Catholic Voices - Reading makes saints

Photo: St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul, Benozzo Gozzoll/WikiArt and St. Ignatius Loyola, Miguel Cabrera/WikiArt Photo: St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul, Benozzo Gozzoll/WikiArt and St. Ignatius Loyola, Miguel Cabrera/WikiArt

This summer, try putting down your smartphone and making time for deep reading

 BJ Gonzalvo
BJ Gonzalvo

Time spent reading, particularly deep reading, seems to be on the decline, with much of that precious time now spent staring at screens, checking and consuming copious information via our smartphones and social media. According to recent statistics, young people spend an average of 165 minutes (almost three hours!) per day on social networking sites.

And it’s not just kids. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of adults who reported doing any literary reading dropped from 57 percent in 1982 to 43 percent in 2015.

Reading — and by reading I don’t mean scrolling through newsfeeds or 280-character tweets, I mean deep reading — involves making the effort to really immerse ourselves in a story. Deep reading allows us to analyze and reflect, to go on a journey with the characters, to join in the struggle and the triumph of the hero, or to dig deep into the insights of a saint. It gives us the chance to insert ourselves into the emotional and moral complexities of their lives and discern how we can apply their lessons in our own lives. As the French writer Marcel Proust put it, “The end of a book’s wisdom appears to us as merely the start of our own.”

St. Josemaría Escrivá said, “Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.” And indeed, many of the saints we admire started their own spiritual journeys by reading.

In St. Augustine’s conversion journey, a voice called out to him saying, “Take up and read.” Augustine did just that, picked up St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, read it and reflected on it — a key moment in his journey to the Catholic Church.

When St. Ignatius Loyola was in the hospital recovering from battle wounds, he took that opportunity to immerse himself in the stories of St. Francis and St. Dominic. Reading them, he soon paused and said to himself, “St. Dominic did this, therefore I must do it. St. Francis did this, therefore I must do it.” He got so immersed and inspired that he decided to imitate them, and the rest was history — and we are very blessed to have the Jesuits around.

I have to admit that when I’ve had to wait in a hospital, I find it easier and more diverting to check social media. Smartphones make it easy to get sucked in, and the struggle to put the phone down is real. Still, I think we’re better off missing out on what our friends are making for dinner, rather than on the opportunity to dive deep into, say, the conversion stories of St. Augustine or St. Ignatius.

To return to deep reading, we need to rewire our brains by reconfiguring the way we live. We need to actively pursue time in our daily lives to absorb, process and examine things, especially literature, in a deeper way. We need to reorganize our schedules to increase our allocation of hours for moments of silence, deep reading, reflection, discernment and listening to God’s voice.

Social connectivity can be good and useful, but the deep connections we make with the saints, who are there to help us connect with God, are priceless and life-changing.

We all need to get back to summer reading, young and old alike. Pick up a good book, especially one about a saint. Dive deep, get lost in the story, and find yourself on a journey toward God.

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Northwest Catholic - July/August 2018