Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Plea for an Upgrade in Favor of Booking it

Saints Who Battled Satan: 
Seventeen Holy Warriors Who Can Teach You How to Fight the Good Fight and Vanquish Your Ancient Enemy. 
Thigpen, Paul. 
TAN Books. Kindle Edition. 

One of those plus-minus trade-offs in the "Corona" shutdown/lock-down, in terms of dealing with immobility or down time, has been a new or different confrontation with the old struggle to give book reading its proper place in my life. Sort of like with the popular description or application of what St. Ignatius of Loyola was talking about in his discernment of spirits, we learn time and again that good literature buoys up our spirits, makes for the best possible mental hygiene. Reading good books is, dare I say, better for you than regular flossing and a daily constitutional. Reading can indeed steady the keel of the old boat and get you back to sailing.

In that vein, I would recommend Thigpen's book to one and all. I have any number of reasons for doing so. At the top of the list would come its offering on the topic of redemptive suffering, as illustrated in the chapters on St. Gemma Galgani and St. Pietro of Pietralcina (Padre Pio). In much the same vein, for priests I highly recommend taking time to mull over the earlier chapter on St. Jean Marie Vianney, recounting his violent altercations with Satan always in the night before hearing the confession of some great sinner and claiming that soul once again for Christ.

Thigpen writes clearly and especially on the role of redemptive suffering in the life of a Christian sums it up well:  

"Yet even if we accept that our Father in heaven is incensed by heinous crimes on earth, we may still question the words that Gemma heard. Would God’s Son, who Himself suffered terribly for the sins of the world, call for willing victims to make reparations for that sinful world as well? Can our sufferings actually become redemptive in that way? According to age-old Catholic tradition, the answer is yes" (p. 156).

Take and read this book not only for what it offers on redemptive suffering, but on the nature of the Christian life as battle, as a real and necessarily hard fought struggle with principalities and powers.

One of the lessons I learned at some point or another in my introduction to the spiritual life was that if you seem to be at peace, somehow serene, it probably means the Devil has you down for the count. We would be deceiving ourselves if we thought that heroic virtue could possibly come for us at a lower price than it did for saints like Anthony the Abbot, Benedict or Francis of Assisi. It is good for us to read about the great hero/warriors, who were pummeled by demons, bruised physically, and even like Padre Pio left on the ground in a pool of his own blood by the Enemy.

As a young diplomat, I was taught to dedicate primary time to reading newspapers. As part of my job, back in the late '80's in Vienna, I must have skimmed about fourteen of them every weekday. Fortunately, I have been assigned to some countries without newspapers or countries where my ignorance of Slavic languages has spared me that exercise. Knocking on age 70, I think today I may have better reasons for questioning the good sense of dedicating so much time, as one is tempted to do today with all the commentators on the internet, to what amounts to  same old/same old. I would not discourage anyone else from seeing their raison d'être as a diplomat or whatever in keeping up with current events. No, it's just that as with St. Ignatius, I come away from the Bible or the Lives of the Saints refreshed, as opposed to dumbed down or worse by all the rest.

For all those who do not read for a living, I would still encourage you to make booking it an important part of your lives. The expression "intellectual stimulation" does not speak to me, but good books open up to me the possibility of encounter with lived virtue and real love for the Lord, for His Blessed Mother and the Saints. Books and prayerful reflection can open a window and perhaps even a door onto the communion of saints, the society of heaven, please God, my destiny and yours.


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