where faith meets reason
In the spiritual life, to stand still is to go backward. Therefore, the serious Catholic is always forging ahead; it is prayer and reading that move us along. For a Catholic, the exercise of the mind probing the mysteries of the Faith, and the exercise of the spirit in worship are like the two wings of a dove. One without the other is an imbalance. Reading informs prayer, and prayer informs reading.
The Catholic faith is like a suitcase with no bottom: there is no end to the unpacking. And that’s what captivates us: the Faith is so much bigger than we are. No matter how old we get, there is still more.
So we study. We read things that make us gasp in wonder, fall silent in awe, provoke our minds to pursue what those before us have discovered. When we are reading truly good spiritual material, the reading becomes prayer. The best of Catholic literature makes you go deep inside.
To assist reason in its effort to understand the mystery there are the signs which Revelation itself presents. These serve to lead the search for truth to new depths, enabling the mind in its autonomous exploration to penetrate within the mystery by use of reason’s own methods, of which it is rightly jealous.
St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 13
It’s said that the internet has made physical book reading obsolete, so some wonder if the Cathedral Library will be just a beautiful adornment with no great use. I don’t think so. It’s easy enough to read light novels on a screen, but navigating long or deep texts in an intuitive way is difficult on screens. Reading on screen is like being in a 6-foot deep pool; even if you had the breath to dive much deeper, you’re limited by the space. Reading a physical book is more like treading water over the Mariana Trench; it’s seven miles to the bottom so there’s virtually no limit to how far you dive.
Think about reading a spiritual text in adoration: you periodically stop to ponder something. If you’re on a screen, your device probably goes to sleep, so you have to log in again, and find the place you left. On a physical page however, with the book resting in your lap, your eye tends to go right back to where you left off, without disturbing the environment of contemplation, which is notoriously difficult to recover.
What about serious spiritual study, the sort required to profit from reading Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, St. Augustine’s City of God, a tractate of the Summa Theologica, or St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body – that is, texts that require intense concentration?
Or books that require personal introspection, like de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence, de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, or St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul? These classics could be read on-screen, but would the deep penetration of the spirit by the text occur in the same way?
What about Frank Sheed’s reflection on the Trinity in Theology and Sanity? I can’t imagine that experience being comparable when read on the same device where I play Sudoku and check the weather.
Or try reading Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence, where he just comes right out and tells you to ditch the screen for any spiritual reading or liturgy!
Reading and re-reading is characteristic of spiritual comprehension. Sometimes we read a line that we sense is significant, but we only “get it” on the third or fourth repetition. Finding and re-reading a particular passage is tough going on a device, but our brains actually perform a “mapping” function when we read on a physical page. We are gifted with a physical sense of where a certain passage appears in a book. It’s like taking a hike in the hills; we have a sense of where the path crossed the stream, and how far back the clearing was.
Prove it to yourself. Read something sacred on your phone. Absorb it, turn it over in your mind. Let it rest and then go back to it. Now try the same thing with a paged book. Compare the experiences.
I believe the Library will be well used by those who are serious about growing in their faith, those who are pursuing the Mystery, and want to follow in the footsteps of the great saints and theologians who came before us. People who are new to the Faith, such as RCIA participants, and those who are returning to the Faith after an absence, will be particularly well-served. A good parish library is an evangelization tool.
Faith meets reason in a parish library, where we can be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The Cathedral Library is being assembled right now. Stay tuned for the Grand Opening this fall.