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'Saved by the Book': How Sinners Became Saints through Spiritual Reading - by Lorraine Espenhain

‘Saved by the Book’: How Sinners Became Saints through Spiritual Reading

Part 3 of ‘The Necessity of Spiritual Reading’ series

My husband is a convert to Catholicism. Because he has made it a daily practice in his life to read spiritual books, his life has been completely transformed, and he has become a Catholic powerhouse for Christ.

I am absolutely speechless at what the Holy Spirit has done in the life of my husband as a result of his faithfulness to persevere in the discipline of spiritual reading. But he is not alone.

Many saints, because they read a spiritual book, were induced to forsake the world and give themselves completely over to God.

Great Conversions

St. Augustine was miserably imprisoned by his passions and vices. One day, however, while reading one of the epistles of St. Paul, God’s light penetrated his heart, and he was led out of spiritual darkness into the marvelous light of Christ.

St. Ignatius was a soldier who was recuperating from an injury which he sustained while in battle. While recovering, he picked up a volume of the lives of the saints in order to pass the time in bed. Afterward, he was led to begin a life of sanctity. Eventually, he became both the father and founder of the Jesuits.

St. John Colombino found himself “accidentally” reading a pious book almost against his will. As a result, he too left the world, founded a religious Order, and became a saint.

In the Chronicles of the Discalced Carmelites, there is recorded the story of a woman in Vienna, who was preparing to attend a certain festivity. The festivity was cancelled, and she went into a fit of rage. To divert her attention, she began to read a spiritual book that was at hand. After reading it, she conceived such a contempt for the world that she abandoned it and became a Teresian nun.

The list of these types of conversions as a result of spiritual reading goes on and on, but I think we get the picture.

Entering A Greater Realm

In St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he taught that “faith comes by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Ro 10:17). Whether one is hearing the Word of God or reading the Word of God, this same principle is applied. We have to give the Holy Spirit something to work with in our lives. When we pick up a spiritual book, we give Him that “something,” and what a powerful “something” it is!

As we just read, because they read a spiritual book, many saints were induced to forsake the world and give themselves completely over to God. This is something that simply cannot be emphasized enough. The Lord is calling us to do more than go to Mass; He is calling us to forsake this world.

He is calling us to leave the realm of this world and to live in another realm – a spiritual realm. When we devote ourselves to spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation, we enter into that realm.

When we make it a practice to read pious books on a daily basis (even if we only have 20 or 30 minutes a day for this), our entire thought life begins to change. We find ourselves looking at everything going on around us through the lens of what we have read. We see life from God’s perspective.

In this world, with all of its corruption, filth, and spiritual pollution, it’s easy for our judgment to become cracked, distorted, or even completely inverted. But when we read spiritual books, our judgment becomes restored to an upright position by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who uses what we are reading to accomplish this.

Even the most faithful Catholic can get careless in his or her walk with God, not because he or she wants to, but because when one lives in a world such as ours, it’s easy for this to happen slowly and subtly without one even being aware that it is happening.

Spiritual books are like a cold splash of water in the face to revive us and wake us up from our slumber.

They Listen but Do Not Hear

Sometime ago, while I was reading a sermon by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Holy Spirit began to convict me of areas of negligence that were occurring in my own life. I immediately saw the error of my ways and repented before God.

Another time, I was reading The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven by Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.E.C., and such a holy fear of God came over me that I found myself thinking twice before thinking a thought, saying a word, or doing something. But reading that book led me to sincerely repent of my sins and cry out to God for a true conversion so that I would not be numbered with the lost on the day of His judgment.

I believe with all of my heart that the number one reason why so many people who profess to be Christian are not being transformed is because they are not seeking the Lord through spiritual reading and prayer on a daily basis.

In Book One of The Imitation of Christ , Thomas Kempis writes:  “How is it that so many of us can hear the Gospel read out again and again, with so little emotion? Because they haven’t got the Spirit of Christ; that’s why!”

And why don’t they have the Spirit of Christ? It is because they are not seeking Him as they should in their daily lives. You show me an individual who can sit at Mass and listen to a powerful homily, yet remain unmoved, and I’ll show you an individual who does not read spiritual books or pray to God consistently.

It simply is not possible for a person to neglect these things and be changed by the power of God. It simply is not possible for a person to neglect these things and live a life that is completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit. When we are not living a life that is surrendered to the Holy Spirit, it’s only natural that our “sinful flesh” is going to come out.

Unable to Forgive?

Sometime ago, a friend of mine, who is very pious and devoted to prayer and spiritual reading, learned that someone at her local church was upset with her. Not wanting there to be any ongoing conflict between them, she called the person up and apologized for any offense that she may have committed. The other party not only refused to accept the apology, but to this day, does not speak to her, no matter how many overtures and pleadings for forgiveness my friend has made.

Brothers and sisters, how can this be? I will tell you how. When you have one party seeking Christ and His Kingdom through spiritual reading and prayer all week long, and the other party neglecting these things because they are too busy seeking the world all week long, one is going to be open to the Will of God while the other is not. One is going to do what the Spirit desires, while the other is going to do what the flesh desires.

When we are seeking God through spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation in the manner that we should, we are not going to remain the same. We are going to be changed. We are going to start lining our lives up with the Word of God.

You sit down and read The Four Last Things and then see if you can still refuse to forgive someone who pleads for it. Read this book and see if you still feel like gossiping about someone, criticizing the parish priest, watching a filthy movie, or getting angry with someone because they “took your pew.”

Dear friends, spiritual reading is neither optional nor elective in the life of a Catholic. If we want to make it to Heaven, we are going to have to give ourselves over, not only to prayer, but to spiritual reading as well, so that our lives will be transformed by the power of God. If faith comes by hearing and reading the Word of God, then it must be understood that transformation comes through those things as well.

Nourish and Nurture

The reading of spiritual books helps us to persevere in our faith and to advance continually in perfection. St. Dominic used to embrace his spiritual books and press them to his heart, saying, “These books give me my milk. They nourish me.”

Except by meditation and the use of pious books, how would the desert fathers and mothers have been able to live in the desert, at a distance from all human society?

Thomas Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, said that he could not enjoy a greater consolation than in remaining in a corner of his cell with a spiritual book in his hand.

Vincent Carafa used to say that he could not desire a greater happiness in this world than to live in a little grotto and be provided with a morsel of bread and a spiritual book.

What goes for all of these individuals goes for us as well. Spiritual books nourish the spirit; they nurture the soul, which is why the devil and his angels do everything in their power to keep God’s children from reading them.

St. Augustine cried out to God and said, “My God, when I meditated on the examples of Your servants, my lukewarmness was consumed, and I was inflamed with your holy love!” This is because when we read holy books, we see what we are obligated to do and be in the sight of Christ.

When we read about the great things that the saints have done, we see the little that we have done, what we still need to do, and all that we, too, can become if we will surrender ourselves completely to Love as they have.

In Part IV of this series, which will be the conclusion of it as well, we will learn about the proper way to read spiritual books. If we open up a spiritual book, but do not read it properly, we have opened it in vain.

Header Image CC Leinad-Z

About Lorraine Espenhain

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lorraine now lives in New Mexico. She is a wife, homeschooling mother, religious instructor, and freelance writer with 200+ articles on Catholic.net. She also has her own children’s column at Agua Viva, her diocesan newspaper. Meet Lorraine
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