Reading makes saints!

St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, once said: “Reading has made many saints!” This is what came to mind today as I reflected on the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola and how a book changed his life. Ignatius was a solider in the Spanish army fighting against the French when a cannon ball and a series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521 and left him confined to bed for a long recovery period.  It was not pain that brought him suffering, it was the boredom. During his days of recovery he asked for books on chivalry, his favourite reading, but there were no such romances in the Loyola castle. So instead he was given the only books in the house -- one was a Life of Christ by Ludolph, a Carthusian monk, and the other was Flos sanctorum, a collection of lives of the saints. Iñigo set about reading them, and as it happened, this was the most important reading he would ever do. During his convalescence Iñigo reflected on the books he read and went on to question his former life, asking: "Why can I not walk these same glorious paths as did the saints?" The more he reflected, the more he was convinced that he needed to do penance, and so he resolved to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One evening in mid-August, 1521, Our Lady with the Infant Jesus visited him in his room, a visit that brought him much consolation. This was his night of conversion and transformation; he now detested his former way of life and was determined to follow the paths of the saints. As he continued to read his books, he continued to reflect; and the more he reflected, the more did God become the centre of his life. It started with a book!

Even our own Founder, Blessed James Alberione, had his life changed upside down because of a book! As a young seminarian, he read some books which were not on the list of approved books for seminarians and because of this was asked to leave the seminary. He went home very disillusioned to his family and was enveloped in a cloud of profound melancholy and sadness because he desired greatly to become a priest. But this was all part of God’s plan and not long afterwards he was accepted in a seminary in a different province by a benevolent bishop. Alberione would then go on to found the Pauline Family composed of ten different Institutes who use among other modern means, books, to spread the word of God in hundreds of countries throughout the world.

Books have a huge place in my own life, now more than ever since I returned to post-graduate studies. However I have always been a bookworm. As a child I read all the Roahl Dahl, Enid Bylton (Famous Five, Mallory Towers, Twins at St. Clares) series before moving on to Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Point Thriller and many more. I did start nudging into the lives of the saints when I was a teenager thanks to my aunt and my nana. I am still a huge lover of the lives of the saints and try to get to know new ones. Both my parents read a lot and I am glad to see that my nieces in particular are booklovers. I learned to read at a very early age and devoured books. Thankfully the local library was well-stocked and I became a frequent visitor. By the age of ten, I had more or less read everything in the children’s section so I was given a special pass to get books in the adult section, plus I was allowed take out 8 books and not 4! This was heaven! Birthday or Christmas presents have been easy for friends and family: book vouchers, book tokens, Amazon vouchers or stationery! You can never have too much stationery! However I am always happy when someone chooses a book for me because of my interests or because they think I’d like it. Some of my treasured possessions are books which special friends or family members have given me throughout the years. One of those books which really got me thinking about my faith and vocation was the ‘Diary of St. Faustina’, also known as the Divine Mercy Diary. Her story and her personal search for God led me to ask many questions about my own life and planted a deep desire within me to strive for holiness, to attend Mass, to read the Scriptures and to earnestly see if He was calling me to serve Him in religious life. I still have that Diary and return to it at times to relive that first zeal that this Polish saint passed onto me with her writings.

Books link me to my friends, we discuss what each one is reading, share and exchange books. Over my recent holidays I had lots of time to read but was under strict orders that it not be Canon Law! I kind of obeyed! The fun starts though when you move around as much as I do! The move back to Ireland next year shall be interesting as I have accumulated a library here too. Yes, I have moved into the electronic world of books but there is still something magical about holding an actual paper book when you read, turning the pages, seeing how much more you have to go. You just don’t get that effect with an e-reader or a tablet. Plus I like passing books onto others and building up a library that others can use and consult. Afterall, the friendship of good books is the medicine of life.