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Saints insisted on Holy Reading

“It is impossible,” says St. Chrysostom, “that a man should be saved, who neglects assiduous pious reading.”

In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales says:

Have always at hand some approved book of devotion […], and read a little of them every day with as much devotion as if you were reading a letter which those saints had sent you from heaven to show you the way to it, and encourage you to come.

Again he talks about reading the Lives of the Saints:

Read also the histories and lives of the saints, in which, as in a looking-glass, you may behold the portraiture of a Christian’s life, and accommodate their actions to your state of life; […]

Saints were made by Holy Reading

  • St. Augustine was deeply inspired by reading St. Anthony of the Desert’s biography, which was a catalyst to his world-renowned conversion. His Confessions later inspired many other holy men and women who later became Saints.

  • St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) was inspired to convert to Catholicism after reading St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, later joining the Carmelite order and becoming a martyr under the Nazis.

  • St. Ignatius of Loyola, while recovering from a battle wound, read the lives of the saints, in particular St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, which inspired him to give up his vain pursuits, and to strive to emulate their holy lives.

Pope Francis on Holy Reading

In the conclusion of Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Letter about St. Jerome, Scripturae Sacrae Affectus, he says:

At the conclusion of this Letter, I wish to address an appeal to everyone. Among the many tributes paid to Saint Jerome by later generations, one is that he was not simply one of the greatest scholars of the “library” from which Christianity was enriched over the course of time, beginning from the treasury of sacred Scripture.

It could also be said of Jerome that, as he himself said of Nepotianus, “by assiduous reading and constant meditation he made his heart a library of Christ”.[58] Jerome spared no effort in expanding his own library, which he always viewed as an indispensable workshop for understanding the faith and the spiritual life; in this way he serves as a fine example also for the present time.

But he did not stop there. For him, study was not limited to the years of his youthful training, but a continual commitment, a daily priority. We can say that he became himself a library and a source of knowledge for countless others. Postumianus, who traveled throughout the East in the fourth century in order to explore the growth of monasticism and spent some months with Jerome, saw this with his own eyes. As he wrote: “[Jerome] is always occupied in reading, always at his books: he takes no rest day or night; he is perpetually either reading or writing something”.[59]

In this regard, I often think of the experience a young person can have today entering a bookshop in his or her city, or visiting an Internet site, to look for the section on religious books. In most cases, this section, when it exists, is not only marginal but poorly stocked with works of substance.

Looking at those bookshelves or webpages, it is difficult for a young person to understand how the quest of religious truth can be a passionate adventure that unites heart and mind; how the thirst for God has inflamed great minds throughout the centuries up to the present time; how growth in the spiritual life has influenced theologians and philosophers, artists and poets, historians and scientists. One of the problems we face today, not only in religion, is illiteracy: the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply.

I would like to pose a challenge to young people in particular: begin exploring your heritage. Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership. Be passionate about this history which is yours. Dare to fix your gaze on the young Jerome who, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, sold all that he had in order to buy the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46).