I remember when I made my “power” decision to become a nun. I was reading the book, ‘Seven Story Mountain’ by Thomas Merton. At one point in Thomas’s conversion, (he too was reading) he looked up from his book, and asked his friend, Lax, “How does one become a saint?”
His friend without hesitation said simply, “By wanting to.”
Merton said, “Really, that’s all there is to it?” and Lax said, yes, that’s all there is to it. Then Merton said with firm conviction, “Well, then, I want to!”
And when I read that, I closed the book, and I said just as firmly to myself, “I want to become a saint!”
For me, books have been the passageway for most of my spiritual journey. They have opened new doors of thought, flung new challenges and presented directions I had never before considered. Saint Padre Pio once said, “In books we learn about God, in prayer we find God,” when I first read that, I thought it meant I was supposed to stop reading and start praying. And I actually did that at that moment. But I found that after a bit of praying, I needed to pick up a book again and start reading to learn a bit more about God to take back to my prayer. Perhaps not for Padre Pio but for me, spiritual reading is the match that lights the fire for my praying more fervently. At this point in my life, I seem to need that jump start ignition to get my prayer engines turning.
Right now I am trying to put together a book on Confession, a collection of 101 stories of people’s experiences with the sacrament of confession. It seems to be an uphill battle interiorly for me to get focused. I don’t know if it’s the devil or the deep blue sea of many distractions, but I am having a very hard time staying with this. So, to keep myself motivated and to learn a few things, I am doing some spiritual reading. I have found several wonderful books on Confession. The one I was reading last night gave me a powerful insight that I know is going to help me in every confession I prepare for in the future.
Father Christopher J. Walsh, the author of this book, “The untapped Power of the Sacrament of Penance – A Priest’s view,” gives this advice to penitents who come to him and ask the question that they don’t know what to confess. Here is the quote from his book that he advises them to ask themselves.
“What are the obstacles keeping you from getting closer to God and experiencing his grace and peace more powerfully in your life?”
Isn’t that powerful? It opened a brand new perspective on how to prepare my examination of conscience. Not racking my head over the day to see how many times did I get mad or think bad thoughts or whatever, but simply . . .
“What are the obstacles keeping me from getting closer to God and experiencing his grace and peace more powerfully in my life?”
Another book I am reading, (I am one of those who have several books going at once), is the classic, “He Leadeth Me – An Extraordinary Testament of Faith” by Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. This is the personal story of Father Ciszek’s spiritual journey which led him through twenty-three agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. This book is so powerful that I feel I need to type out every other paragraph and paste it somewhere for me to reread and think about during the day. Here is one quote from his book.
“Slowly, reluctantly, under the gentle proddings of grace, I faced the truth that was at the root of my problem and my shame. The answer was a single word: I.”
Now that is just a snippet and perhaps it does not convey enough to show you the power of this book, but the fact is – reading, spiritual reading is like fertilizer for our souls – it gives us something to feed upon and grow with during the day when we are at prayer or occupied with other things.
Scripture reading is of course, the spiritual vitamin shot par excellence. A one line sentence from the Bible can mobilize us into positive and forceful action for a lifetime. At different times in my life – different passages have had more meaning for me at one period than another. When I was looking into my own vocation walk, Psalm 45 from the Old Testament, “forget your people and your father’s house” spoke powerfully to me as well as such lines from the New Testament that advised me to “leave all things behind.” These statements were like direct signposts on the Heavenly highway for me to pay attention to. After I was in the monastery and attempting new projects such as publishing a book or starting a radio ministry, things like “Consider this: Has anyone ever trusted in the Lord and been put to shame?” from Sirach 2:11 or “Is this beyond the Lord’s reach?” from Numbers 11, gave me the confidence and impetus to move ahead.
Scripture reading is something in monastic life that one gets a healthy helping of at least five or six times a day during Mass or the Divine Office. Before I entered the monastery I had attended a youth convention and during the course of the event the host asked us to commit to praying with Scripture at least five minutes a day. He told us what a big difference that would make in our lives.
It was easy to make that commitment in the fervor and excitement of that convention but the day to day keeping that promise proved to be much more difficult even though it was only a scant five minutes. Days would go and I would realize, “Oh, my gosh, I haven’t even opened the Bible up!” Then I would get angry with myself, and moan, “Why did I promise to do this for the rest of my life, how can I possibly keep this up without fail each and every day?” Good intentions often seemed to pass out the window.
Thankfully God put me in a situation where I don’t have to sweat it. Each time I go to pray the Divine Office, I am reading and praying the Scriptures at least ninety-five percent of the time! I would easily guess that in the course of an ordinary day, I am spending two hours minimum with the Scriptures. Naturally, I still I think I should spend even more time, but at least I’m not having any worries about keeping that five minute commitment.