Monday, March 3, 2014

Lenten Suggestion: Read the Bible! Discover Lectio Divina

Prepping for Lent: "Like a thief in the night"

For the vast majority of Catholics, the Season of Lent makes a seemingly out-of-nowhere appearance. Ash Wednesday comes "like a thief in the night," jarring us from the hum-drumness of "Ordinary Time" directly into the Season of Lent. We have to make ourselves prepare if we don't want to be caught unaware and unprepared to give Lent its due preparation. 

Today and tomorrow, you'll find here on SFC a very short series of posts that are meant to help you to properly prepare for the rigors and resolutions that are called for in Lent. 

Lenten Suggestion: Read the Bible daily using Lectio Divina ("Divine Reading")

This morning's suggestion is for you, throughout Lent, to use the ancient practice of lectio divina. This is a particular way of reading the Scriptures each day in a spirit of meditation and prayer, where we don't just "read" the words, but we absorb them and prayerfully give God an opportunity to really speak to us through his words.

I've borrowed liberally in this post from Peter Kwasniewski's post on the subject at New Liturgical Movement. If you'd like to read all of his excellent post, in full, you can find it here

Peter reminds us that:
Each year, the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent challenges us with these words: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.' The question should arise for each one of us: Is the Word of God truly my daily bread? Is Sacred Scripture a source of life and holiness for me, day in, day out?
It is true that the Holy Eucharist is our daily bread par excellence, without which we must perish; but it is no less true, as St. Jerome says, that 'ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.' There is a reason the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has always consisted of two components ... the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We need both of them for a healthy spiritual life. 

He's exactly right. Quite often, we Catholics are guilty of not being as committed as we should to regularly reading and praying over the Holy Scriptures. But we'd do well to take St. Jerome's warning to heart that we cannot possibly be as closely committed to Christ and knowledgable about his teachings as we should be if we live our spiritual lives apart from and ignorant of the Scriptures. 

A "How to" of lectio divina

The basis of lectio divina is reading the Scriptures. For beginners, it is recommended to start with readings from either the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) or the letters of St. Paul (Romans, First & Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First & Second Thessalonians, First & Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon). You could either choose one of the above and read through the book, a few passages, in order, each day. Or you might follow the lectionary of readings for Mass and use the Gospel readings each day (to find the day's lectionary readings, you can click here). 

There are four basic steps of lectio divina: 1) read, 2) meditate, 3) pray and 4) contemplate. It's best to set aside a few uninterrupted minutes of each day in quiet and seclusion to get the most out of the four steps. 

1. Lectio: First, read the text of Scripture carefully and deliberately. You might even read the text several times, slowly and patiently.

2. Meditatio: Next, meditate on the words that you've just read and ponder them; try to listen to the inner message of the Scripture being delivered through the Holy Spirit. Remember that the purpose of these steps is to be informed in heart more than in mind. In other words, you're seeking guidance and wisdom, not simple information.

3. Oratio: After slowly reading and then meditating on the words, begin to pray. The point here is to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and to give voice to the prayers that take shape in your heart as you read and meditate on the Scriptures. Remember that prayer is a conversation and when we lift our hearts to God in prayer, we should listen with our hearts for a response. Which leads us to...

4. Contemplatio: Finally, our prayer to God (which takes shape in words from the heart and lips) changes into silent listening, to contemplation: "hearing the Word of God" attentively. In silence, we allow God to lift us up towards a better understanding of how to best apply the words of Scripture that we've just read, meditated on and prayed over, to our lives. 

Pope St. Gregory the Great made an important point to this end. In a letter to his contemporary and friend, Theodore, physician to the Emperor--a man gifted by God, as St. Gregory point out, with "intelligence, wealth, compassion, and charity--he warns Theodore with being so occupied with daily duties and cares that he neglects "daily reading of the words of your Redeemer."

Gregory continues his advice with this important and hard-hitting insight:
But what is holy Scripture other than a letter sent by Almighty God to those he has created? Imagine if the Emperor had sent you a personal letter! No matter where you were or what you were doing, you’d make it a priority to find out what he wanted to say to you. Well: the Emperor of heaven, the Lord of angels and of men has sent you these letters in order that you might draw life from them: yet you fail to make the effort even to read them! Study and meditate on your Creator’s words every day, I beg you! Learn the heart of God from the words of God, so that you may long more ardently for eternity; so that you may be ever more inflamed with desire for the joys of Heaven. Your rest there will be all the greater, the more you have refused to rest from loving your Creator here and now.
Imagine, now, if you will, that you received an email from someone you love, admire and respect very much, someone that you rank as the most important person in your life. You would pour over the words in search of insight and instruction and you would make it a priority to find out what that person wanted to say to you, would you not?

The Bible is, of course, a collection of letters from God to his children. And we, in our time of mass-printed Bibles and the internet, have much more easy access to these letters of inestimable value than any generation of Christians before us. Let's not squander that gift! We'd all do well, then, to make lectio divina a part of our Lenten disciplines this Lent. Prepare, though, to be amazed at the spiritual fruits that may be brought forth.