“I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take and read; take and read.” — St Augustine, The Confessions
In the Rule of St Benedict there is an instruction that the Abbot should give the monks a book to read aduring Lent. We’re used to choosing our own books, but it’s much more exciting and challenging to read the books we are given. Like a little Lent, it is also sometimes a penance.
Just as St Augustine was prompted by the Spirit to ‘take and read’ by the circumstances around him, so we often have books thrown across our path seemingly by accident. We should pay attention, for there are no accidents.
I am just starting my job as chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, and somehow or other the TAN biography of St John Bosco appeared on my desk. This is not the sort of book I would select. It’s an uncritical hagiography written for mass consumption. It is chock full of pious children, miracle stories and a holy death. My intellectual instincts make me turn up my nose at books like this. The miracle stories are a bit too mouth-gapingly credulous, and the saint’s simple piety brings out the cynicism in me. My eyes start to roll and a little sneer starts to form.
But that’s my weakness, not my strength. In fact, the life of St John Bosco is exactly the sort of book I should be reading as I begin my work with young people, and if I had tossed this book aside with disdain, I would have missed not only a whole new view of life, but also an introduction to a precious new brother in heaven.
So instead of avoiding the books that annoy you, why not avoid the books that please you? The books that please you are likely to re-inforce your prejudices and make you even more complacent and self satisfied. Instead, read the books you are given. Read the books that life tosses into your path unexpectedly. Read the books you would otherwise avoid; the books that challenge you and make you think twice.
They’re the books that make you stand on your head and see the world as it really is.