Prayer and Spiritual Reading
May 30, 1993
Brother John Raymond
One very important aspect of a life of prayer is what spiritual
writers call "spiritual reading." The name is self-explanatory. One
needs to read spiritual writings. Examples of such writings are
Sacred Scripture, the lives or writings of the Saints, Encyclicals
of the Pope, teachings of the Church, Our Lady's Messages in Mary's
"How does spiritual reading help my life of prayer?" you may ask.
First of all, this type of reading is not done like reading other
things. It is not a question of reading for pleasure or for
information. This type of reading should be done slowly and
meditatively. Our Lady is referred to in the Gospels as "pondering"
events in Her Heart. This may be a better way of talking about
spiritual reading as opposed to other types of reading - one should
ponder on what is read. Of course with modern technology it could be
a video tape or an audio tape which one uses for reflection. The
point is that this type of reading or listening should have some
reflection time as part of it.
One should begin spiritual reading by invoking the help of the
Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not only guide us in finding what
to read but will teach us while we are reading. To force ourselves
to read slowly it may be necessary to read only a paragraph, close
the book and then think about what we just read. There is sometimes
the urge to read the whole book in one sitting, especially if it is
really interesting. But the unfortunate result of reading like this
is that we forget what we read and also do not reflect on it.
When one does settle down to pray it is a good idea to recall
what one has read and discuss it with Jesus. One's reading should
provide "fuel" for the conversation. It could be the case, however,
that one's reflection while reading turns into prayer. One may start
talking to Jesus about it or feel emotions of love, sorrow,
compassion, compunction, etc. while reflecting. This is also good
because what we are reading is affecting us. This may lead us to
resolve to do something for love of Jesus or just love Jesus more.
Either way, whether during the reading or after, spiritual reading
should lead us to grow in our relationship with Jesus.
One should keep in mind that Jesus does reward one for one's good
intentions. If He sees that one wants to do something for Him, He is
pleased. So if one's spiritual reading leads one to holy intentions
and desires this is good. Look at the life of St. Therese the Little
Flower. She had tremendous desires, some of which she never
accomplished in this life. Yet, look at what she is doing now! This
cloistered Carmelite nun even became the Patroness of the Missions!
So Jesus saw her fervent desires for doing good and rewarded her for
One should not underestimate how powerfully spiritual reading can
transform one's life. There are many examples of people who picked
up one book and were totally transformed. One such person was
Blessed Edith Stein (1891-1942). At a time in her life when she was
just beginning to believe in God, after years of atheism, she
happened to read the Life of St. Teresa of Avila - which she read,
by the way, all in one night (I guess she didn't read this article
about good spiritual reading!). Well, this book so inspired her that
Edith became a Catholic, then a Carmelite Nun and finally a martyr
of the Church!
One should try to fit in some time every day for spiritual
reading. Imagine how much time we waste on useless reading and
entertainment (such as TV) which does not draw us closer to God. So
let us find the time for this most important kind of reading so that
we will grow in our life of prayer.