Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Spiritual Reading

What we take into our eyes goes into our minds. The mind, the intellect, resides with the will in the center of the soul. Some include the memory as part of the intellect-will center of the soul. Regardless, what we read is a critical element of our souls' life and health. Spiritual reading is necessary as a facet of getting to know Jesus Christ and to find Him in all present moments.

There are steps to be taken, decisions to be made, regarding what we read. We learn to desire what is best, holiest, healthiest for our souls. We learn by praying for discernment and desire for holiness in spiritual books and pray to lose appetite for what is not ranging from mediocre to desiring good, to better, to best.

For example, we pray to find ourselves losing appetite for earthy fiction, then good fiction, or from sensational news, then from repetitive news, then perhaps from all but headlines...or enough to know who and what for prayers.  Then we pray to find ourselves having desire and appetite for spiritual reading: books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets. And at this point, we must pray extra much for discernment. Why?

Because, among spiritual books there are steps ranging from mediocre to good, to better, to best. We must learn how to discern what is quality among the spiritual writings, and that includes prayer and research and developing a sensitivity and appetite to what ultimately is best. In the spiritual life, why waste present moments with Christ on less than best? Time is of essence!

Now we share present moment examples.
A priest admits being curious about a popular Protestant leader. He noticed a book with catchy title, and wondered what this famous man had to say about Revelation, last book in the Bible. He purchased the book and was half through it, when a friend came along who saw the pitfalls. How could a Protestant minister explain the Woman robed in the sun? Or the Blood of Christ?

A technique was used called scanning. They read aloud the first sentence of paragraphs through the latter half of the book, as the priest thought maybe the author would say something he didn't know about Revelation. In 15 minutes of reading first sentences of paragraphs, the book was scanned. Then they asked questions. Why did the minister simply skip over the entire chapter of Revelation that dealt with the Woman?

What did the Protestant minister actually know to discuss of the Blood of Christ--he who had never received the true Blood of Christ, nor consecrated the Blood--never held the Cup of Christ's Blood in his hands? But the priest had consecrated every day for 63 years. What could the Protestant minister write that the priest, 12 years in seminary, daily preaching, did not know? Through scanning, the book told about the minister's corporation, where to send donations, about the famous people he'd known in life, and the televised crusades he'd preached. Much of the book was about himself, in other words. The priest discovered nothing new or revelatory.  He was finished with that book. Today he is reading St. Bernard's Life of St. Malachy, a book by a Carmelite abbot on St. John of the Cross, Scripture, and Biblical commentary. Scanning is an effective tool.

In a previous post the example was given of the Catholic who considered reading a good book by a contemporary Catholic author rather than an excellent book by a Catholic saint and Doctor of the Church. It was pointed out that the reader was capable of reading the saint's writings, so why not read what a saint wrote over a person still on the journey, good as the book may be for those who are not yet prepared for reading the actual writings of the saint.

We can step up to primary source reading as opposed to secondary source. Primary source is reading actually what Jesus, the Scriptures, the saint said or wrote, as opposed to secondary source being what someone else thinks and writes about what Jesus, the Scripture, or the saint said or wrote.  The person in the above example realized reading the saint's actual writings on the set topic would be better than reading what a contemporary author thinks or writes about what the saint wrote on that topic.

In yet another present moment example, some Catholics in a religious order's associates group have purchased to read and study for a year, a book. It is unknown who selected this book but is approved by the group's sponsor. For at least one person in the group, it is a first saint book to be read in 25 years of being a Catholic. The person shares the book title, name of author, and list of saints covered. Included in the list are two people who are not saints. The reader is not aware of this. The reader is also not aware that the author is a priest.

Discernment is needed here, and some simple research. The internet is useful. By "Googling" the author's name or title of book, plus key words such as "review" and "criticism." We learn much. The book is reviewed as being as much a memoir of the priest as about the lives of the saints he writes influenced him. The author is editor of a Catholic newspaper. The Catholic newspaper is known for it's dissent in some critical areas of Church teaching.

The author is popular with the secular media, has appeared on a liberal comedian's program, favorably interviewed by anti-Catholic publications, and known for favoring causes that the Church deems immoral or indisputable. The author has admitted to lamenting the election of the current Pope. The author has been promoted by national radio programming known to support anti-Catholic agenda. 

While the book is positively reviewed for its humor as well as by those who subscribe to the views of the author, there is the question to be answered: Is this the better or even the best book on saints that a Catholic religious associates group could be reading and studying for a year? Is it the best saint book for a first-time reader of spiritual books?

The fact that the book is as much a memoir of the author as is a book of saints, would suggest no. The fact that two of the persons the author includes as saints, are not saints, suggests no. The author's questionable views of Catholic Church teaching in at least two areas, suggests no.  The author's admitted lament over the selection of the current Pope, suggests no. The facts suggest this is not a good choice of reading material for this group, and probably not for many Catholics, for there are plenty of outstanding saint books written by Catholics, saints' spiritual directors (proven by holy lives, tested by time), and also by canonized saints themselves.

Another question presents itself. Should a first-time saint book reader be informed of the facts? Should one who researches and discovers the facts, get a copy of the book and read it, also?

Some may advise to pray and not alert. The reader has purchased the book, contributed to the support of the author, and very likely would not want to go against the group who want to read and study it for a year. However, they may not use critical thinking skills or realize the influence of intimacy between reader's and author's souls, transmitted subtly in written thoughts.

Others may advise to alert, give the facts, as well as to pray. If this action taken, the one alerting must accept that the one warned may not like being warned, may read the book regardless. As for those who have facts on the book, it is not wise to spend further time reading what already known is not better or best. There are many classic saint books, proven over time, that are best to read.

It is common enough to continue on a mediocre path of action and encourage ourselves by saying there might be some good that can come of it. Yes, we can make ourselves find good in just about anything--but is this for the best in our spiritual reading? Is it worth it or wise to hold a pretty snake?

From a letter to the Philippians by Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr: "For we live under the eye of our Lord and God, and we must all stand before the judgment seat of God, each to give an account of himself....Our observance of what is good should be meticulous, avoiding anything that might cause another to stumble; we must shun false brothers and those who assume the Lord's name hypocritically and lead the unwary into error....So let us abandon the folly of the masses and their false teaching, and return to the teaching that was handed down to us from the beginning...and in our prayers let us beg God, who sees everything, not to lead us into temptation...."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Author cannot enter into discussion and/or debate with readers on topics. The purpose of the writing is to offer this author's insights, thoughts, and experiences. It is a web log, spiritual in nature.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.