I have not been doing well with my spiritual reading lately. Well, if lately means "this year."
Actually, I could go back farther than that, actually.
Because I keep track of the books I read (I know lots of people who do this, some via Goodreads, me in a blank journal), I can tell you that I started reading "The Confessions" of St. Augustine 1:14 a.m. on October 20, 2012.
I'm still on page 141.
Now, to be fair, it's pretty dense material. But I should really be finished by now, especially with as many vacations I've managed to haul it along since I started with the hopes of getting deeper into it (because St. Augustine's writing is amazing), but the last time I can actually recall cracking it open and reading/taking notes on it was in January. In February, I noted in my reading journal that "I will finish it!"
Although I think I'm even more at fault when it comes to Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island." I bought it after reading (and loving) his "Seven Storey Mountain," but a pen and two boarding passes from flights to and from Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, 2011 mark both the page (62) and the rough date I left off reading. I just need to start over.
And don't even get me started on how many times I've started (and completely failed) to get into St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the "Shorter Summa" is beyond me. Is there a Summa for Dummies out there somewhere?
My lack of progress in these books doesn't stop me from wanting to expand my spiritual reading library, though. Not too terribly long ago, I bought both a biography of St. Rita of Cascia and "Love and Responsibility" written by Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II (which reminds me I've only made meagre progress though his "Theology of the Body"). And whenever I get a copy of the Leaflet Missal catalog, the pages are soon dog-eared with other books I'd like to have.
You know that feeling you sometimes get when you know you need to do something? Anyway, this whole topic came about because I've been feeling the lack of serious spiritual reading lately. Beyond daily prayer and going to mass, spiritual reading, at least for me, helps me to see how the saints were open to His call and trusting in his grace, but oftentimes just like us, struggling to make sense of what God wanted them to do. Many incredibly smart men and women, too, have so much wisdom to share through their writings that can help lead us closer to Christ.
The book I finished reading most recently, although a novel, I would couch in the spiritual reading arena. I reread "Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh, who converted to the Catholic Church.
Set in England between the two world wars, "Brideshead" is a very Catholic book about forgiveness and redemption, dealing as it does with the wealthy
and aristocratic Flyte family, who are Catholic, seen through the eyes
of the agnostic Charles Ryder, who is befriended by the younger
son, Sebastian Flyte, while the two
are students at Oxford. When I first read it in high school, while I went to
church and was involved in youth group activities, I wasn't as
passionate about my faith as I am now, and, while I knew and recognized
the blatant Catholicism of it, much of the book's depth was lost on me
at the time.
This time, was just floored by a)Waugh's amazing skill
with language -- some of his prose just took
my breath away, the bitingly dry and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, the
vocabulary (although Waugh allegedly poo-pooed the book after
re-reading it several years following its publication) and, b) the
simple yet powerful truths he conveys as Charles -- who is quite puzzled
by this new world he's entered -- learns about the (sometimes
ill-practiced) faith of his new friend and his family.
Still, I don't doubt it's the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling me to get back on the ball with more serious spiritual reading.
There is a wonderful book by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) called "Abandonment to Divine Providence," -- which, if you haven't read, I highly recommend -- and despite being written so long about, it is just full of sage advice. For example, on this particular topic, he says "If it is God's will that the present moment should be spent in reading, reading will exert a mystical power in the depths of the soul."
Not only can spiritual reading help you grow in your understanding and faith, but it can also help you explain the faith to others or, as de Caussade says, "builds up in me a kind of spiritual store which, in the future, will develop into a core of usefulness for myself and others."
In fact, in flipping through it's dog-eared, heavily underlines pages, various passages leap out at me, so full of beauty and comfort as I write this, I see so much that I need to be reminded of. Speaking of the Holy Spirit... :)
What are some of your favorite works of spiritual reading?