Whenever we’re forced to stay still, as we are while sheltering in place during these days of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us turn to reading in order to escape the confines of our homes—and, occasionally, of reality itself! There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a book. But how to choose what to read?
Here’s a story that might inspire you with options in these stay-at-home, sometimes boring days.
On May 20, 1531, the youngest son of a noble and wealthy family was wounded in a terrible battle defending the citadel of Pamplona, Spain. One leg was broken and the other torn by a cannonball. He was carried to the castle that was his family home to convalesce. However, his leg did not heal. He insisted his leg be broken again and reset, all without anesthesia. During the long weeks of his recuperation, he was stuck inside and extremely bored. He requested romance novels to pass the time. There were none in the castle, but there was a copy of the life of Christ and a book on the saints. Desperate, the young soldier began to read them. The more he read, the more he would dream about great adventure in which he would imitate the saints. At other times, he continued to have daydreams of fame and glory, along with fantasies of winning the love of a certain noble lady of the court.
That young man was named Ignatius, and the family home where he was convalescing was the castle at Loyola. His reading in those difficult months of staying at home changed his life—and in many ways changed the world, as he went on to found the Society of Jesus and write the Spiritual Exercises used by millions of people.
Here’s how Ignatius described his experience—writing in the third person—while staying inside:
As Ignatius had a love for fiction, when he found himself out of danger he asked for some romances to pass away the time. In that house there was no book of the kind. They gave him, instead, “The Life of Christ,” by Rudolph, the Carthusian, and another book called the “Flowers of the Saints,” both in Spanish. By frequent reading of these books he began to get some love for spiritual things. This reading led his mind to meditate on holy things.
Taking my cue from Ignatius, I’ve been revisiting the lives of the saints in some of my own staying-at-home reading, and I’ve had a taste of what Ignatius might have felt: these are brave, stirring people, people of faith and courage, and so many of them have messages that seem perfect for our own time of uncertainty and anxiety.
Feeling trapped inside? St. Lydwine, Ven. Marthe Robin, St. Anna Schaffer were all bedridden for their entire adult lives. Are you sad and anxious? St. Augustine, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Edith Stein all suffered from terrible depression. Are you afraid? St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Oscar Romero, St. Augustine of Canterbury all felt nearly incapacitated at times by fear.
So it’s clear we can find the saints’ stories edifying and even helpful. But what about the other role of reading—escapism? I’d like to suggest that reading the stories of the saints is an excellent way to escape into another world.
You can find a fairytale life in the story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a princess who found true love—and likewise with St. Germaine Cousin, who’s been called God’s Cinderella. Or adventure—St. Columba got rid of a Scottish sea monster, St. George tamed and then killed a dragon, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati climbed mountains, St. Bernard bred and trained rescue dogs, St. Isaac Jogues lived in a Huron village.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration or a good story—or both!—the lives of the saints might be the right reading for you, just as they were for Ignatius. You may even find a new companion who will stay with you long after your enforced time of “staying in” is over; and who doesn’t want to make a friend for life?
Looking for more inspiration? Read a biography of a saint or check out a collection of stories of these holy men and women.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
image wikimedia commons