The priests of the diocese met this week for our annual workshop. This year the topic was the Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. As Father Joseph Ratzinger, he was a university professor and theological consultant for the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago. Almost thirty years later Pope John Paul II put him in charge of the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger headed that congregation until he was elected pope in April 2005. For his entire priesthood, and especially since his ascent to the Papal Throne, he has been setting forth a comprehensive understanding of divine revelation. In 2008 the pope called a worldwide synod of bishops to discuss The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Benedict synthesized the fruits of the synod into a document called Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord). One of my former seminary professors, now the rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio, gave us a series of presentations on the document Verbum Domini.
I share with you now one fruit of this week’s presentations, a topic that secured my interest. In Verbum Domini the Holy Father mentioned a time-honored method of prayer called Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading."
Lectio Divina has four parts: reading (lectio), meditation (meditatio), prayer (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio). The Holy Father posed a probative question for each part. First, “What does the biblical text say in itself?” Second, “What does the biblical text say to us?” Third, “What do we say to the Lord in response to His Word?” Fourth, “What conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of us?” Pope Benedict also mentioned a quasi-fifth part, action--not technically part of the method, but far more than an afterthought: ”What specific action does the text invite us to take?”
Just as God has fashioned reality by His Word of Truth, He desires to influence our understanding of reality according to that Word. The "divine perspective" is not only true, it is comprehensive--"Catholic" in the fullest sense of the word. On World Mission Sunday, we reaffirm that every prayer, personal or communal, joins the Church around the world and throughout the ages. In terms a Scripture student or seminarian would understand, Christian prayer is "synchronic" and "diachronic."
Returning to the consideration of Lectio Divina, we can take up today's second reading from Hebrews and ask the five questions. Your prayer will yield something different from mine, but I offer mine as a sample.
(1) Any reliable commentary or critical footnotes will help us to acquire the literal sense of the text, if such is not patently obvious. This passage reminds us of Jesus’ intimate identification with mankind through His incarnation; it extends even into His experience of temptation and suffering such that He knows what it means to be weak, to need help. Our Lord’s gracious act gives us the confidence to seek Him in time of need.
(2) We must allow ourselves, individually and communally, to be challenged by the inspired text. God isn’t distant and cold. God isn’t out to get us. As High Priest, He has offered Himself for me. He accompanies me in life through trials as well as joys. Trials remain a part of my life, but when I offer them to God, when I unite them with His all-encompassing suffering, I have nothing to fear.
(3) Here we engage in any applicable form of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication. “Thank you, Lord, for being Present to Me. I am sorry when I have willfully ignored You. I want to ask for help with these problems, so that I may better serve You in others.”
(4) The content of this prayer results from God's gift and our openness to that gift. “I have not served You when I failed to show compassion for…” “I have neither sought nor accepted the Church’s teachings with respect to the sanctity of human life…” "Lord, You demonstrate Your love for me so often, and I now surrender my hesitation to accept that love."
(5) The action in question may involve a more concerted attempt to identify with a difficult person's personality, struggles, etc.; research and prayer on the Church teaching on human life, especially as one's vote will affect the future of religious liberty in our country; the repetition of an affirming phrase in Scripture in moments of self-doubt.
Taking this ancient approach to the inspired Word of God, we can develop a greater appreciation for His continued Presence. It leads us, appropriately, to the Bread of Life, broken open for us after we have broken open the Word.