I once told a spiritual adviser that I really liked a’Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. He shook his head a bit and said he preferred to read Thomas Aquinas. He said he found the profound truths of, say, the Summa Theologica more moving spiritually than devotional works.
I tried it myself. I think he had a point.
But the point I really came away with?
To each their own.
This new book by Vicki Burbach about spiritual reading reminded me of this. I’ve long been a fan of spiritual reading, but I’ve long struggled with what place to give it in my life.
Let’s face it: Catholic spirituality is wholly impractical. Here’s a list (not exhaustive) of things that priests or books have counseled me to do every day:
Praying (adoration, repentance, thanksgiving, petition)
The Morning Offering
On top of those, there’s a host of other recommended things, though not necessary quotidian: Eucharistic Adoration, corporal acts of mercy, spiritual act of mercy, spiritual friendship, spiritual counseling, confession, lives of the saints, study of Church teachings, spiritual walking, etc. There is, of course, overlap in some of these things (e.g., lives of the saints might constitute spiritual reading), but still: Good luck fitting all that in a week, much less a day.
Quite frankly, the list of things to do can actually induce a frantic sense, or a feeling of worry that you’re not doing something you’re supposed to do. Such things, of course, are exactly the opposite of what ought to result from spiritual pursuits.
In his modern classic, The Restoration of Christian Culture, John Senior says we owe a tithe of our time to prayer. He doesn’t offer details and, in particular, doesn’t answer two questions: What is prayer? Is a “tithe” 10% of 24 hours, or 10% of waking hours, or 10% of available hours (which I define as “time not occupied by primary obligations” . . . like work to sustain one’s family)?
Regardless, it’s pretty clear he’s talking a few hours a day.
But that ain’t enough just for the daily list above. If you were to undertake each daily item in a meaningful way, you’d need about 2.5 hours (which would be approximately 10% of 24 hours) and you’d be leaving untouched the other non-daily things.
To each his own.
It seems pretty obvious to me that no one is expected to do all that, and that’s the beauty of the Church’s tradition: You don’t have to.
Every person is different. Every person is different than he was five years ago. Heck, every person is different now than he was two hours ago. Circumstances change. Moods change. Stations in life change. Heck, even personalities change (I read recently that a person’s personality changes every ten years . . . beats me).
The only constants are: (1) We have 24 hours in a day. Those 24 hours might be filled with primary obligations, leaving us with precious little discretionary time; it might be relatively unencumbered with primary obligations, but regardless, we do have 24 hours. (2) John Senior is correct: we are obligated to tithe our time to prayer.
How do you apply those two constants?
Beats me, but you have the freedom and right to decide it for yourself.
The strictures of math and logic lead me to no other conclusion. If you are given $10 and told to spend it on $100 worth of healthy foods, by logical implication you’re going to have to pick and choose among the basket of food items contained in that $100.
So let’s take our $10 worth of time and buy whatever we can. Regardless, it’s going to be better than the junk food we’d all buy if we didn’t make ourselves buy the health food.