Delving into lectio divina

| Father Scott Carl | September 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

How vital it is to pray with Scripture. It is God’s word to us given at a particular time, but alive in us through the same Spirit that inspired it.

When we think of reading the Bible, perhaps we think of reading it by ourselves. Such a means is an important way of forming a personal relationship with sacred Scripture, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in his 2010 apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini” (On the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church).

Yet, it is important to be aware that we do not pray alone. Pope Benedict put it this way: “While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church. Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church” (Verbum Domini 86).

In this context, we can think of how often we listen to God’s word in the liturgy of the Church and especially in the Mass. What we do as Christians we do not do alone because we are a member of Christ’s body, the Church. This body, seen as the people of God, makes its journey through time nourished by the word, which is a living reality in its midst.

In “Verbum Domini,” Pope Benedict reminds us of a time-honored way of reading sacred Scripture, lectio divina (divine reading). It assists our individual reading in being inspired by the same Spirit that forms the body of Christ into the Church and deepens our lived communion with her.

Lectio divina consists of four steps in praying with the Bible. After praying to the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and our ears, the first step is “lectio,” which is “reading” the selected Scripture passage a couple of times slowly and prayerfully. Which passage? The Gospel passage for the upcoming Sunday Mass or holy day is a good place to begin as it contributes to our communal worship rendered in the liturgy. Moreover, the Gospels or Psalms in general are good places to begin.

This “reading” is a special sort. At this stage we want to understand what the biblical text says in itself. Here it is important to have some external resource like a commentary or footnotes from a study Bible. As a place to begin, the “Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture” is a series of volumes on the New Testament written at a level from which a common person can benefit; another is “Praying the Psalms in Christ” by Benedictine Father Laurence Kriegshauser. The goal in this initial stage is to learn about the passage to set a reliable base for the steps that follow. As Pope Benedict reminded us, not doing this initial step could easily lead us to “never moving beyond our own ideas.” Read the passage again slowly and more than once to allow it to be absorbed like a light soaking rain.

Second, there is meditatio (meditation), which is to seek what the passage is saying to us. How does it move you or challenge you in your particular circumstances? Sometimes the word cuts like a two-edged sword (Heb 4:12), clearly and decisively, and sometimes the Holy Spirit moves more subtly. There is no rush in this method of prayer. Sometimes the movement of the Spirit is like feeling a gentle breeze that is barely perceptible.

Third comes oratio (prayer). “What do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us” (“Verbum Domini”). Where does the passage lead us? To praise God? To thank Him? To intercede for a particular need? To repent of sin?

Fourth is contemplatio (contemplation), “during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us?” Where do we go from here? What particular resolution is the Lord eliciting from me?

It can be simple: to be more grateful or to use speech that builds up; or it can be meatier: to ask forgiveness of someone or to offer a concrete means of support to another with time, talent or treasure. To this end, Pope Benedict extended his teaching on this manner of praying with an additional point: “We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.”

We thus see from another perspective that praying with Scripture may be done alone. But if the Holy Spirit is allowed to lead, it will manifest itself for the good of the community.

Father Carl is assistant professor of sacred Scripture at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.


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Category: Catholic Watchmen