How to Read Like the Saints

In my early adult years, I enjoyed hanging out at big-box bookstores, sipping on a cup of coffee while flipping through the pages of some random book. One of the books that I arbitrarily picked up was “Confessions” by Saint Augustine. I was born and raised Catholic, but up until that day, I had just been going through the motions and hadn’t taken my faith seriously. But after finishing a full cup of coffee and reading halfway through “Confessions,” I paused and thought to myself, “Wow! This is mind-blowing stuff.” Deep inside I was echoing Saint Augustine: “Oh beauty so ancient and yet so new, too late have I known you, too late have I loved you.” “Confessions” reawakened my faith that day and gave my spiritual journey a boost to get back on track. 

But the deeper I got into adult life, the busier I’ve become. Lately, finding the time to hang out at a bookstore, sip on a cup of coffee, and get lost in a good book is a struggle. Plus, it’s so easy to spend my leisure time scrolling through social media rather than practicing deep spiritual reading. But I long for the transformation that comes from deep reading. There’s something about immersing myself in a story, going on a journey with spiritual heroes like Saint Augustine, digging deep into their insights and sharing in their struggles as well as their triumphs. Deep reading gives me the opportunity to discern how the lives of the saints apply to my life today. And we need only turn to the saints for wisdom about how to practice this sort of deep reading. Here are three ways that I’ve learned to read like the saints (in order to work on living more like one).  

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Read for spiritual fulfillment

Even though Saint Augustine’s story is from 1,600 years ago, I found myself relating to it. He was living a restless life away from God until one day, he heard a voice call out to him saying, “Take up and read.” He did just that, picked up the Bible, and read Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romans 13:13:34, to be exact). His life was changed from that moment forward. After that fateful reading, Augustine gave his heart to the Lord and was baptized into the faith, serving as a priest, and then as a bishop. 

It might have felt random, and I didn’t hear a voice call out to me, but I believe it was providential that I picked up “Confessions” that day at the bookstore because similar to Augustine’s conversion story, picking up his book changed my life as well. Reading his insights opened my own eyes to the beauty of the Catholic faith. I started going to Mass every Sunday, sometimes even daily Mass. I started serving in different ministries at my parish, and, this probably goes without saying, I was hooked on reading more spiritual books. 

Read for knowledge

Edith Stein (who we now know as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) was alone waiting at a friend’s house when she picked up a book on Saint Teresa of Ávila. When she finished reading, she closed it and said, “This is the truth!” This marked the beginning of living a life of conviction, joining the Catholic Church, finding a home in a Carmelite monastery, and eventually becoming a martyr because of her beliefs. When I read the writings of Saint Teresa of Ávila today, I, too, find myself saying, “This is the truth!” I want to learn all that I can about the way of perfection and journey into my own interior castle, the soul, through prayer and being mindful of God’s presence in my life.

Read for inspiration

When Saint Ignatius of Loyola was in the hospital recovering from battle wounds, he read works by Saints Francis and Dominic. Saint Ignatius was so inspired by their stories that he turned his life around and went from a selfish and vain womanizer to someone who modeled his life after Saints Francis and Dominic. When I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, I have a tendency to pull out my phone and mindlessly scroll through my newsfeed as a diversion. And I may be inspired by friends’ posts on what restaurant to go to for dinner, but still, I’m probably better off taking that opportunity to read about the lives of the saints, finding inspiration in their holy deeds, and working to make my life more like theirs.

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Today, it takes a conscious effort to prioritize the kind of reading that reignites the mind and the soul. Summer is a friendly season to make that effort, rewire our brain connections, and reignite the neurons for deep reading. I’m looking forward to finding a spot in nature to unwind, unplug, and just get lost in a good book, especially one about a saint. When I make the time to dive deep into the lives and learnings of the saints, I often find that I’m also guided to deepen my own relationship with God. As French writer Marcel Proust put it, “The end of a book’s wisdom appears to us as merely the start of our own.” May the end of the saints’ wisdom be the beginning of ours.

Originally published August 5, 2019.