March 2018 Concilium Meeting
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.
The Necessity of Spiritual Reading
Today I would like to return to a little pamphlet of our founder Frank Duff: ‘Can we be Saints?’ It crystallizes the central objective of his life, namely, to be a saint. It also anticipates and expresses the ultimate and only purpose of the Legion that every legionary, active and auxiliary, without exception is called to be a saint and someone who strives to help as many other people as possible to become saints too. It is of the utmost importance to really and truly to be convinced of this truth of our faith. As Mother Theresa says: ‘Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is everyone’s duty: Yours and mine.’ And she adds: ‘The fact of death should not sadden us. The only thing that should sadden us is to know that we are not saints.’ Without this conviction that everyone is called to be a saint it is difficult to see how we can be Christians let alone legionaries.
In previous months we have discussed many important points in this pamphlet of our founder. But now I wish to reflect on the necessity of spiritual reading as a sure aid on our journey to being saints. Of course, the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture is the primary reading of the Christian and the legionary. But the supreme place of the Word of God in the reading and life of the legionary deserves several Allocutios of its own. Today I simply wish to recall some salient points about spiritual reading in general, mainly from the writings of Frank Duff, especially in this pamphlet and the Handbook. Let me mention that spiritual reading played a major part in the life of Frank Duff. In the Handbook alone, apart from Sacred Scripture and documents of the Magisterium, he quotes over 100 spiritual writers. His personal library that one can visit in his house contains an impressive number of spiritual books in English and French. In every Legion meeting there must be some spiritual reading of about five minutes: ‘The choice of spiritual reading is free, but it is strongly recommended that at least during the early years of a praesidium the reading be taken from the Handbook.’ Personally, I must say that over many years I have found the Handbook a superb source of spiritual reading and wisdom. Lastly, one of the favoured works of the Legion is the dissemination of Catholic literature which is a pointer to the importance the Legion attaches to spiritual reading. The primary role of spiritual reading is to get to know and love Jesus Christ: ‘This is eternal life that we may know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.’ (Jn. 17: 3). To know Christ Jesus, to be utterly at home with Him, to know his life and teaching and how it applies to our own life, this is the stuff of our daily spiritual reading. Of course, we cannot know Jesus without knowing his Mother and so naturally Mary should form a very significant part of spiritual reading. The lives of saints and their writings can also be helpful for keeping our faith fresh and alive as Frank Duff frequently suggests: ‘Saints are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible. If we frequent their company, we will soon imitate their qualities.’
In ‘Can we be Saints?’ Frank Duff writes: ‘Reading is a direct preparation for prayer and intimacy with God.’ That is a pivotal point. Spiritual reading is intimately tied up with prayer. In the Handbook he expresses the same point again: ‘Private spiritual reading, as well as developing Christian convictions, greatly helps prayer life.’ Some of the difficulties in prayer and meditation arise from a lack of spiritual reading. Frank writes: ‘To meditate on religious matters, one must have read, otherwise there is nothing to meditate on. The lamp has no oil. But read slowly and think upon what has been read. Books rapidly run through and un-reflected upon are as valueless as food eaten but undigested.’ So we are encouraged to begin the spiritual exercise of spiritual reading with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and to Mary of the listening heart. We are urged not to hurry but to pause often to meditate on what we have read and if some thought prompts us to pray then stop reading and simply converse with Our Lord since the reading will have achieved its purpose. It is also suggested that it is better to do spiritual reading for 10 minutes daily than for several hours at a time only occasionally. The human mind is a major battlefield in the spiritual life. Just as the body needs good material food to survive and remain healthy so does the mind need good spiritual food to be able to function properly for the benefit of the whole person. If the human mind is closed to God and the things of God it will normally follow that the will too will be separated from God and therefore the whole spiritual life will be in jeopardy. Good spiritual reading is a kind of consecration of the human mind to God. But who is winning the battle for the human mind in our world today?
It is in the context of this question that Frank Duff writes about reading newspapers in ‘Can we be Saints?’ He says: ‘We are inclined to think it is necessary to read the daily newspapers in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. Let us beware lest they place us in the world’s grip. The modern newspaper is so well written, so attractive to the eye that it tends to become an absorbing taste. It is a tendency of the day to wallow in the daily papers. Endless discussion, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge, a distaste for serious good literature, loss of power of concentration, faulty memory – such are the products of those wasted hours during which God’s Kingdom could have been so powerfully advanced.’ One wonders what he would have written if he had lived in the world of internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
I think we would agree with Abbot Eugene Boylan who writes: ‘Whatever way we do it, we must keep the memory of Christ and His love, of our union with Him, of the things which He has done for us and of the things He wants us to do for Him, fresh in our minds. He never forgot us for a single moment on earth; He never forgets us for a single moment in heaven; should we not daily think of Him who lived and died for love of us?’