ARE WE TO READ ONLY HOLY BOOKS?
I read a lot but much of it is ephemeral fiction. If I am to be a good Catholic should I stop this and only read Catholic books?
Many of the saints show us an example of single-minded dedication to the work of the Lord, shunning any secular entertainments, and spiritual writers often warn us about wasting time on trivial pastimes. However, they also tell us that recreation is part of a balanced life. St Francis de Sales says:
‘There can be no doubt that it is a defect to be so rigorous, boorish and unsociable as not to be willing to take any recreation ourselves, or permit others to do so.’ Reading popular books, enjoying sports or hobbies, or engaging in other recreations, can help us to unwind, to be balanced in our life and outlook, and cultivate good relationships with others.
What St Francis de Sales and other writers do insist on is a proper balance in our activities. The holy bishop uses the example of playing chess for five or six hours, leaving us exhausted and weary in spirit. Today, highly sophisticated entertainments are available to us that are open to misuse or even act as a kind of addiction. Books are written to a formula that makes them ‘unputdownable’, computer games lure people to spend hours trying to complete a level and television programmes are designed to hook us so that we give too high a priority to catching the next episode.
In the language of St Francis de Sales, we should not set our affection on recreation ‘to such an extent that we long for them, occupy ourselves with them and become too eager about them’. In other words, recreations should serve us as part of a balanced life, not become our master. So with books there is no harm in reading fiction to relax, but we should also find time to read books that deepen our faith and spiritual life, and exercise self-control over how much of ourselves we give to any recreation that threatens to take over and use up too much of our time and energy.”
– This article entitled “Catholic Dilemmas” by Fr Tim Finigan was published in “The Catholic Herald” issue March 28 2014. For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).