“There is only one tragedy in the end: Not to have been a saint.” (Charles Péguy)
Sometimes when I think of All Saints Day I recall parties that my youth group and I enjoyed when I was a teenager. I remember dressing up as St. Thérèse, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. One year at my church there was a party where they even had special treats commemorating Saints Lucy and the North American Martyrs, among others!
It’s a bit challenging for me to keep my thoughts about the Saints to a single article since I’m essentially a Saints’ geek. As C.S. Lewis declared, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different the saints.” As I grow in my faith, though, it’s not so much about the “fun facts” regarding their lives that interests me. It’s about who they were and how they lived as a result. The saints have so much to teach us and one of the lessons is the importance of daily spiritual reading.
“Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” (St. John Bosco)
When I was in my late teens I became interested in reading about the lives of the saints, especially St. Thérèse, my Confirmation saint and patroness. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books by and about her, from her autobiography Story of a Soul, her letters, poems, and counsels to books likeI Believe in Love and more recently Abandonment to God: The Way of Peace of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower, and the beautiful new Thérèse de Lisieux: Loving is Giving Everything Away graphic novel. These are books that I’ve also given others to share St. Thérèse’s little way of confidence–trusting in our daily struggles and sufferings that God cherishes and caresses us. As she said, “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.” St. Thérèse memorized the Imitation of Christ and many parts of the New Testament, which she carried underneath her habit. “You will not see anyone who is truly striving after his spiritual advancement who is not given to spiritual reading.” (Saint Athanasius of Alexandria)
“He who wishes to be with God ought to pray frequently and read pious books.” (St. Augustine)
True stories about numerous other saints have also inspired me on my spiritual journey, especially St. Kateri Tekakwitha and early consecrated virgins in the world. Their fervent faith and witness helped me to grow in love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady, and discover my vocation. St. Faustina’s diary is now one of my favorite books and there are so many wonderful devotionals about the Divine Mercy message based on her writings. And how can we forget the bravery of St. Clare of Assisi, rising from her sick bed to carry our Lord in the Holy Eucharist before the army of Saracens who fled in fear? In the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori, “The reading of the lives of the Saints contributes greatly to infuse courage into the soul.”
“The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder… What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection.” (Saint Padre Pio)
I am also devoted to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, whose letters to souls and union with Christ Crucified, have touched my soul. Of course, I love St. André Bessette, whose tireless prayers and sacrifices helped build the oratory to St. Joseph in Montréal, Quebec. When my maternal grandmother Bertha Hamel Bennett was a little girl, she was very sick. When St. André prayed over her, she was healed. When we read about the lives of the saints and the wonders that they performed through God’s grace our souls soar towards Heaven. “Be often reading the lives of saints for inspiration and instruction.”(Saint Philip Neri)
Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos advises, “Do daily spiritual reading for at least 15 minutes, if a half hour is not possible.”
In my adult life, St. Josemaria Escriva has also taken me under his wing. One of my brothers gave me his book The Way several years ago and, when I worked as a teacher, I used to keep it in my desk and read some of the quotes at lunch time or during the day. A few years ago I came across his awe-inspiring Stations of the Cross and Rosary meditations, along with the Ten-Day Devotion to the Holy Spirit in the Daily Roman Missal. When I went on a weekend retreat last fall, the facilitator randomly handed out saints cards to participants and I was given his card. So, I was excited to read the book Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva, which makes his philosophy of spiritual childhood come alive and is presented in a relational way for readers. It is a great book for anyone seeking to grow in their prayer life and holiness. As St. Josemaria encourages, “Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”
St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “When you immerse your mind and heart in spiritual books, you will always be filled, for spiritual reading gives you a foundation in God.”
I just became acquainted with Ven. Bruno Lanteri this year and believe it is proof of the saying that we don’t find the saints, the saints find us. This gift came through the retreat I made at St. Joseph’s Retreat House in Boston, where I discovered the treasure of his writings, and the books of his order the Oblates of the Virgin Mary (OMV). Both have brought me a new sense of clarity, consolation, and confidence. Ven. Bruno’s spirituality reminds me of Saints Thérèse and John Paul II in some ways. He is really the apostle against discouragement, proclaiming God’s mercy and the great hope we should have in His love each moment. Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV relates this in his books Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement: The Wisdom and Spiritual Power of Venerable Bruno Lanteri and Biblical Way of Praying the Mass: The Eucharistic Wisdom of Venerable Bruno Lanteri. The latter continues to kindle a greater fire of love in my heart to encounter God personally in the Mass through Ven. Lanteri’s meditations on praying certain parts of the Mass with the sentiments of different biblical figures.
Ven. Bruno emphasized the importance of being faithful to at least one page of spiritual reading daily. In biographies about him, the power of spiritual reading is evident not only for Ven. Bruno but for the many directees that he helped on the path to sanctity. His writings are a continual source of inspiration to me to begin again (nunc coepi) and entrust myself to God in all things. “A holy tenacity in the faithful practice of your ordinary exercises of the spiritual life, especially in meditation and spiritual reading, will always be a source of great blessings for you.” (Ven. Bruno Lanteri)
St. Teresa of Avila wrote that for eighteen years, “I never dared to begin prayer without a book . . . . With this recourse, which was like a partner or a shield by which to sustain the blows of many thoughts, I went about consoled.”
This advice from one of the Church’s greatest mystics is something to remember in our distractions. When I read the writings of the saints my mind is often quieted, my heart refreshed, and my soul restored. During our tumultuous times, I am fortified by the example of St. Catherine of Siena who–despite her physical weakness–was a spiritual powerhouse. She helped attain peace among warring parties, interceded for various miracles, and even brought the Pope back to Rome! And who is not inspired by the heroism of the North American martyrs who offered their lives for the Faith of the New World, suffering many hardships, tortures, and cruel deaths. We have the saints to thank for our gift of Faith and their continual intercession for us as we travel on the road to Heaven.
“Spiritual reading is the food of the soul, which renders it dauntless and strong against all temptation, which prompts it with holy thoughts and ardent desires for Heaven, which enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and gives comfort in all afflictions, which, in conclusion, procures that holy joy that is found in God alone.” (St. Ambrose)
In my World Youth Day travels and other pilgrimages, I savored the words of St. John Paul II and went on to read many of his writings. In many ways I consider him to be my spiritual father. His message of courage and challenge to sanctity resonates in my heart, and he challenges us–as do all the saints: “Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium!”