“It seems to me that recollection is especially lacking in this generation. To meditate presupposes intellectual strength, a profound insight into spiritual things, of which this generation is, for the most part, incapable.” Elisabeth Leseur writes this early in the twentieth century, when the telephone and television, let alone the deluge of computers, e-mail, and I-phones, were not yet a part of daily life, as it is in this generation a hundred years later!
She continues, “And yet, it is only by this means that one can have an interior life, of which outer life is merely an expression; only by this means can action become fruitful.” (Including intercessory prayer–jc) “What can we give to others if we have gathered nothing for ourselves? Let us first create a reservoir of thought, of energy, of prayer. Our abundance will overflow to others, and this stream of life will never exhaust itself, because its source is in God. Let us renew our strength in deep contact with the Eternal each day. May the heart of Christ, in a communion that is daily more intimate with us, tell us some of His divine secrets. May the light of the Spirit guide us. Having God within us, we will surely do the work of God, or rather He will do it Himself through us and better than we.”
Taking this advice seriously, it becomes obvious that most of us must labor mightily to find one or two quiet places in our environment where we can, in fact, be silently and receptively alone with our Creator, our Redeemer, our loving Father. For many, entering this kind of intimacy with God is much easier, even possible, when we call upon our Mother Mary to sit with us, trusting in her prayers that will lead our souls to Christ and the Father. This place of silence which we choose must be free of the interruptions of I-phones, radios, and the immediate needs for attention which we value in our family and friends. When we first begin to enter such an environment (and a very, very good one is in the silence of a Church before the Tabernacle) it will NOT be easy to patiently wait for quietness to enter our minds and hearts. St. Teresa of Avila said that it took her fourteen years before she could enter into inner silence and prayer without a passage from a book to help her.
And, when it comes to growing into the intellectual strength of which Elisabeth Leseur speaks, we are indeed fighting a kind of battle. Our most immediate foes are libraries which no longer value quiet and study; a fragmented cache of books which may or may not center on the fullness of the Truth of Christ and His Church; and less obviously, an inner conviction that a mere hour each day is not enough to make intellectual progress. A classic like Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life will blow away such a misconception about acquiring knowledge.
The renowned modern essayist, James Schall, gives us a gift in chapter 12 of his newly-published collection of essays, The Classical Moment (St. Augustine Press, 2014) in an essay entitled, “Three Books and Three Essays.” He says, “If some parent asked me what three books should he give his son or daughter on the way to college, something that, if read and pondered, would keep what is clearly before his eyes….Or if a young man or woman, out of college for several years, has suddenly become aware of how shallow his education had been, what would I recommend? Or suppose someone fifty or sixty, who has lived a practical, and not always edifying life, was now prepared to look again at the truth square in the eyes, what would I recommend? Imagine some cleric or religious has finally realized the contemporary shallowness of his theological or philosophical background and wanted something at the same time profound and eminently clear and direct, what would I recommend?
“For these purposes, which are after all the same, I would recommend three books:…1) Josef Pieper – An Anthology…2) Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien, and 3) Ralph McInerny, The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life. None of these books is very long. Each is relatively easy to read. All three are as profound as any book ever written. They all deal with what is.”
Schall also lists three essays which, added to the books, would give anyone a fast and penetrating way “to acquire a knowledge of the whole of what is important” intellectually.