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Deacon-structing spiritual reading, part 1

Deacon Pedro

Monday, February 15, 2021

Photo credit: Salt + Light Media/Pedro Guevara-Mann
Last week we learned that the bare minimum that we should be doing as Catholics is following the five precepts of the Church. I’ve been thinking of a comparison. When I was in school, taking a course I did not enjoy, I would do the bare minimum just to pass the course. I went to class, did the assignments, and studied just enough to do well in the exam. That was it.
On the other hand, when I was taking a course that I enjoyed – or had an engaging teacher, then it was not hard to spend hours reading on the subjects we were studying or going out of my way to learn more. This is how I discovered an interest in history. When I was in grade 8, we studied the Second World War. No longer was history something of the remote past; I actually knew people who had been alive during the war. I remember having long conversations with my parents and grandmother about their experiences during those years. It was not a chore to study history that year. I went above and beyond the minimum requirements.
I can also think about marriage – I’ve made this comparison before. What is the bare minimum to make a marriage work? I don’t even know because it is such a ridiculous concept. No one enters a marriage thinking that they need only do the bare minimum! Say hello to your spouse every morning? Have dinner together once a week? Bring her flowers on your anniversary? It makes no sense!
Yet, when it comes to our Faith, we have that “obligation” mentality which forces us down the bare minimum path.
Of course, sometimes, with the things that we know matter, we need to make an extra effort to learn a bit more in order to "kick start" the interest and the desire to go deeper.
This Wednesday, we begin, once again, the season of Lent, and I would like to recommend to you some things that you can do to go above and beyond the precepts of the Church. If you want to nourish yourself and grow in your faith, if you want to know Christ and his Church better, if you want to go deeper into our Faith and grow more in love, joy, and holiness, here are some suggestions.
I have dedicated a lot of time to Scripture and why we should be reading it (Catholic Basics and the Gospels, to suggest two).
It is important that we get more Scripture than just once a week at Mass. I would recommend that everyone get a daily missal (or download the app. Daily readings are also available from the USCCB). This way you are not only reading Scripture every day, but you are doing it together with the universal Church, as these are the readings that are used at Mass, all around the world, every day.
But it’s not enough to just read Scripture; we need a guide to help us understand or unpack what we are reading. There are many good ones. I use a daily readings with reflections called Give Us This Day (available as a monthly book or as an app). The daily reflections on the readings are varied: some contemporary, some by our Church Fathers, some by our popes. They always help me understand what I am reading and give me something to reflect on from the readings for the day.
What's for sure is that every day, these readings and reflections send me to the computer to learn more!
You may also want to turn to our blog every Friday for Word Alive. These are reflections based on the Sunday readings. Again, the authors are from diverse backgrounds and from all over the world, offering us great nuggets of spiritual nourishment. That way, when you listen to the readings on Sunday, you are more likely to connect with and understand what you hear at a deeper level.
Spiritual Reading:
While Scripture is the Word of God and it is very important that we read it, study it, and pray with it, it is not enough.
I mentioned earlier about the reflections written by our Church Fathers and popes. This is but one small portion of the vast treasure that the Church offers through her body of teaching. Not only can we read Scripture, but we can also read the lives of the saints or what a particular saint wrote. If you’re really keen, you can read some Church documents, like an encyclical or apostolic exhortation, but I am going to suggest that you start with something a bit more accessible – the writings of the saints and other holy men and women.
Here are some that I’ve read and that you may enjoy.
Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux 
This is the autobiography that St. Thérèse wrote at the urging of her superiors – the writings that led her to be considered for canonization and even to be declared a Doctor of the Church. It’s an easy read (she was just 22 years old when she began writing it) and a good place to begin your spiritual reading.
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton 
While he wasn't a saint, I think this classic by Merton definitely falls into this category. It has been described as a modern-day Confessions of St. Augustine. In it, Merton describes his journey from a restless and passionate young man to Catholicism and a Trappist monastery.
Confessions by St. Augustine 
This is St. Augustine’s autobiography, describing his journey from a sinful and immoral life into Christianity. It is where the famous "we are restless until we rest in you" line comes from.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis 
This is the one I am reading right now. While it is written very specifically to those who live in religious life, it most definitely applies to all of us. It is a handbook for spiritual life that is divided into four “books”, each book with several short chapters of no more than two pages each. It’s perfect to read from cover to cover or simply pick a chapter and read it based on your interests, questions, or prayer life.
An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales 
This is also a classic and used as a guide to spiritual life. Different than Kempis’ book, this one is intended for everyone, which is why it was revolutionary at the time it was written. In it, St. Francis says that he writes it to “instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court and are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances.” “It is an error to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes or the home of married people… wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to the perfect life.”
Crossing the Threshold of Hope by St. John Paul II 
It was written in an interview style to questions asked by journalist Vittorio Messori. It does not contain any personal questions, yet in his answers, Pope John Paul reveals much of himself. In it, the pope addresses many topics, including prayer, the existence of God, evil, other religions, communism, and human rights.
Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila 
This may be good for the more advanced; still, I enjoyed it. It is also a spiritual guide for development in service and prayer. St. Teresa describes the spiritual journey as one that takes us into a castle that contains seven mansions, or stages, ending with the final one, which is union with God.
If you are not sure where to start, or you feel you need a guide to read some of these, you may consider getting Ralph Martin’s The Fulfillment of All Desire. In it, Martin draws from seven Doctors of the Church. Instead of having to read Teresa of Avila, Augustine, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, Bernard de Clairvaux, Thérèse of Lisieux, or Francis de Sales, Martin helps you extract what’s significant in each of their lives and writings, grouping it into topics outlining the spiritual journey.
There are, of course, many, many other books you can choose, as well as books by contemporary authors. I would suggest, however, that you don't just read contemporary books but also these from the Tradition of the Church. Not only will it nourish your soul and help guide your spiritual growth, but it will help you understand the Church better, enter deeper into the mystery of the Church, and also help you understand Scripture better. I am convinced that there is so much confusion among Catholics with what we are bombarded with on social media because we have not taken the time to read straight from the source what the Church teaches and has taught through the centuries, through the writings of these holy men and women.
I’ve include links for each of the books so you can easily purchase one and begin your reading. If you prefer an audio book or podcast, I am sure those exist as well (I'm open to suggestions). Although I would recommend that, not only do we need to listen to (or read) someone talking about these writings, but we need to actually read (or listen) to them, straight from the source. Lent is a great time to do something extra as we strengthen our faith.
This year, as we go into our second Lent under pandemic restrictions, perhaps adding some good spiritual reading will be an unexpected blessing.
Next week, we'll look a little closer at St. Teresa of Avila and what she can teach us.
If you prefer, skip ahead to read more about Spiritual Reading and what kinds of books should be in your spiritual tool bag.

pedroEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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