Suggested Spiritual reading from Father James Thermos

In honor of Catholic bookstore month, we asked Father James Thermos for his thoughts on spiritual reading.

Father Thermos leads the spirituality year for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. The spirituality year is a time of deep formation in which seminarians partake in a media fast, spend extra time in prayer and serve the poor. They also spend two hours every weekday studying sacred Scripture, the Catechism, and spiritual classics.

Father Thermos said that all Christians can benefit from a regimen of spiritual reading.

“Spiritual reading aids us in discovering both who God is and who I am, and that I both receive my love and freedom from God and give it back to Him. Therein lies my happiness,” Father Thermos said.

Father Thermos said that spiritual reading can help Christians develop virtues, such as forgiveness or trust.

“We don’t know how to do these things by nature. Spiritual reading provides guidance,” Father Thermos said.

While Father Thermos said that there is a nearly inexhaustible list of good reading for Christians, he especially recommends the following:

33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael Gaitley, M.I.C.

In this self-guided retreat, Father Michael Gaitley uses the lives of four saints to prepare the reader for a total consecration to Mary.

“This book is very helpful in learning how to foster our relationship with Mary, and learning what a sweet relationship that is,” Father Thermos said.

He Leadeth Me by Father Walter Cizek

Father Walter Cizek was imprisoned for 23 years in the Soviet Union. Despite the truly horrendous circumstances he had to endure, his memoir shows how God led him through every moment.

“It teaches in such a concrete way to totally trust in God,” Father Thermos said.

Interior Freedom by Father Jacques Philippe

“Father Philippe has a deep understanding of how we can make choices from our souls, instead of simply reacting to our lives. It’s very empowering. His writing is informative but accessible, and I would recommend anything he’s written,” Father Thermos said.

Wellspring of Worship by Father John Corbon

Father Carbon was the principal author of the fourth part of the Catechism. He is a Greek Catholic, and his work carries a distinctly Easter flair.

“This really is a stunning book, although not as accessible as the other writers I’ve mentioned. Father Carbon gives us a description of the liturgy. He explains that within the Trinitarian life, the Father pours himself into the Son and the Son into the Father, and in the Mass we are invited into this,” Father Thermos said.

Unbound by Neal Lozano

Neal Lozano has practiced deliverance ministry for over 30 years. His teachings on freeing oneself from evil influences and living in freedom as a child of God have been accepted by many different Christian denominations, including many Catholic priests.

“This is a very concrete and well-tested spiritual path to freedom, because it’s the integrated whole of our need to make acts of faith, and forgiveness, and instructions on how to enter into God’s life,” Father Thermos said.

Father Thermos said that any of the above books, or any spiritual classic, can teach the soul new vocabulary to communicate with God, and ultimately lead to greater freedom and happiness.

“Spiritual reading allows us to understand how God desires to speak to us, and how we are better able to speak with Him,” Father Thermos said.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.