In my letter to the Faithful of the Archdiocese of Ottawa for Lent 2010, I encouraged the practice of Lectio divina. Here is a sample of the Holy Reading of Scripture, illustrated by references to the Readings for this First Sunday in Lent (Year “C”):
“THE WORD IS NEAR ... ON YOUR LIPS, IN YOUR HEART” [Texts: Deuteronomy 26:4-10 [Psalm 91 (90)]; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13]
Besides fasting and almsgiving, Christian tradition emphasizes greater attention to the life of prayer during Lent. Lectio divina or “holy reading” is particularly appropriate as disciples of Jesus “prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery”—the Lord's Supper, the Commemoration of the Passion and the Easter Vigil—“with mind and heart renewed” (Preface of Lent 1).
Devotional perusal of the Sunday (or daily) Lenten Scriptures may take a variety of forms. The following pattern, with four phases (reading, meditating, praying, contemplating), is an ancient form dating to medieval times. It is offered as one model that may prove fruitful for followers of Jesus when practised regularly for 10-30 minutes at a time.
Beginning Lectio Divina
Before Lectio Divina one becomes aware of God’s presence and asks that one’s prayer be directed to God’s glory and one’s personal good. Then, one begins the four steps without being too preoccupied; the important thing is to delight in being with God for this short period of time.
1. Reading (Lectio) reverently the scriptural story of Jesus' temptations takes very little time. However, the first part of lectio divina consists in quiet repetitions of the text, savouring its special quality and noting specific features. For example:
In the opening words, the reader learns that Jesus was said both to be “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil”.
At the end of the forty days three of Jesus' temptations were singled out for mention (“command[ing] this stone to become a loaf of bread”; worshipping the devil to receive the glory and power of “all the kingdoms of the world”; and throwing Himself down from the Temple pinnacle so that God might rescue Him).
In each instance, Jesus refuted the devil with a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy, a text which Jesus Himself must have meditated on often. The narrative concludes by observing that “when the devil had finished every test” (were the three simply typical ones?), he departed from Him “until an opportune time” (i.e., the Passion, when “Satan entered into Judas Iscariot” [22:3]).
Unlike the accounts of Mark and Matthew, Luke said nothing about angels coming to minister to Jesus after the temptations (cf. Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:13). Later, Luke alone noted the presence of a comforting angel during Jesus' Gethsemane prayer (Luke 22:43-44).
2. Meditating (Meditatio) consists in diligent mental reflection upon the truth hidden in the reading. Some such thoughts might include the fact that, like Jesus. Moses and Elijah had fasted for forty days at critical periods in their ministry. That Adam, in paradise, and Israel, for forty years in the wilderness, failed the test of temptation and trial, but Jesus did not.
When one attempts to visualize the scene of the temptations, one notes that there is something mystical about the second and third temptations (the devil showed Jesus “in an instant all the kingdoms of the world”; and “the devil placed Jesus on the pinnacle of the Temple”). Still the issues were real. Jesus seized what was at stake, and refused to be taken in.
3. Praying (Oratio) means a persevering appeal for divine help in achieving communion with God. It often issues spontaneously from the steps of reading and meditating, as persons see their relationship with Jesus or the issues at stake in their lives before God.
What Paul said to the Romans in the second reading—quoting Deuteronomy as Jesus did –is an apt commentary on this third step of lectio divina, “The Word is very near you, on your lips and in your heart” (cf. Deuteronomy 30:14). Now, the issue becomes one of belief in the heart that moves to expression (“for one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved”). One prays in one's own words or in a formula such as today's psalm (“be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble”).
4. Contemplating (Contemplatio) may be defined as the fruit of God's compassionate response by which devout hearts raise their gaze to God in sentiments of faith, hope and love. At this point, the disciple of Jesus attempts to speak intimately to God—as to a friend—about the matters pondered in prayer.
Just as the Israelite identified with Israel's history when he and his family came before the Lord at harvest time (“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor... The Lord brought us out of Egypt”, so the Christian identifies with Jesus who has won the victory over temptations. The story of Jesus and the Christian gradually become one through prayer.
Concluding the Lectio divina
As the time set aside draws to a close, in the Holy Spirit one speaks simply to God the Father and to Jesus His Son, closing with the Our Father or some other favourite prayer.
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Mes armes sont la prière et le sacrifice que je garderai jusqu’ à mon dernier soupir; là seulement, celle du sacrifice tombera, mais celle de la prière viendra avec moi ou elle sera plus puissante que sur la terre
Let your bountiful blessing come down upon your people, Lord we pray, that their hope may grow in tribulation, their virtue be strengthened in temptation, and eternal redemption be given them. Through Christ our Lord.
(Prayer over the People, First Sunday of Lent)
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It's a wrap for Winterlude 2010...
The snow sculpture by the team from Newfoundland and Labrador
A labyrinth not made of corn stalks but shoulder high snow banks...
Inner tubes are as good for snow as water slides....