, a Study Unprofitable-to the Soul. It is still-Worse, to-Read through-Curiosity. What Profit can be expected-from such Reading? All the Time devoted-to such Reading, is Lost Time. Saint Gregory says that many Read, and Read a Great Deal, but, because they have Read-only through-Curiosity, they Finish Reading as-Hungry, as-if they had not been Reading. Hence the Saint 'Corrected' a Physician called Theodore, for-Reading Spiritual Books Quickly, and without Profit.

To-Derive Advantage-from Pious Books, it is Necessary-to Read them Slowly, and with-Attention. "Nourish your Soul", says Saint Augustine, "with Divine Lectures". Now, to-Receive Nutriment-from Food, it must not be Devoured, but well-Masticated. Remember, then, in the Third (3rd) Place, that to-Reap abundant Fruit from Pious Reading, you must 'Masticate' and 'Ponder-well' what you Read; Applying-to yourself, what is there "Inculcated". And when, what you have-Read, has made a Lively Impression-on you, Saint Ephrem 'Counsels' you to-Read it a Second (2nd) Time.

Besides, when you 'Receive' any Special Light in-Reading, or any Instruction that 'Penetrates' the Heart, it will be very-useful to-Stop, and to-Raise the Mind to-God, by-making a Good Resolution, or a Good Act, or a Fervent Prayer. Saint Bernard says, that it is useful then, to-Interrupt the Reading, and to-Offer a Prayer, and to-continue-to Pray, as-long-as the Lively Impression lasts. Let us Imitate the Bees, that Pass not from One-flower to-Another, until they have-Gathered all the Honey that they found-in the First (1st). This we should do, although all the Time prescribed-for the Reading, should be spent-in such Acts; for thus the Time is spent-with Greater Spiritual Profit. Sometimes it may-happen, that you 'Draw' more- Fruit from-Reading a Single (1) Verse, than from-Reading an Entire-Page.

Moreover, at the End-of the Reading, you must-Select some Sentiment-of Devotion, Excited-by what you have Read, and Carry it with-you, as you would Carry a Flower, from a Garden-of-Pleasure.

 

Prayer

My Lord, I Thank Thee for so many Helps and Lights, that Thou gives me, in-order-to make me a Saint, and to-Unite me always more-closely to-Thee. When will the Day 'Arrive', on-which I shall see myself Freed-from all Earthly Affections, and entirely United-to Thy Heart, which is so Enamored-of my Soul! I Hope for all-things from Thy Infinite Mercy. My Jesus, I cannot Bear-to see myself any longer Ungrateful-to Thy Love, as I have hitherto been. Create a Clean Heart in me, O God. Lord give me a New Heart that will Think only-of Pleasing Thee. This Desire that Thou gives me makes me Hope-for Thy Grace. My God, I Believe in Thee, and for Thy Faith, I would give my Life a Thousand Times. I Hope in-Thee, through the Merits-of Jesus Christ; without them I should be-Lost. O Sovereign Good, I Love Thee; and for the Love-of Thee, I Renounce all things, and Embrace every-Pain and every-Cross, that Thou Wishes to-send me. I have Offended Thee, but I feel more-Sorrow for having Offended Thee, than if I had-Suffered every other Misfortune. I now Sigh-only for Thy Grace and Love. My God, Assist me, have Mercy on me.

Holy Virgin, Assist me by thy Prayers, which Obtain-from God, whatever thou Asks. My Mother, Recommend me to thy Son; do not Forget me.

Amen