Tag Archives: Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur

Navigating the Interior Life

Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God

by Daniel Burke (2012) with Fr. John Bartunek, LC, STL

This book has the same basic objective as Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Seeking Spiritual Direction, but it’s much shorter and addresses some topics not covered by Dubay, such as whether you should pay for spiritual direction.

It also advises the reader about preparing for sessions with your director. There is a questionnaire designed to help you identify your “root sin”, which is primarily what holds you back from progress. Finally, there is also a section on how to develop what is called a Plan of Life, which is not altogether different than how the monastic orders structure their day between prayer and work,  and which anyone can benefit from.

NOTE: Dan Burke and Fr. Bartunek started and continue to lead a blog with several other contributors (such as Anthony Lilles) on Roman Catholic spirituality called RCSpiritualDirection.com and it can be found along with other recommended blogs at our Online Spiritual Reading link at the upper right of this web page.





Spiritual Direction & Meditation

Spiritual Direction & Meditation

by Thomas Merton (1960)

This is a great little no-nonsense book by Merton. Check out how he clears up a common misconception about spiritual direction:

This [previous] description of spiritual direction brings out certain important differences between direction and counselling, or direction and psychotherapy. Spiritual direction is not merely the cumulative effect of encouragements and admonitions which we all need in order to live up to our state in life. It is not mere ethical, social or psychological guidance. It is spiritual.

But it is important for us to understand what this word “spiritual” means here. There is a temptation to think that spiritual direction is the guidance of one’s spiritual activities, considered a small part or department of one’s life. You go to a spiritual director to have him take care of your spirit, the way you go to a dentist to have him take care of your teeth, or to a barber to get a haircut. This is completely false. The spiritual director is concerned with the whole person, for the spiritual life is not just the life of the mind, or of the affections, or of the “summit of the soul” — it is the life of the whole person. For the spiritual man (pneumatikos) is one whose whole life, in all its aspects and all its activities, has been spiritualized by the action of the Holy Spirit, whether through the sacraments or by personal and interior inspirations. Moreover, spiritual direction is concerned with the whole person not simply as an individual human being, but as a son of God, another Christ, seeking to recover the perfect likeness to God in Christ, and by the Spirit of Christ.

– pp. 14-15

His insights on meditation and mental prayer are even more penetrating:

The Sense of Indigence

In order to make a serious and fruitful meditation we must enter into our prayer with a real sense of our need for these fruits. It is not enough to apply our minds to spiritual things in the same way  as we might observe some natural phenomenon, or conduct a scientific experiment. In mental prayer we enter a realm of which we are no longer the masters and we propose to ourselves the consideration of truths which exceed our natural comprehension and which,  nevertheless, contain the secret of our destiny. We seek to enter more deeply into the life of God. But God is infinitely above us, although He is within us and is the principle of our being. The grace of close union with Him, although it is something we can obtain by prayer and good works, remains nevertheless His gift to us.

One who begs an alms must adopt a different attitude from one who demands what is due to him by his own right. A meditation that is no more than a dispassionate study of spiritual truths indicates no desire, on our part, to share more fully in the spiritual benefits which are the fruit of prayer. We have to enter into our meditation with a realization of our spiritual poverty, our complete lack of the things we seek, and of our abject nothingness in the sight of the infinite God.

– pp. 79-80


The Wisdom of the Desert

The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century

(translated) by Thomas Merton (1960)

The back cover says:

The Wisdom of the Desert was one of Thomas Merton’s favorites among his own books — surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit. The personal tone of the translations, the blend of reverence and humor so characteristic of him, show how deeply Merton identified with the legendary authors of these sayings and parables, the fourth-century Christian Fathers who sought solitude and contemplation in the deserts of the Near East.”

The humor is evident, as you will see in later quotes, but let’s first view the Author’s Note:

This collection of sayings from the Verba Seniorum is by no means intended as a piece of research scholarship. It is, on the contrary. a free and informal redaction of stories chosen here and there in the various original Latin versions, without order and without any identification of the particular sources. The book is designed entirely for the reader’s interest and edification. In other words I have felt that as a monk of the twentieth century I ought to be quite free in availing myself of the privilege enjoyed by the monks of earlier days, and so I have made a little collection of my own, with no special system, order or purpose, merely in order to have the stories and to enjoy them with my friends. This is the way such books originally came into existence.

When the first version of this work was completed, I gave it to my friend Victor Hammer who printed an extraordinarily beautiful limited edition on his hand press in Lexington. Kentucky. After that, it was decided to expand the collection a little, and rewrite the introduction, so that New Directions could bring out a larger edition. So here it is. But I hope the book still preserves its original spontaneous, informal and personal aspect. Far from detracting from their wisdom, this informality will guarantee the stories the authenticity they have always had and keep them fresh and alive in all their concreteness and immediacy. May those who need and enjoy such apothegms be encouraged, by the taste of clear water, to follow the brook to its source.

– pg. ix

The first page of the book proper is a real grabber, these prefatory remarks extending on for nearly 25 pages:

In the fourth century A. D. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who have left behind them a strange reputation. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude. Why did they do this? The reasons were many and various, but they can all be summed up in one word as the quest for “salvation.” And what was salvation? Certainly it was not something they sought in mere exterior conformity to the customs and dictates of any social group. In those days men had become keenly conscious of the strictly individual character of “salvation.” Society – which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” – was regarded by them as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life. We need not stop here to discuss the fairness of this view: what matters is to remember that it was a fact. These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. The fact that the Emperor was now Christian and that the “world” was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened them in their resolve.

It should seem to us much stranger than it does, this paradoxical flight from the world that attained its greatest dimensions (I almost said frenzy) when the “world” became officially Christian.

– pp. 3-4

And then come 150 translated sayings (averaging about three per page), matching in number the Psalms. Here are some samples:


Once there was a disciple of a Greek philosopher who was commanded by his Master for three years to give money to everyone who insulted him. When this period of trial was over, the Master said to him: Now you can go to Athens and learn wisdom. When the disciple was entering Athens he met a certain wise man who sat at the gate insulting everybody who came and went. He also insulted the disciple who immediately burst out laughing. Why do you laugh when I insult you? said the wise man. Because, said the disciple, for three years I  have been paying for this kind of thing and now you give it to me for nothing. Enter the city, said the wise man, it is all yours. Abbot John used to tell the above story, saying: This is the door of God by which our fathers rejoicing in many tribulations enter into the City of Heaven.


To one of the brethren appeared a devil, transformed into an angel of light, who said to him: I am the Angel Gabriel, and I have been sent to thee. But the brother said: Think again — you must have been sent to somebody else. I haven’t done anything to deserve an angel. Immediately the devil ceased to appear.

* CXLI *

Once two brethren came to a certain elder whose custom it was not to eat every day. But when he saw the brethren he invited them with joy to dine with him, saying: Fasting has its reward, but he who eats out of charity fulfils two commandments, for he sets aside his own will and he refreshes his hungry brethren.


 A certain brother asked Abbot Pambo: Why do the devils prevent me from doing good to my neighbour? And the elder said to him: Don’t talk like that. Is God a liar? Why don’t you just admit that you do not want to be merciful? Didn’t God say long ago: I have given you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and on all forces of the enemy? So why do you not stamp down the evil spirit?



My Other Self

My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith

by Clarence J. Enzler (1957)

This book was published prior to Vatican II, 15 years before Deacon Enzler would be ordained.  It is written in an encouraging and intimate style, as a series of instructions from Jesus. It is not unlike The Imitation of Christ.

The main thrust of the book is for us not to see ourselves as another Christ, but to see ourselves as becoming Christ’s other self. It is not a distinction without a difference, which the book does an effective job of showing. There is no danger here of walking away with any sort of messiah complex in the least. Becoming Christ’s other self is just another way of expressing the process of sanctification.

The following quotation is from the section “Motives for Trust” in Chapter Two, “Abandonment”:

Abandon your will to mine, and all that happens must speed you along the path to happiness, to holiness, to sainthood. Under my loving care, nothing can harm you. Whatever happens to you by my will is so good that the angels of heaven themselves could not conceive of anything better.

Cling to me with all your heart, with all your will, and I will make you a saint. Nothing shall separate you from my love: neither death nor life, angels nor devils, neither things present nor to come. No force or creature in heaven or hell can separate my love from you if you do my will.

Trust in me; I will always protect you. Seek my will in all things. Your greatest good is that my will shall be done.

If you generously renounce your own will to seek only my good pleasure, my divine Heart will illumine you with a vivid light to know my wishes. I will show you what you must do and work within you to help you accomplish it.

– pp. 19-20

Here is a bonus recommendation by this author: Everyone’s Way of the Cross

The Sanctifier

The Sanctifier

by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez (2003; originally 1957 (English))

I had almost forgotten how good this book is. Luckily I had left a few bookmarks throughout the book that helped me locate the parts that really made an impact on me. Archbishop Martinez is an enjoyable writer to read, which I had really forgotten. Strange, as I had read this only about two years ago. Not so strange, perhaps, due to the other good books I have read since then.

Martinez, a Mexican archbishop, wrote this sometime before his death in 1956. It was promptly translated into English and published a year later, with an observation by the translator that this was overdue. That hint is the closest I can come to determining when the original Spanish edition was released.

There is an abridged version of this called True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, which leaves off the fourth and final–and worthwhile–section on the Beatitudes. So be warned that an online shopper might be prompted to purchase both of them together, with that ever-present suggestion, “readers who bought this, bought that”. If they did, they shouldn’t have.

(You can read a few pages, common to both, from the abridged edition.)

After a section consisting of a succession of short topical chapters that share the title of the aforementioned abridged edition, follow a section on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (first referenced by the prophet Isaiah) and another on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (which ought to be familiar to anyone who has read the epistles of St. Paul).

I particularly like his treatment of the Gifts, as he always gives a hierarchy of each gift. For instance, about the Gift of Counsel, he first talks about natural human prudence by which we conduct our worldly affairs. Then he speaks about supernatural virtuous prudence through which we navigate the difficulties of life. Finally he goes into divine prudence, which he tells us is the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, describing it as the equivalent of getting advice from above the level of our intelligence, and further outlining three degrees of progress in this gift. I can hardly do it justice in one summary paragraph, so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

I will give an excerpt, though. I would be tempted to take it from Chapter 18 of Part I, “Our Response to Christ Crucified”, but it would be too lengthy. Indeed, it would be tempting to offer most if not all of that chapter. Instead I give you something shorter from Part IV “The Beatitudes”. Here follows a relatively short passage from Chapter 8, ‘The Seventh Beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Mt. 5:9)’:

The fruit of wisdom and love is peace. But have we not said that peace was produced in the soul by the virtues and gifts proper to the earlier stages? Did not the first three beatitudes bring peace by tearing out of the soul the roots of restlessness? And did not justice and mercy establish proper relations with others?

The work accomplished by the active life was indeed a work of peace, but it was negative. It was the war that prepared the peace by shattering our enemies; it was the relentless sickle that prepared the harvest by cutting down the weeds; it was the strong wind that hurried the dark clouds along so that the sun might shine.

Pure peace is something divine that only wisdom and love can produce. To be peaceful, it is not enough to live in sweet concord with our brother. It is not sufficient to have all our powers in tranquil harmony under the empire of the will. Rather, all the desires of the soul must be fused in one single divine desire, all flowing as one great torrent, with no scattered currents of affection anywhere. The soul must be simple as God is simple, so that all things can be unified.

– pg. 338

(NOTE: The term “simple” as used above is not meant in the usual sense to convey any of: unintelligent, uncomplicated, humble, or unadorned, which are all common meanings of the word. Here it is used in the less-common sense of “undivided; whole; not complex; not made of many constituent parts each subject to analysis”. This is a recurring connotation that you will run into in many spiritual writings.)

No Man is an Island

No Man is an Island

by Thomas Merton (1955)

As mentioned earlier, this is a step back to cover concepts that were taken for granted in Seeds of Contemplation six years earlier. And the chapter titles alone testify to this: “Conscience, freedom, and prayer”, “Being and doing”, “Sincerity”, “Mercy”, “Silence”.

Do not let the simplicity of the chapter titles fool you. This is a challenging yet rewarding book to work your way through.

See the following excerpt from Chapter 11, “Mercy”, for a sample of one of the best passages:

Merton on Mercy

The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain

by Thomas Merton (1948)

The fiftieth anniversary edition labels itself as “An Autobiography of Faith”. Fair enough, though most people might already know that by 1998. At over 450 pages, this is a long book. It takes time to get through. Some of the comments on Amazon are less than positive or charitable, but many of those refer to typos in the Kindle edition, while others come across as anti-Catholic, and still others as flat out anti-Merton. So be warned. Merton has his detractors.

This book is full of little surprises that I would hate to ruin for you, so I will say very little in terms of details. I will at least give some random vague references of things you might find unique or of interest:

His time at Columbia University in the 1930’s. His time at St. Bonaventure in Buffalo, NY. His terrible troubles with dental health. His memories of his parents, especially his father. Also his relationship with his younger brother, John Paul. His first visit to America from Europe. Experiences in Harlem. His time spent in old European cathedrals. His literary ambitions. The authors that influenced him. His initial visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. And not insignificantly, hints of what would characterize his later writings, a sample of which is found here:

Seven great Merton paragraphs

The above passage falls about one-third of the way through the book and is unique to the book. There is no other passage that is similar in the rest of the 450 pages. I believe that was intentional, but even if it was not, it foreshadowed the best works that Merton would publish over the next dozen or so years.

Personal note: My mother mentioned this work to a friend when I was about 10 years old (mid 1970s), her enthusiasm giving me the impression she had recently read it. While I was reading it a couple years ago and discussing it with her, I learned that she had read it shortly after it first came out, when she was probably a sophomore or junior in high school. Here I was thinking that I had been reading it at approximately same age as she did, but I was quite mistaken.