In a time of war: Read!

As the Second World War is in  full swing, many recently married couples are still travelling to  Rome in the summer of 1940 to  receive the blessing of the Vicar of Christ, at that time Pope Pius  XII. Surprisingly in his speeches,  the Holy Father is not addressing  directly the reality of the beautiful sacrament of marriage that they received but the readings... the good and the bad readings!

Peace like the white dove of the  flood could not find where to land  on the earth flooded by violence,  but nevertheless the Pope wants  to focus the attention of the  young couples of a world without  hope toward “distractions”.  

Speech to newlyweds on July 31, 1940 and  on August 7, 1940. The quotes of this article  will be taken from these two speeches. 

The Pope Pacelli, under his beautiful pen, takes the time to explain first what the book is, what  reading is and shows then how  there are two kind of books: the  ones that built our past and lead  us to heaven, the ones that are a  poison leading the soul toward an  enmity with God.  

In this time of Lent, it is good  for us to remember not only  that some books are our sworn  enemies but also that some of  them are our best friends, friends  waiting for us to blow off the  dust that covers their pages. It is  evident that we only change well  what we replace. Fasting from  the screens and thinking that we  can just sit on the counch without  doing anything will lead us back  to the screens: pick up a book! 

The importance of reading

“To read is to enter through  more or less complicated graphic  signs into the thoughts of others.” And we will find two kinds  of thoughts and therefore two kinds of books: “The thoughts of  the just are judgments: and the  counsels of the wicked are deceitful. The words of the wicked lie  in wait for blood: the mouth of  the just shall deliver them.”

More than a simple word, the  book, collections of words is  what the Sovereign Pontiff  describes as an “a flame that can  smoulder under the ashes or a  faint glow in the night, a glow  that suddenly reignites, beneficent or devastating.” The book  can be, like the sanctuary lamp  leading us to the divine host of  the Tabernacle or on the contrary can be a volcano that leaves  entire cities in desolation.  

Later on in his speech, the Holy  Father asks all the couples standing in the front of him: “Why are  you determined to create a home  where Jesus is King and where  you can pass on to your children  the family treasure of Christian virtues?” And he answers  that it comes from the faith they  received at their baptism, “because your parents, your parish  priest, your teachers taught you  by word and by example to do Proverbs 12:5-6 good and avoid evil.” It is what  is best in us. But he invites them  to go deeper in their memories:  “But examine your memories  even better, among the best and  the more decisive ones, your will  probably find the memory of a  beneficient book.” On the other  hand if we want to examine what  is worse in us, to understand  why our imagination is wounded,  you will also certainly find a bad  book along with bad friends, bad  movies, bad music,... 

The happy influence of good  reading 

There are many saints who were  converted by reading. We could  spend these lines on the famous  “Tolle, lege - take and read” that  was adressed to saint Augustine and lead to his conversion. It was  the reading of the Holy Bible. 

But there is another shining  example in the life of the Church,  the example of a saint full of the  fire of apostolate, who before  reading...was a knight thirsty of  glory and pleasures. This saint  is Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the  founder of the Jesuits. Wounded  by a bullet under the walls of  Pamplona he had to recover in a  bleak castle. To get rid of bore dom he would have like to read  chivalry or romance novels, liked  the famous Amadis, but none of  these books were around. He was  forced to read the other ones that were available: the Great Life of  Our Lord by Ludolph the Carthusian, or the Golden Legends  (reading on the saints) written  by Jacobus de Voragine. After a  while, under the horizon of Inigo  de Loyola new heroes took place  of the soldiers in armor, silhouettes of saints that before he  only glimpsed in short instants of  prayer: “the shadows of martyrs  covered with blood, monks with  grey hoods, virgins with lily  clothes took shape.” The admiration turned into imitation.  

Everybody probably remembers  a good book, an edifying story  that brought tears...reading it that  evening your heart stopped beat ing and the Holy Ghost marked  your soul so deeply that it is still  enlightening your path today.  

A good book has many advantages. If you can turn a deaf ear  to the advice of your parents, of  your spouse,...they will give up,  but the book will never abondon  you, always keeping for you “the  salutary bitterness of his reproaches, the clear light of his  advice.” And these reproaches  or comforting words will adress  themselves to you under the silence of a lamp and through your  eyes alone “no one will hear his  voice but your own heart.”  

We could now warn against the poison of the bad  books but let us rather give some concrete advice  to give an importance reading in our family lives.  

Have my family read and love  reading 

The child needs to learn how to  read on mother’s lap, taking the  time to examine the pictures at  first, to describe them and then  as he knows how to read to have books adapted to his age (font size, vocabulary, stories,...).  

It is important in the family to  have moment of silence and of  reading, where the example of the whole family leads toward good books and often results in interesting discussions. It is very important for the child - because he will soon be a teenager - and  cultivating openess is necessary.  

The moments are important, but  also the place, the library, the  covers, from the old books to the  new ones. The book is respected  and loved for its real value. It  does not mean that we need to  have only lives of saints, but the  action needs to unfold in a whole some and upright background, a  path of virtue. 

And the Pope to end said: “Seek the good in this area as in  others, make it a habit to live  under God’s gaze and faithful to  his law: You will then make your  home an intimate Tabor inaccessible to the miasma of the  plain and where you will be able  to say with St. Peter: “Master, it is good for us to be here.”


by Father Michel Rion