If you knew that the person who loves you most in the world was longing to spend some time with you, would you want to meet with them? What if this person was also the only one capable of saving your soul for all eternity, not to mention blessing you abundantly on earth?
It would seem ridiculous to say “no” to getting to know them just a little better, right?
That being said, you may wonder how you can best go about getting to know this particular person. To do just that, as Catholics, it is important that we seek out and read things from our Catholic Christian tradition — immersing ourselves in the spiritual works of those who have found Christ in a very deep way in accordance with the Church. Indeed, there are many great saints who have flowered out of the community of believers, and we can turn to them to get to know God better.
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has been profoundly touched, enriched and enlightened by spiritual masters whose works are powerful enough to convert souls. It is also important to recognize that the spiritual traditions in the Church express many of the same ideas but in different ways, bearing witness to the ineffable, mosaic-like beauty of Catholicism.
St. Benedict began the first formal monastic tradition in the western Catholic Church, basing it on the Rule of St. Benedict. To this day, Benedictine spirituality is centered around the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, simplicity and the appreciation of the Holy Eucharist.
The Franciscan spiritual tradition began with St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. These saints brought about the Counter-Reformation that still marks the Church with splendor today. St. Francis is widely known for his Gospel-centered living, love of poverty, devotion to Christ Crucified, and mercy for all men and creatures. The Life of St. Francis of Assisiby St. Bonaventure, as well as The Little Flowers of St. Francis both help one to learn more about this magnificent saint.
Similar to St. Francis, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila also sparked a critical reformation within the Carmelite Order, which later influenced the entire Church in a positive way. Carmelite spirituality is a desert spirituality, which bases itself on silence, deep contemplative prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, outstanding penance, and various traditional Catholic devotions. The Story of a Soul, which is the autobiography of renowned Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux, the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, and the works of St. John of the Cross all capture the essence of Carmelite spirituality.
Furthermore, Salesian spirituality stems from the great life and work of St. Francis de Sales. The Introduction to the Devout Life is a fantastic primer for those desiring to enter more profoundly into a life of union with Christ.
Ignatian spirituality is known for educating people on the discernment of spirits. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, as well as The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher are excellent resources for learning more about this powerful spiritual tradition.
Last but not least, The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin is modern-day spiritual work that can help those who are seeking Christ, to find Him.
The rich variety of spiritual traditions we have in the Catholic Church are an indication of how diverse our Church is. There are so many different ways of following Christ and praying — and to do so, we can draw from the spiritual “greats.” But of course, we must always pray in the way that God is leading us, in a way that we can truly encounter God in conversation.