Series: Know Mary, Know Jesus

Padre Pio insists … “Nourish Your Soul”

Padre Pio insists:

“Nourish Your Soul by Devout Reading”

Padre Pio is the Catholic priest who bore on his body the five bleeding wounds of Christ for 50 years, from 1918 until his death in 1968. He was deeply devoted to Our Lady of Fatima, Who miraculously cured him of a lingering sickness in 1959. This miraculous intervention of Our Lady took place when the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima came to his monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo.

The following is a letter written by Padre Pio to one of his spiritual children explaining the great importance of spiritual reading:

Padre Pio raises his stigmatized hand in blessing at Holy Mass. It was only during Mass that the wounds in his hands were uncovered. For 50 years the wounds neither healed nor ever got infected, and the hole in each hand was so wide that you could see right through the hand.

As regards your reading, there is very little to be admired and hardly anything by which to be edified. It is absolutely necessary for you to add to such reading that of the holy books so highly recommended by all the Holy Fathers of the Church. I cannot dispense you from such spiritual reading, for I have your perfection too much at heart. If you want to gain the quite unhoped-for fruit from such reading, it will be well to rid yourself of the prejudice you have with regard to the style and form in which these holy books are set forth.

Get to work, then. Make an effort in this respect, and don’t neglect to ask the Divine assistance with all humility. There is a deep deception in this matter and I cannot and do not wish to conceal it from you. I want to tell you, to my great embarrassment, that I too was similarly deceived and if the merciful God in His goodness had not revealed this deception to me in due course, who knows where a headlong fall might not have landed me?

I really owe this testimony to the truth, namely, that I never felt the least attraction for the type of reading that might sully moral innocence and purity, for I held quite naturally in greatest abhorrence even the slightest obscenity. In my readings, which were not improper but were invariably profane, I sought merely scientific satisfaction and the pastime of honest mental recreation. Yet in spite of my innocent intentions, such readings produced deep wounds in my heart and if they did nothing else they kept me at a standstill and never helped me to acquire even a single virtue. The worst aspect of this was that my love for God grew colder and colder.

The grace of our heavenly Father, ever attentive, saved me from many dangers and seemed somehow to be battling with my will so as to prevent me from being entirely lost. It seemed as if the good God, with fatherly solicitude and loving insistence, was seeking an effective means to call me back to Him, while I myself was foolishly fleeing, always fleeing from Him. But in the end I was vanquished by Divine grace. Oh, how happy I was to have been conquered by so dear a Father! Oh, blessed for ever be this most tender Spouse for His exceeding patience and goodness towards such a wretched creature as myself!

I am horrified, my dear sister, at the damage done to souls by their failure to read holy books.

Listen to the way the Holy Fathers express themselves when they exhort us to apply ourselves to this type of reading. St. Bernard, in the scale of values he established for his cloistered monks, recognizes four degrees or means by which to reach God and perfection, namely reading and meditation, prayer and contemplation. As proof of what he says, he quotes the Divine Master’s own words: “Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7, Lk. 11:9). He goes on to apply these words to the four means to degrees of perfection and says that by reading Sacred Scripture and other holy and pious books we are seeking God; by meditation we find Him, by prayer we knock at the door of His Heart and by contemplation enter the theater of divine delight which has been opened to our mental gaze by reading, meditation and prayer (ST. BERNARD,Scala claustralium sive Tractatus de modo orandi, Chap. 2:PL 184, 476, No.2).

Elsewhere the Saint tells us that reading is, as it were, spiritual food applied to the palate of the soul; meditation chews it by its reasoning, while prayer savors it. Contemplation is then the very sweetness of this spiritual food which restores the soul entirely and comforts it. Reading stops at the bark or outer covering of what is read; meditation penetrates into its core; prayer goes in search of it by its questions, while contemplation enjoys it as something already possessed (ST. BERNARD, ibid., cf Col. 475-476, No. 1).

The esteem which St. Jerome had for the reading of holy books is incredible. He exhorts Salvina to have holy books always at hand, for these are a strong shield to ward off all the evil thoughts which attack people in their youth (ST. JEROME, Epist. ad Salvinam, 79: PL, Vol. 22, Col. 730-731). He teaches the same thing to St. Paulinus: “Always keep the holy book in your hands,” he tells him, “that it may nourish your soul by devout reading.” (ST. JEROME, Letters: PL, Vol. 22, Col. 579). To the widow Furia he suggests frequent reading of Sacred Scripture and the writings of those Doctors whose doctrine is holy and wholesome, in order to avoid the fatigue involved in searching for the gold of holy and healthful teachings in the quagmire of false documents (Ibid.: PL, Vol. 22, Col. 550). To Demetriade he writes: “Love reading Holy Scripture if you want to be loved by Divine Wisdom, if you want Her to guard and possess you. You used to adorn yourself in various ways,” adds the holy Doctor at once, “you wore jewels on your bosom, necklaces at your throat, jeweled earrings. For the future let holy readings be your gems and your jewels by which to adorn your soul with holy thoughts and devout statements.” (Letters, cit.: PL, 22, Col. 1124).

St. Gregory expresses himself in the same way, using the allegory of the mirror: “Spiritual books are like a mirror which God places before us in order that we may see ourselves in them and hence correct our faults and adorn ourselves with every virtue. Just as vain women look at themselves frequently in the mirror and there remove every blemish from their faces, adjust their hair and adorn themselves in a thousand ways in order to appear charming in the eyes of others, so too, the Christian must frequently place the holy books before his eyes in order to perceive the faults he must correct and the virtues by which he must adorn himself so as to be pleasing in the sight of his God.” (ST. GREGORY, Moralia, Lib. 2, c. 1).

I refrain from mentioning other authorities. However, I point out to you the power of holy reading to lead even worldly persons to change their course and enter on the path of perfection. For this purpose it suffices you to consider the conversion of St. Augustine. Who was it that won this great man over to God? His ultimate conqueror was neither his mother by her tears nor the great St. Ambrose by his divine eloquence, but the reading of a book.

Those who read his Confessions cannot keep back their tears. What a desperate battle, what violent conflicts he endured in his poor heart because of his enormous reluctance to give up his lewd sensual pleasures. He says of himself that he was compelled to utter groans and laments while his will was bound as if by a strong chain and that the infernal enemy confined his will in the fetters of a cruel necessity. He goes on to say that he experienced mortal agony in abandoning his loose morals and adds that when his mind was almost made up, his former follies and pleasures pulled him back from his good resolutions and murmured around him: “Are you giving us up then? From this moment on are we never to be with you any more?”

But while the Saint battled with such tumultuous feelings he heard a voice which said to him: take up and read. He at once obeyed this voice and as he read a chapter of St. Paul the thick darkness in his mind was dispelled, all the hardness vanished from his heart and he became perfectly calm and serene. From that moment he made a clean break with the world, the devil and the flesh, devoted himself completely to the service of God and became the great Saint who is honored today on our altars. (ST. AUGUSTINE, Confessions, Bk. 8, Chap. 12).

History also tells us that St. Ignatius of Loyola, as the result of a spiritual reading which he made from no spirit of devotion but with the sole desire to escape from the boredom of a painful infirmity, was transformed from a captain in the army of an earthly king into a captain at the service of the King of Heaven. This change was wrought in St. Ignatius of Loyola after he had read the Life of Christ, by the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony and a Castilian Lives of the Saints. (Cf. Christopher Hollis, St. Ignatius, Sheed and Ward, London 1931).

Again, we read of St. Columban that through reading a holy book (Vita S. Columbani abbatis, auctore Jona: PL, 87, Col. 1016, No. 9) to please his wife rather than from devotion, he found himself completely changed and consecrated his life entirely to God.

Now, if the reading of holy books had the power to convert worldly men into spiritual persons, how very powerful must not such reading be in leading spiritual men and women to greater perfection?

I deal with just one example here, namely, that of St. Jerome. He himself relates how he withdrew from the splendor of Rome and retired to Palestine, where he spent his days and nights in fasts and vigils, in prayer and harsh penances. Even in a life of such severity, he still had a fault which was very detrimental to his spiritual progress. This was his immoderate love for profane books and a certain repugnance for reading holy books because of what he considered to be the uncultured literary style in which they were written. As he himself admits, he saw a defect and a fault in the sun instead of recognizing a defect in his own eyesight.

A severe remedy was required to make him come to his senses. The Lord sent him an infirmity which reduced him to the point of death. When he was about to die, the Lord carried him in spirit up to the Judgment Seat, where he was asked who he was. The saint replied: “I am a Christian and I profess no other faith than Yours, O my Lord.” “You are lying,” replied the Divine Judge, “you are a Ciceronian (the saint was very fond of Cicero’s writings) for where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” Then the Divine Judge ordered him to be scourged. The pain of the blows caused the saint to weep and ask for mercy, crying out in a loud voice: “Have mercy on me, O Lord.”

The Angels who stood before the Judgment Seat began to implore mercy for him, promising the Divine Judge on his behalf that he would make amends for his fault. Then St. Jerome swore and promised with all the ardor of his soul that never again would he read secular and profane writings, but only holy books. At this point he returned to consciousness, to the astonishment of those present who had believed him dead.

The Saint goes on to tell us that this was no vision or illusion, for when he came to himself his eyes were full of tears, his shoulders bruised and his flesh wounded from the severe blows he had received. After this event the Saint gave himself up with great fervor to the reading of holy books which were of very great benefit to him …

Your Servant Padre Pio

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