Soon summer will be here as schools complete this academic year, and families and individuals set out on vacations. For many, the summer also offers another kind of getaway. Relaxing at the beach, or in the mountains, or beside a lake, or in the woods, or even a “stay-cation” at home, offers a chance to read a book – digital for many these days, but hardcover or paperback are still available.
Bestseller lists offer ideas for mysteries, thriller or romance novels, or new books about heroes or villains from dramatic eras of history or the world of sports. But I would also recommend that in addition to – or instead of – escapism, you consider looking for some spiritual growth in your reading, which actually can offer more relaxation, peace of mind, and even a change of heart and life.
The best place to start is with sacred scripture. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to have the Bible with them every day to read and open their hearts to God’s word. Readers can find the entire Bible online at many places and if you wish to follow along with the Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ provides the day’s Mass readings at its website.
Saints’ biographies and writings also offer a treasure trove for today’s readers, as those saints themselves will attest. For example, in 1521, a soldier was wounded in battle after being hit by a cannon ball. As he recuperated from his injury, he read a life of Christ and stories about the saints. That changed the life of that man, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus, an order whose educational and evangelical efforts have brought Christ to millions over the past five centuries.
You can find your own spiritual classic to read and treasure. Saints like Teresa of Avila, Augustine of Hippo, and Thérèse of Lisieux wrote poignantly about their spiritual journeys, and biographies of contemporary saints like Saint John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta also offer great inspiration. Saint Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” played in important part in my priestly vocation – and still does today.
It is not only non-fiction that qualifies as spiritual classics. Modern Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, J.R.R. Tolkien and Graham Greene have written masterworks of fiction – from novels to short stories to poetry – with Catholic themes animated by their faith.
Reading traditional summer fare can offer a relaxing diversion. If you make time for spiritual reading, however, you can also open your minds and hearts to God’s word and other rich treasures of our faith, which are not only page turners, but life changers.