In My Daily Bread, A Summary of the Spiritual Life by Father Anthony Paone, S.J., Christ tells us,
"My child, reading and reflecting are a great help to your spiritual life. My doctrine is explained in many books. . .Some of these books are written simply, and some are very profound and learned. Choose those which will help you most toward a greater understanding and appreciation of My Truth. Do not read to impress others but rather to be impressed yourself. Read so that you may learn My way of thinking and of doing things."
In her book, Saint Dominic, Preacher of the Rosary and Founder of the Dominican Order, Mary Fabyan Windeatt quotes Saint Dominic as saying, “A little good reading, much prayer and meditation. . .and God will do the rest”. Father Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D., states that spiritual reading is the “third essential asset for mediation” (after detachment and recollection). The great value he places on the habit of spiritual reading is expressed in his book Conversation with Christ, An Introduction to Mental Prayer:
"We live in a world devoid, in great part, of a Christian spirit, in an atmosphere and culture estranged from God. Living in such a non-theological environment makes it difficult for us to remain in contact with the person of Christ and the true purpose of life itself. We must, if we are to remain realistically attached to Christ, combat this atmosphere and surround ourselves with a new one. Constant spiritual reading fills our minds with Christ and His doctrine—it creates this new climate for us.
"In former ages, spiritual reading was not as essential for one’s prayer life. People lived in a Christian world and culture which was reflected in their laws, customs, amusements, and their very outlook on life. This situation has radically altered in the last two hundred years, and men must now compensate for this deficit through other media, principally reading. And as the de-Christianization of our world continues, the necessity for spiritual reading simultaneously increases. We stand in need of something to bridge the gap between our pagan surroundings and our conversation with Christ—spiritual reading fills this need.
"There is today in our country an alarming decline in general reading of all types. It has been estimated that in 1955 an astonishing forty-eight percent of the American adult population reads no books at all, and only eighteen percent read from one to four books. The decline in reading is naturally reflected in religious reading as well. And, while the lack of secular reading will occasion a decrease in culture life, the decline in religious reading will have repercussions of a more serious nature—severe detriment to one’s spiritual life. Any serious attempt to better one’s life spiritually should, therefore, include the resolution to engage in more spiritual reading.
"If we confine our reading to non-Catholic books, magazines and newspapers, we almost automatically exclude ourselves from full development in our prayer life. The maxims and philosophy of life expressed in these avenues of communication slowly begin to seep into our lives until eventually they occupy a ruling position. We will not have surrounded ourselves with a new climate; rather, the non-Catholic climate will have engulfed us (Chapter 19)."
As this decry of the “de-Christianization of our world” was written in 1956, one can safely surmise that the necessity of cultivating the habit of spiritual reading can only have grown in the past several decades.
As supported above, spiritual reading is an essential element of every Christian’s life. However, as demonstrated by the ancient practice within monasteries of spiritual read-aloud, this habit is a powerful tool for shared community growth in the spiritual life. For Catholic families, the practice of reading spiritual books aloud produces four desirable effects:
- It reinforces the habit of spiritual reading for each member of the family and allows each member to practice this habit regardless of age
- It reinforces the habit of spiritual conversation if the reading results in even a general discussion of the values and virtues being portrayed in the story
- It strengthens the family as the domestic Church where members exist to learn and live the Faith together for the support and enrichment of all fam-ily members
- It allows the discussion and demonstration of the practical application of the Faith for all age levels
The Habit of Spiritual Reading
As outlined above, establishing the habit of daily spiritual reading is essential to our spiritual growth. Through read-aloud, children can be taught at an early age that daily spiritual reading is a fun, rewarding exercise. Do make this time together pleasant by allowing the children to do crafts, draw, play quietly with puzzles, toys, etc. As long as their attention is not divided and they can participate in a discussion of the reading afterwards, allow quiet activity. One cannot expect children to sit piously with hands clasped prayerfully throughout the read-aloud session! As the children get older, encourage them to read other spiritual books, including the Bible, during a quiet time of their own. Model this habit by allowing them to observe your habit of daily spiritual reading as well. Although the family read-aloud sessions may be as long as thirty minutes, private spiritual reading times may be considerably shorted depending on the habits and temperament of each child.
The Habit of Spiritual Conversation
This habit, for many families, may begin with spiritual read-aloud. When each member of the family participates in a spiritual discussion of a religious book, the practice of discussing matters of faith and Christ-like living begins to form. If the formation of holy habits and imitation of the saints is the goal, these discussions will become commonplace in the home as each member checks the others on their actions and words. As family members become more comfortable and open about spiritual matters, this practice will soon spread into other areas of their lives. Spiritual discussions with friends and other relatives will become more natural and in fact become important topics to be discussed. Sharing one’s own spirituality and encouraging others to become more open about matter of faith will then become an integral pattern of living.
Strengthening the Domestic Church
As we read more about the saints and their lives and begin to share our faith more openly with others, we realize the importance of holy companionship—living with others who share our faith ideas and supporting each other in our attempts to become more like Christ. Families begin to growth together in their knowledge of the Catholic faith and become more willing to support each other throughout the ups and downs of community living. We begin to “bear one another’s burdens with peace and harmony and unselfishness”. Just as Christ has His Church to help bring salvation to all, we—as family members—have each other to provide mutual support and encouragement in our efforts to enter the narrow gate. Within our families, we can create the Catholic culture that is missing from our world’s culture.
The Practical Application of the Faith for All Age Levels
When lives of the saints are read aloud in the family setting, all aged children can participate in a discussion of the imitation of the saint’s virtues and holy habits. Each member can help others understand how to apply the lessons the saints teach us on a practical level. All family members can help choose a particular habit or virtue upon which to focus. A reward system can be established for virtuous behavior. A family “plan of attack” on non-virtuous habits and attitudes can be developed, implemented, checked, and revised. All members can be encouraged and taught how to imitate Christ by the imitation of His saints.
Regular family read-loud sessions that center around the lives of the saints will benefit the family with an increased interest in reading—especially saintly literature—a growth in vocabulary, and an improved sense of family unity. Additionally, family members will be encouraged to develop the habit of spiritual reading on their own, will become more comfortable and experienced with spiritual conversation, and be able to apply the Truths of the Catholic faith on a practical level to all aspects of their lives—no matter what their age. The customs, habits, and attitudes of the family will more and more reflect those of the Catholic culture. Perseverance in this simple daily ritual will help to “bridge the gap between our pagan surroundings and our conversation with Christ.”
Begin your family spiritual read-aloud program today by ordering one or more of the following resources: