Meditations for Layfolks - Pious Reading

I cannot hope to keep my soul alive unless I am continually giving it the food that it needs. Read I certainly do, at all times and in all places; and the purpose of all this reading must be not merely to fill in certain barren moments of the day (though this also has become a convincing reason for much reading), but to furnish myself with information and with the principles whereby to judge the various movements, policies, and gospels that are preached by others or practised by myself. What, then, is the ordinary matter that comes into my hands for this purpose? Presumably it is very largely that form of literature that can be grouped under the heading of journalism, whether newspapers, periodicals, or such novels as follow simple lines and require little mental activity for their comprehension. I buy the newspaper which advocates the political principles that appear to me the most expedient. I accept its account of what happens in the national life, and read the story of my country from the point of view which it has taken up and with the interpretation that it supplies. Now this is not blind and unreasoning obedience, for I have chosen my paper to begin with in order to suit my politics. Yet there is this peril attached that imperceptibly the atmosphere of my reading begins to influence me on points on which I was not originally at one with my party. I notice others becoming the slaves of their Press: unconsciously I am probably moving in the same direction.

Is this wrong? It is not so much wrong as foolish, and not so much foolish as (if I so continue) inevitable. For if I limit my reading to one particular view of life, it is certain that I shall get narrowed in my thoughts and visions. I am living in the provincial circle of my family ideas and cannot rise to criticize them or even measure and control them. This is obviously full of danger, for I am in effect handing over (indirectly) my conscience to another's keeping and making no use of any other lights that may possibly be shed upon fact and fancies. Have I, therefore, got to force myself to read what is written by the side opposite to me in temper, in policy, in principle? To do so would probably be stimulating, but it is not necessary, for there is another way which is simpler and more effective, and that is to resort to the principles upon which the whole of life must be faced by Christians. I should recall to myself those views of conduct which are part of the Christian inheritance, and learn to measure things by the values which Christian tradition puts on them. In other words, I shall find my soul kept freer and fresher by a systematic reading of spiritual books. It is by this literature that I shall be prevented from accepting too readily and too whole-heartedly the political and social programmes of my leaders. I shall realize that there are definite standards of judgement which otherwise I may carelessly forget or pass over as of small consideration.

Perhaps I feel inclined to cry out that spiritual reading is dull and uninteresting. It is so just because I so rarely indulge in it. The whole tendency of my day is towards things that are material. I have very probably to work for my living, or at least have much to occupy my time, various little duties and cares that absorb my energy and my interest. Consequently I get more and more immersed in things that are merely earthly, and I find it increasingly difficult to lift myself out of the clinging embrace of these necessary but lower interests. Now the very fact that I experience this difficulty makes all the more essential my attention to the spiritual life; for if I am wholly steeped in things temporal, there can be little wonder that I lose my relish (an appropriate word) for things eternal. I must, therefore, seriously consider how much of my time is given to taking in a store of spiritual thoughts, the solid and sublime principles to which I can cling in all my perplexities of thought or action. Do I have by me a book that I find helpful? I should not force myself to peruse volumes that make no appeal and have no sympathetic views to attract me; but I should take some book, such as describes a character that appears to me real, living, and, though immensely above my own, of some kindred significance. Taking such a biography or any other work that depicts the spiritual side of life, that talks of the soul and God and the things of God, let me think over it and follow it. It will at least give me a chance. Novels, papers, etc., may be necessary at times, but they cannot be necessary all the time.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.