In 1194, aged 24, Dominic was ordained, and soon became a Canon in the Cathedral of Osma. The canons of the Cathedral were priests who reformed their community life to live strictly in poverty according to the Rule of St. Augustine. The prior and reformer of this chapter was the remarkable Diego de Azevedo who in 1201 became bishop of the diocese. It was he who had noticed Dominic the student and arranged for him to enter the chapter and in a few months to be ordained priest. As a canon of Osma, he spent nine years of his life hidden in God and rapt in contemplation. He, like a flourishing olive-tree, remained day and night in the church, applying himself constantly to prayer, and scarcely ever quitting the cloister for fear of shortening his time for contemplation.His almost constant habit was to pass the night in prayer and communion with God. One thing he asked often and earnestly from God; it was that He would bestow on him a true charity, a love that would render it easy to give up all for the salvation of men,after the example of the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our redemption.
It is interesting, among the very scanty details left us of Dominic’s early years, to find two books mentioned. The study of which seems to have had an extraordinary influence in forming his mind. One was a book entitled Conferences of the Fathers( By St. John Cassian), treating of vice and spiritual perfection, and in perusing it he strove to know and follow all the paths of righteousness. By God’s grace this book enabled him to attain to an unusual degree of purity of Conscience, abundant light in meditation, and a very great perfection.” The other, the “Epistles of St. Paul.” In late years he always carried a copy of the Epistles about his person, and he seems to have shaped his whole idea of an apostolic life after the model of this great master.
The saint’s deep prayer life is manifested clearly in the above extract. What we are going to focus to day is how much importance St. Dominic gave to spiritual reading( Conferences of St. John Cassian). Spiritual reading is a necessary accompaniment to the mediation of the scriptures.
” For a long time I had nourished my spiritual life with the ‘fine flour’ contained in ,The Imitation of Christ.It was the only book which did me good, for I had not yet found the treasures hidden in the Holy Gospels.I always had it with me, to the amusement of my people at home.” –St. Therese of Lisieux
St. Alphonsus Ligouri explains why it is so important.
“To a spiritual life the reading of holy books is perhaps not less useful than mental prayer. St. Bernard says reading instructs us at once in prayer, and in the practice of virtue. Hence he concluded that spiritual reading and prayer are the arms by which hell is conquered and paradise won. We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions, and particularly in our doubts; but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us lights and directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.”
But to draw great fruit from spiritual reading:
“It is, in the first place, necessary to recommend yourself beforehand to God, that he may enlighten the mind while you read. It has been already said, that in spiritual reading the Lord condescends to speak to us; and, therefore, in taking up the book, we must pray to God in the words of Samuel: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. Speak, O my Lord, for I wish to obey Thee in all that Thou wilt make known to me to be Thy will.
In the second place, you must read not in order to acquire learning, nor to indulge curiosity, but for the sole purpose of advancing in divine love. To read for the sake of knowledge is not spiritual reading, but is, at the time of spiritual reading, a study unprofitable to the soul. It is still worse to read through curiosity. What profit can be expected form such reading? All the time devoted to such reading is lost time. St. Gregory says that many read and read a great deal, but, because they have read only through curiosity, they finish reading as hungry as if they had not been reading.
To derive advantage from pious books it is necessary to read them slowly and with attention. “Nourish your soul,” says St. Augustine, “with divine lectures.” Now to receive nutriment from food, it must not be devoured, but well masticated. Remember, then, in the third place, that to reap abundant fruit from pious reading, you must masticate and ponder well what you ready; applying to yourself what is there inculcated. And when what you have read has made a lively impression on you, St. Ephrem counsels you to read it a second time.
Besides, when you receive any special light in reading, or any instruction that penetrates the heart, it will be very useful to stop, and to raise the mind to God by making a good resolution, or a good act, or a fervent prayer. St. Bernard says, that it is useful then to interrupt the reading, and to offer a prayer, and to continue to pray as long as the lively impression lasts. Let us imitate the bees, that pass not from one flower to another until they have gathered all the honey that they found in the first. This we should do, although all the time prescribed for the reading should be spent in such acts; for thus the time is spent with greater spiritual profit. Sometimes it may happen that you draw more fruit from reading a single verse than from reading an entire page.
Moreover, at the end of the reading you must select some sentiment of devotion, excited by what you have read, and carry it with you as you would carry a flower from a garden of pleasure.” – St. Alphonsus Ligouri
So it is important that we choose good Spiritual books for reading if we are to soar to the heights of holiness. A list of suggestions will be given after the prayer
O Lord Jesus, we thank you for the numerous saints you have converted and nourished through the exercise of spiritual reading. Grant us O Lord the grace to follow the path taken by saints and turn our hearts to the reading of spiritual books which nourishes our soul, let us not be mere observers of spiritual things but put into practice the wisdom you grant us through spiritual reading. We make this prayer in Your Holy Name. Amen.
Pray for us.
Pray in honor of the saint:-
1 Our Father. 1 Hail Mary. 1 Glory be.
These books are highly recommend for spiritual reading. Take one at a time:-
- Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
- Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis
Note: PDFs of the above works are available on the internet and are in the public domain.
PDM – Ruha Mount Attappadi