Sustain your prayer life with regular spiritual reading

Many people take up mental prayer, intending to pursue God through prayer their entire lives. Yet only a small percentage of them persevere. How can we keep our original enthusiasm and dedication? One way is by reading good spiritual books regularly.
I have consistently found that the times I am most focused on God are the times I have been reading about Christ or the saints. Other Catholics share this experience. Why would this be so?
In “Conversation with Christ: An Introduction to Mental Prayer,” Father Peter Thomas Rohrbach, OCD, writes, “We live in a world devoid, in great part, of a Christian spirit, in an atmosphere and culture estranged from God …. We must, if we are to remain realistically attached to Christ, combat this atmosphere and surround ourselves with a new one. Constant spiritual reading fills our minds with Christ and His doctrine – it creates this new climate for us” (p. 142).
Spiritual reading makes up for the lack of Christian culture, for the support we should be getting, but often are not getting, from people, media and other things around us.
Spiritual reading also inspires us to live a life of loving God and neighbor. Prayer is a loving conversation. We can apply St. Teresa of Avila’s dictate on prayer to spiritual reading: “Do whatever moves you to love” (“Interior Castle,” 4.1).  Spiritual reading should not be confused with studying the faith. As important as knowledge of the faith is, what we are seeking here is inspiration to help us love more.  
What should we read then? As we have noted previously, the Gospel is the best source for daily meditation. Through the Gospel, we come to know and love Christ better. If you already use the Gospel for prayer, try something else for spiritual reading.
There is an endless supply of spiritual books, but not all of them are good or helpful. Spiritual Catholic books, especially those written by saints, are always a good choice. Some of my recommendations for beginners include “Story of a Soul” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales and “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis. These books have long been favorites of those seeking Christ. 
Biographies of modern saints, such as Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, or Padre Pio, are also good choices. For other contemporary works, I recommend anything by Father Jacques Philippe or Dan Burke, or any spiritual book published by Sophia Institute Press. My own book, “Trusting God with St. Therese,” has helped many people grow closer to Christ.
How long should you read each day? It might surprise you to hear that reading shorter passages can be more productive than reading whole chapters. Look for just one idea that you can think about throughout the day, or one small change you can make in your life. In just 10 minutes a day, spiritual reading can keep your original enthusiasm alive, or revive a love for God that is growing cold. 
If you find your dedication to mental prayer floundering, start reading a spiritual book daily outside of your time of mental prayer. It is much easier to remain faithful when you are reading how others have lived a life of grace.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.
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