Wednesday, 8 May 2019

196- Chastity and “Union with the Will of God”

The Deep Aspect of the Crisis of the Church

From time to time, Monique and I meet. She comes to my office and we talk about Carmelite Life, about Blessed Father Marie Eugene OCD. She is, in fact, a member of the Institute he founded: « Notre Dame de Vie », which has a totally Carmelite spirituality.

Apart from asking me from time to time to give a talk on Fr. Marie Eugene, we talk about many things. Of course, the Church and Spiritual Life are very much at the heart of our discussions. We might start by talking about Amnesty International (where she has worked for many years) and might move on to talking about Brexit; Monique is very much down to earth, compassionate and a fervent advocate of many causes. But we always come back to Fr. Marie Eugene. She knows that I am preparing my PhD Thesis on Fr. Louis Guillet OCD (1902-1992), a companion of Blessed Fr. Marie Eugene, so we have plenty of stories to share.

She often asks me the question: “how did you come to know Fr. Marie Eugene?”, and I start to talk about the French Carmelites of the South of France, and how much I owe them, and how much they gained from Fr. Marie Eugene. We could talk for hours.

Then suddenly, today, Monique asked me this direct question: “What do you think about the crisis the Church is undergoing?” I was convinced that she meant the child abuse horror. And I started to say that it was more widespread than was apparent and that this crisis affected only a very small number of priests or religious. She stopped me and said: “no, I am talking about the abuse of the nuns!”

In fact, two months before, on the French-German TV channel Arte, she had watched a programme where different sex scandals between priests and nuns had been exposed. Something horrific and extremely shattering. Monique is convinced it is very widespread in the Church.

I vaguely remembered it; after the Pope alluded to it when he was on his flight back from the Emirates, I had looked it up. I have to confess that I hadn’t watched the French TV Programme Monique mentioned! Also, knowing the milieu, I considered this type of scandal to be limited, in numbers and in areas (communities). Monique, however, was adamant that it wasn’t. Bottom line: Monique was very shocked since having watched the programme, and stated: the Church now has reached the bottom of the abyss.

While talking to her, the analysis I responded with was very clear-cut: at the heart of this issue is what I consider to be the core of the problem (at least for this type of scandal): chastity. What is chastity? Is it something we decide of our own will power? Is it something we learn from our youth? Admittedly, society doesn’t help that much nowadays in this area. Is it something that depends on the Grace of God? If so, to which extent? Is it an acquired grace that once received keeps us safe and at peace? Is it a constant battle? What are the means we offer to the seminarian, to the young nun, to any human being (because we are all called to chastity…) to reach chastity? Are we able to generate chaste persons? Do we have the “know-how” for this? Based on what?

For many years now, I have been personally involved in Formation (Religious, Nuns, Seminarians,…) and since I have listened and searched to see how this issue is being addressed in many places in the Church, read many books (at least in my early years), I take the opportunity here to briefly give my point of view.

In my humble opinion, chastity is the normal result of spiritual growth (I am talking here about a rather balanced person and not a deeply wounded person). When the love of God, the love of Jesus takes deep root in our heart, starts to transform it, starts to really fill the void in our heart and emotions, then chastity starts to take root in us. It is not necessarily the first issue we need to sort out in our life, but it is there, a part of it. Let us see what is at stake.


Falling in Love with Jesus

“Falling in love with Jesus” is something that only the Saints talk about. You will rarely see or hear a person today talking about “falling in love with Jesus”! The Church’s daily life doesn’t seem to point to this reality.

Paradoxically, if we delve a little into the life of any saint, this aspect strikes us immediately.
Look at St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Claire of Assisi, Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, Gemma Galgani… and the list is very long; observe them in their daily life. These women fell in love with Jesus deeply, to the point that they considered Him as being their Spouse! A real Spouse my dear friends, not just a symbolic expression, a consolation price! Not a “photocopy” of human love, but the original love! It is real love, and Jesus is positively REAL! Here lies the difference between the teaching of the saints and the daily life of the Church.



For the average Christian this language (“falling in love with Jesus”) is simply alien! You would be regarded with derision by people in general, as if in fact you were insane.

Indeed, it is alien! But for the saints, this is normality… their daily life. In exactly the same way as you would fall in love with a man or a woman, they fell in love with Jesus! All of us are called to have this experience. This heart that God gave us is made in the image and likeness of Jesus! Only Jesus can fill it. I can still hear Father Guy Merlin OCD, Provincial of the Carmelites of the south of France, saying in the late 1980s: “it is normal to allow the young religious or monks to be a bit “romantic” in their initial steps of the religious life. Otherwise it is not possible to commit to religious life. Later this love will grow stronger and deeper.”

When we fall in love with Jesus, our emotions, our hearts, are involved in this love. We commit ourselves to Him, serve Him, search for His will. To fall in love, however, is not just about emotions, it is about commitment, daily faithfulness to the will of Jesus! Look at St. Therese of the Child Jesus in her early years, in her daily life, how she loved Jesus!

Even married persons are called to experience this love! This is why the Church distinguishes between “Civil Marriage” and the “Sacrament of Marriage”! The latter involves this love of Jesus! Hence it is called “sacrament” … sacrament of Jesus…. If loving Jesus is not the initial core in the life of the bride and the groom, why bind themselves to something that can’t be broken? It is pure folly, especially today. I do not negate Marriage as seen by the Natural Law (Civil Marriages for instance), which also should be exempt from divorce, but please give me the means to reach this holiness, give me the help of the grace of God, in order to make it work. Natural Law alone cannot guarantee the absence of divorce, even if it states it.

Let us return to our point! Let’s examine Teresa of Avila: she spends almost twenty years as a nun without giving her heart totally to Jesus! She is wearing the habit, there are no formal grave sins in whatever she does, for example, in appreciating “spiritual” friendship and talking to friends about God and prayer, but her heart is not totally given to Jesus! This lesson alone is fundamental in order to help us understand both St. Teresa of Avila, all the Saints and Spiritual Life.

Total commitment to Jesus entails giving Him not only our mind and our will, but also our emotions, our thirst to be loved by other humans, and to love them! Our entire heart is made in the image of Jesus, not half of it! We, however, tend to split our heart into two halves: the upper half we destine for God. And the lower half is for a human being, human affections and emotions. We fail to realise that all our heart should go to the One who is God and man in the same Divine Person.

Jesus waited twenty years for Teresa! He sent her many signs, invitations, all sorts of graces, warnings! She remained deaf! She searched for the love of human beings instead of believing that Jesus, the incarnate God, was and is capable of filling her human heart, her emotions, of making her fall in love with Him! That He was her Treasure, the real Prince Charming!

It took her twenty years to realise that her enormous capacity to love and be loved could only be filled by Jesus!

It took her twenty years to give Him her heart, without conditions, no strings attached, no search for human affection or consolation.

It took her twenty years to believe that it is not only possible to fall in love with Jesus but that that was the only way to proceed.

It took her twenty years to understand that her vow of Chastity meant that her heart was called to be totally, radically and unconditionally given to Jesus!

Try and see… you will never regret it!

As much as Jesus can be “ferocious” in asking for everything, absolutely and positively everything, so much will He treat you as a real Queen and give you the experience that no “prince” can give you on earth! Try and you will see!


How Can This Happen if I am a Man?

The only difficulty - and it is quite a sizeable one - is that for a woman it is easier to love Jesus, but for a heterosexual man, loving Jesus who has the human nature of a man, is something quite difficult at first sight. How then can a man, a seminarian, a young religious fall in love with Jesus?

Keep in mind though that both men and women have a feminine side and a masculine side!

In certain cultures, men don’t allow this feminine side to express itself. Not physically of course but just spiritually, inside of themselves. They would find it very difficult. Our Lady comes here to our rescue. Isn’t She the best and most perfect disciple of Jesus? Yes! If we contemplate her in the Annunciation, isn’t She the best incarnation of the feminine? She is receptive, docile, silent, surrendering totally herself to God. Can’t we, males and females, take her as our role model for the feminine side and allow Her to grow in us, and in us and through us fall in love with Jesus? Try it and you will see!

In fact, Christianity starts with Mary, because it is with Her and through Her feminine side that we can fall in love with Jesus! Let Her teach you and show you the way. Let us contemplate and imitate Mary in the Annunciation.

Christianity also “ends” with Mary… because it is in this way that true love will grow and become virile, true virtue, built on the grace of God will grow in us and take deep root. Mary at the foot of the Cross has a “male” (virile) strength that defies Jesus’ enemies. By contrast, all false virility abandoned Christ after having said: “I will follow you wherever you go, and I am ready to die for you”.

It is by totally committing to Jesus and not allowing any loss of emotional energy, that we can allow the Love of Jesus to grow in us. It is by loving Jesus in our neighbour, but more so, in our enemy, that the love of God in us becomes strong. Love the person you love least in your community or surroundings. Love this person with the help of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. Love this person “because of Jesus”. Love Jesus in this person. Experience the power of the Holy Spirit in you, how He pours His Charity into your heart! Love your brothers and sisters heroically. Don’t choose who to love. Spend more time with the people you can’t bear. Smile at them, pay attention to them, pay attention to Jesus in them. This will boost your spiritual growth and make you reach in very little time what Teresa of Avila calls: “the union with the will of God” (please see her book: “Interior Castle”, Fifth Mansions.).


Talking about Chastity

It is in this new state of “Union with the Will of God” that our emotions are submitted to the power of the Grace of God in us, that our will is solidly established in the will of God. This state offers us the experience of a first liberation and allows us to love freely, i.e. with greater ease. At the same time, we have a unique experience of the Love of Jesus that starts to grow. And soon, it will start to grow exponentially.

In the “Union with the Will of God”, the “train” of chastity is put on the railway tracks. Does this mean chastity is acquired once and for all? No. Chastity will constantly remain a “constant dependence on the Grace of God”, till the end! Remember, where does St. Teresa of Avila talk about King Solomon and his final turpitudes? In the Seventh Mansions, in Spiritual Marriage! We are never safe, but at the same time we need to acknowledge that the “union of will” is an important threshold. This is why St. Teresa of Avila says:

“I confess to you that we shall find this much harder, but it is of the greatest value and the reward will be greater too if you gain the victory. But you must not doubt the possibility of this true union with the will of GodThis is the union which I have desired all my life; it is for this that I continually beseech Our Lord; it is this which is the most genuine and the safest.” (“Interior Castle”, Fifth Mansions, III,5)

If we can’t offer to the young men and young women who consecrate their lives to Jesus the true way that leads to the “Union with the Will of God”, can we really continue to give Formation thus? Isn't it better to seek out those who have the know-how and can help? Do we want more scandals in the Church? Despite the many other reasons for them, these scandals have a common cause: emotions and sexuality that are searching for their true object to love (Jesus) and don’t find anybody showing them how to reach at least the “Union with the Will of God”.

We cannot “protect” the heart and emotions of our young priests from temptation and from falling into scandalous situations with only sets of exterior rules or solutions, or some psychological methods. Of course, prudence and a set of rules of behaviour are necessary and should constantly be implemented. But all this will never be enough, and these individuals might become frustrated because their emotional thirst is still there. They will remain vulnerable because of human weakness and a deep thirst for love. By the nature of their mission they will interact with people: they will be exposed to temptation. What they really need is to learn the art of meeting the Risen Lord, of loving Him and of falling in love with Him! The “protection” of our future Priests and future Nuns comes from within, from a transformed heart, filled with the love of Jesus, from a quenched desire, from a heart overflowing with the Love of Jesus, a heart that has been kindled and which is burning with the Love of God.

We need to take serious decisions here!

Formation in the communities and seminaries should be “mystical” and not only and first psychological. Otherwise it is doomed to fail. Unfortunately, in many places, if we look closer, we will find that the true leader of Formation is Psychology, or a spirituality that has as a main “judge” or “leader”: psychology. I am not saying that there is no spiritual life, or no liturgy in the different houses of formation. Plus, Psychology in itself has nothing wrong in it and it is needed in certain cases. What I am saying is that Psychology cannot lead: it offers us the Grace of God, but it cannot help us fall in love with Jesus, it cannot offer us real transformation from within, triggering a journey that will allow us, God willing, to reach this first great liberating point called “Union of Will”.

There is and will always be a great need for Formators who are experts in spiritual life, who know what the grace of God is waiting for, what it can achieve in us and who know what it means to grow to reach “Union with the Will of God”. In fact, we need Formators who know about real chastity, who can send in mission men and women who have their heart and emotions protected, because it is overflowing with the love of Jesus.

Offering a regular time for prayer to the seminarians or the young religious should be complemented by a renewed effort, namely, a proper Spiritual Formation that shows the way, helps trigger spiritual commitment and the reception of abundant of graces, which is a necessity not something to be left at random or managed in an amateur way. In the houses of formation, one needs to greatly strengthen Spiritual Theology in general and Spiritual Formation in particular. In order to ensure proper Spiritual Formation it is important to have not only a fervent spiritual life, but also to ensure professionalism, it should be based on the proper science of a renewed and practical Spiritual Theology, experience of real spiritual life, knowing how it works and its means, so as to be fruitful. Otherwise one can have future problems. It is important to know how to ensure steady growth using practical means in order to attain the “Union of Will”. This aspect is of utmost importance in order to promote a healthy and holy life for the consecrated. We need to stop and ponder on our responsibility in the Church when we are about to receive a young man or a young woman who wants to be consecrated to the Lord. We need to ask ourselves: do we really know how to form? Do we have the know-how and expertise for real Spiritual Formation? Otherwise, our careless decision to receive them, “counting on God” to do our job instead of we ourselves, is a very grave act of irresponsibility. One should call a spade a spade!

Many superiors send some of their candidates to be formed in Spiritual Theology, or “Spirituality”, in order to prepare them to become Formators. This is true and it is a necessity. But if Spiritual Theology, as it is taught today, fails to explain how to “Ensure a Steady Growth”, how to reach “Union with the Will of God”, fails to explain what constitutes the powerful means of prayer and how to discern and choose them, how to really prepare ourselves to receive the Grace of God, how to discern, we cannot really consider that the future Formator is really formed! We are back to square one and the real problem persists!

Many people speak about spiritual life, many people give talks, many many do pray. But is this bearing fruit? And if not, why aren’t we questioning ourselves? If we don’t see the relationship between spiritual growth and chastity, where are we going? If we don’t know how to ensure this growth, why do we receive candidates?!

When the child abuse scandal became public, we were forced to acknowledge our failures, apologise, and change the behaviour and the laws. It took various big scandals to bring about change. Even worse: we were forced to change because of public opinion and because of Civil Law! Shame on us would say St. Paul (see 1 Cor 6). The Formation process has also been positively improved because of what the scandal revealed! We are trying to avoid having future priests who could be paedophiles. We are trying to have superiors aware of the gravity of such acts.

Now, is this the only problem? There is a wider and, in a way, deeper problem that affects all consecrated persons, and the whole people of God, because it is a human issue: what do we do with our heart, emotions, and sexuality? Can the Grace of God help here? How? What are the means we need to use in order to change things? Do we know them? Are we experts in them? Or, are we still hiding from the real problem as we did with the child abuse issue in the past?

I do not think we should stop at some (or many) cases of sexual and emotional abuse of Nuns. This is only the tip of the iceberg of our emotions and sexuality. The question of Chastity should be addressed. It is not at all an easy problem, but it has to be addressed. Not superficially, but in-depth, with a great knowledge of what the grace of God can and cannot do.

Many leaders in the Church would feel very uncomfortable with what I am saying here. We had the same discomfort in the 1970s and 1980s when priests’ paedophilia was just hinted at. We didn’t want to hear about it! (we couldn’t face it!) Now the scandal of the abuse of the nuns is in the public domain! Do we still want to hide behind another uncomfortable or unpalatable fact? Until when? Until what? It is ourselves who are main the cause of great scandal to the people of God and to the world!


Jean Khoury
29 April 2019, St. Catherine of Sienna

PS A few years ago, in French and in Italian, I offered a commentary on the Encyclical letter of Pope Benedict “God is Love”, explaining the above. It constitutes the third part of my book on the Prayer of the Heart. “La prière du Coeur à l’école de Marie” or “La preghiera del cuore alla scuola di Maria”. I hope to be able to translate it into English. But the above is a good summary of it.

See the following video on loving Jesus with all our heart:



Please have a look at “Ensuring Steady Growth” Formation Course here (leaflet of the course here):


Wednesday, 10 April 2019

195- Meditating the Passion and Lectio Divina

What is the difference between “Meditating the Passion of the Lord” (MP) and practising Lectio Divina (LD)?

MP is taking one of the four accounts of the Passion, reading it, pondering, praying on it. It is therefore based on the Sacred Text like LD. It’s immediately obvious, too, that on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday our LD and MP coincide. In fact, during the Palm Sunday Mass and during the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, we have as a Gospel reading the entire account of the Passion.
Equally significant is that both LD and MP are said to be powerful. Also, both rely on a reading of the Sacred Text. In a way, therefore, they seem very similar. How is this relationship derived?

The relationship between LD and MP is in fact complex. Both are fundamental forces: vital, powerful and therefore unavoidable. Let us see in which sense they are so:

1- LD is listening to God and putting his Word into practice. In this sense it encompasses the core of the message of the Gospel. It is the core of any prayer: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).

2- MP can be said to perform the Ephphata, that is, the opening of our inner capacity of hearing God’s Word. It is on the Cross and through His Passion that Jesus saves us and therefore opens what was closed by the disobedience of the first Adam. With the Passion, everything starts to make sense in our life because it is the starting point of our new life in Christ. So, in this sense, MP opens the way for LD.
It is necessary to be aware, too, that Isaiah 53 has a central place in the New Testament. It is a prophetical text, given many centuries before the Lord’s Passion, but was perceived by the Apostles and authors of the New Testament as talking about Jesus, and describing his Passion. This perception is the pure gift of the Grace of God, an opening in the mind performed by the Holy Spirit, allowing us to “see” in this text Jesus during his Passion (see Luke 24:44-47). This unique experience that only the believers have (see St. Paul below) is the corner stone of the New Testament. We can’t stress this point enough (see also Acts 8:26-40).

St. Paul states that only faith removes the veil that stops us from seeing Christ in the Old Testament: “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenantIt has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed. And even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord [by Faith], the veil is taken away.”(2 Co 3:13-16)

3- The account of the Passion of the Lord is the core of the Bible. It contains the most dense and powerful pages. It is the Holy of the Holies of the New Testament and of the entire Bible. Some exegetes even stated that some Gospels (think of Mark’s) are like a long introduction to the Passion and the Passion.
It is in the Passion of the Lord that the maximum point of the Love of God is manifest. Isaiah 53 exemplifies in fact the core of our piety and paradoxically the summit of the manifestation of God’s love for each one of us. When St. Paul contemplates the Cross, he says: “he loved me and died for me” (Ga 2:20)!

4- It is still important to underline the fact that each week can be said to be a holy week that leads to Sunday, i.e. the Resurrection. Some mystics lived the Passion every week, showing us the deeper spiritual meaning of each week and what happens in it. They reveal its ascending movement: from the Passion and Death to the Resurrection of the Lord. The application of the Salvation realised by Christ 2000 years ago is happening everyday. This is why St. Paul says: “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).

5- In Lent and mostly during Holy Week, we are called to practise MP, live the Passion and benefit from its powerful grace. 

6- The wisdom of the Church makes her decide not to centre the entire Liturgical year exclusively around the Passion. So, throughout the year we have all the other Mysteries of Christ (Advent, Christmas, Easter…): hence we are not in Lent throughout the year. Hence the rich variation in the daily readings. Hence LD. LD is focused on the daily readings that follow the different phases of the Mysteries of Christ's Life. In each tide of the Liturgical year we face a different facet of Christ Mysteries. Each one shows his great love, compassion, mercy and the joy and pain at times which they bring.

7- When we read the Passion and meditate upon it, whenever we feel a word or a verse is touching us, we stop and dwell in it, so it has time to touch us, and communicate to us the Power of Salvation. The Passion then becomes actual or real for us; we see Our Saviour saving us, we receive His Love and Salvation, Mercy and Forgiveness. We become contemporaries of the Passion. We might weep over our sins or just out of the unbearable love Jesus is giving us. Isn't this a powerful LD? (MP is a particular form of LD.) MP is where Jesus acts directly in us, where the Words of the Passion touch our substance and burn us, heal us. We are filled by the grace of God almost without our collaboration other than just going through His Passion. Aren't we in it? Part of it?

8- If LD is the most powerful type of Prayer, what is then MP??! If LD is the most powerful type of prayer, the Passion is the most powerful LD.

So, as we see, we can't separate LD from MP. MP is an LD. MP opens the way for LD. All LD is a contact with the Holy Spirit through whom Jesus communicates Himself. The Passion is that communication at its most intense.

_____________

On Meditating the Passion of the Lord:





Friday, 5 April 2019

194- Q&A on Lectio Divina

It is always advisable to have questions and answers, on any important issue, in order to gain some clarity. We have said in a previous article how important it is to check on a one to one basis session our own practice of Lectio Divina. A person with experience can very easily spot the pitfalls and also give more explanations and confirmation that the procedure one is following is the correct one.
Practical questions, from real practice of Lectio Divina help discernment even more. Below is a series of questions based on three days of experience.




Hi Jean,
Here are the words I got while practising Lectio Divina. I am just starting so if you please, I would like to know if I am doing it correctly or not.

Wednesday:
First reading:      The statutes and decrees - words = Jesus Christ.
Gospel:                Christ, the Word, completes the law.
Act:                      Reflect Christ in my thoughts, deeds and words.

Thursday:
First Reading:    Listen to my voice', 'walk in all ways that I command', 'I sent you untiringly   all my servants' = Work and cooperate with God
Gospel:            Every kingdom divided against itself' = so we must be at one with God's kingdom = cooperating with Him.
Act:                      Unite my will with His.

Friday:
First Reading:     The passage 'I will heal..., I am like a verdant cypress tree, because of me you bear fruit' = Rely on God in all aspects
Gospel:               'Our Lord our God is Lord alone' = He alone is all things; He is the only power to trust.
Act:                        He is to be my focus.

So my questions are:
- Are these actions specific enough or have I cut off too early?
- Also, might I have manipulated them according to my own fanciful desires? 

I did the latter at one point on the first day – where I saw the word ‘letter’- when it occurred to me, I may have to write an email with His words to my brother. But I had been thinking about writing the email to my brother, so I wasn't sure if that was actually from Christ or from my own procrastination?  So, I discarded it.

Friday, I thought He was telling me to forget some sweet temptations from friends to go out and have fun etc. but the kind of fun as I don’t think it is conducive to the spiritual life.  Again, I am not sure this is what He meant as these considerations had crossed my mind.

Thank you and God bless. 
NA


Thank you NA for your questions. To start with, I have two points to underline and they are criteria of discernment.

1- First and foremost, your practice is already showing signs of the beginning of the supernatural action of God. The evidence for this is the fact that the two texts suddenly become one, having in each case the same message, which is what you seem to have found in the three days you mention, i.e. the fact that in one text you find a passage (word, sentence, expression) that resonates with the other one. The Holy Spirit allows this to happen because both texts are the Word of God, inspired, divine, therefore multi facetted and multi layered, so the Holy Spirit allows this unifying effect to happen: on a deeper level, crossing the skin of the fruit of the letter of the texts, or the shell enclosing the pearl, is tantamount to God himself who is showing you the same message as long as, of course, the text is not being excessively manipulated. Since in both passages it is the Living Word of God who speaks through the text, since only Jesus and we are here, the message is one.
You seem to have experienced this effect. Which is in itself already the beginning of the supernatural action of God and not the work of your mind.

2- Now, as you will notice the light or message you are receiving (you allude to it saying: Action), is still very general, capable of having many applications. It is still in the mind, but not in the lower discernment part of the mind that almost touches the will. Remember what we want is for the Divine Message coming from Christ to become flesh in us. We need to put it into practice. We don’t want a general indication, or a resolution. We need an act, a precise act.
Growth, real supernatural transformation, supernatural virtue is triggered by a synergetical act (two energies put together Hand in hand), i.e. an act suggested by God, an act that finds its origins in God… not a general piece of advice that you can apply in many different ways! No! An actual application. The action you mention is like a general law. What we need is one, only one, real application.
An act that finds in God its origin, its support and its finality, its goal – to render praise to God.


Q:  My LD today

First reading:   New heaven and earth, Jerusalem a joy, people to eat fruits they plant and house they build.
Gospel:             Come before my child dies, your son will live
Word:               God wishes life for all which is found in Jesus, if we live in Him.  He will heal us but it depends on how much we want it and trust Him.
Act:                   Pray and believe.

This lectio today, is very similar to yesterday’s LD. I am praying and I believe so why is He still telling me the same? Just want to check I’m not mishearing Him

Jean: “Pray and believe” as an action is too generic. What was meant by it?  In order to know it you need to ask the Lord during LD.  LD is a dialogue, where you have all the right to question, to ask for clarity. Remember Our Lady in the Annunciation: she asks the Angel: “how will this be?”
In this dialogue between you and the Lord, you need to keep insisting on asking for clarity on how to apply this general message of “pray and believe” today. We always need to insist with a beautiful trusting insistence until He answers. We humble ourselves even more, we create a space in us for the Word (here the explanation of the word He is giving us). We are ready for conversion, for a new step, for discovering something new about ourselves...

Q:  Actually, I haven’t told you everything about this “Pray and Believe”. In fact this message from the Lord was an invitation for me to pray for my non-believer friends and not to look at them like there’s no hope.

Jean: So He asked you to pray for a specific intention?

Q:  Since the weekend, I have been annoyed with a friend because he gets so angry when I mention God.  He had asked me why the world is so full of misery and I gave my opinion.  He got angry at the word God, so I have been saying to myself not to hope for him anymore as he has got too close to the other side.  He dabbles with all other spiritualties.  So perhaps Jesus is telling me not to be annoyed and pray and hope.  Or I’m just mishearing Him.

Jean:  When you started LD did you mention the issue to Him? Were you still annoyed? Did what He asked you to do surprise you? Or was it more or less expected. - Just checking, as in order to discern, I need to ask these questions.

Q:  No, I didn’t mention it to Him. Whenever I start LD, I only pray to hear His words and ask Him to tell me what He wants. Then I read the passages and look up commentaries to understand more. Then I read the passages again and pray.  I wasn’t in fact thinking of my friend or anything. BUT I did wonder what He was trying to tell me about my life personally and around me.  He suddenly popped into my mind.

It was during the weekend and I was thinking that there was no hope for my friend though I know it’s not my place to judge. I kept saying to myself that he was in too deep with the devil because he hates the Catholic Church and God. So this is my sin.

Jean:  Good. Since the Word you received looks like an unexpected turn, and not in your mind initially, I would rather believe that it is coming from Him.  Did you then discuss it with Him?

Q: No, I didn’t discuss it with Him, but I will try discussing it with Him tonight. 

Jean:  From now discuss with Him in your mind and heart. LD is for today not for tomorrow. Don't waste these hours. The act is meant to be implemented today.

Q:  Sure will do. One LD a day is enough to stress me out.

Jean:  No stress.  It is a GREAT JOY to meet the Risen Lord and know He came to you and talked to you.  

Q:  Yes, but the stress is whether I hear Him right. 

Jean:  No, you will learn to recognise His Word.  It fills you in the beginning of the day with excitement: “What will He ask me to do?”

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

193- From the Literal Meaning of Scriptures to the Spiritual One

Spiritual Exegesis, Spiritual Life and Lectio Divina

When we practise Lectio Divina, in the process of listening to the Word of God we read the text various times. As one can see in the 15 steps of Lectio Divina we have read (1), read (2), read (3), read (4). What do they mean? In the Active phase we do read (1) in order to understand the text. While in the more Receptive – listening phase: we read while asking for the help of the Holy Spirit. We read (2) in order to discover Christ’s will: we ask, beg and, pray. We read (3) until we see only one light in the two texts. And finally, we read (4) until this same light becomes clear for us in a practical way. As we can see, we repeat the reading of the same text, but each time with the aim to go further deep into the text. 

In other words, we go from the literal meaning of the Sacred Text, read (1): reading in order to understand what the text says in its plain literal meaning, to the Spiritual meaning of the same text (read (2), read (3), read (4)).

The initial work of the Holy Spirit starts when we notice that despite the fact that the two texts are different (different human authors, different moment in history, different subjects…) they start to say the same thing, one thing.
This phenomenon is really amazing, and it is really the sign of the working of the Grace of God. It starts one day when the Holy Spirit opens our mind (see below Luke 24:45) and allows us to see (in fact contemplate) a new spiritual meaning, which shows the unity between the two texts, a unity that lies at a deeper (or higher) level, the Spiritual Level, the level of the Holy Spirit. A unity caused by the fact that the Holy Spirit is the main Author of the sacred text.

“Then he [the Risen Lord] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)

Note: He opened their minds once Risen. The opening of the Mind requires the Holy Spirit who was given after the Resurrection.

Having two texts and not one prevents us from remaining on the literal level, on the level of the letter: “the letter kills”, says Saint Paul, “but the Holy Spirit vivifies” (2 Co 3:6), i.e. gives us Divine Life. We witness the miracle of the Holy Spirit, animating with His Breath the letter of the Text, transforming it into the Living Word of God. In doing this He makes us communicate directly with the Risen Lord, and makes us hear His voice talking to us, guiding us, nourishing us. He really is the one who connects us with the Risen Lord and makes us hear His Voice.

This experience should then lead us to seek clarity on what He has started to say to us. We then would like to understand from Him what He wants us to do. The temptation is to stop at the beginning of Contemplation and rejoice in the “juiciness” of this Supernatural communication of Jesus to us. This new spiritual meaning the Holy Spirit is showing us in the texts needs to come into sharper focus, i.e. pointing within us toward an act that we should make.


Going from the Literal to the Spiritual Sense

In this sense, we are called everyday, while practising Lectio Divina, to have the experience of going from the literal meaning of the daily readings to the spiritual meaning that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Lectio Divina is not an intellectual exercise or endeavour. Having the spiritual meaning, in itself, is not the goal of Lectio Divina. But having this spiritual meaning touching on some area in us to change us is the goal.
However, the spiritual meaning we get of some parts of the text we are reading today doesn’t mean that this meaning is the only one to be had and the only one that everybody should have. The Word of God is Divine and therefore is versatile. If we don’t lose the direct connection between the literal and the spiritual sense, we will notice that the same word or expression of verse or passage can and will have many legitimate meanings. We can never exhaust all the meanings. In our quest for the spiritual sense of the texts of the day, we should never depart from the literal meaning to the point of losing the connection between the two. This is like taking a word out of its literal context and understanding it symbolically or literally in another way. There is a line between the literal sense and the spiritual sense just as there is a connection and line between the contours of a piece of stained glass and the light that comes through it.  

Going from the literal meaning to the spiritual one in fact is the normal process of Lectio Divina,in the sense that it is part of Lectio Divina to have the experience, in the Holy Spirit, of the Living Word of God and not to be dealing intellectually (with our mind) only with a text, even if it is a Sacred Text.

"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,
he explained to them what was said
in all the Scriptures concerning himself."
(Luke 24:27) 

In this sense also, the foundational experience of the Apostles and Disciples of Jesus in Luke 24 (the disciples of Emmaus and the eleven Apostles gathered together), the experience of this opening of the mind to understand what the Living Word of God says, through the powerful help of the Holy Spirit, is crucial for the practice of a proper Christian “Lectio Divina”. (“Proper” here means “supernatural”.) It strongly takes us back to the experience of the Ephphata (Mark 7,34) which is enacted as one of the rites of Baptism where the priest anoints the ears and mouth of the baby (or the adult), opening afresh the inner spiritual ear and the inner spiritual speech, after their having been closed since Adam’s fall! Enacting the experience of this baptismal opening should be lived by each of the Faithful in a personal way... discovering how he or she is really a son of God by adoption and therefore is called to hear his Father talking to him and to talk to his Heavenly Father with His Words.
This capacity comes from God, is given to us in Baptism, and is enacted when Jesus Calls us to follow Him. Nobody can take this grace for granted, ignore it or neglect it. It is part of the richness of each Christian. This is what makes us real Prophets, i.e. capable of having a two-way relationship with God, hearing Him and talking to Him. (Note: No other religion has this experience offered to all the Faithful, even the smallest Faithful.) This is what the Apostles state in the Act of the Apostles during Pentecost: they remember the prophet Joel’ prophecy that says that all will be prophets (see Acts 2:17-18). “And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28)

Seeing other persons (i.e. the Fathers of the Church, the Spiritual Masters, the Mystics and all spiritual persons) also having the same experience throughout the past twenty centuries (to the point that it has become coined as: “Spiritual Exegesis”) gives a greater confirmation and depth to our Prayer (i.e. Lectio Divina). Seeing so many generations having the same experience gives it a context, and more so offers a confirmation that one is on the right path. Discovering that the meanings that the personal experience of the Holy Spirit inLectio Divinaare similar or identical to persons who lived in the early centuries is a wondrous experience that shows the unity through time of the Action of the Living Word in our life. It shows an amazing continuity, a real experience of the Living Tradition in Action, in us.

Having said that, it is important to remember two things:

1- going from the literal meaning to the spiritual meaning of the text suggested on a particular day is not a goal in itself and we shouldn’t dwell in it. It is not the goal of Lectio Divina to discover new meanings in the Scriptures. The discovery of a new spiritual meaning of the text is simply part of the supernatural process of Lectio Divina.
2- going from the literal meaning of the text to the spiritual one should lead us toward the real goal of Lectio Divina, which is listening to the Word of God and putting it into practice. In order to do so we need not only a general contemplation but a real incarnation of what the Voice of the Son, in the Holy Spirit, has made us hear in the Text. Thus, once the spiritual meaning starts to appear, one has to aim for the completion of the process of listening, hence the need to keep on asking: “how do you, Lord, want it to be applied by me today in my personal life, in myself?”


The Spiritual Opening

We mentioned above the spiritual opening, the experience one has of a sudden and profound change in the way one understands the Scriptures where the Holy Spirit intervenes and offers a deeper meaning of the text. However, there is a “before” and an “after” in this experience.
This phenomenon raises questions: do all Christians have this “opening” experience? Do all the Faithful have to have this experience? Since there is a “before” this experience, how can one deal with the Scriptures? Does it last for ever or is it a phase?

These questions lead us to introduce an important dimension or parameter for the understanding of “how to read the Scriptures”, and to “what is supposed to happen in Lectio Divina”. This new parameter is spiritual growth. The spiritual journey is not uniform or binary: being Christian or not being Christian. Within being Christian, there are various stages of growth. This reality is addressed by all Spiritual Masters and deserves a minimum of understanding by the Faithful in order to know what the steps are that he or she has ahead of them. Please see the book or articles on “The Spiritual Journey” or read St. Teresa of Avila’s book the “Interior Castle.”

If we consider three different stages (each one of them has sub-stages) we can say that Christian life can be divided into three stages: 

1- From first conversion to second conversion, 
2- From second conversion to full Union with Jesus, 
3- From full union with Jesus to the fullness of Love (Christian Death).

Stage 1 corresponds to the first three mansions in St. Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle”. Stage 2 corresponds to the following four Mansions, and Stage 3 to the “Living Flame of Love” (St. John of the Cross’ masterpiece and testament).
But if we want a more Gospel image, we can use the image of the crossing of the Sea of Galilee: here we would have three phases:


1- Before crossing the sea,
2- Crossing the sea,
3- Arriving on the other side of the sea.

This image doesn’t correspond perfectly to the previously described phases because Jesus’ Apostles were Jews, believers in God and had been prepared for centuries to receive the Messiah, and then prepared more closely by John the Baptist. So meeting Jesus, i.e. receiving His Call, doesn’t correspond exactly to the Second Conversion.
To be more precise we should divide the first stage before crossing the sea into two phases: preparing to meet the Messiah and meeting the Messiah and His calling them to follow Him. This second phase should be in a way put together with the Crossing. So, in a wider way but more with greater precision, the three phases should be:


1- Before meeting the Messiah, until meeting Him and being called to follow Him.
2- Starting to follow Him.
    2a- from home till the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
    2b- having to cross, the sea (from one shore to the other)
3- Reaching the other shore until death in Christ.

What was described above corresponds to the entire long (very long) Phase 2. The Second conversion to Union with Christ.

Now what happens before this phase? From first conversion to second conversion? How do we read the Scriptures? Is there any direct action of the Holy Spirit in us? No. Do we use the general help of the grace of God? Yes, to its fullest or in its fullness, i.e. we, first, make a serious effort to learn the Scriptures, we use our mind as much as we can to understand God’s Commandments and the entire Catechism. The mind has a greater role here. Meditation is the main activity with the Bible. Meditation means mainly the use of the mind, analysis, reflection, thinking and pondering. Meditation means going from idea a to idea b, and from b to c, so the conclusion we draw is: a to c. All this is achieved with the general help of the Grace of God, until one day Jesus draws closer to us, has mercy on us and calls us to follow Him.
It is very important to fulfil this first stage before moving forward. The long learning process of the Bible (history of it, contents), the long learning process and implementation of the four parts of the Catechism are fundamental.

In fact, sometimes even people who have had a powerful conversion, need to go back and strengthen this initial long phase of rooting and implementation of a solid Christian Life.

This means that for the persons who are in this long phase (it can last years and decades) meditation is their main bread, their main way of addressing the Scriptures and their way of practising Lectio Divina. See for instance (see it and study it) the first way of watering the garden described by St. Teresa of Avila in her Autobiography, where this phase is vividly brought to life for the reader.



Bibliography:

- Vatican II, "Dei Verbum".
- Henri de Lubac, "History and Spirit. The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen."
- Henri de Lubac, "Medieval exegesis", 3 vols.
- St. Teresa of Avila, "Autobiography".
- St. Teresa of Avila, "The Interior Castle".