Spiritual Reading II
In his comprehensive work on Carmelite Spirituality, Fr. Marie-Eugene, O.C.D., wrote that our love of God will cause us to “study revealed truth in order to fathom it; will pick up all the analogies that interpret it; the references that explain it, the authorized commentaries that clarify it, so as to enter still further into the truth itself and draw out food for faith and deeper love.” (I Want to See God, p. 216). I think this passage richly captures the reasons we should be regularly engaged in spiritual reading.
Which books are best for spiritual reading? Fr. Marie-Eugene gives us a guiding principle for the selection of spiritual reading material: “the choice of reading must be inspired by this fundamental truth, namely, that all spiritual knowledge is contained in Christ and has been revealed to us in Him.” The Bible, of course, is the book of Revelation, so it takes first place amongst all books. Commentaries on the various books of the Bible, as well as introductions to Scripture reading, such as Peter Kreeft’s “You Can Understand the Bible,” are helpful aids to comprehending and mining the treasures of the Bible.
Another guide for the selection of spiritual reading materials is expressed by the single word “saint”. As a general rule any book written by a saint is a wise choice. The classic spiritual works by saints include St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castles, St. John on the Cross’s The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and St. Therese’s Story of a Soul. In her autobiography, The Book of Her Life, St. Teresa tells of the decisive influence St. Augustine’s Confessions had on her spiritual life.
A final aid to the selection of spiritual books is the imprimatur and nihil obstat. The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that the book is free of doctrinal error. These declarations are found in the very first pages of the book, usually on the same page as the publishers’ information, and before any preface, forward, or table of contents.
“Tremendous is the influence of reading in the development of the spiritual life,” says Fr. Marie-Eugene, “we can assert that the first obstacle to be overcome in the way of popularizing today the spiritual life is the religious ignorance of our time.”