Spiritual Reading and Good Conversation

The following document is on the Exercise of Spiritual Reading, sometimes also called Lectio Divina (reading from the Scriptures accompanied by meditation) and good, edifying conversation, together with the benefits that flow from this. The document is taken from the compiled works called Articles and Manuscripts of Dominic Farrell.

Spiritual Reading

“We address Him when we pray, we hear Him when we read.” -St Ambrose. In the spiritual life, the reading of salutary and edifying material is of great importance and use to us.

There is opportunity to learn many things and what we already know can be further enriched. In a passive way, spiritual reading strengthens virtue in the soul and is a powerful incentive to fervour in our struggles for holiness. It is a mental exercise, engaging the intellect and moving the will.

It may also act on the memory and the emotions. It provides a suitable state or disposition for the infusion of new graces from God.

It is said by spiritual writers that many efficacious graces are not communicated to the soul until it is either in the act of praying or in a calm and recollected state.

To attentively read things which treat of the truths of Faith, or of virtue and the spiritual life is to place ourselves in a kind of atmosphere of prayer or a calm and recollected state in which the Holy Ghost is in a position pleasing to Himself in relation to the sanctification of the soul.

We cannot always physically engage in prayer. That is, in vocal prayer or the kind of prayer which involves kneeling and staying physically still and in one place, though we should strive to live with a continual spirit of prayer. Now reading informative and spiritually profitable things provides some good variety of spiritual exercises. It is not quite the same thing as prayer although it can become a kind of meditation.

It raises the mind and heart to God which is in fact a basic definition of prayer. It is a very good aid or companion to the acts of meditating and praying.

It certainly fosters the spirit of prayer in general and where the spirit of prayer is, there likewise, is virtue and also the absence of serious sin. Here I am referring to what St Teresa of Avila said, which is that the habit of prayer (I think she is specifically speaking of the prayer of meditation) cannot coexist with a habit of sin.

But if the mind is frequently forced to dwell on material and earthly matters, it is to be feared that we will not persevere in prayer and so we will be more liable to slip into a habit of sin or at least into a state of general lethargy in regard to our interior life.

Good Example in Conversation

To preserve the spark of zeal for our spiritual progress we must be careful when we interact with others since this can often be an occasion for us to tarnish or lose our interior spirit or the grace of fervour.

We should try to use everything, even our daily conversation with other people, as a means to increase rather than diminish our spiritual advancement.

So how are we to do this? We can speak with the awareness that we do not wish to compromise our interior peace and freedom of heart. Peace and freedom of heart actually come from a spirit of prayer and virtue, not from clinging to our own will and indulging our passions.

When there is opportunity, we may speak about the things we have been reading to those who are likely to be prepared to listen. But as a general rule we should simply be careful of allowing conversation to become a means of harming instead of improving our spiritual life.

If we do have a spiritual life going and we are conscious of it, we will gradually learn for ourselves the do’s and don’ts, of conversations. If we can come away from conversation without some wound of conscience, then we have spoken well.

We mustn’t be too negative or snobbish since this dishonours religion. And yet it may be helpful to remember those words of a certain philosopher who said; ‘as often as I have been among men, I have returned less a man.’ Now this philosopher was not by any means a Catholic and therefore, we cannot say he had the advantages we have; of so much more light and grace.

Therefore, while we must be very much on our guard when we spend time with others, we should also use this time as an occasion to exercise charity, patience and of course, lawful recreation. We may be of great spiritual help to others if we are able to show true Christian virtue in conversation.

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