The Spirituality of Reading

Imagine if we had happened to have been the friends and disciples of St. Paul, or St. Basil, St. Ephrem, or St. John Chrysostom.  How would we have turned out?  What would we have been like?  Maybe we would have become poets like St. Ephrem, or we would have been great and effective sermon-givers like St. John Chrysostom whose sermons are pure works of art.  Not only did these latter two produce works of art, but that art was the vehicle of carrying the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These are nice thoughts, aren’t they?  But it is simply something that may have been, not something that could be.  Or could it?

Actually, it is not something that could have been, but something that can be, and will be, only if you read what they wrote.

What will happen if you read what they wrote?  The answer is too many things, but here are three important things that will happen.

1. Spiritual Transformation (The saints of the past will become your friends)

Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”

How does this apply to reading though?

The YouTube channel Improvement Pill had a video where they connected this statement with reading, and it is beneficial to apply their ideas here.

In the video, the speaker says, “A book is literally the words, the ideas, the mindsets, the advice and even the experience of another person wrapped into a convenient, portable, always available collection of papers.  It’s almost equivalent to having that person there speaking to you.”

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

Image from Pixabay

That applies to every single person of whom we have a written record all the way from our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Apostles, to the Fathers.  When we read the Bible and the Fathers frequently and widely, it will be as if these people are becoming our circle of friends.  We will become the average of these saints as we become the average of the people we spend our time with now.  Their mindsets will become our mindsets, their ideas will become our ideas, and their talents and skills will become our talents and skills, but only if we let them.

To connect to the Scriptures, in the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20 NRSV), and if we make reading a regular habit of ours, then it will be as if we are regularly conversing with the Fathers and we will become wise as they were wise.

Toward the end of the video by Improvement Pill, the speaker also points out that 75% of self-made millionaires report reading at least two books a month.

Now if books can lead to success in money (into the millions), then how much more can they lead to our spiritual success?  But we have to read the right books, not just any book that claims to help spiritual growth.  The Fathers have been tested through the ages, and they can help us grow in Christ.

The Spirit of God intentionally inspired the writers of the Bible to write their works and not simply leave it to oral tradition because it was His work that has been preserved in these writings.  Also, the Spirit moved the ancient Christians to write as well so that the gifts he gave to the pastors of the past would continue to benefit those who lived long after them.

So reading then becomes an act of worship because it is the individual seeking out the work of the Holy Spirit in other lives and other times, and the same Spirit is the Spirit who works in us now.  It is He who moves us and urges us to read as we grow in Him because He is pointing us to all the other work He has done which can also happen with us all the while reminding us that we are of one Body with all those who have followed Christ including those who lived in the past.

2. Good Judgment and Decision Making

A lot of the problems in society from the most fundamental relationship of marriage, to child-rearing, to working honestly, to serving in church, and to dealing with our fellow man are results of poor judgment because of a lack of foundational information on which to base those judgments.

These judgments usually deal in three areas of life:

  1. How to deal with people
  2. How to deal with money
  3. How to deal with ourselves.

When it comes to dealing with people, the Fathers have written so many beneficial things.  But one work stands out.  If you are entering into the priesthood or even youth service like Sunday School or youth groups, St. John Chrysostom provides the most penetrating and piercing glance into issues of the ministry.  His book On the Priesthood is indispensable for anyone involved in service in any way, shape, or form.  The observations he makes are as if he was living in our day and age to the point that if you gave someone who was unfamiliar excerpts from this book, then they would think it was written recently.  If you work in fields like teaching, social services, or with children, this book can have a very big impact on how well you do your work.  Such is the applicability of what he has written, but it is especially true for priests.  You can click here to purchase this indispensable book.

When it comes to dealing with money, reading someone like St. Basil the Great, or Boethius and what they have to say about wealth and money, will shake you to your core in a positive way and will transform the way you view wealth.  I highly recommend the short book The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius where he touches upon this topic of wealth in quite some detail.  If you take to heart what he says, you will find the peace of Christ when it comes to dealing with money.  He also discusses many other things in that amazing book.  You can click here to get a copy.

St. Basil also has a penetrating and piercing glance into the nature of wealth and poverty, into the mindsets of the rich and poor, so much so that he might as well have given his sermons earlier this morning after having observed the 21st century world.  To get a brief first taste of his works, he has four sermons on these topics collected in the short book On Social Justice which was published in English in 2007 in a refreshingly clear translation.  You can click here to get a copy.

These books will help you make the right decisions about how much money you should spend on yourselves and your interests and help you think about how much you should donate.

When it comes to dealing with ourselves in this fast paced world, we often fall into depression and anger.  We no longer have time to unwind and pay much attention to our spiritual lives like the Christians did who lived before us.  This is because we have almost become machines in the great big economic machine that is the globalized world.  So what do we do?  We need to repent (which in Greek also means to change the mind).  St. John Chrysostom again has a set of sermons collected in a short book called On Repentance and Almsgiving.  These sermons will change the way you think about yourself even when you feel frustrated about how your life is going or more importantly how your relationship with Christ is progressing (or not).  They will help you pray, and they will fill you with hope.  You can click here to get a copy.

3. You will Radiate the Same Effects As the Saints Whose Books You Read

We often meet people who remind us of others we have known.  This could be the children of a person we admire and it amazes us how much they reflect their parents.  It could be siblings.  It could be the students of a charismatic and intelligent teacher who reflect their teacher in themselves.  When we read the Fathers, we will begin to reflect them as they reflected our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. John Chrysostom using his gifts of speaking was able to strengthen psychologically the city of Antioch during an incredibly fearful time period.  He brought Christ to them, and he brought them to Christ.

Not only that, but since late 4th century, Chrysostom has inspired and moved many people to follow Christ, so much so that he may very well be the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity.

What happens if we get another Chrysostom today?  What happens if we become that new Chrysostom?  It is not that far off, but only if you pay attention to regularly reading the Fathers.

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