“Spiritual reading can shake you from despair while refocusing thoughts on a bigger picture or eternity.”
“I should like you to be free of anxieties…” As I began to read the second reading for this Sunday, I chucked to myself. “You and me both, Paul.”
We are living in an anxious world. When I hear from people with various anxieties, I have to stop myself from simply repeating platitudes. You know, darkest before dawn and lights at the end of the tunnel and all of that. It’s easy to tell someone that it’s going to be okay or that God is with them. It may sound reassuring (to us) if we tell them God doesn’t give us more than we can handle (although I have some issues with that statement).
Ultimately, though, these platitudes don’t really do much. In fact, sometimes they can make us feel even worse. When I’m in the midst of crippling anxiety and someone tells me God is with me… and I still feel anxious… does that mean I lack faith? Does that point to a detriment in my spiritual life?
When dealing with anxiety, the best thing we can do is to take it to prayer. But something else I have found helpful is the habit of daily spiritual reading.
It is easy to get wrapped up in our own minds. Our cares and needs can dominate our thoughts. It can also be easy to remain rooted in our own opinions. The pandemic has forced us into our own isolated bubbles, where contact with different perspectives has become rarer and rarer.
Spiritual reading opens our thoughts toward other things. It can help shift our thoughts to new perspectives. When your current situation begins to drag you down or cause anxiety, spiritual reading can shake you from despair while refocusing thoughts on a bigger picture or eternity.
As it opens up and shifts your perspective, it can cause us to examine our consciences for sins and weaknesses, but also examine our opinions and beliefs. Perhaps that thing I thought mattered so much isn’t as important. Or that person that was driving me crazy actually is right about a few things. Maybe I need to have more patience with myself, or maybe I need to reconsider the opinion that I formed in the bubble of my own views.
Spiritual reading can also provide language and material for our mental prayer and conversation with God. When I take time to focus my energy on something other than the worries that dominate my day, perhaps my prayer becomes less petitionary. I can go deeper in my meditation and conversation.
You cannot get through the anxieties of the world alone. You do not have answers to the problems that you see our world facing today. And while a pew in front of the Blessed Sacrament is perhaps the best hospital for anxiety, it helps to sit there while supplementing my thoughts, concerns, and confusion with the wisdom of the saints and spiritual masters.
The following list is not exhaustive by any means, but if you are not in the habit of spiritual reading, it is a good place to begin. These are not books that are intended to be rushed through, like a novel to be completed before book club tomorrow night. Read them slowly, take a sentence or two to prayer, and rest in the presence of the Lord with them. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to what you need to hear and what you need to implement from them in your life.
Searching for and Maintaining Peace – A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Phillipe
I recommend everything by Father Phillipe, but this was the first of his books that I picked up, and I’ve returned to it again and again.
In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year by Father Francis Fernandez
I have written about this series before, and it’s my current daily spiritual reading. Father is refreshingly practical.
Five Loaves & Two Fish by Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
If you want your perspective about your personal difficulties to be broadened a bit, try reading these meditations written by Cardinal van Thuan while he suffered in solitary confinement.
Lift Up Your Heart – A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Francis de Sales
While it makes a great personal retreat, this book can also be read for daily spiritual reading.
The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time by Lawrence G. Lovasik
Kindness is a virtue, and we could probably all use a little more of it.
Again, this is merely the beginning. Spiritual classics like Story of a Soul and Introduction to the Devout Life also deserve a spot on the list. I chose the works above because I personally have found them incredibly practical. Spiritual reading can remind us that we are not alone in our experiences of the anxiety of life. Whatever spiritual battle, mental or emotional suffering, material lack or physical pain we are enduring, we can find consolation, some good practical advice, and perhaps a new perspective in the writings of those who have suffered before us.
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