by St. Alphonsus De Liguori
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, as certain nuns do, who devour books, seeking only to finish them in a short time, and to gratify curiosity. What profit do they expect to draw from 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. Hence the saint corrected a physician called Theodore for reading spiritual books quickly and without profit.
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 read; 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.
My Lord, I thank Thee for so many helps and lights that Thou givest me, in order to make me a saint, and to unite me always more closely to Thee. When will the day arrive on which I shall see myself freed from all earthly affections, and entirely united to Thy heart, which is so enamored ,of my soul! I hope for all things from Thy infinite mercy. My Jesus, I cannot bear to see myself any longer ungrateful to Thy love, as I have hitherto been. Create a clean heart in me, O God. Lord, give me a new heart that will think only of pleasing Thee. This desire that Thou givest me makes me hope for Thy grace. My God, I believe in Thee, and for Thy faith I would give my life a thousand times. I hope in Thee through the merits of Jesus Christ; without them I should be lost. O Sovereign Good, I love Thee; and for the love of Thee, I renounce all things, and embrace every pain and every cross that Thou wishest to send me. I have offended Thee, but I feel more sorrow for having offended Thee, than if I had suffered every other misfortune. I now sigh only for Thy grace and love. My God, assist me, have mercy on me.
Holy Virgin, assist me by Thy prayers, which obtain from God whatever Thou askest. My Mother, recommend me to Thy Son; do not forget me.