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Cloud of Witnesses

September 27, 2010

One of the most important supports of the spiritual life is reading. If we neglect this, it may happen that our personal prayer will dry up, become listless and forgetful and disoriented. How could it not? No human effort is carried on faithfully and fruitfully without some kind of input. The top scientist reads the literature to see what others have discovered in his field; the top chef visits other cooks for new inspiration for his cuisine; even a great writer enjoys other writers, seeing more clearly from the midst of his own efforts what they sought to achieve and whether they did.

Find a spiritual book that wakens your heart and helps you to enter the place within yourself where God speaks to you with clarity and peace. Scripture, of course, lives of the saints, poetry of those who seek God, reflections of wise spiritual teachers – all of these can help. Don’t worry if you are not helped by what helps your nearest neighbor. You have your own history and your own needs; what helps another may leave you cold. Spiritual reading is completely personal and nobody has to be satisfied with your choice except you, yourself. The discernment whether this is the right reading for you is whether it helps you to pray.

Some people are genuinely helped by theological works that quiet their tumultuous, questioning minds, works that would bore others or make them tense with the intellectual effort. Several prayer-book periodicals, such as The Word Among Us, and Magnificat, supply daily prayers, inspirational readings, and lives of the saints, a rich menu. Some people find one helpful book and stay with it for years. One of the pleasures of being a mother is reading children’s lives of the saints, simple examples of holiness among the poor.

I think of the story of St. Germaine. There’s a nobody of a saint! She was a little girl – she never did grow up – who had no family, and for some reason she had a sore that would not heal. The family that more or less took her in would not let her live in the house lest their children become infected, so she lived with their animals and took the sheep to pasture each day. Hers is a story of the love of God transforming a life that was – that seemed – destined for complete nothingness.

Or here is Dominic, full of intellect, or St. Francis Xavier, full of zeal. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is one of my favorites because of her great love and because I like her joy at reaching the mission after so many years of persecution. Then, at the end of her life, her face became beautiful, a sign the resurrection, new bodies.

St. Paul encourages us this way: “Surrounded as we are by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every hindrance… and run with perseverance.

We are not alone!

Surrounded and upheld

by the saints who continually renew

the evidence of God’s presence in time,

particularly the evidence of his faithfulness to the most helpless,

a mother is not alone,

even in the night watches.

Spiritual reading refreshes her awareness of these holy ones

who assure her that her difficulties

are not impossible,

nor even unforeseen,

and her efforts are not wasted.

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