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October 23, 2008

Lectio Divina at the synod: An in-depth look --
U.S. immigration reform and the next administration --
Getting beyond the screaming and the divisiveness in society --
Scripture as a living Word --

In this edition:
-- The patriarch goes to Rome: Scripture, a living Word.
-- Improving homilies.
-- The synod spreads the word about "lectio divina."
-- An explanation of "lectio divina" for synod participants.
-- What the synod working document said about "lectio divina."
-- Making contemplation accessible for everyone: "lectio divina."
-- Current quotes to ponder: 1) Reaching beyond the divisiveness and the screaming in society. 2) The stewardship called for by the economic times in which we live.
-- U.S. immigration reform and the next administration.
-- In conclusion: Discovering a goal worthy of us and gaining insight from Michael Phelps.

The Patriarch Goes to Rome: Scripture, a Living Word

"Scripture is the living testimony of a lived history about the relationship of a living God with a living people," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople told the world Synod of Bishops in Rome Oct. 18. The Orthodox Church leader spoke in the Sistine Chapel after evening prayer. "The Christian Church is, above all, a scriptural church," he said. This synod's discussions were devoted to the Bible and God's Word.

If methods of interpreting Scripture have varied from one church father to the next, from one academic center to another or from East to West, it nevertheless is the case that "Scripture was always received as a living reality and not a dead book," Patriarch Bartholomew said. And "the scriptural text always serves the spoken word," he added. Thus, Scripture is "not conveyed mechanically, but communicated from generation to generation as a living word."

Patriarch Bartholomew devoted part of his speech to a discussion of saints and the way "theology and action coincide" in their lives. "In the compassionate love of the saint, we experience God as 'our Father' and God's mercy as 'steadfastly enduring,'" said the patriarch. Holiness in the communion of saints is very much linked to action that heals and transforms the surrounding world, he suggested.

"Evil is only eradicated by holiness, not by harshness. And holiness introduces into society a seed that heals and transforms," according to the patriarch. He likened the effects of the holiness on the part of someone entering into the "mystery of God's Word" to what happens when "the tectonic plates of the earth's crust" shift: "The deepest layers need only shift a few millimeters to shatter the world's surface. Yet for this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical" conversion.

In the words of the patriarch, spiritual change occurs:

-- "When our bodies and souls are grafted onto the living Word of God.

-- "When our cells contain the life-giving blood-flow of the sacraments.

-- "When we are open to sharing all things with all people."

The "sacrament of 'our neighbor' cannot be isolated from the sacrament of 'the altar,'" Patriarch Bartholomew insisted. He said: "Sadly, we have ignored the vocation and obligation to share. Social injustice and inequality, global poverty and war, ecological pollution and degradation result from our inability or unwillingness to share."

The patriarch told the synod that "if we claim to retain the sacrament of the altar, we cannot forgo or forget the sacrament of the neighbor" because this represents "a fundamental condition for realizing God's Word in the world."

Improving Homilies

"I think a priest is going to have to understand that even with all his activities during the week, which are important, he probably won't reach as many people as he does in his Sunday homily," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, said in an Oct. 15 interview in Rome with Catholic News Service's John Thavis. The cardinal was participating in the world Synod of Bishops. "Preparation of his Sunday homily is an extremely important aspect of [the priest's] ministry of interpreting God's Word," the cardinal said.

Preparing a good homily calls for thinking through the scriptural texts in theological terms and then connecting the text with people's lives, said Cardinal DiNardo. "I don't know that there's a magic wand for that," he said. But prayerful reflection is one important element in this process, he commented. Another important element, he said, is bouncing ideas off other people to see what works and what doesn't.

The Synod Spreads the Word About "Lectio Divina"

It was clear from the time the working document for the October 2008 World Synod of Bishops was issued that the ancient practice of "lectio divina" would be addressed during the synod sessions both as a contemporary method of spirituality and as a means of bringing Scripture to life among today's Catholics.

This edition of the jknirp.com newsletter comes just days before the synod's conclusion. In our next edition we'll take a look at what the synod says about "lectio divina" and other matters in its concluding texts and recommendations. This edition takes a look at some of the discussion of this method of spirituality in the synod hall.

"Lectio divina" has a way of making the practices of meditation and contemplation accessible to virtually anyone, while also making the Bible better known to people, a number of synod speakers stressed.

Teresa Maria Wilsnagh, a laywoman who addressed the synod, raised the topic of "lectio divina" when she described efforts to "show people you do not need to be a scholar to hear God speaking." She was an official auditor at the synod and is a regional director in South Africa of the Catholic Bible Foundation. With "lectio divina" people "read [a specific biblical text], reflect and respond to the message" offered to them by God through the text, Wilsnagh said. An approach to "lectio divina" has even been developed in her region for youths, she said.

Another lay speaker at the synod, also an auditor, was Ricardo Grzona from Honduras. He described the appeal of "lectio divina" to young people, saying: "In Latin America we have widely experienced that many young people are incapable of reading a book, but are fascinated when they are introduced to the method of 'lectio divina.'" Grzona urged the synod to ask Pope Benedict XVI to convoke an international congress on "lectio divina."

In recent years, more and more has been heard about "lectio divina" as a method of spirituality that is appropriate not only in monasteries or for priests and religious, but for ordinary lay people as well. In his 2007 apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, "Sacramentum Caritatis," Pope Benedict recommended that the people of the church "be helped to appreciate the riches of sacred Scripture found in the Lectionary through pastoral initiatives, liturgies of the word and reading in the context of prayer ('lectio divina')."

The U.S. Catholic bishops, in their 2005 statement on lay ecclesial ministry, "Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord," also called attention to the value of "lectio divina" among the laity. "Reading, studying and meditating on and praying with Scripture are core practices for Christian discipleship and are essential for lay ecclesial ministers," said the bishops. They added:

"Deep attention to the word proclaimed at liturgy, 'lectio divina,' praying of the psalms and participation in faith-sharing groups can strengthen one's identity and spirituality as an ecclesial minister."

How "Lectio Divina" Works: Synod Participants Request an Explanation If it was clear all along that "lectio divina" would be addressed during the 2008 Synod of Bishops, what perhaps wasn't anticipated prior to its start was that some participants would request an explanation and even a demonstration of "the workings" of "lectio divina" - how to do it, that is.

Thus, in a presentation to the synod Oct. 14, Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Silva Retamales of Valparaiso, Chile, presented an "Explanatory Exposition" devoted to the practice of "lectio divina." This practice, he said, is oriented to holiness and invokes the presence of the Holy Spirit. God invites people into a "dialogue and encounter," the bishop stressed; in this context, the reading of the Word of God in "lectio divina" becomes "the place for communion" with God.

"Lectio divina" can lead people toward an understanding of themselves and their own lives through their communion with God, according to Bishop Silva. As he explored some underlying theological principles of "lectio divina," he said: "God offers himself completely through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the vocation of man, inasmuch as he is a human being. The encounter with Jesus 'leads us to ourselves'" - to a sort of encounter with our own "personality, history, motivations, intentions." In this way the encounter "'recreates' us as a new creature in Jesus, the new Adam."

Bishop Silva asked, "How can we nourish ourselves with the richness of holy Scripture in order to follow the Lord and grow on the path to holiness?" He pointed to "lectio divina" as an attempt to do exactly that. "Lectio divina" can involve the prayerful reading of Scripture by either an individual or a community. Borrowing words of St. Gregory the Great, Bishop Silva said that a goal of "lectio divina" is to "learn the heart of God through the words of God."

"Lectio divina" involves several steps, the bishop noted. It involves reading a scriptural passage; meditating on the passage; praying with the help of the passage; and attempting to understand what action the passage suggests. Bishop Silva said:

1. "Holy Scripture is the written Word of God. In reading (re-interpreting), we ask ourselves, 'What does the Biblical text say?' We must understand the Word to discover what God teaches us through the inspired author."

2. In addition, in meditation "we ask ourselves, 'What does the Lord say in his Word?'" At this point, one endeavors to understand the meaning of the passage in order to relate it to one's mission in life and to reinforce one's hope.

3. Again in prayer, the Word of God becomes personal for us. "We ask ourselves, 'What do we say to the Lord, motivated by his Word?'" In praying with the Word of God, an individual or a community enters into dialogue with God, and faith is celebrated.

4. Next, the way the Word of God in meant to be put into action is contemplated. "Holy Scripture is entrusted to the church for salvation." Thus, at this point "we ask ourselves, 'What conversion is asked for by the contemplation of the Lord?'"

Bishop Silva recommended that individuals practicing "lectio divina" on their own read a passage "and mark with a question mark what [they] do not understand -- or underline it when it seems to be the main message of the reading."

For groups, the bishop had some additional, very practical suggestions, including the careful preparation of the place the group meets. He said the effort to "discover the main message" of a passage might be aided by placing an exclamation point on what suggests itself as appropriate for meditation because it calls "for intentions and actions," and by marking with an asterisk what suggests itself for prayer - what in the passage "helps us pray."

Documentation: "Lectio Divina"

The working paper for the October 2008 Synod of Bishops issued last June included a 950-word discussion of "lectio divina." I'd like to include that part of the working paper here in full since it lends attention to the actual "workings" of "lectio divina," an area of interest that is now likely to grow in parishes in light of the synod's work. Here is what the working paper (No. 38) said:

"Praying with the Word of God is a privileged experience, traditionally called 'lectio divina.' 'Lectio divina' is a reading, on an individual or communal level, of a more or less lengthy passage of Scripture, received as the Word of God and leading, at the prompting of the Spirit, to meditation, prayer and contemplation.' The whole church seems again to be giving specific attention to 'lectio divina.' In some places people have traditionally employed it. In certain dioceses the practice has progressively increased after the Second Vatican Council. Many communities are seeing it as a new form of prayer and Christian spirituality of significant benefit in the ecumenical movement. At the same time, some see the need to take into consideration the real possibilities among the faithful and adapt this classic form to different situations in such a way as to conserve the essence of this reading in prayer, while highlighting its nutritive value for a person's faith.

"'Lectio divina' is a reading of the Bible which goes back to the beginnings of Christianity and has been a part of the church throughout her history. Monasteries kept the practice alive. Today, however, the Spirit, through the magisterium, proposes 'lectio divina' as an effective pastoral instrument and a valuable tool in the church in the education and spiritual formation of priests, in the everyday lives of consecrated women and men, in parish communities, in families, associations and movements, and in the ordinary believer -- both young and old -- who can find in this form of reading a practical, accessible means, for individuals or entire communities, to come in contact with the Word of God.

"According to Pope John Paul II: 'It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of 'lectio divina,' which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.' His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI specifies that this comes 'through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times.' In particular, the Holy Father recalls for youth that 'it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God; but, at the same time it is also important to read it in the company of people with whom one can advance.' He urges them 'to become familiar with the Bible and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass, pointing out the road to follow.'

"In a message addressed to various persons, especially young people, the Holy Father expresses his heartfelt desire that the practice of 'lectio divina' spread as an important element in renewing faith today. He states: '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,' 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the church -- I am convinced of it -- a new spiritual springtime. As a strong point of biblical ministry, 'lectio divina' should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (cf. Ps 119: 105).'

"The newness of 'lectio divina' among the people of God requires an appropriate pedagogy of initiation which leads to a good understanding of what is treated and provides clear teaching on the meaning of each of its steps and their application to life in both a faithful and creatively wise manner. Various programs, such as the seven steps, are already being practiced by many particular churches on the African continent. This form of 'lectio divina' receives its name from the seven moments of encounter with the Bible (acknowledging the presence of God, reading the text, dwelling on the text, being still, sharing insights, searching together and praying together) in which meditation, prayer and sharing the Word of God are central.

"In various places 'lectio divina' is called by another name, for example The School of the Word or Reading in Prayer. Because of rapidly changing and oftentimes divisive situations in people's lives today, the hearer/reader of the Word of God is different from the hearer/reader of the past, requiring that the clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful receive a formation which is instructive, patient and ongoing. In this regard, the sharing of experiences -- drawn from listening to the Word ('collatio') or practical applications, above all, in works in charity ('actio') -- already being done in some places can be useful.

"'Lectio divina' should become a source of inspiration in various practices of the community such as, spiritual exercises, retreats, devotions and religious experiences. An important aim is to help a person mature in reading the Word and wisely discern reality.

"'Lectio divina' is not confined to a few, well-committed individuals among the faithful or to a group of specialists in prayer. Instead, 'lectio divina' is a necessary element of an authentic Christian life in a secularized world, which needs contemplative, attentive, critical and courageous people who, at times, must make totally new, untried choices. These particular undertakings will not be purely routine or come from public opinion but will result from hearing the Word of the Lord and perceiving the mysterious stirring of the Holy Spirit in the heart."

Contemplation, For Everyone

This jknirp.com newsletter had a discussion of "lectio divina" that you might find helpful if you haven't read it previously; it appeared in our Dec. 21, 2007, edition, and in light of the broad discussion of "lectio divina" in our current edition (particularly the actual "workings" of this method of spirituality), our earlier entry seems worth reposting. It was titled "Contemplation, For Everyone." Here it is, exactly as it appeared last winter:

The result of truly contemplative prayer will be "actions inspired by charity that will truly help others come to know and love God," Benedictine Father David Turner writes in the most recent edition of The Clerestory, a publication of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Ill. Contemplation, he notes, is the fourth step in "lectio divina"; fundamentally, contemplation means "allowing oneself to listen to God's voice, to experience the transforming grace of God and to understand what it is that God wants to do within us."

The traditional four steps of "lectio divina," the writer explains, are: 1) reading from a written text; 2) meditating on that text; 3) praying over the text; and, 4) becoming open to contemplative action.

"In the 2,000-year history of spirituality in the church, there were times when spiritual writers and leaders would seem to restrict Christ's transforming action, limiting contemplative prayer to individuals living enclosed contemplative lives as monks or nuns," Father Turner writes. But, he says, in modern times "Pope Pius XII, in his frequent pronouncements on the spiritual life, would indicate that all people should be open to Christ's action that comes within the contemplative framework."

The first step in contemplation "is to try to understand what God wants us to do," Father Turner writes. And "what God wants us to do will become very clear through contemplative prayer because it will always involve the spreading of his love and his action," the priest says.

He cites the writing of Amelie Goichon, who, he says, believed "that contemplative action is a consequence of God's action in the world, and thus the contemplative will move beyond self and be a transforming influence in his or her surrounding world." Father Turner says:

"The contemplative's primary concern will be to act in accord with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The individual could well ask, 'How will God be best glorified by my influence on others?' No matter what the action, I will be able to discern the role of the Holy Spirit if what I am called to do will give glory to God and increase the love of God and neighbor in the world."

Current Quotes to Ponder

Rising Out of Divisiveness: "To speak peace amidst the dissonance, the rancor, the divisiveness and mistrust that plague us individually and as a nation is the Spirit of God at work in every person and culture. It is that simple. When we find ourselves able to rise above all types of divisiveness, when we find ourselves able to stand with the weak and the vulnerable, when we find ourselves in solidarity with men and women different from us, then, whether we acknowledge it or not, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. We are all frightened passengers on this bus known as planet Earth. It is past time for us to stop screaming in each other's faces. Let this be a moment for us to turn inward and find that strength that sends us out as speakers of peace and builders of God's house here on Earth." (From the homily by Jesuit Father Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco, during a Mass of the Holy Spirit Sept. 8 at the university)

The Stewardship Needed for the Economic Times in Which We Live: "We have too many bad stewards of God's gifts. Too many people are starving. One thing that was not emphasized in the [U.S. bishops' 1986 pastoral letter on the economy] that is really essential for any economic system is being a good steward and that no one really owns anything but God. It's not that God hasn't given enough to go around, but that too many people are greedy and keeping more than their fair share." (Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro, Ky., in a Catholic News Service interview published Oct. 21 on the relevance today of "Economic Justice for All," the pastoral letter on the economy)

U.S. Immigration Reform and the Next Administration

"As the presidential election heads into its final days, the issue of immigration remains largely unaddressed," Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., said in an op-ed column Oct. 20 in the Washington Post. He is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace and a consultant to the conference's Committee on Migration. Immigration reform will need to be addressed by the new U.S. president and the new Congress to be elected Nov. 4, he said.

After the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, "a torrent of initiatives designed to demonstrate that the U.S. government can enforce our laws and secure our borders" was unleashed, Bishop Wenski wrote. However, he said, "intermittent work-site raids, increased local law-enforcement involvement and the creation of a wall along parts of our southern border, among other efforts, have done little to address the challenges presented by illegal immigration."

Today, "the overriding emotion many immigrants feel is fear," said Bishop Wenski. They are "fearful for their own futures - and the futures of their children - in the United States." Some organizations opposed to immigration "are delighted by this and hope such an atmosphere will lead to a mass exodus of illegal and legal immigrants," the bishop observed. But he said "they are likely to be disappointed."

Bishop Wenski cautioned that "refraining from addressing this pressing domestic issue" will heighten tensions in states and local communities, and that it will "further alienate immigrants and their communities, and tacitly affirm the acceptance of a hidden and permanent underclass in our country."

But there is a "silver lining" to be found in "this dark cloud upon our immigrant history," Bishop Wenski said. For "it demonstrates that an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration is ineffective and contrary to our national interests." The bishop concluded:

"A new administration and new Congress will be forced to act - this time in a broad and balanced manner. Otherwise, the American people will be left pondering a wall and wondering why it is not working."

In Conclusion: Discovering a Goal Worthy of Us

Michael Phelps' third-grade teacher has said that some people once believed that the fidgety student never would be able to focus on anything. Recalling this in an Oct. 14 on-campus address, Jesuit Father Robert Lawton, president of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said that Phelps' teacher came to realize that what the boy really needed "was a goal worthy of his focus."

Phelps, of course, is the history-making swimmer who was a star of this year's Olympic Games in Beijing. He won a record 14 Olympic gold medals in his sport over the course of the 2004 and 2008 games.

Father Lawton said the goal at Loyola Marymount should be to help students find a goal worthy of their focus. "That's for the benefit of the world and for their own happiness," he said.

In another of the points he made, Father Lawton told about an article he read on the Enron Corporation - an article that questioned how the company, known for hiring the best and brightest from top-tier schools, could collapse. Father Lawton said the article suggested that often smart, talented people are afraid to admit failure, and because they don't admit failure, they don't learn from it.

What does that have to do with the role of an educator? Father Lawton said, "Any educational institution has to think, 'How do I encourage people to take risks, to admit failure, to learn from it?'"