SummarySt. Alphonsus Liguori believed that the reading of holy books for spiritual answers was just as essential in the life of a Christian as prayer.
Part 1 of ‘The Necessity of Spiritual Reading‘ series
St. Alphonsus Liguori believed that the reading of holy books was just as essential in the life of a Christian as prayer. He was utterly convinced that spiritual reading and prayer were the arms by which hell was conquered and paradise won.
Many other saints also taught on the importance of spiritual reading. Listed below are a few quotes from several of them:
St. Jerome: “Endeavor to have always in your hand a pious book, that with this you may defend yourself against bad thoughts. Avail yourself of spiritual reading as of a mirror. For as a mirror exhibits the stains of the countenance, so holy books show us the defects of the soul. When we pray, we speak to God, but when we read pious books, God speaks to us.”
St. Padre Pio: “I am horrified at the damage done to souls by their failure to read holy books.”
St. Gregory: “Regarding spiritual reading, it is there we perceive the losses that we have sustained and the advantages we have acquired; there we observe our falling back in our progress in the way of God.”
St. Ambrose: “We address God when we pray; we hear Him when we read pious books.”
Ample Light and Direction
St. Alphonsus Liguori often taught those who came to him for spiritual direction that they wouldn’t always have access to a priest in order to receive spiritual counseling or direction when they needed it. But if they gave themselves over to spiritual reading, this would abundantly supply what they needed in the priest’s place.
He was convinced that pious books were able to give the light and direction that were needed to avoid the snares and deceptions of the devil and to know and walk in the Will of God.
Not only this, but he also believed that the quality of a man’s service to God was determined by the amount of spiritual reading to which he devoted himself. “You will not find anyone devoted to the service of God,” he taught, “who does not practice spiritual reading.”
Before I move on any further, I would like to reflect and comment on many of these points that have just been made because they all beg to be confirmed.
Daily Practice or Distractions
I do not believe that it is possible to set one’s heart and mind on things above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand, if we are not making it a practice in our daily lives to read spiritual books. We’re either filling our minds up with the world or with the things of God.
If we are not devoting ourselves to spiritual reading, then Satan is filling our minds with the distractions of this world. There is no such thing as “in between” when it comes to this issue, and this is why St. Alphonsus Liguori was convinced that spiritual reading determined the quality of one’s service to God.
Truth be told, it isn’t too hard to discern who is devoting himself to spiritual reading and who is not. Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45)
You show me a man who talks about the things of this world morning, noon, and night, and I’ll show you a man who is not devoted to spiritual reading. Whether we want to accept this truth or not, whatever we’re “into” cannot be hidden.
When we open up our mouths to speak, it’s going to come out. When I find myself in the presence of an individual who speaks often of spiritual things, I know that he or she is a reader of spiritual books.
Constant Counsel & Answers
Liguori wanted those who came to him for spiritual direction to cultivate the practice of reading pious books so that they would always have access to spiritual counsel, guidance, and direction, whether a priest was available or not. Truer words were ne’er spoken.
Are there times when individuals will find themselves in circumstances that will truly require the counsel, guidance, and direction of a priest? Absolutely. But if I have to make an appointment with a priest for every decision that needs to be made or because of every situation that I face in life, something is seriously amiss in my walk with God.
If more people read spiritual books, less spiritual counseling would be needed by a priest because God’s Spirit would counsel those individuals through the things that they read. St. Alphonsus Liguori knew this, and this is why he taught as he did regarding the importance of spiritual reading.
You show me a man who complains that he is not “being fed” by his parish priest, and I will show you a man who does not read the Sacred Scriptures or any other spiritual book on his own. Catholics who are maturing in God, becoming spiritually fruitful, and who are growing in knowledge, understanding, and grace are Catholics who read spiritual books.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I can say that 99% of what I have learned thus far when it comes to the things of God I have learned as a result of spiritual reading.
If the only exposure to spiritual teaching that I received in a given week came to me on Sunday morning, I would still be in a state of spiritual infancy. Homilies can be wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking, and spiritually nourishing, but once a week isn’t enough, any more than one meal a week is enough. We need more than that, friends, if we want to be spiritually sustained.
If we are depending solely on our parish priest to teach us everything we ever needed to know in order to walk in spiritual victory and mature in our Catholic faith, we are going to be “hurtin’ for certain.”
Revelation through Reading
If we will give ourselves over to the discipline of spiritual reading, God will speak to us. He will reveal His Will to us. He will instruct, guide, counsel, and direct us, and He will do these things through the things that we read. This is one of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
He is the Counselor whom God has given to us to dwell in us forever. To try to make a poor parish priest that omnipresent Counselor is unfair both to the priest and to your own soul.
All of the founders of religious Orders strongly recommended to their religious the holy practice of spiritual reading . St. Benedict commanded that every monk devote himself to spiritual reading. He even appointed two other monks to go about visiting the cells throughout the monastery to make sure that this command was being obeyed. If one of his monks were to neglect this command, a severe penance would be imposed upon him.
As we progress through this series, we will see how the reading of spiritual books has led to the conversion of many sinners. We will also see how the reading of other material can often be used by Satan to distract us and move us away from the Will of God.
This, too, was a point which St. Alphonsus Liguori never tired of making. He was convinced that the reading of spiritual books was as profitable as the reading of bad books was toxic.
We will also discover how many of the Church’s greatest saints stumbled because they were not careful and more discerning about the types of books that they chose to read.
We will learn how one of the greatest tricks of the devil is to get us to spend all of our time reading books that may not be heretical, vulgar, or obscene, but they are books which Saints Alphonsus Liguori and Padre Pio call “useless,” in that they do not profit us spiritually in any way.