Monday, 22 July 2013

81: Jesus' embrace on the Cross

"Redemption", "Salvation", "Cross", "Crucified", are words/verbs we use so commonly. We understand them - certainly - but in a general way. We don't always get the chance to deepen them. Maybe because they are too obvious, too known, unquestionable.

Let us go deeper, if you will.

Good theology contemplates Jesus on the Cross, and the "work" he does in a deep way. The Cross (the Crucified, and His Work) has at least three layers:

1- the Suffering of the Body (tortured, beaten, bleeding,…),

2- the Suffering of the Soul (carrying our darkness, our filth, our distance from God-Light (our sins), being torn between us and His own light, dislocated by that distance,… the Lamb carrying our filth),

3- the Spirit (not the Holy Spirit but the eye of Jesus' Soul), in Peace and Joy, deep deep, not seen, not felt by his Body-Soul, but nonetheless present. He is realising the greatest thing on the Cross, the Will of the Father: coming out of himself, out of love, going toward us, grabbing us, and bringing us back to the Light, the Father's Home (see, below, the House on the right).

In a way, Jesus' arms are not held tight by the nails on the wood of the Cross. His Soul is holding us, very tight, his body holding our body, and his soul our soul. All this happens by the operation of the Holy Spirit (see, below, the dove on top of Jesus).
It is important to see deeper through appearances, and reach the depth of the Love of God on the Cross and discover new depths in it.

This Cross (from El Salvador), depicts what I am trying to say about the deep reality happening on the Cross.

I hope that, by looking at this Cross, you'll be able to contemplate Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and what he did and is still doing for you. When St. Paul contemplated Jesus on the Cross, he said: "he loved me and died for me". Let us not live far from the area of the Cross, area filled with the Love and Embrace of Jesus.
Here is what Jesus does when he sees us coming to the Cross' area: "But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20)

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing." (Luke 15:4-5)

If you want to continue to contemplate this beautiful Cross, here are some suggestions:
Mary is the Flower below Jesus.
Another form of the same Cross has on the left, green fields, they are the Heavenly Grass (God's nature) for the Sheep.

 "Truly, truly, I say to you, [...] he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. [...] Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.[...] if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. [...] I came that they may have Life, and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [...] I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father." (John 10)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Reforming Theology, the way to go #1

Some young people, having a general intuitive idea of what Theology might entail, decide to learn Theology. They join a Theology Faculty, or just try some elective courses. After a semester or a year of experience, are their expectations met? Is it a life changing experience for them? Are they bored? Disappointed? What happens in their lives? Or Is there any change to their lives? To their faith? Or to their future career?

What is theology? What is its function in the Church's life? Is it supposed to make any difference in the life of a younger man, younger woman, studying at university? Is it supposed to make any difference in the life of the plain, lay person?
What happened to Theology and its practice through the ages? Is it alive today and in good shape?
Dame Theology is obviously in need of deep-seated reform.
You would be amazed: theology commands and controls many things in the Catholic Church. It commands even the Pope – unconsciously at least. So we need to be very attentive about the way we choose to do theology (or if you prefer: to Theologise). Because if it lacks certain important aspects/ingredients, the orientation, quality, and efficiency of what we do will be compromised?

Vatican II was able to change the things that were ready to be changed. There is no magic in the life of the Church. You reap what you sow. During the decades preceding 1962, serious rifts were developing in different areas of the Church's life: Liturgy, Literal exegesis, Ecclesiology, Fathers of the Church,...
Some areas failed to be renewed: Canon Law, Spiritual Theology,... Yes, even if there had been mammoth attempts during the 1920s-1940s, Spiritual Theology failed to achieve the long awaited renewal.

Theology wasn't in itself a subject of interest. What it is and the way we do it, emphasise the need for reform. Certainly the way we do theology in the Catholic Church today, compared to the 1930’s is very different, but it doesn't mean that we were really aiming directly for a change. It happened spontaneously. But still, central issues in the way we do theology remain blocked. I will name only one: theology is alienated from Spiritual life. (of course the recent Magisterium (Benedict XVI) tried to fill that gap)
In the early centuries, for the Greek Fathers, Theology meant: contemplating God, being in God (you may contemplate God from afar, from outside of Him, but this is not what they meant). It infers that one is first on a journey that will take one, through purification and illumination, and lead one finally to the Port: to the Trinity. He is placed in and united to the Son, facing the Father, and contemplating and loving Him, through the Holy Spirit.
This is why, from early times, only one person initially had the title of “Theologian” and it was St. John. How often have you heard of a Church called: “John the Divine”? This is it. The Divine is an English translation of an early expression “The Theologian”. Not a perfect translation though, but this is it.
Why John was called “THE Theologian”? Why was only John called “The Theologian”? (only later did some others receive that privilege)
Through intuitive perception from early times, Christians perceived in this Gospel, in St. John himself, author of this Gospel, that he was writing as a real witness, as somebody placed already in the depth of the Side of Jesus, and writing from that perspective. You intuitively know, when you read John's Gospel, that "he knows that whole thing", that before writing "he went (and remained) very high" (God himself: “In the Beginning was/is the Word”). His symbol is the Eagle. He is able to fly high. He is able to reach the height of God, his width, his depth...

Don't ask me why only John had that privilege. Maybe we should just remain intuitive and say exactly what we feel when we come across his Gospel: oh this Gospel is the most beautiful, the most spiritual, I love it. Does it mean that the great St. Paul didn't reach these heights? Certainly not. The same applies to all the others writers of the New Testament and to all the others who only wrote the Gospel with their Blood. So let us keep it there if you don't mind, and focus on “what is Theology” according to St. John The Theologian.

John writes his Gospel for a clear purpose: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have Life in his Name.” (John 20:30-31) Please do go to that post where I studied the structure of St. John's Gospel (please click here). But now, please, re-read it and meditate it whilst thinking: this is the way to go for Theology, this is the original way of doing Theology.

I will summarise your reading and meditation of this previous post in a few words: The goal of St. John's Gospel (at least the first goal, since we have another conclusion at the end of chapter 21), is to help his reader be united with Jesus, reach the deepest part of Jesus (his Divinity) and, by doing that, his reader receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Life), so that the stream of this Holy “Water” will flow out of his belly to the world.

Now, concluding this post I have a serious question for the whole Church: Are we today able to accept a return to that definition of Theology and of its function? Theology is not there to speak about God (the best bet we would have today). Theology, as practised by John The Theologian, is there to lead you and me to Union with Jesus (to believe fully in Him as John says), through a path of 6 signs (see John 1-11 and the post I mentioned earlier on). Theology leads you and me to the Open Side of Jesus on the Cross, so that we can finally access it with no obstacles and draw from it the New Wine, and go and give it to the World (that is "becoming a Theologian"). Theology is initially a journey of Purification, through 6 steps. Because, for John, we can't see Jesus if we are not transformed in Him, if we haven't become similar to Him: "In your light we can see your light." So we need to be “in Him” in order to see Him, and be witnesses (seers) of Him.

Would you ever get bored if Theology was like that today?
(To be continued...)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lectio Divina #2 Lectio divina and Liturgy of Hours

What place should prayer as in the Liturgy of Hours (limited because of work) have in relation to Lectio Divina?

On the one hand, for me (but not for many other authors/theologians) Lectio Divina is part of the Mass, or better said: it proceeds from it. In fact, Lectio divina is about taking time in order to receive/digest the Table of the Word of God of today's Mass. So, for me, your question is similar to this one: "What place should prayer, as in the Liturgy of Hours, have in relation to the Mass?"
On the other hand, the Liturgy of the Hours is normally composed of texts taken from Scripture: Psalms, a short reading in all the offices except the "Office of Reading", which consists of a much longer reading. Certainly, in addition to the first "use" of the Divine Office (see below), while we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, Jesus feeds us, and often uses a word or a verse to speak to us. This is really beautiful. Obviously, we are invited to put into practice what He gives us at that moment. So it looks like a short (like an arrow) lectio divina. As you see, reading/praying the Psalms is also a time when God speaks to us. We use His Words to speak to Him (the Psalms) and He uses His Words to speak to us.

The spiritual Power and the ease God puts into speaking to us while we are praying is very interesting, lectio divina wise (PS Please see John of the Cross, "Ascent of Mount Carmel", book II, chapter 26 where John of the Cross explains the power of such words that God give us from time to time.). This is why, while praying the Psalms, it is important to have an "abandoned" attitude (entrusting, surrendering, passive listening) while praying, and not forcing, or paying such excessive attention to the singing (some communities do sing the Psalms, as is normal) to the point of losing the right inner attitude. So, during the Divine Office, we should adopt the same attitude we have while doing the Lectio divina - which is an attitude we have to learn, foster and allow to grow in quality in us. It is important to avoid the attitude of "possessing" the Sacred Text or our prayer (God is the one who prays in us). Praying requires a lot of humility, and praying always starts from God, comes in us, and through us and with us and goes back to God. All this is done by the Holy Spirit.

As you see there is a huge similarity between this aspect of the Divine Office and the lectio, but still, these are two totally different exercises or types of prayer. The Divine office is absolutely important in order to carry our Priestly duty (the priesthood of the faithful), carrying our day, ourselves, all the persons we met, carrying them and entrusting them to the Hands of God. The Divine Office is the Prayer of the Church that intercedes for the World and our participation in it increases the power of transformation God puts in the world. The Divine Office is the Prayer of Jesus who intercedes for us, it is our way to say to God: "all what I do during this day means nothing if your Hand is not in it".

I see here another question: Will what we receive in the Divine Office be different from the light of the day received in the Lectio divina? Remember, my perception of how we spend the day after having done the Lectio divina: we spend it under the one Light received in the morning in the Lectio divina. Do you remember as well how I explained that the food of the day is quite unified, since it is about us (and our need) and Jesus (one line (light) can be drawn between two points (Jesus-Me)). I would tend to believe that the lights we could receive during the Divine Office are of the same kind of light, fostering, echoing the light received in the Lectio Divina. Remember, as I said in my presentation of the lectio divina, there are echoes during the day, echoes of the Light received in the Lectio. So, you may see it in this (unified) way.
PS But the lights we receive during the Divine Office can be more immediately related to our need now and then, in order for us to be freed from the dust that accumulates during work, and be lighter in order to be elevated by God in Prayer, Worship and Praise.

There are various schools of thought in understanding as to how our attitude should be during the Liturgy of the Hours. The span is wide, from one extreme to the other: from the ones who say that we have to be very focused, concentrated, and understand what we read/say/pray/sing, to the ones who push toward a more contemplative attitude (some say: well, having it in latin - as they use to have before - allows us to pray better since we don't understand (funny, but not a stupid statement)), closer to the "Prayer of the heart attitude".
PS Learning the Prayer of the heart helps a lot to have the contemplative way of praying the Divine Office.

Let us not forget as well the importance of a theological education, according to the biblical theology and spirituality of the fathers of the Church on how to understand the Psalms spiritually. Saint Augustine here, in his commentary on the Psalms is a real master. (There is a beautiful booklet in French that will help us discover Saint Augustine with the Psalms: St Augustin "Prier Dieu avec les Psaumes", old book, but has been re-published.)

Now, one last point you mentioned: the limited time to fit in everything.
We only have 24 hours, and, as lay people, we have little time to pray or at least we think so. Trust me, priests (and monks/religious, you'd be amazed) as well would say the same, because everybody has to work and everybody has to manage his time: work vs. prayer. This is why I invited you to do this prayer fervently and with deep conviction: "God, I know how Lectio divina is important, so please, organise my life in a way so that I can put You first ". And then wait and see what He does. A very efficient prayer!
Now, even though, we wouldn't have time to do everything. Discernment is absolutely necessary. Mass is obviously the highest point in our day, if we can attend it. But, it is as important to digest the substantial food we receive in the Mass. And in order to do so, we need to have the two extensions of the two tables of the Mass: Lectio divina (extension of the word of God) and Prayer of the heart (extension of the Communion). Sometimes, it hurts to think that routine can get into the Mass. Lectio divina is about Conversion, changing, improving. I would prefer sometimes to think of that seriously, otherwise, if you not take care of digestion/assimilation, we might end up by relying on our faithfulness to attend Mass, and forget our faithfulness to the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It is good to do both. Let us remember Jesus' words: true worship is to be done in "Spirit and in Truth".
Discernment pushes us to analyse the strength, the quality of certain types of prayer and to prefer them, or give them the priority.

I wouldn't easily dismiss lectio divina, and Council Vatican II did place a great emphasis on not forgetting the Word of God in our prayer life.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Lectio Divina #1 Definition, Steps

Last Saturday, in the London Course 2013, we just addressed "Lectio Divina" and its practise.

What is Lectio divina?

Lectio Divina is: With the help of the Holy Spirit, to listen to the daily Word Jesus wants to give me and to put it into practise.

"the daily Word": is an allusion to the fact that in the Mass Jesus comes to speak to us personally, through the daily readings (please find them here, under "readings")

So it is all about:

1- listening to the Word that Jesus wants to give us,


2- putting it into practise.

You'll certainly notice that practising Lectio divina is one of the best ways to love God:
- "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
- "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21)
- "If a man loves me, he will keep my word" (John 14:23)

- "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (John 15:10)

To love Jesus-God is the First Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Mt 22:37-38). We just saw that "to love" means to put into practise the word. This then means that if the first commandment is to love God-Jesus "with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind", this means that we should seek to listen to Jesus' Word and put it into practise "with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind".

This gives us an idea of the type of commitment (and a priority) we need to have for Lectio Divina.

Let us see now the Lectio divina steps in greater detail.

lectio divina steps


1- Sit in a quiet place
2- In the presence of Christ, entering in my conscience
3- Consider His desire to speak to me
4- I choose Him again as my First priority
5- I give myself to Him, unconditionally

II- Listening

Active phase: seeking understanding 

6- Read (1) in order to understand the text

Listening phase: asking for the help of the Holy Spirit

7- Read (2) in order to discover Christ’s will
8- Read (3) until I see only one light
9- Read (4) until the light becomes clear
10- Write down the words from the readings that touched me

III- REalisation

11- Asking the Holy Spirit’s help in order to put into practice the Word
12- Giving thanks, being immersed in Him
13- Putting into practice the Word I received
14- Echos during the day
15- In the end of the day: giving thanks

Suggested reading list for Lectio divina:

- Daily reading of the Bible (please click here and on the page click "Readings" to find them).
The Gospel. Luke 24. Isaiah 53.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church. nn° 50-141.
- "Dei Verbum", Council Vatican II
- "Scripture in the tradition", Henri de Lubac
- "History and the Spirit", Henri de Lubac
- "The Lord's Sermon on the Mount", Saint Augustine.
- "Saint Augustine’s Homilies on the First letter of John"

- "Lectio Divina", Jean Khoury CTS London (on Kindle as well)
- "Lectio Divina, Mary and the Spirit", Jean Khoury (on Kindle)
- "Lectio Divina and daily life", Jean Khoury (published soon)
- A short video presentation on Lectio Divina
- A short video explanation
- Join me on Lectio Twitter: @LectioDivinaUk