Spiritual Reading – Fr. Michael’s Favorite Books

Fulton Sheen Spiritual Reading

The Following notes are from a course that  I taught to the Deacons on Spiritual Reading

We shouldn’t teach great books;

we should teach a love of reading.

~ B. F. Skinner ~

—-this is what I hope to teach today…. The love of spiritual reading –Fr. Michael J. Denk

Helpful for me in spiritual reading:  underline, take notes, my best directees come back with a notebook full of notes followed by their journal reflections.  Write out the quotes and keep them with you, compile them, write reflections from them.  84 pages of quotes in Microsoft word.

As Blessed Josemaria Escriva put it: “May your behavior and your conversation be such that each person who sees or hears you may say, ‘This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.'”

“There were other things which more fully took up my mind in their company – to talk and laugh and do kindnesses to each other; to read pleasant books together; to make jokes together and then talk seriously together; sometimes to disagree, but without any ill feeling, just as one may disagree with oneself, and to find that these very rare disagreements made our general agreement all the sweeter; to be sometimes teaching and sometimes learning; to long impatiently for the absent and to welcome them with joy when they returned to us.  These and other similar expressions of feeling, which proceed from the hearts of those who love and are loved in return, and are revealed in the face, the voice, the eyes, and in a thousand charming ways, were like a kindling fire to melt our souls together and out of many to make us one.”  The Confessions of St. Augustine Book IV Chapter 8

“I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx.

To fulfill a regular commitment

to a pattern of personal and

communal prayer through frequent

praying of the Liturgy of

the Hours, especially morning

and evening prayer; to participate

frequently in the Eucharist

and the Sacrament of

Reconciliation, personal prayer

and reading of the Bible, and

devotion to Mary and to the

saints; to plan and lead communal



113. The objectives of the spiritual dimension in formation are (a) to

deepen his prayer lifepersonal, familial, communal, and liturgical

with special emphasis upon participation in Eucharist, daily if possible;

daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially morning and

evening prayer; lectio divina, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

and the saints; and regular reception of the Sacrament of

Reconciliation; (b) to assist the participant, with the help of his spiritual

director and those responsible for formation, to deepen and

cultivate a service commitment to God’s word, the Church, and the

world; (c) to acquaint him with the Catholic spiritual tradition

reflected in classic spiritual writings and in the lives of the saints,

and with contemporary developments in spirituality—a faith seeking

to be expressed and celebrated; (d) to affirm the Christian witness

of matrimonial and celibate spirituality; (e) to incarnate his

spirituality in the real life and history of the people whom he

encounters each day in places where he lives, works, and serves.19

The spiritual life is, therefore, dynamic and never static.

f. Spiritual theology, the spiritual traditions of the Church as

applied to one’s own spiritual journey, and the spiritual life of

the faithful

77. The means for this formation are monthly retreats and annual spiritual exercises; instructions, to be programmed according to an organic and progressive plan, which takes account of the various stages of the formation; and spiritual accompaniment, which must be constant. It is a particular task of the spiritual director to assist the candidate to discern the signs of his vocation, to place himself in an attitude of ongoing conversion, to bring to maturity the traits proper to the spirituality of the deacon, drawing on the writings of classical spirituality and the example of the saints, and to bring about a balanced synthesis of his state of life, his profession and the ministry.





(read this!!!!!)


Prayer purifies us,  reading instructs us.   Both are good when both are possible.   Otherwise,  prayer is better than reading.

If a man wants to be always in God’s company,  he must pray regularly and read regularly.  When we pray,  we talk to God;  when we read,  God talks to us.

All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.  By reading we learn what we did not know;  by  reflection,  we retain what we have learned.

Reading the holy Scriptures confers two benefits.  It trains the mind to understand them;  it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.

Two kinds of study are called for here.  We must first learn how the Scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them.   A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.

The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it.  For it is a less serious fault to be ignorant of an objective than it is to fail to carry out what we do not know.  In reading we aim at knowing,  but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study.

No one can understand holy Scripture without constant reading,  according to the words:  “Love her and she will exalt you.  Embrace her and she will glorify you.”

Books are great friends – they always have something worthwhile to say to you when you pick them up.  They never complain about being too busy and they are always at leisure to feed the mind.    —Fulton Sheen

Read the best books first,

or you may not have a chance to read them at all.

~ Henry David Thoreau ~

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.  ~Abraham Lincoln

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it.  I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint…. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Outside a dog, a book is man’s best friend.

Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

I must say that I find television very educational.

The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book.

~ Groucho Marx  ~

What I like best is a book that’s at least funny once in a while…

What really knocks me out is a book that,

when you’re all done reading it,

you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours

and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

That doesn’t happen much, though.

~ J. D. Salinger ~

There is more treasure in books than

in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.

~ Walt Disney ~

If we encounter a man of rare intellect,

we should ask him what books he reads.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

Tis the good reader that makes the good book;

a good head cannot read amiss:

in every book he finds passages which seem confidences

or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson  ~

The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one

on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read.

~ Benjamin Franklin ~

Everywhere I have sought rest and not found it,

except sitting in a corner by myself with a little book.

~ Thomas ã Kempis ~

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

~ Joseph Addison  ~

Beware of the man of one book.

Thomas Aquinas ~

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend,
a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.
By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently
divert and pleasantly entertain himself,
as in all weathers, as in all fortunes.
~ Barrow ~

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party,
a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.
~ Henry Ward Beecher ~

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man
far better than through mortal friends.
~ Dawn Adams ~


As Blessed Josemaria Escriva put it: “May your behavior and your conversation be such that each person who sees or hears you may say, ‘This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.'”

The biblical basis of this practice is St. Paul‘s advice to his disciple Timothy whom he appointed bishop. St. Paul told him to “Attend to reading.” The word “attend” an allusion to the many other concerns that a bishop has to attend to. By this, according to St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church on Moral theology, the Apostle Paul “wished him to apply to the reading of holy books, not in a passing way and for a short time, but regularly and for a considerable time.”

The Fathers of the Church recommended this practice: St. Jerome says that when we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us. St. Ambrose of Milan says the same: “We address him when we pray; we hear him when we read.”

Spiritual reading is an instruction in prayer and virtue, according to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and thus he said that “spiritual reading and prayer are the arms by which hell is conquered and paradise won.” St. Josemaria Escriva explained that spiritual reading “builds up a store of fuel. — It looks like a lifeless heap, but I often find that my memory, of its own accord, will draw from it material which fills my prayer with life and inflames my thanksgiving after Communion.” (The Way 117)

Spiritual reading provides access to spiritual advice from masters of spirituality, says St. Alphonsus Liguori. Thus, St. Pius X further thoroughly explained:

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. They render all these services with such kindly discretion that they prove themselves to be not only our friends, but the very best of friends. They are always at hand, constantly beside us to assist us in the needs of our souls; their voice is never harsh, their advice is never self-seeking, their words are never timid or deceitful.

“When I read holy books,” says St. Gregory the Theologian about the books of St. Basil the Great, “then the spirit and body are illumined and I become the temple of God and the harp of the Holy Spirit, played by divine powers through them I am corrected and through them I receive a kind of divine change and I am made into a different person.”

Reading of holy books is also a way to fight temptations: “Endeavor to have always in your hand a pious book,” advised St. Jerome to his disciple Salvina, “that with this shield you may defend yourself against bad thoughts.”

All the founders of religious orders have strongly recommended this holy exercise to their religious, said St. Alphonsus.

Some examples are:

  • St. Augustine of Hippo, considered one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, converted to the Catholic Church upon hearing a boy tell him” “Take, read; take, read.” He recounted that “I took (the epistles of Paul the Apostle), I opened, I read in silence; it was as though the darkness of all my doubting was driven away by the light of peace which had entered my soul.”
  • St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of what is considered as the largest religious order in Catholicism, decided to live a saintly life, after reading a volume of the lives of the saints which he accidentally took up while he was in a hospital bed.
  • St. Edith Stein, Patron of Europe, converted to Catholicism after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila on a holiday in Göttingen in 1921, at the age of 29. One evening Edith picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and read this book all night. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.” She went out the next day to buy a missal and a copy of the Catholic catechism.
  • Thomas Merton, a known spiritual writer, read a book by Étienne Gilson, on “The Elements of Christian Philosophy,” and decided to study Catholicism. He later converted and became a Trappist monk.

Read the best books first,

or you may not have a chance to read them at all.

~ Henry David Thoreau ~

AUTHOR                                                                   TITLE

William A Barry, SJ                                                  A Friendship Like No Other

William A Barry, SJ                                                  Letting God Come Close

Kieran Kavanaugh                                                     St Teresa of Avila #1 & 2 edition

Pope John XXIII                                                        Journal of a Soul

C.K.Chesterton                                                          St Francis of Assisi

M. Basil Pennington                                                  Bernard of Clairaux

John K Ryan                                                             Introduction to the Devout Life

Rex Warner                                                                The Confessions of St Augustine

John Clarke, O.C.D.                                                  Story of a Soul

Jean Vanier                                                                Community And Growth

Henri J.M. Nouwen                                                    The Return of the Prodigal Son

Henri J.M. Nouwen                                                   The Inner Voice of Love

Ralph Martin                                                              The Fulfillment of all Desire

Thomas Dubay                                                           Happy Are You Poor

Brother Lawrence                                                     The Practice of the Presence of God

John Jacob Raub                                                        Who Told You That You Were Naked

Richard Rohr                                                            Everything Belongs

Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange                                The Three Conversions in Spiritual Life

Bernard of Clairvaux                                                 On the Song of Songs

Bernard of Clairvaux                                                 Selected Works

Johannes Baptist Metz                                               Poverty of Spirit

Ronald Rolheiser                                                       The Holy Longing

Jean-Pierre De Caussade                                           Abandonment to Divine Providence

Fulton J. Sheen                                                         The Priest is Not His Own

Fulton J. Sheen                                                         Treasure In Clay

Frank Sheed                                                              To Know Christ Jesus

Timothy M Gallagher, O.M.V.                                 Discerning the Will of God

Timothy M Gallagher, O.M.V                                  Meditation and Contemplation

Timothy M Gallagher, O.M.V                                 The Discernment of Spirits

Iain Matthew                                                              The Impact of God: Soundings from St.

John of the Cross

*Make a commitment to read each day: 15 minutes, 1 chapter, 1 Page

-always have a book on tap, something you are looking forward to read next, either when the well runs dry or you have finished your last book

Lives of the Saints

More spiritual reading:


Online catholic books and documents:



What Is Spiritual Reading?

Spiritual reading consists of reading something that explains some aspect of Catholic truth in an attractive, enriching way.  Its function is to help reinforce and deepen our Christian view of ourselves and the world around us.  In previous eras, popular culture itself was imbued with the Christian world view, so even popular books and dramas would reinforce the Christian value system.  But now that is not the case.  Instead, our minds are flooded every day by messages (advertisements, films, TV shows, news, music) that directly contradict the Christian world view.  That will have its effect on how we think and what we value.  In fact, this is one of the reasons the Church is suffering so much from so-called cafeteria Catholics.  They get their Catholic formation from secular sources (The New York Times, Newsweek…), and so they simply can’t understand why the Church would ever be against such popular and seemingly reasonable propositions like artificial contraception, artificial reproduction, and gay marriage.  Because of this ongoing flood of secular ideals, we have to consciously nourish our minds with authentic Christian teaching in order to avoid being poisoned.  That’s what spiritual reading can do.

Spiritual reading is either instructive or refreshing.  It either informs our minds so that we learn to think and understand more and more in harmony with Revelation, or it refreshes what we already know/have learned by making it shine out more clearly once again.  In either case, it counteracts the seductive, secularizing messages that saturate our cultural atmosphere.  This is why it’s such an important spiritual discipline.  It plants seeds of Christian truth in your mind, and they grow and germinate in your subconscious as you go about your daily business.  These seeds often flower during your daily prayer and meditation; in fact, spiritual reading frequently provides topics, ideas, or insights that are excellent material for Christian meditation.

Getting Practical

Spiritual reading differs from plain reading not only in the content, but also in the method.  You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing spiritual reading; fifteen minutes a day is fine.  And you don’t need to read fast. The idea is simply to taste, chew on, and swallow some healthy Catholic concepts every day.  The difference between spiritual reading and meditation is the end result. The goal of your meditation is to converse with the Lord about what matters to him and what matters to you.  The reflection and consideration that forms part of your meditation is meant to spur that conversation in your heart.  The goal of spiritual reading is to inform your mind; it doesn’t finish with a prayerful conversation (though that can sometimes pop up spontaneously, which is fine!).

A lot of the books we have been recommending on this Web site are prime material for spiritual reading.  But if you’re not a reader, or if you think you don’t have time, you can also get creative.  Good Catholic novels (novels imbued with a Catholic world view, where characters exemplify Christian virtue in a realistic but inspiring way) can serve as a kind of spiritual reading.  Listening while you drive or exercise to recordings of spiritual talks, homilies, or conferences (or books on tape, or even good Catholic podcasts) can also do the trick.

The point here is that we all need to be always growing in our knowledge of the faith, because if we are not growing, we’re withering.

Yours sincerely in Christ , Fr John Bartunek, LC ThD

PS: The beautiful painting is entitled “Prayer” by Itzhak Tordjman


Deacon Joshua Allan’s suggestions: Spiritual Reading, Part I and Part II


Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.  ~Abraham Lincoln

—Groucho Marx

— how much time do you spend per day watching TV?

-commit to some time period of spiritual reading every day.  I’m suggesting 15 minutes.

-know in advance what spiritual reading you are going to do next so your are not waisting your 15 minutes reading something your not sure you want to read


Prayer groups, indeed “schools of prayer,” are today one of the signs and one of the driving forces of renewal of prayer in the Church, provided they drink from authentic wellsprings of Christian prayer. Concern for ecclesial communion is a sign of true prayer in the Church.


The church, the house of God, is the proper place for the liturgical prayer of the parish community. It is also the privileged place for adoration of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The choice of a favorable place is not a matter of indifference for true prayer.

·         For personal prayer, this can be a “prayer corner” with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father.48 In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common.

I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.