As a young man Ignatius of Loyola was wounded in battle at the siege of Pamplona by the French. During his long convalescence he loved to read stories of chivalry and romance to while away the hours. He saw himself as a gallant knight in the service of his lady, as a brave soldier who swept all obstacles away to win his fair prize. As his injury healed his reading fed his day dreams and so the weeks passed.
Then came the day when, having read what books of romance were available, he was given a life of Christ. He began to read and followed this with the lives of the saints. He began to notice changes in himself, changes that would have far reaching effects. The romances filled him with visions of daring deeds, and for a time he would feel elated. But then would come a mood change, a downer, leaving him restless and dissatisfied. With the life of Christ and the stories of the saints it was quite different. The hardship and difficulties, his reluctance to take up the cross at first dismayed him, but he began to notice that afterwards his soul expanded and his eagerness to walk this way, to follow Christ, grew and grew. He experienced joy and consolation. It was the beginning of true discernment.
Ignatius is not the only one whose life was changed by reading good books. Edith Stein, a brilliant Jewish philosopher, was once staying in a house where she found a copy of St. Teresa of Avila s autobiography. All night she read, and recognizing the depth of the author she said, “This is the truth.” She became a Carmelite nun before being killed in a concentration camp.
Good reading nurtures and uplifts the soul. When we give time to reading the Bible, to reading books about the Bible, or lives of the saints, or some of the excellent books on faith and spirituality available today, we will begin to notice changes in ourselves. Like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts will burn within us as we read and absorb the word before us. Like Ignatius or Edith Stein, our lives will change as we respond to the movement of the Spirit. The challenge is not to read for interesting information but rather to listen to the text as a voice that speaks directly to you.
A lot of what we read can distract us from the truth of our lives. Like Ignatius we may whittle away our time daydreaming romances. Or we may read to avoid thinking of where we are headed. Our thirst for knowledge and information, good and necessary though they be, can also get in the way of the reading that builds up our spirit. How different it is when we give unhurried time and space to savor and reflect on the word before us. In a real sense, the Scriptures read us, uncovering areas in our life that need healing, affirming us, calling us to our truer selves.
Many people today have rediscovered Lectio Divina, a meditative, prayerful way of reading the Scriptures. Little by little the word sinks into our heart and as we make time for it we find that, as Jesus desired, it becomes our home. His words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63), gift of a loving God. When we give Him space in our day and read with reverence and attention we are opening ourselves to a true conversion of mind and heart.