August 2, 2021 | Miles Christi
In Miles Christi we encourage the reading of profound and solid spiritual books, for the attentive and assiduous reading of them is an efficacious aid to the practice of prayer, the acquisition of knowledge of spiritual doctrine, and the desire for perfection. Good books can completely convert our hearts, as we see in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“Once on the road to recovery” [from the injury received from a cannonball], according to P. Dudon in the saint’s biography, “he was not slow in asking himself how he might employ the long hours of the day and he asked those around him for some books of chivalry. He had acquired a taste for this kind of reading during his leisure hours as a page in the household of the Duke of Nájera, and with Velásquez, the treasurer of Castile. He himself confesses that he was ‘much given’ to this kind of literature. But in the castle none of his beloved books, such as Amadis of Gaul, were to be found. This book had in his youth been a sort of novelty in which he took delight.”
His relatives could not give him those books, but only “a Life of Christ and a volume of The Lives of the Saints. These books, then, were offered to Ignatius to while away the empty hours of his convalescence. (…) For lack of others, Ignatius read these volumes, and has himself described the singular effect this reading produced in his soul. His readings, indeed, were brief, but followed by long reflections. The life of our Lord and the lives of the saints impressed him with their moral beauty. The nobility of soul shining through their words and deeds exercised a kind of fascination on him. Why should not he, in his turn, walk these uncomfortable but glorious roads?” Through spiritual reading, St. Ignatius was able to instill in his soul an ardent desire for perfection.
A good book will not only renew the desire to strive for greater perfection, but it will impart invaluable knowledge of the truth of the spiritual life. Not all spiritual books, however, have the same value or sanctifying efficacy. Sacred Scripture should hold the first place, and especially those parts which are most instructive and doctrinal. In general, one should select spiritual books which offer solid and practical doctrine regarding the Christian life. And since moods of the individual vary greatly, the book used at a given time is not always the one that is most beneficial at that time. In the matter of spiritual reading, it is generally safer and more beneficial to select those books which are less sentimental and more doctrinal. It is good to ask for advice.
Once a good book has been selected, it is of prime importance that it be read properly. Spiritual reading is not purely for reasons of study; it is an exercise of piety. While it is true that one receives much instruction through the reading of spiritual books, its ultimate purpose is to arouse one’s love of God and to intensify one’s desire for perfection. Hence, the important thing is not to read many books but to assimilate what is read. If the book is properly chosen and properly read, the individual will easily pass from reading to prayer, and sometimes the two exercises will be so closely connected that he will not know when he ceased to read and began to pray.
Therefore, the practice of spiritual reading should never be omitted from one’s daily plan of life. It is a laudable custom always to have a book of Catholic spirituality at hand, which can be read from time to time as one’s occupation permits. St. Ignatius’s own biography shows its tremendous importance for the spiritual life.