Friday, 17 January 2020

203- Lectio Divina or Meditation?

Summary: In this article we will see that if a person can be understood as not having quite reached second conversion, then that person will have to be content with the initial practice of Meditation and avoid diving into Lectio Divina. This will mean that when a person is facing difficulties in the initial implementation of Lectio Divina we will need to discern between two possible reasons: 1- the legitimate normal difficulty any person faces when practising Lectio Divina, and 2- the fact that the person hasn’t undergone the second conversion yet. If so, the person is not ready yet and needs to practise Meditation and not yet Lectio Divina.


Dominic001
Introduction

In this article, for the first time I do address in a new way the difficulties we face when we need to implement Lectio Divina and seem to struggle and/or fail. I consider Lectio Divina as we teach it (i.e. with the personal and direct intervention of the Holy Spirit allowing us to really listen to the Lord) under the perspective of whether we do or do not need to practise it. I do open a new horizon to our theological reflection attracting our attention to the difference in the working of the grace of God before and after second conversion. Considering second conversion as a tool of discernment regarding this issue is therefore new.
Lectio divina as we present it, takes for granted that the second conversion has occurred in the life of the practitioner. This is why the direct and supernatural action of the Holy Spirit (Contemplation) is involved. If the second conversion hasn’t occurred, we will then need to be patient, wait and, in the meantime, exercise ourselves in Meditation which doesn’t involve the direct personal action of the Holy Spirit (Contemplation).
1- Lectio Divina as we teach it

Until today, I have generally assumed that the main criterium of discernment for applying Lectio Divina or not as we teach it at the School of Mary, is to ascertain if the person has read at least once the four Gospels, Acts, one or two important letters of St. Paul (Romans) and some extracts from the Old Testament. Otherwise, I used to invite people to read a paragraph from a Gospel before going to sleep, as a starting point, until the person acquired a minimum of familiarity with the Bible. I used to use the image: before reaching the motorway, we need to take the small roads first, then larger roads, until we reach the motorway (i.e. the Lectio as we teach it). I still taught the supernatural Lectio Divina that involves the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit to allow us to really listen to Jesus and put his Word into practice.
The question is should we reconsider this option and not merely assume that any Baptised person would be able to practise Lectio Divina as we teach it, i.e. with the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit?
Lectio Divina as we teach it involves looking at the two ways of the working of the Grace of God. The General and the Particular Help of the Grace of God. The General Help is constantly given to us, and it helps us read, think, study, meditate, ponder. It is a general help of the grace of God given to the mind, helping it to see, understand and act with the ordinary light of faith.
The Particular Help of the Grace of God is the direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit in us that makes us enter into direct contact with the Risen Lord. The Particular Help is typical of the post second conversion way of acting of the grace of God.
St. Thomas Aquinas talks about these two ways of acting of the Grace of God (see Summa Teologica I-IIae Q. 109, A.6). He actually uses the expression of “preparative grace” for the General Help and “Grace” itself for the Particular Help. St. Teresa of Avila, on the other hand, keeps the expressions “General help” and “Particular help” ((Life 14,6; see as well 3Mansions 1,2; 5Mansions 2,3)).
What, then, is the dividing line between the two modes of action of the Grace of God? Can any person receive the Particular Help of the grace of God? No, it is typical of the post second conversion time.
Do we use either one or the other? Or better said, does it mean that after the second conversion all the workings of the grace of God is made according to the Particular Help of the Grace of God?
It is fundamental to understand what is at stake here and how the two modalities of the action of the Grace of God interact. We don’t have one for the pre-conversion and the second for post-conversion. Rather we have the general help for the pre-conversion, but after conversion the two are used, as one prepares and leads to the second as St. Thomas Aquinas rightly says. In this sense we continue to read, think, study and meditate, but all these activities lead us toward the direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit in us, the particular help of the Grace of God.
The Lectio Divina as we teach it bears in itself the two workings of the Grace of God. One leads to the other.

2- Can everyone immediately apply Lectio Divina as we teach it?

Those who receive the teaching on Lectio Divina as we teach it in the School of Mary are on their spiritual journey. If they are receiving the teaching on Lectio and they are before their second conversion, the chances for them to be able to apply it as we teach it are very slim. Why? Because at this stage of growth the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit is not yet active.
Therefore, one needs to be careful not to push people too much into applying Lectio Divina as taught, or try to “torture” them by asking them to repeat the process and to keep on trying to do so, as this could lead to their even feeling guilty because it is not “working”.
We need to be able to discern between the intrinsic difficulty of implementing Lectio Divina and the impossibility to do so if the person needs first to do “meditation” (the person is before conversion).

3- Is Lectio Divina for all?

Yes and no. Yes, Lectio Divina is for everybody, but not immediately; it all depends as we said above where they are on their journey. If they are before their second conversion, people should start by meditating, which is using the general help of the grace of God in order to learn from a text they read and implement what they have learned. It is not yet the supernatural Lectio Divina, but purely “Meditation”.

4- The medieval meaning of "Meditating"

It is important to understand the differences in the use of the word “Meditation”. Today, in modern life, the expression “meditation” is used and applied in a very broad way, sometimes even for just some body relaxation. This is not the way it is being used here. We use it according to the traditional Christian meaning of it acquired especially during the Middle Ages.
Meditating in the Middle Ages is to use one’s mind, while reading a text (Scripture or Spiritual or Theological or Philosophical text), trying to find clarity in the text, discerning the main points, seeing the connections between them, to think about them, ponder, and from this work of the mind we deduce new lights or lessons, or resolutions. It is normally meant to lead us to improve in our Christian life, our practice of the virtues, our understanding of our faith and more so, the practical implications we draw from them.
To meditate implies a predominant use of the mind, under the General Help of the Grace of God. It involves the general light of faith.
It is in this meaning that Guigo the Carthusian uses the verb “to meditate” in this spiritual ladder: read, meditate, pray, contemplate.
St. Teresa of Avila uses the verb and St. John of the Cross as well, in the same meaning.

5- St. Teresa of Avila comes to our rescue

All the above is in a way summarised in St. Teresa of Avila’s life and works. Her conversion (which is a second conversion) leads her to experience the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit (the “supernatural as she calls it” (see Mansions 4, first paragraph)), putting her in direct contact with Christ. It is from that moment on in her life, at the age of almost forty, after twenty years of monastic life that she experiences this change in herself. The majority of what we know about her, then, is the “new Teresa”, the Teresa of Jesus, what comes after her second conversion.
In her works, we can easily find the dividing line between her life before and after her conversion. For instance, in the book of her life, where she explains prayer, and talks about four ways of watering a garden (i.e. receiving the grace of God), her first way, is “meditation”, which falls before the beginning of the supernatural action of God in her. The following three ways of praying all involve the particular help of the grace of God, or the “supernatural”.
The same applies in the masterpiece, “The Interior Castle”. The first three mansions are pervaded by the action of the general help of the grace of God, while from the fourth mansions onward (4, 5, 6 and 7) we see in action both the general and particular help of the grace of God.
It is also significant to note that even if St. Teresa of Avila speaks essentially of Mental Prayer (i.e. Prayer of the Heart) and never about Lectio Divina, it is absolutely fair to apply her theology of the working of the Grace of God to Lectio Divina.
In this case, as we have just said: Meditation is the main activity before the Second Conversion. Any person who hasn’t yet gone through her second conversion is bound not to be able to practise the supernatural Lectio Divina, i.e. Lectio Divina as we explain it in the School of Mary. Why? Because the latter involves the direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to meet and hear the Risen Lord talking to our heart.

123
MeditationSecond ConversionLectio Divina
General help of the grace of GodGeneral and Particular help of the grace of God (supernatural)
Working of the mind with the general help. Extracting thoughts that nourish the progress in faith and moral life.Elevation of the mind with the power of the Holy Spirit, healing the will and transforming it, allowing a new knowledge.

Note: Second Conversion in itself deserves a separate article and treatment. Often it is regarded as only a grace from God, a grace where human effort is not involved. But when we study the teaching of the Doctors of the Church, especially St. Teresa of Avila, we start to understand more clearly what is at stake in the second conversion, i.e. what are the exact proportions between on one hand the direct intervention of the grace of God (the “Particular help of the Grace of God”) and on the other hand the human effort in using the “General Help of the Grace of God”, and that it takes time to occur. In fact, St. Teresa’s life and writings are uniquely rich for the learning of the “second conversion”: it is at the centre of her life and of her teaching.
The book of “Way of Perfection”, offered to the sisters of the monastery she first founded, St. Jose, at Avila, in fact is directly related to the lessons learned from her second conversion.

6- Meditation in St. John of the Cross

The teaching given by St. John of the Cross helps shed an extra light on this issue. In fact, in his works, he does mention something very illuminating for our subject. He tries to help us identify the moment when we “cross” from “Meditation” to “Contemplation”. He offers three signs (plus one). One of these signs is the difficulty or incapacity at a certain point to meditate! Which means to go with our mind, with the general help of the grace of God from one idea to another in a text. Why so? Because the grace of God has reached a point where it is shifting to a higher level of working, i.e. the particular help of the grace of God. It is true that he specifically talks about this phenomenon in Mental Prayer (Prayer of the Heart) but it can easily be applied to the rest of spiritual life. It is very interesting to see how he noticed that the person from a specific moment onwards can’t anymore pray using the mind only (with the general help of the grace of God).
Translated into the workings of “Lectio Divina”, we can say that once a person reaches this point in her spiritual life, she won’t be able to simply meditate on a text. The need and urge (and God’s desire) will be to enter into a direct contact with the Risen Lord, through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. In this case, Lectio Divina as it is taught in the School of Mary will be applied without too much difficulty, or better said: with its normal challenge, because there is always a challenge when we practise it, the challenge of going from the general to the particular help of the Grace of God, which is from “reading in order to understand the text” to “reading in order to listen to Jesus”.

7- Why the delay?

One can always ask this general question: why does Jesus delay the action of the particular help of the grace of God? Why can’t He just always act directly with the Holy Spirit? Since the coming of the Holy Spirit is what characterises Christian life, why doesn’t the Holy Spirit work immediately in the life of a Christian?
Interestingly enough, we find different answers to this question in the Gospel, in Jesus’ teaching itself. First, let us consider Jesus' reply to the Young rich man who was asking him: “Good Master what shall I do in order to have Eternal Life?”. Jesus doesn’t immediately say to him: you need one thing, go sell what you have, give the money to the poor, carry your Cross and come and follow me. No. Jesus acts progressively, step by step, like a good teacher or formator. He starts by asking him about Moses’ Teaching: “have you put into practice the [ten] Commandments?”. Jesus in fact is first and foremost checking if the foundations of spiritual life in the human being (the first stage of formation) have been laid. Jesus is checking to see if the young man used the general help of the Grace of God in order to apply the Ten Commandments. In fact, perfection doesn’t come first. The foundations come first. He could have, for instance, asked him about his faithfulness to his duties of state, if he has a job. All these aspects of life are important, implicit and fall into the framework of the Ten Commandments, i.e. of what any human being can do using the general help of the grace of God. Let us remember what we said above: this help is given to each human being, and at all times. This means that is should be used. We can’t emphasise the fact more strongly that these aspects should be done, achieved, realised before even talking about any form of Perfection.
It is only after He asked him this question and made sure that he did, that Jesus looked at him and loved him! Here come the specifics of the second conversion: entering into a direct and personal relationship with Jesus, hearing his Call to follow him. A new life!
The Gospel says that that was Jesus’ reaction: He looked at him and loved him. Why? Because this is the starting point of a new life. This is why St. Teresa of Avila when she wrote her life said: until then (her conversion) it was her life, and from that moment on, it was “Jesus’ life in her”. The phrase “of Jesus” attached to her name then started to have a living meaning.
The conclusion of this first insight given by the Lord is the necessity to lay first the foundations. So, a Supernatural Lectio Divina comes after Meditation, comes after laying the foundations, i.e. doing all that could be done using the general help of the Grace of God.

8- Indications of the Parable of the Sower

Interestingly, the Parable of the Sower can shed a light on this issue of Meditation vs Supernatural Hearing of the Word of God (i.e. Lectio Divina as we describe it). Why so? It does so because its main purpose is to analyse our way of listening to Jesus’ Words, the Seeds He came to give us. It offers four ways of listening, three of them not bearing fruits, each one for one or more reasons. By deepening our understanding of the reasons, we understand better the workings of the grace of God, i.e. God’s part in the process and our part. We can also draw a line between the first three types of persons and the fourth one, this line is drawn by the Lord himself when He clarified that only the good soil is bearing fruits, in multiple ways, some 100, some 60 and some 30.

The first soil: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Mt 13:19). These are the persons who, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.” (Mt 13,13-15) The Lord’s comment is tough. But there is a serious teaching here for us. The soil here is not “opened” in order to receive the Divine Seed. A serious effort of ploughing is needed.
The soil is the image of our heart and mind. How can we “plough” the soil of our being? By focusing on what is available, at the reach of our hand: putting into practice God’s Ten Commandments, for they summarise God’s will, and the ordinary grace of God is given to us constantly. We can use it to convert, confess, or simply act and put into practice. This step reminds us of the Lord’s first reply to the young rich man: have you put into practice Moses’ Commandments? They are fundamental, they are very close to what the natural light of reason can reach out to, they are a sort of “natural law”. What else could be done at this stage? Paying attention to having a serious involvement in life, with a job, fulfilling the duties of one’s state, helping in the Parish or Community.
As a consequence, at this stage, the mind needs opening and the heart too. It comes with a personal effort of reading, thinking, meditating and extracting conclusions, acts to be done. We understand here that we can’t offer or teach the person here Lectio Divina as we usually do it. Conversion is not yet there, plus, the person is not even necessarily close to the line of conversion. Let us think of the first or second mentions in St. Teresa. Crossing over from the first to the second mansion, avoiding committing sin. This brings the person to the third mansion and roots the person deeply in this regular ordered “rational” life. It is necessary for many people to achieve this stage. There are exceptions, certainly, for the Lord can have mercy on certain big sinners and offer them powerful graces to take them out of their grave sins, but still, they will have to go back to the fundamentals, and implement them until they have strong roots.

The second soil: The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no roots, he remains for only a season. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Mt 13:20-21) Once the soil is opened by the effort made by the person to put into practice Moses’ Commandments and have an ordered life, it is necessary, as we just said, to persevere in these new virtues so they can gain deeper and stronger roots in us. Learning perseverance and resilience removes the rocks in our soil.
We have often heard after the Vatican Council about human formation. It is the core of this stage. Human virtues; think of even what the Greek philosophers taught us to practise, and this entire structure has been integrated by St. Thomas Aquinas, showing that the supernatural virtues and the working of the Holy Spirit are grafted onto these initial “natural” virtues. This stage has its proper warfare, i.e. combating vices and bad habits.

9- Conclusion: what should we do?

With attentive discernment, it is important to try to sense if the person is before the second conversion or after it.
If the person is after it, this means that trying Lectio Divina as we do it is possible. How can we check? It is better to give time to the person and check through a one on one session what is not working. We need to discern between the intrinsic difficulty proper to the normal practice of Lectio Divina and the need first for Meditation. This comes from learning more about Lectio Divina and trying to see the personal history of the person if she went through a moment of change.
If the person is before the moment of conversion which is the case of the majority of parishioners, one needs to direct the person toward Meditation. It can be meditation of the Scriptures, or certain books that offer a meditation on a specific subject in Christian life. One can read on spiritual subjects and meditate upon them. One can read spiritual comments on the Bible. One needs to remember the main tasks of this stage:  fidelity to the Commandments and Duties of State.
It is not advisable at all to force the person into Lectio Divina, or worse make the person feel undermined about not doing it the way we explain it. One needs pertinent discernment and patience.
At the end of this short article, a question remains: should the School of Mary teach some methods of Meditation?

Jean Khoury
17th January 2020

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

202- Proposal for a Celebration of the Liturgy of the Word

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice
is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt 7:24)

Introduction

For the Year of the Word celebrated in England and Wales (2019-2020), the following text offers an explanation of the elements that are involved in the Proclamation of the Word (the first part of the Mass). It aims to generate awareness and suggest ways to improve this vital moment where God Himself talks to us. One of the possible ways is to devise a Paraliturgy of the Word, or formation sessions, where more time can be taken to fine-tune the different elements of the Proclamation. Both Readers and the Faithful can benefit from it leading to a “fruitful participation” in the Liturgy. The grace of God then can work more effectively allowing the Word of God to become alive in us.
First, we will look at the different elements of the Liturgy of the Word and then offer some suggestions.



1. Why the Liturgy of the Word?

Jesus’ ministry is the unique moment in history where God communicated Himself totally to us. His ministry time, like the Gospel itself is divided into two: 
a-     giving to the world the words that are Spirit and Life;
b-    giving Himself to us on the Cross. 
The Mass is Jesus’ life and the Gospel made alive: it is the privileged moment when we receive Jesus’ words and Himself. The first part of the Mass is the Table of the Word, meant to make us relive the unique three years of Jesus’ preaching. Here, Jesus, the Risen Lord, comes and teaches us, talks to us personally and invites us to make an effort to listen to his words, assimilate them and keep them faithfully.
In the second part of the Mass we are made present at the Last Supper and at the sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross. We receive Him totally during Communion.

2. Jesus Himself Speaks to Us

In the document on Liturgy of Council Vatican II we find a very deep insight about the Liturgy of the Word: “He [Christ] is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” (Vatican II, SC7) In other words, every time during a liturgy we hear the proclamation of the holy scriptures, it is our ears hear that the voice of the reader (a reader, a deacon, priest, bishop) proclaiming the Word, while our mind and heart listen to Jesus Himself, the Word of God living among us, speaking to us.

3. Scriptures vs. Word

In the last 60 years at least, Theology has come to acknowledge the difference between the Sacred Scriptures and the Word of God. By “Scriptures” we mean the Sacred text that we have in a written form such as in Bibles and Lectionaries. The latter are the books we use during the Liturgy of the Word which contains the first Readings and the Gospel. For recent Theology and the Church Magisterium, the “Word of God” is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Risen, present and active in the Church and in our lives. We can then easily sense the great and sacred dynamism inherent in the expression “Word of God”. This is the reason for the Reader, at the end of the Readings, saying: “The Word of the Lord”. He or she points out that he wasn’t just reading facts recalled from the past, but was being the humble tool of God talking to us at that moment in time.

4. Reading vs. Proclaiming

Theology also points out that during the Liturgy of the Word in the first part of the Mass, we often prefer to use the verb “Proclaim” to underline the huge difference between merely reading a text, even if the text is sacred, and Proclaiming the Word of God. “Reading” is an act of remembrance of events that occurred in the past, while “proclaiming” makes us either contemporaries of the past, i.e. as if we were amongst the crowds listening to Jesus, or allows the actual living Word of God to communicate with us here and now, rather like the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples of Emmaus or appearing to the Apostles gathered in the upper room.

5. Human vs. Sacramental Dimension
Voice vs. Word

More recent liturgical studies began to consider that the Proclamation of the Word has a sacramental dimension. A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace that God communicates to us. In the case of “Proclamation” the sacramental dimension is as follows: the “visible sign” is the voice of the reader. The “invisible grace” communicated is the Word of God – Jesus – talking to us in the silence of our mind and heart. We go from hearing the scriptures to listening to the Word of God.
We need to be aware of the difference between attending a reading of a sacred text and witnessing an amazing event, God present among us and actually communicating Himself to us. Put in a nutshell:  absence of communication vs. God communicating Himself, or remembering the past, i.e. no supernatural efficacy, grace wise, vs. a Sacred Act that requires attention and fruitful participation.
The Holy Spirit uses the words Proclaimed to reach the deepest parts of our being. The Word is the tip of his Sword. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (He 4:12) By going deep in us He wants to heal and transform us!

6. Living Tools of the Word

Readers are not just reading us a sacred text from the past. They are living instruments of something much bigger than they - they are the living “tools” used by the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and actually present among us, using their voices and the text they are reading to speak to us individually and as a community.

7. The Sacredness of the Presence of Jesus Amongst Us

From time immemorial the Church has understood the Sacredness of the Proclamation of the Word, i.e. that during the Liturgy of the Word Jesus Himself is present, as He was present amongst us 20 centuries ago, walking amongst us, proclaiming the Good news, talking to each one of us, teaching, instructing, shedding his light and love.
In this light, before its proclamation, the Procession with the book of the Gospel, held aloft, preceded by candles and incense, venerated by the faithful lining His path, reflects Jesus walking amongst us as He did in Galilea and Judea. We stand up, then, for the Proclamation of the Gospel because we acknowledge that Jesus is now present and is about to open His mouth (Matthew 5:2) and to talk to us. Similarly, this is so when He suddenly appeared to the Apostles in the Upper Room through closed doors and said: “Peace be with you”.
We then incense the Gospel in order to venerate Jesus present in His Word about to be proclaimed, while the candles being held at the ambo signify Jesus being the Light of our minds and hearts.
The priest says “[this is] The Gospel of the Lord”, and our reply: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” reveals the true identity of what has just happened. The Priest then kisses the Gospel venerating this physical presence of Jesus. We are, truly, no less fortunate than Jesus’ contemporaries, 2000 years ago, for we still have Him, and He still walks amongst us and wants to talk to each one of us.

8. Readiness to Listen

The fruitfulness of listening to the Word of God depends on a number of conditions. We need to ask ourselves if we really hear Him in the silence of our hearts. Or are we absorbed by our distractions? Do we try to remedy our inability today to memorise readings? Do we really receive his light and healing power or we let it pass us by? Does his word reach us and transform us? Is our faith alert and attentive in order to hear? Is our heart ready to listen? Then, are all the “material” conditions for a fruitful proclamation present and in working order, namely: physical silence in the assembly, microphone working properly, microphone directed properly toward the reader, good acoustics of the church, speaking into the microphone, audible voice, clear enunciation, a gentle rhythm, a rather even tone, intelligent reading, recollected silence by the listeners, time for ingesting the word and appropriating it to ourselves… 
Intelligent reading on the part of the readers involves a minimum of preparation of the text, understanding the difficult words, and maybe also meditating upon it for a while in order to properly follow its natural rhythms and convey the sense of the text.

9. Combining Many Elements

As we can see from the above, the sacramental moment of the Proclamation depends on the combination of so many minute material and non-material elements both psychological and spiritual, that its fruitfulness is constantly threatened. Consequently, we have to admit that is has more of a chance of failing than succeeding because of human weakness.
Let us not forget also that, in order to achieve its purpose, the sacramental moment of the Proclamation of the Word needs to allow the Grace of the Word not only to reach each one of us and touch us, but also to go deeper by our putting it into practice, thus becoming alive in us and through us.

10. Special Grace Given

Although the Lord gives each one of us a special grace during the Mass in order to live it according to its sacredness and importance, we very rarely know about this grace and learn to use it. This general grace is given at all Masses and to all individuals and we need to know about it in order to use it and to do so in a fruitful way.
The Celebration of the Word of God is epicletic, i.e. it involves a coming of the Holy Spirit to take possession of us, elevate us, open our ears, makes us listen…
Listening involves the coming of the Holy Spirit so the Word of God can be heard, and listened to and put into practice: so, He can be born in us by the Holy Spirit.
“Send your Paraclete Spirit into our hearts and make us understand the Scriptures which he has inspired; and grant that I may interpret them worthily, so that the faithful assembled here may profit thereby”. (Verbum Domini, 16)
“We also find prayers which, at the end of the homily, again ask God to send the gift of the Spirit upon the faithful: “God our Saviour… we implore you for this people: send upon them the Holy Spirit; may the Lord Jesus come to visit them, speak to the minds of all, dispose their hearts to faith and lead our souls to you, God of mercies”.” (Verbum Domini, 16)
It is an extra grace on top of the “General Help of the Grace of God” given always. It helps us dispose ourselves to listen. This needed grace elevates us to the level of Jesus’ “mouth” (Matthew 5:2) so to speak.

11. The Sacrament as a Spring

When a grace is given, it is given. God never repents or takes back his grace. When a sacrament is celebrated, after it, we can always come back to it, like coming back to a fountain of life and draw from it. This of the non-repeatable sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Priesthood. The grace is given for us to be able to handle it and use the Main Grace of the Sacrament itself. In fact, any sacrament comes with two graces: the grace of the sacrament itself (i.e. the main grace), and the grace to help us handle it.
Going back to the sacraments received is important in order to revive, to fan into a flame, what has been received in us and that sometimes is buried too deep to offer up its full fruits.

12. Every Day a Grace

Each day the Word of God is proclaimed. Each day there is a specific grace for the day, given to us in the Word of God Proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word and each day’s Mass. We rightly say about the Word of God that we are supposed to receive it on a daily basis: “give us this day our daily bread”.

13. Listening and Putting into Practice

The Gospel reminds us constantly of the need to listen to Jesus’ Words and to put them into practice! “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
It is vital to nourish our mind, imagination, feelings and will with Jesus’ Words. Otherwise they find food elsewhere: the world’s opinions, the flesh’s attractions and the subtler lies of the Devil who takes our life bit by bit. Jesus comes at each Mass to give life, healing support and guidance to our faculties. Listening and putting his words into practice is not only a solid way of loving Him, it is also about nourishing ourselves, i.e. loving ourselves, taking care of ourselves. Neglecting the Word of God is the spiritual equivalent of leading an irresponsible life, numbing our senses with material things, escaping from reality.

14. Taking Time to go Back to the Sacrament

Lectio Divina is a type of prayer that allows us to go back to the Liturgy of the Word of the day and its grace and allows it to nourish and transform us. It is about taking time to sit down at home, take the Daily readings into our hands, and invoke the Holy Spirit in order to enable us to listen to Jesus and put His Word into practice. This way, the Liturgy of the Word reaches its completion in us and bears fruits.
Lectio Divina cannot be separated from Liturgy. From Vatican II, the Word of God is at the heart of Liturgy.

15. Formation is Needed

In order to have a proper fruitful ingestion of the Word of God, we need to learn many things. We need to learn how to live the Liturgy of the Word, individually, as ministers and as a community. We need also to know that the sacramentality of the Proclamation every day is never lost and that we can very well come back to it in order to allow it to be fruitful during our day, i.e. to put the Word received into practice. This is why we have Lectio Divina. It is the daily process of “digestion” of the ingested Word during the liturgy of the Word. (see n° 17)
But let us first start by making an individual and community effort to improve the way we live and celebrate the Liturgy of the Word!

16. A Liturgy of the Word

A possible practical means to improve the way we celebrated the liturgy of the Word is to take time, out of Mass to have a Paraliturgy of the Word as a separate exercise, led by the Parish Priest, where we would take more time to focus on each of the aspects of our celebration, where we can listen to same Readings of the day more than once, in a more “meditative” way, being attentive to the Working of the Grace of God, allowing a slow pace in reading, repetition, silence.
We can take Adoration as an example. During adoration, we are in fact allowing ourselves more time and attention to focus on the Amazing Gift of the Eucharist, of Communion. We can do the same for the Word of God by giving ourselves a time for the Adoration of the Word of God, where we learn to pay attention to the Word of God. This will drastically improve our spiritual life, our “practice” of the Mass, the fruitfulness of the Liturgy of the Word, as individuals and therefore as a community.

The Paraliturgy is about exploring the liturgical process of “listening to the Word of God”. It can consist in steps like the following:

1- Opening prayer.
2- Explaining one aspect of the Liturgy of the Word mentioned above in n°8: be it material, theological or spiritual.
3- Reading various times the Readings. First Reading 3-4 times. The Gospel 3-4 times.
Reading rather slowly, meditatively and taking times of silence.
4- Allowing a longer time of silence in order to listen even more deeply to the Lord who speaks through the readings.
5- Illustration of the aspect chosen (see n°2), and ways to improve it.
6- Closing prayer.

This liturgical spiritual exercise should ideally be mandatory for Readers, and open to the whole Community for its renewal.

17. Digestion of the Word: Lectio Divina 

All authors agree that Lectio Divina is tightly linked to Liturgy. From the beginning of the Church Christians had the experience of ruminating the Word of God until it gave up its Grace. A Lectio Divina based on the reading of the Mass may be considered as an excellent way to digest the immense Grace received by Jesus talking to us. It consists in reading various times each reading, and taking time to ask for the Help of the Holy Spirit to make the text come alive and hear Jesus’ Word given personally to us. Taking time to read and listen with the help of the Holy Spirit allows us to understand what Jesus wants to say to us, and again with the help of the Holy Spirit we are called to put into practice what we have understood. This process of deep and real listening is intimately linked to the Liturgy of the Word and is probably the best way of allowing it to be fruitful in our lives. It is of utmost importance to form the faithful in the practice of Lectio Divina, for it will greatly boost their spiritual life and their attitude when attending Mass.



Jean Khoury

15 October 2019
www.schoolofmary.org
Year of the Word


Readings:

Vatican II, Dei Verbum, Document on Divine Revelation.
Vatican II, Sacroscantum Concilium, Document on Liturgy.
Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
Jean Khoury, Lectio Divina, CTS. Spiritual reading of the Bible. (A Lectio Divina based on the daily readings.)