The Spiritual Tool Bag (according to my mother)
Three weeks ago
, we deacon-structed spiritual reading because I am growing more and more convinced that if we want to grow in faith and closer to Christ, we have to grow closer to the Church. We must read, study, and pray with Scripture, but we must also learn what the Church teaches – and that's not just learning our catechism.
At the beginning of this year, I was engaged in several debates with various people about this or that teaching of the Church, and it occurred to me that there wouldn’t be so much confusion if people actually were connected to the Church. For most of us, our connection is limited to Sunday Mass and the odd devotion. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, that is just the bare minimum.
How, then, do we connect with the Church?
I truly believe that we connect with the Church by reading, studying, and praying with the Church’s Teachings and Tradition.
Part of that Tradition is the writings of all the holy men and women, as I explained three weeks ago.
To prove my point I have a short anecdote.
My mother was a very devout woman. You may remember that I wrote about her
after her death in 2017.
Of course, growing up, I didn't have any appreciation for this. All I knew was a woman who tried very hard to participate in the life of the Church, in the midst of her very, very busy life as a mother, wife, dancer, teacher, and administrator. She tried to have us pray the Rosary as a family. We were lucky to do it once or twice a year. She tried doing daily Advent devotions; we didn’t do too badly with that. She tried daily Mass; not as easy. She did as much as she could.
I think that for my mother, as for many people at the time when she lived (she was born in 1934), there was a different approach to the Church. It was a time for more Tradition and less Scripture. A time when people went to Mass on solemnities and observed holy days of obligation. They fasted on Fridays and paid attention to what the pope said. Those were the days of the Baltimore Catechism. People learned it and followed it. No questions.
At least that’s what I deduced from some of my mother’s stories.
I think it was also a time when people who wanted to stay connected to the Church engaged more in spiritual reading. I began to think this after my mom’s death, when I went through the many books in her library. I was amazed and quickly filled a whole suitcase with them (being very careful because many of them had been rebound):
A Diary of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux
Introduction to the Devout Life
by St. Francis de Sales
Guide to Thomas Aquinas
by Josef Pieper
The Song of Bernadette
(maybe not quite a spiritual classic, but it is the story of a saint)
The Imitation of Christ
by Thomas à Kempis (this one keeps popping up!)
The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska
The Daily Missal
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(which shows that she was trying to pray the Office of the Church – I have an amazing story about this one if you care to read it at the bottom of my post.*)
Daily Readings from The Cloud of Unknowing
Biblical Meditations for Lent
(with a Compendium of Church History)
Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews
The Papal Encyclicals in Their Historical Context
“Contemporary” Spiritual Reading:
The Divine Milieu
by Teilhard de Chardin
Peace of Soul
by Fulton Sheen
The Mary Book
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way
by John Paul II
You can tell from this list that other than reading spiritual classics and writings from the saints themselves, my mom was also reading about the Church and reading Church documents. She was also reading contemporary authors (there are many more on this list – too many to name). You can also see that she had various devotionals that were part of her spiritual tool bag.
What’s in your spiritual tool bag?
There is nothing wrong with reading or listening to Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Jen Fulweiler, Ron Rolheiser, Brant Pitre, Leah Darrow, John Shea, Katie Prejean, Edward Sri, Matt and Cameron Fradd, Tommy Tighe, Danielle Bean, Christopher West, Bishop Robert Barron, or Fr. Mike Schmitz – I promote a lot of these contemporary authors, and we've had them as guests on the SLHour
– but it’s not enough. If you want to really be connected to the Church, don’t read or listen to what others have to say about it, go straight to the source. They may be a good place to start, but don’t stop there: go deeper.
I don’t really know if things were easier in the 1940s and 50s. Maybe. What’s true is that today there are so many more distractions and so many more options. At the same time, if you are not an avid reader, you can still access all these spiritual classics through audio books or podcasts – something my mom would not have had access to. So, what are you going to read? What are you going to listen to? Which saint will you take with you on your Lenten journey?
Let me know. I am curious to hear what experiences you’ve had with spiritual reading. And let me know what you are reading or what you are planning to read. We have three more weeks of Lent; lots of time to read a good book!
*When I was preparing to embark on the World Youth Day Panama adventure, as I struggled with many things related to that experience, I met with my spiritual director. Since the theme for that WYD was a Marian one ("Be it done unto me according to your word" from Luke 1:38), it was suggested that I enlist the help of Mary with this. My director then suggested that since I enjoy Morning and Evening Prayer greatly, I should pray the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He said that I could buy a little book that just had all the prayers from the Office and the Commons of Our Lady. I thought, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, but I will not likely be able to get that book before I travel next.” I didn’t totally forget about it, but I didn’t run off to the bookstore either. A few weeks later, I was in Panama for one of my stays down there as we prepared WYD and found myself going through my mom’s books. She was still alive but mostly bed-ridden. Suddenly, there, amidst all the big and fat books, was a little book that had been re-bound so there was no title on the spine. It looked like a little journal. Thinking that’s what it was, I pulled it out and read the title: “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. I opened it and found all the prayers from the Office and Common of Our Lady for morning and evening prayer for each day of the week. Needless to say, I brought that book home with me and it became a close companion with me during those years of preparation, especially when travelling.
Every 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
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