Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Simple Primer to Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina – if you are Catholic, you have no doubt at least heard the phrase somewhere along the way. But I wonder how many of us know what it means, how to practice it, and just how naturally it should come to us.

Until recently, I was one of those Catholics. I had heard of it...and I knew a bit about it as a form of contemplative prayer based on the Scriptures. But I had no idea how to REALLY practice it, and I certainly didn’t realise how natural it should be for me as a Catholic. That was until I heard a talk by Dr Brandt Pitre entitled “The Bible and the Spiritual Life”. What Dr Pitre shared was so simple, yet so profound, that it would be wrong for me not to share it.

What is Lectio Divina?

“Lectio Divina” is Latin for “divine reading”. With roots stretching back to the earliest days of the Church, it is a form of prayer which is practised with the use of the Sacred Scriptures in “stages”, or as a ladder, in order to bring us to the point of contemplative union with the Divine Author who not only gave us the Word of God, but who is also Himself the Word of God in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

How does one practice Lectio Divina?

[For this part, I am going to take for granted that we all know that Lectio Divina (or any form of prayer for that matter) isn’t some kind of magical formula. Rather, for Lectio Divina to be fruitful, we should put aside sufficient time to spend in the Word and in prayer. Seeking a quiet place with little or no distractions is a no-brainer. And most obviously, I assume that we all know that without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our efforts would be pointless – so beginning with a simple prayer asking for the Spirit’s guidance is a given.]

The practice of Lectio Divina takes place in four stages:

1)      Lectio (Reading) – in this stage, the Word of God is simply read. It is usually best to start with short passages. As a suggestion, reading the Gospel passage in preparation for Mass is a great place to start. Read slowly and thoughtfully. It is usually a good idea to read the passage a few times because we get easily distracted without even being aware of it. By reading a passage through a few times, we will gain a better feel for the whole, and often pick up on things we may have missed in previous readings.


2)      Meditatio (Meditation) – in this stage, we ask questions of the passage we have read. What point is the author trying to make? How does this apply to me? How should I respond? Etc., etc., etc. The Holy Spirit will use questions like these to open our eyes and helps us to see what we need to do in our own lives so that we can become more conformed to our Lord Jesus Christ.


3)      Oratia (Prayer) – in this stage, we talk to God about the passage we have read. We ask God for His grace to help us make the changes we need to make. It is important to be completely honest with God in our prayer. So often, we think that we need to pray in a certain way using censored words – and if we don’t, then we aren’t being holy enough.  Well, God knows our hearts and our needs before we even ask, so there is no point hiding. If you are feeling frustrated or angry – then tell God about it. He is our Heavenly Father, and He loves us. Like any loving earthly father, He wants His dear children to come to Him openly and honestly.


4)      Contemplatio (Contemplation) – in this stage, once we have prayed to God and spoken to Him, we need to take time to be still and listen for His voice – the still small voice of God speaking to our hearts, communing with our souls. After we have climbed the first three rungs of the ladder (Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio), God takes the final step when He climbs down the ladder to unite Himself to us, and we behold His glory with the eyes of faith.


As you can see, Lectio Divina is not some “higher calling” reserved only for “spiritual giants”. It is a simple method of prayer that even the least of us lay faithful can practice with great success. It is natural, because it follows the pattern of dialogue – something that we engage in every day. And to top it off, like the icing on the cake, it is a great way for Catholics to get to know their Bibles better.

Even with the naturalness of dialogue aside, as Catholics (especially as Catholics), practising Lectio Divina is something that we should be very comfortable with because Lectio Divina mirrors another great prayer that we pray so often that we tend to take it for granted. You guessed it...Lectio Divina mirrors the greatest prayer – the prayer of all prayers – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Think about it...

Mass begins with the Liturgy of the Word where the Scriptures are read and we listen (Lectio). What follows is a meditation when the Word of God is opened up and explained in the Homily (Meditatio). After the Homily, we move into the Prayers of the Faithful (Oratia). And finally, the summit of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ comes to make His Communion with us (Contemplatio).

Hopefully looking at Lectio Divina in this simple, familiar, and profound way will encourage us all to take up the Sacred Scriptures and seek to deepen our walk with the Lord in this Year of Faith.

On a final note, and certainly not the least important, I need to add that the best way to learn how to practise Lectio Divina is in the school of Mary. We are told a few times in Sacred Scripture that Mary pondered the things of Christ in her heart. Mary is the model of contemplative communion with the Lord Jesus, so who better to teach us how to “do whatever He tells you”.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

An anonymous comment I received in my most recent blog implied that if we give honour to the Blessed Virgin Mary we dishonour Christ. Sadly, this is a view held by many Protestant Christians. But sadder still is that they tend to hold these views without actually having looked into Catholic teaching for themselves. They hold their biases and anti-Catholic sentiments based on what they have been told by people who aren’t Catholic – as if people who are hostile to the Church will give a fair representation of true Catholic teaching. Like the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said: “There aren’t a hundred [people] who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church is”.
Knowing how I would feel if people spread lies about my earthly mother, I sometimes wonder about how our Lord’s heart is pierced when Christians, His own brothers and sisters, spread lies about His (and our) Blessed Mother e.g. claiming that she was tainted with sin; or that she was not perpetually a Virgin...or even disowning her by claiming that she is NOT our Mother – and this after the Lord so lovingly gave her to us in His dying words on the Cross of Calvary. Now, all this is obviously done in ignorance, and with good intentions...but it is still not the truth about Our Lady. Given that Mary is the Mother of the Divine Word, Protestant Christians (who no doubt love the Lord) owe it to themselves and the Lord Jesus Christ to find out the truth about Mary.
On that note, the Gospel reading for this Sunday (29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) actually contains an allusion to Our Blessed Mother without actually mentioning her by name. Here is the reading:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Mk 10:35-45)
James and John asked our Lord if they could sit on His left and right when He took possession of His kingdom. At this stage, they were still thinking in worldly terms under the impression that Jesus’ kingdom would be a worldly one. Jesus however seeks to set their thinking straight when He asks them whether they can are willing to be united with Him in His Passion (which is what He means by His cup and His baptism).
Jesus was trying to tell James and John that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36), and that we must suffer with Him if we are to reign with Him in glory. St. Paul picks up this principle later in the New Testament when he tells the us that we must suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12).
Not knowing what they were committing to, James and John replied that they were ready and willing to share in Jesus’ baptism. Even though they didn’t understand at this point, they would understand after the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord – and they would certainly share in His sufferings when both would become martyrs for the faith.
But what about Mary? I mentioned that this passage alludes to her, and yet she is still nowhere to be seen? After James and John make their reply to Jesus, He tells them that they certainly would share in His Passion; but to sit on His right and left were not His to give. The implication is that the Father has reserved this position of supreme honour to the one who is most united to the Son in His suffering. Who might this be?
There is no greater sorrow in this world than that of a mother who has lost a child. Put this in the context of the Incarnate Son of God born of the Virgin Mary and it is not difficult to see that the sorrow experienced by Mary at the death of Jesus was infinitely greater than what could possibly be experienced by any other mother on earth. In fact, the Holy Spirit deemed it significant enough to inspire Holy Simeon to prophesy of it when he said in Lk 2:34-35:
“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. 
"And a sword shall pierce your own soul, that, out of many hearts intentions may be revealed.”

As Jesus was drinking the cup of His Passion, Mary’s heart and soul was being thrust through in a way that you or I could NEVER understand. And yet, we see her at the foot of the Cross – STANDING! It is no ordinary Mother who could stand so silently and resolutely as she beheld the execution of her innocent Child – only she who by God’s grace was full of grace.
Just as the Lamb of God was silent being led to the slaughter; so too does the Mother of God stand at the foot of the Cross in silence, dying her own agonising death. When the Roman soldier picked up that lance and thrust it into the side of Jesus, he pierced not just one heart, but two – the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In that one moment, as Jesus hangs dead on the Cross, a sign of contradiction, Mary’s soul is pierced for the purpose of revealing the intentions of men’s hearts [this is why we as Catholics bring the intentions of our hearts to Jesus through Mary, to use the words of Blessed Simeon].
So not only was Mary inseparably united with God in the Incarnation; but she was also inseparably united with Him in His Passion. And if she suffered in such union with Him, we should not be surprised that she is also inseparably united with Him in His Ascension and Glorification [i.e. in her Assumption and Coronation].
By honouring Mary, we do nothing less than imitate Our Blessed Lord who, in obedience to the Fourth Commandment, bestowed His own glory upon the Mother who gave Him His Most Precious Body and Blood. We obey the same Commandment when we honour Our Mother in the way that Jesus does. If Jesus exalted Mary – we MUST exalt Mary.
Giving honour to Mary is rooted in Sacred Scripture. Giving honour to Mary does not dishonour the Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, giving honour to Mary magnifies the honour due to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Honour, glory, and love to our Divine Lord Jesus, and to the Holy and Immaculate Mother of God. AMEN.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

True Wealth in Mary

In the Mass today (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time), we heard a beautiful Scripture in the First Reading regarding Wisdom:
I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I ranked her more than health and beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered. (Wisdom 7:7-11)
As beautiful as this text is, it is only when we read Sacred Scripture through the eyes of the Church, that we really begin to appreciate its true beauty. In respect of the various Wisdom passages scattered throughout Scripture, this is what the Catechism has to say:

“The Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful [Scripture] texts on wisdom in relation to Mary”. (CCC #721).

Now, there is no doubt that through the eyes of the Church the above Scripture is amazingly Marian. To point out just how beautiful this is, consider the following paraphrase with direct reference to Our Blessed Mother:
I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed Our Lady more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with Our Lady, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be Our Lady’s peer,
for compared with Our Lady, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside Our Lady silver ranks as mud.
I ranked Our Lady more than health and beauty,
preferred Our Lady to the light,
since Our Lady’s radiance never sleeps.
In Our Lady’s company all good things came to me,
at Our Lady’s hands riches not to be numbered.

What struck me particularly as I meditated on this passage was how it relates to the Gospel reading for today (Mk 10:17-30). The First Reading reminds us that compared with Our Lady, wealth and riches are nothing – they are but dust. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord challenges us to be willing to give up all our wealth and riches for the sake of following Him. So how exactly do these two co-relate?

The Saints have constantly taught us and showed us by their lives that the surest way to follow Jesus is to go through Mary. This is because Mary’s directions are always the same – “Do whatever Jesus tells you” (Jn 2:5). When we accept that in comparison to the Blessed Virgin Mary everything else we possess is useless, it is then that we realise that the greatest treasure we could ever have is Our Lady. And this is because Jesus gave her to us to be Our Mother – to unceasingly pray for us; and as our Compass to constantly point us to the True North of Jesus Christ.

This is why Saints like Louis Marie De Montfort and Maximillian Kolbe have recommended that we consecrate ourselves, all that we are and have, to the Blessed Virgin. By doing so, we acknowledge that Christ’s gift to us of His Blessed Mother is worth far more than any temporary gift we have on earth...and when all that we are and have is at the Blessed Mother’s disposal, she will use it to lead souls to Jesus Christ.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Rich Young Ruler Today

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) is taken from Mark 10:17ff. In this passage, Jesus is approached by a rich young man who asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding the man of the Ten Commandments, which the man believes he has kept as long as he can remember. Jesus then tells the man that if he wants to be Jesus’ disciple, he must go and sell all that he has, give his proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. Upon hearing this, we are told that the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
As with all passages that are familiar to us, we can sometimes miss the fact that there is more than initially meets the eye...
In His reference to the Decalogue, Jesus only lists a few of the Commandments i.e.:
You shall not murder (5th Commandment)
You shall not commit adultery (6th Commandment)
You shall not steal; you shall not defraud (7th Commandment)
You shall not bear false witness (8th Commandment)
Honor your father and mother (4th Commandment)

You may have noticed that there are a few Commandments that Jesus didn’t mention:
You shall have no other gods before me (1st Commandment)
You shall not take God’s name in vain (2nd Commandment)
Remember and keep holy the Sabbath Day (3rd Commandment)
You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods (9th Commandment )
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (10th Commandment)

Now, our Lord may simply have listed only a few of the Ten Commandments as a shorthand way of referring to all of them. But as the Creator of the human psyche, our Lord is the Master Psychologist and I wonder whether His intention was “emphasis by omission” i.e. the man thinks that he has faithfully kept God’s law...but Jesus wants to lovingly show him how far short he actually falls, and then to challenge him to walk in the way of Christ.
Jesus tells the man that the one thing he lacks is to sell all that he owns and give it to the poor; and then to follow Him. The fact that the young man went away sad “because he had many possessions” tells us that this man was attached to his wealth. In other words, his wealth was his idol which was more important to him than God – thus he was guilty of breaking the First Commandment. In this way, our Lord points out to the young man that whilst he believes he has obeyed God’s command to love his neighbour, he has failed to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Along the same lines, by omitting the Commandments referring to covetousness, I think our Lord was pointing out to the young man that he had a deeper problem of covetousness and greed, which St. Paul tells us is idolatry (Col 3:5). He then goes on to teach his disciples that it is impossible for a rich person to inherit eternal life when their reliance is upon their wealth.
Now, before we are unduly harsh in our criticism of the rich young man, we should pause and think about how this is relevant for us today. I think that we are ALL the rich young ruler. We may not think that we are wealthy, but if you consider what the average person living in the time of Jesus possessed, you would have to admit that we in the 21st century live in comfort and luxury. Even the rich young man in the Gospel would probably look like a pauper compared to what we possess nowadays. Think about it...You are probably right now reading this blog in comfort, on a readily available electronic device, with a high-speed broadband connection – need I say more...?
Jesus’ question to the rich young man should resonate with each and every single one of us. If Jesus asked us to give up all that we possess in order to follow Him, would we do it? Or would we, like the rich young man, leave our Lord albeit with a deep sadness? It is true that God doesn’t ask all of us to give up our wealth. But the heart of the issue is whether our trust is in the Lord our God, or whether we are placing our trust in our own wealth and strength.
If what Jesus said was true of the rich young man (i.e. it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven) – how much more so for us today whose wealth far exceeds that of Jesus time? Just as it was impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ day; how much harder must it be in our day and age of technology and instant gratification?
But thanks be to God – this is not where Jesus ends His instruction. Yes – it is IMPOSSIBLE for the rich (that includes you and me) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus tells us that for God ALL things are possible! Our wealth, no matter how great, is useless in the bigger scheme of things. It is God, and GOD ALONE, that is able to bring us to eternal life. And He does this when we are willing to let go of everything we hold dear...and cling to the Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation.


As an aside, given that the Year of Faith has recently kicked off, I thought I would add the following note on the matter of “faith”.

Most Protestant Christians hold to what is called “Sola Fide” i.e. they maintain that we are saved by faith ALONE. As Catholics, we would disagree saying that one cannot be saved by faith alone – rather, a person is saved by their faith AND works.

In terms of the passage above, our Lord’s response is one point of evidence against the Protestant notion of Sola Fide. If the notion of Sola Fide was true, we would expect Jesus’ response to the man to be more along the lines of: “Don’t you know that you are saved by faith ALONE? There is nothing that you can do to inherit eternal life”.

Yet, this is not the way our Lord responds. Rather, His response is to seek good works to prove whether the man’s faith is dead or alive.