An Encouraging Word — The practice of spiritual reading

Attend to reading. I Timothy 4:13

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Spiritual reading is the practice of reading books and articles about spirituality with the purpose of growing in holiness. It is my hope that this column might be classified by some as “spiritual reading.”

Many of the great saints of the church recommended “spiritual reading.” St. Jerome said, “When we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us.” St. Ambrose said much the same when he said, “We address him when we pray; we hear him when we read.” St. Alphonsus Ligouri said, “Apply to the reading of holy books, not in a passing way and for a short time, but regularly and for a considerable time.”

St. Pius X said this about the practice of spiritual reading: “Everyone knows the great influence that is exerted by the voice of a friend who gives candid advice, assists by his counsel, corrects, encourages and leads one away from error. Blessed is the man who has found a true friend: He that has found him has found a treasure. We should, then, count pious books among our true friends. They solemnly remind us of our duties and of the prescriptions of legitimate discipline; they arouse the heavenly voices that were stifled in our souls; they rid our resolutions of listlessness; they disturb our deceitful complacency; they show the true nature of less worthy affections to which we have sought to close our eyes; they bring to light the many dangers which beset the path of the imprudent.”

St. Pius X also noted that there are many striking examples of the tremendous effects of spiritual reading.

Here are my examples. St. Augustine is said to have converted when he heard a boy tell him, “Take, read; take read.” He opened the Epistles of St. Paul and said that it was as though the darkness of all his doubting was driven away by the light of peace which had entered his soul.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of Pope Francis’ Jesuit religious order, decided to live a saintly life after accidently taking up a book on saints while in a hospital bed.

St. Edith Stein converted to Catholicism after reading the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila on a vacation at age 29. Once she started reading, she read all night. She went out the next day to buy a missal and a copy of the Catholic Catechism.

Thomas Merton read a book on Christian philosophy and decided to study Catholicism. He later converted and became a monk at Gethsemani Abbey outside Bardstown, Ky.

“Where do I get some good spiritual reading books?” I am not above shamelessly promoting my own books. Volume XI of this column is now available, as well as past Volumes I-X at My books, as well many more, are available at two local shops, Tonini Church Supply and The Marian Center, and at the Maloney Center. They are available online also at

Father J. Ronald Knott

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