Pope Benedict on praying with Sacred Scripture: “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina: ‘the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart’ (cf. Dei verbum, n. 25).”
Friends, I would like to focus on Pope Benedict’s profound insight regarding Sacred Scripture and prayer. The insight admittedly is probably an obvious one, but it is no less important. Sacred Scripture and Prayer need to exist together. Many have said to me in my first months here at Our Lady that they desire to read the Scriptures more. They acknowledge that there is a great difficulty incorporating scripture into their daily lives. When I ask why it has been so difficult, many reply, “I just don’t know where to start.”
It can be difficult to enter into Sacred Scripture if we open it without a plan; especially if we open it up without a plan for prayer. There are two steps we can do to improve our prayer with Sacred Scripture. The first step is to pray with the upcoming Sunday readings that we will hear together as a christian community. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Church takes a great deal of effort to put together the Sunday reading cycle. The readings we hear on weekly basis are connected and will take you on a spiritual journey through out the year. Not only will this directly impact your understanding of the readings, but I believe the liturgy of the word will become a much more meaningful part of the Mass.
The second step to improving our prayer with Sacred Scripture is to follow a method. This is what Pope Benedict recommends above, he encourages us to pray with Sacred Scripture through the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. Here’s the method:
The first step is Listening. Read the specific passage of scripture slowly. Pay attention to the details, even the small ones. I find it helpful to read the passage at least three times before I do anything else. The listening stage is important, because this is where we attempt to let go of our own agenda, and allow the Scripture to speak to us in its context.
The second step is a time for Reflection. The USCCB does a great job explaining the period of reflection in Lectio Divina: “Entering into this kind of [reflection], we might try to place ourselves in the scene. We want to encounter God through the text with our whole selves: our minds, hearts, emotions, imaginations, and desires.” In other words, in this step, literally, imagine yourself in the passage you are mediating on. For example, if Jesus performs an action (speaks, heals, looks) on a figure in scripture, replay the scene in your mind, and imagine Jesus literally speaking, healing or looking at you.
Third, is the time for Prayer. Here is our chance to respond. After we reflect on the words of Sacred Scripture, usually it causes us to have a response. That response could be any of the following: an act of thanksgiving, joy at a new experience of God, lament (wondering how God is with you), or repentance. Here is where we respond to God and let him know how His Word has impacted us today.
After the prayer is the fourth step which is Contemplation. In this stage, we simply sit in silence and rest in God’s presence. In Contemplation, we allow the prayer to take root in our hearts. In short, if prayer (in general) is dialogue, then after we have said something in the third step to our Lord, now we allow God to speak to our hearts. This step takes time to grow into, so be patient. But in time it will become the most life-giving part of your prayer!
Finally, the last step in Lectio Divina is Action. Again, the USCCB sums this stage up perfectly, after we have prayed with Scripture, “we should consider what God wants us to do as a result of having encountered the Divine Presence in Scripture.” We should not be the same after this period of prayer. Afterwards, we ought to have a deeper love for God, or be motivated to conversion to work on a particular sin, or even given the courage to respond to a particular calling from God. The action stage accepts the experience of God and seeks to apply it to our lives going forward.
Friends, I hope this will help you to continue to fall in love the Word of God. Pope Benedict is absolutely right, praying with Scripture can be an intimate dialogue with our Lord. I pray it will be this for all of us.