There is a saying, ‘If you want to become a saint, spend time with other saints.’ There is also another saying, ‘You are the sum of the five people you spend most time with’. There is a logic in both of these statements. Inevitably we become like those people we spend time with. We pick up their habits and sayings, their attitudes and approach to life.
When we face discouragement or lose our get-up-and-go in life, it is often because of a mindset that has crept over us without our realising. It is seen more dramatically in the slow shift of children from being bounce-out-of-bed toddlers to ‘just a few more minutes in bed’ teenagers desperate not to leave the comfort of the blankets! Still, there is something of that cycle in all of us. We are energised and feel motivated towards a project and gradually we can lose heart. Nay-sayers and joy-robbers can put us off something we feel passionate about and eventually we adopt their mindset towards whatever it is we embarked upon without even realising it. We have been slowly channeled into to giving up.
This cycle we experiences as humans in the natural world in the things of day to day living also exists in the supernatural world, the life and things of the spirit. Our zeal for the Lord can become diminished, we can feel we don’t pray the way we used to, or we just struggle generally in coming to prayer. It is an ongoing effort to persevere. This is where the reading about the lives of the saints comes into its own. It is, in effect, ‘spending time with other saints’. By filling our minds and hearts with information about their lives we are in effect doing the opposite of what the joy-robbers do. We not only are mentally inspired by their witness and lives but also, because of our very real connection to them in the Holy Spirit, they are interceding for us and helping us. This isn’t the same as self-help literature, or rather, it is – but with an added extra supernatural boost! Real life on-hand mentors and guardians. Self-help literature can be excellent for reframing our thinking but, more often than not, the person who wrote the book isn’t a saint in heaven praying for us and helping us to put into practice what they taught.
Spiritual reading is an extremely useful practice that allows us to adopt an optimistic-joy-filled-hope-overflowing attitude – to become like the people we aspire to be. Consequently we are reinvigorated and filled with the zeal that we thought we had lost. With the saints on our side and their God-given wisdom and insight informing us, we become like them.
‘O Lord you have renewed our youth like the eagle’s’ we read in one of the psalms. The eagle is used to represent Saint John the Evangelist, the ‘beloved disciple’ who rested on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper. Traditionally John is always portrayed as the youngest of the Apostles. His youthfulness, or child-like spirit allowed him to be faithful to Jesus and remain at the foot of the Cross when all the other apostles had abandoned the Lord. His young-at-heart-approach gave him the zeal to do the right thing and follow through even though it must have been unimaginably difficult to see His master being killed before his own eyes. When we feel the weight of our cross, reading about those who have ‘been there and done that’, allows us to regain our vigour and enthusiasm in order to be renewed in spirit and crack on in a new attitude towards that which we have been finding difficult. Saint John could persevere because he had just the very day before the Crucifixion spent time coming close to the Lord, leaning on His heart and listening to His inspiring words. He had been ‘spiritually reading’ the Lord’s heart. This refreshed John and gave him the zeal to persevere, to stay faithful to Jesus and be the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’.