Friday, 28 February 2014

95: Understanding the spiritual crisis in the Church

Today hardly anybody would speak about a “spiritual crisis” in the Church (while in fact there is one). Why? Because many new movements have blossomed in the Church and Pope Benedict has spoken a lot about spiritual life and Lectio divina.

To put it plainly one needs to understand that in order to have a flourishing spiritual life in the church, one has first to have two things at least:
 1- Spiritual Formation and 2- Intellectual Formation (Philosophical, Theological and Mystical (Spiritual Theology)). Spiritual formation is based on the intellectual formation. So if the latter is not done properly, the first won’t be done properly either and won't bear the expected fruits.

So: lack of Intellectual Formation leads to --> a lack of Spiritual Formation, leads to --> a weak, random, amateurish, DIY Spiritual Life

Today, we live in an amazing state in the Church. On one hand, we have people who are fervent, who are willing to do a lot, people who are already trying  many different things, but on the other hand we still don’t have proper Spiritual Formation. So people and pastors (Priests and Leaders) are left alone, having to improvise - in a DIY way - some “spiritual teaching”. “DIY” is amateurish of course, and spiritual life is such a serious vital, eternal matter that can’t be left to random or material preparation (it is supposed to lead us to holiness, to God himself, to the Union with Him, and this is not a superficial issue). But it is not their fault: there is no solid teaching in “Spiritual Theology” in the Catholic Universities today. So, to sum it up, there is a huge gap between the thirst/effort amongst God’s People and the poor formation offered.

Again, spiritual life can’t be dealt with in an amateurish way. It is the most important part of Theology, it is the Queen topic in Theology, and has a huge responsibility in the Church. But for years, it has been a very neglected side and weak topic. Spiritual Theology is still very much in its deep Crisis, and this has been so since the end of the 1940s.

The crisis originated in the existing distance between the “logical language” of studies (majorly at that time Thomistic), and the “bio-logic reality” of the human being (who is implementing the teaching). The church had an amazing renewal in Thomistic Studies (reviving the study of St Thomas Aquinas in Philosophy and Theology) and in Spiritual Theology in the 1920s and on. The Thomistic way is perfect for great sharp minds, in order to analyse, categorise and understand. In my humble opinion, the core elements (philosophical and theological) of Thomas Aquinas should be the background of any professor in Spiritual Theology (I know many won’t agree). Otherwise one can't understand the Master of all Mystics: St John of the Cross. (Many try today to understand St John of the Cross, without the Thomistic background! This still surprises me a lot, because it is like wanting to see a cell without a microscope.)

St Teresa of Avila, the most "bio-logical" mind
But normal humans wouldn't benefit (i.e. understand, grasp) from this language and mental structure. It has sadly proved unproductive (counterproductive) from the 1920s through to the end of the 1940s: Spiritual Theology problems remained very theoretical with hardly any contact or implication with the real human being. This is the reason why since the 1950s we don't have anything new (i.e. a complete synthesis/presentation/manual of Spiritual Theology) in that field in the Church to help people grow spiritually. Since, then there have been efforts, of course, but they always lack something. One must not forget the intellectual abyss the Church went through at the end of the 1960s and the 1970s. We haven't come out of it yet...

To explain the intellectual theological and philosophical crisis in the Church one can say: The difficulty is that we have to go to Thomas Aquinas (at least in the core elements), otherwise we might be speaking simple rubbish. Many alleged "theologians" have abandoned St Thomas and would laugh at you if you say so. St Thomas is for powerful sharp metaphysical minds, and not just any person can afford understanding him. So we dove crazily into the abyss (mid 1960s), by abandoning him. The rare ones today who still stick to him (or go back to him), are not necessarily grasping the problem (and the practical unproductiveness of his language if it is not translated into plain English). Plus, they might slowly be isolating themselves from the rest of we human beings. Why? Because it is as if you learned Latin, and nobody around you spoke it. So you meet with a few who learned it and that's it! This is not "working for the salvation of people" but working for hailing the past and not being able to translate it in to the present, as the Holy Spirit, through Vatican II, asked us to do.
What should be done is: after having digested St Thomas and St John of the Cross, we need to keep them at the back of our minds, and try (in our language and contents) to find simplicity, a simplicity that doesn't water down the substance, but conveys it.

This is one of the most difficult challenges that a human mind can face: study St Thomas Aquinas' Philosophy, and Theology, the Fathers of the Church, and the Spiritual Masters, the Mystics, and integrate them, digest them, having them become alive in you (with discernment and led by real spiritual masters), and then, having the charity to form concepts, words, examples, symbols and drawings that are in "plain English". Jesus spoke "plain English"... not intellectual Rabbinic Hebrew; He was able to do so, but he didn't. He is the Saviour, not a Dominican Brain.

People are still tempted today to go back to the Thomistic structure (which is "logical", not "bio-logical"). Who wouldn't ! It is the most solid and sound thing we have. But in the end, you should nourish people with something given in "plain English". The core question is: Is "Spiritual Life" (Spiritual Theology) translatable into plain English yes or no? Jesus' answer is a very powerful "YES". (This is the challenge we have been facing for years.) It is very easy for a professor today to use mysterious and non understandable words/expressions. But is this helping people? This is having a poor mind, incapable of making yourself understood.
Can't we find words that are more accessible and be at the level of people and stop insulting them? It is indeed insulting them. Jesus never insulted us, and he is our role model. He used very simple and easy symbols and examples, but still, he is the most profound teacher in Spiritual Life. We should impose on ourselves that discipline of respecting people, i.e. learning the most difficult concepts of philosophy, theology, and mysticism, but in the end, we need to spend the same amount of time to find the right "plain English" words and examples, in order to talk to our brothers, fellow human beings... not to an intellectual rare elite that can understand Thomas Aquinas.

This is why I felt impelled to "build" an entire formation, given in “Plain English”: the School of Mary.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

94: Lectio divina in daily life 2: The depths of spiritual life

(continuation of "Spirituality 91")

2. The depths of spiritual life

St. Paul speaks about the transition to adulthood: “Brothers, I could not talk to you as I talk to men who have the Spirit; I had to talk to you as men of this world, as to little children in Christ. I had to feed you milk, not solid food, because you were not ready for it” (1 Col 3:1-2). But those who go through this transition receive “the power to understand, together with all the saints, how broad and long and high and deep Christ’s love is”; they know the love of Christ “which surpasses all knowledge” and fully enter into the fullness of God (cf. Eph 3:18-19). St. John of the Cross also mentions this transition in his writings, but in stanza 36 of the Spiritual Canticle he seems to propose even more to the person who is already well advanced: “Let us enter into the heart of the thicket”, i.e. into the profundity of God’s wisdom. Let us consider more closely now the form the two commandments may take, in the light of lectio, for people who have come to these heights.

St. Paul reminds us that God wants us to be holy (cf. 1 Th 4:3). If lectio is a way of searching for God’s will, this implies that it leads us to holiness. And what is holiness? It is full union with God! So lectio takes us by the hand, like a pedagogue, and leads us to Him. It helps us to accomplish the first commandment, which is to love God, by allowing Him to dwell in us.
In this sense, we can say that the Bible is an “accident”[1] (with the scholastic meaning, according to which it contains the substance: the Word of God). This implies that the Bible in fact is not in itself absolute. It contains a substance, i.e. the Word, the eternal Logos, who is the ultimate goal of our search. The role of lectio is to lead us to the Word. Lectio is not an end in itself.
We are going to consider this more closely with reference to some Christian writers, three of whom are Church Fathers. But let us first remember that the two geniuses of Christianity, John and Paul, summed up the Gospel and Scripture in their own manner. St. John says that everything in Scripture leads to faith in Jesus’ divinity: “these things have been written that you may believe” (Jn 20:31). “This is how we win the victory over the world: with our faith” (1 Jn 5:4). Here, “faith” is synonymous with “union with God”. St. Paul sums the Bible up in this way: “For I decided not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ” (1 Co 2:2), and in another passage, where he speaks about love: “I may have the knowledge and understanding of Scripture, but without charity I am nothing” (1 Co 13:2)! Let us now look at how each of these authors approaches the question of the pertinence of the Bible in terms of the written message.

Dionysius the Areopagite and the highest summit of Scripture

Dionysius the Areopagite begins his work Mystical Theology with this prayer: “Deity above all essence, knowledge and goodness, Guide of Christians to Divine Wisdom; direct our path to the ultimate summit of your mystical knowledge, most incomprehensible, most luminous and most exalted, where the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty”[2].
Here Scripture appears to be God himself. It is no longer a question of exegesis in the usual sense of the term – even in patristics. Scripture, like a sublime sacrament, conveys God himself to us. At the summit we find the “the super-essential Radiance of the Divine Darkness”. In another work, Dionysius speaks of the “Radiance itself (coming) forth from the holy thearchic words” (Divine Names I, 1). This super-essential Radiance has always contained, in a quite indescribable way, the terms of all knowledge. We simply do not know how to conceive it, describe it or grasp it in a kind of vision, because it is separated from all things (cf. Ibid., I, 4). This ray then seems to come forth from Scripture as if out of a tabernacle.
Dionysius discloses a new perspective for us by showing us that Scripture contains a Radiance. He therefore invites us to go beyond our exegetical methods, even the deepest ones, to consecrate ourselves to God and to nothing  less. This idea is certainly out of the ordinary for us, and perhaps it reveals the deepest mystery of exegesis. It is true that his description is very brief. But a good knowledge of mysticism[3] can help us to better understand what he means.
So Scripture is compared to a high mountain which must be climbed by growing through the four levels we have been considering, the last of which plunges into God himself in such a way as cannot be grasped by the intellect alone. And there, at the summit of Scripture, we receive the super-essential Radiance.

St Augustine
St. Augustine considers that the entire Bible speaks of one thing only: Love – of loving and loving with a pure heart… in unity with the heart of God. Summing up all of Scripture, Augustine says: “Only one thing shines forth from the holy pages: Charity”[4]. The Bishop of Hippo teaches us that the Bible leads to love, but not just to any kind of love. This reminds us of the explanation St. John of the Cross gave of the height of spiritual life: the flame, the sparkling. It is then quite understandable how the Bible vanishes in the face of the reality to which it leads us: the “ineffable sighs” of God loving himself in the soul. And here is what Augustine tells us: "it is not necessary for a preacher who wants to talk about charity to read the entire Bible because charity springs forth from every page". Moreover, the Master himself attested this – and the Gospel gives an account of the scene: when asked which precepts of the Law are the greatest, he answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbours as yourself” (Mt 22: 36.39). In order to keep us from searching for anything else in the sacred text, he then added: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:40). If this is already true of the Law and the Prophets it is even truer of the Gospel.
“Of all, then, that has been said since we entered upon the discussion about things, this is the sum: that we should clearly understand that the fulfilment and the end of the Law, and of all Holy Scripture, is the love of an object which is to be enjoyed, and the love of an object which can enjoy that other in fellowship with ourselves. For there is no need of a command that each man should love himself.”[5]
“And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need Scripture except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of Holy Scripture, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: ‘Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.’ Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them.”[6]
In fact, what is found in the Bible may be summed up by the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.[7] Augustine refers all understanding of Scripture to these virtues. This was to be the basis of biblical interpretation throughout the Middle Ages.[8]

In his “answer” in I-IIae, q. 106 a. 1, St. Thomas says: “the New Law is in the first place a law that is inscribed on our hearts, but that secondarily it is a written law”, and then in ad 1 he adds: “The Gospel writings contain only such things as pertain to the grace of the Holy Ghost, either by disposing us thereto, or by directing us to the use thereof”. The Holy Spirit is then the New Law written on our hearts. He is the heart of the Bible.

These examples help us to better understand that we are called to reach the point where one single word suffices to centre us and give us what is essential: God. So, lectio is not a means for finding solutions but the sacrament of the encounter with the Lord; and the Bible, after having taken us by the hand, leads us to the summit of the Mountain of the Knowledge of God.

[1] “accident”, as used in philosophy, is an attribute that doesn't affect the essence of a subject.
[2] Mystical Theology I, 1.
[3] Firstly of his own mystical doctrine; and for this it is necessary to read his entire work Mystical Theology.
[4] En. In Psalmos 140.
[5] De doctrina christiana I, 39.
[6] Ibid.I, 43.
[7] Cf. ibid.
[8] See H. de Lubac, Medieval exegesis. Also see Origen, who says that what we look for and find in the Bible is the Logos himself (H. de Lubac, History and spirit, chapter VIII § 3 and 4), and that the Bible, like the Body of Christ, are transitory realities (ibid.).

Sunday, 23 February 2014

93: St James explains Lectio divina 3

Not committing mistakes in what we say

“if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (James 3:2). What is the perfect man? The man who has synergy happening perfectly, synergy between God's action in him and his ation. This means that he is purified and transformed in Jesus, so he became docile to the Holy Spirit: Jesus lives in him, so all what comes out of his thoughts, and of his mouth, is coming from this harmonious collaboration between Jesus and him.

This means that lectio divina transformed him, word by word, brick by brick, until Jesus became alive in Him and started to move him with his Spirit.

Lectio divina is meant to change the soul, act by act, part by part, step by step. A word from Jesus after the other transforms our being to Jesus to become alive in us. In fact each word received burns, transforms that part of the soul that produces that act into a 'portion' of Jesus himself.

"Perfection" is obviously expressed in all sorts of different ways, but the most easy and palpable way to notice it, is speech. What comes out of the mouth, comes from the abundance of what is in the heart says Jesus (see Matthew 12:34). The speech reveals what is in the roots of the human being, his heart. The quality of the speech (and first thoughts) reveals the perfection of the person.
In his third advice to a religious "against the world" (the world with its thoughts and behaviour is considered one of the enemies of the soul), saint John of the Cross quotes St James: "If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain" (James 1:26) which is close to the initial quote: “if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (James 3:2), but he explains it saying: "This is applicable to the interior, quite as much as to the exterior tongue - to thoughts as well as words."

From three tents to one Tent

The Mystery of the Transfiguration tells a lot about Lectio Divina.

Let us remember that the early christian liturgy took the liturgy of the word of the Synagogue (in the Sabbath) and added to it the Gospel and a letter from the New Testament. We have a trace of this structure in the actual Syriac Orthodox Church Liturgy. So this means, we have: one reading from the Torah (Moses) and one reading from the Prophets (Elijah) + readings about Jesus (Gospel and a letter from the New Testament).

When we listen to this liturgy, we have the impression that the three or more readings are three distinct texts, bearing three different messages. We tend to say with Peter: "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Mark 9:5) In fact, this is clear indication of the sacramental challenge of the Liturgy of the Word. We need to ask ourselves: To whom are we listening? Why do we still have a reading from Moses and another from the Prophets (Elijah)? Do we have 3 texts, therefore three messages?

In fact the supernatural action of God during the liturgy of the Word is essentially led by Jesus himself.
Peter sees division, and offers to build 3 tents, according to his initial perception.

But then, the supernatural action of the Father will happen: a Cloud will overshadow them, and the only voice of the only God the Father will be heard, and it will draw the attention to Jesus only. “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Would this exclude Moses and Elijah? On the contrary, it will unify everything under one, and only one Tent: Jesus himself: “And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only”.

Here is how John will tell us about the Transfiguration: “And the Word became flesh and pitched his Tent among us, full of grace and truth; we saw his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

So, the action of the Father is to 'speak' to us and in us His Son, to utter his Word (the Son) to us, asking us to listen to Him only and essentially. The overshadowing of the Divine Luminous Cloud has this effect, to put us all under the only Tent of the Son. So, in the end, instead of seeing Moses and Elijah with him, we see only Him.

Even if we have two or three texts in lectio divina, in fact, it is one Light that we receive, one message, Jesus speaks to us.

We have everyday the same experience Peter had: initially seeing two or three texts, and finally, with the Power of the Holy Spirit (the Divine Cloud), seeing Only Jesus, the only Divine Tent.

So the initial questions we asked ourselves have the following answers:
- To whom are we listening during the liturgy of the Word, when we read the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Prophets? - We are listening to Jesus. Because the Liturgy of the Word is about Him, wanting to speak to us.
- Why do we still have a reading from Moses and another from the Prophets (Elijah)? - We have them because the Old Testament is the Word of God, and as we see in Luke 24, there is a very important experience we need to have, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus opens our mind, and therefore enables us to see Him in the Old Testament: a Transfiguration of the Text of the Old Testament happens, and its letter (like Jesus cloths) is transfigured, and we start to see his Face in the text of the Old Testament.

- Do we have 3 texts, therefore three messages? - We have 3 texts, but only one message given from Jesus to us, one Tent remains: Jesus' Tent, because he is the only begotten of the Father and he came to talk to us and give us his words that are Spirit and Life, Holy Spirit and Divine Life.

Become a "Doctor"

St James has this advice: "Only a few of you, my brothers, should be teachers/doctors, bearing in mind that we shall receive a stricter judgement." (James 3:1) How does this apply to Lectio divina?
Lectio divina is not about accumulating knowledge on the Bible. It is not about knowing or studying the Bible. It is about listening to Jesus, through the Bible. The difference is huge. In extreme cases, one can have a PhD in Bible (Exegesis) and not doing on single Lectio divina.
One speaks to the mind only, left to itself. The other speaks to the will (all the person), through the mind. Of course it is better to have both, since it helps. But if the amount of knowledge exceeds the amount of "digested" light, it damages more than it helps.
The digested light is the light that we receive in Lectio and becomes flesh in us. This is the listening process made complete (listening and putting into practise). The "non digested light" is the one we contemplate like in a miror, and then leave it and forget: "Anyone who listens to the Word and takes no action is like someone who looks at his own features in a mirror and, 24 once he has seen what he looks like, goes off and immediately forgets it." (James 1:23-24)
Becoming a doctor in a dangerous way is accumulating knowledge without digesting it. It is like greed. One listens but no action is taken.
Lectio divina reminds us of the correct use of the mind. It is not against learning, studying, but it just warns us, like St James, that the more we accumulate (like in greed) the more we have to give account. That word that we accumulate without putting into practice is already judging us.
Lectio divina brings wisdom to a frenetic mind. The majority of us have a frenetic mind, wanting to know, but not applying what we learn. The Word of God, source of knowledge on God, on us, is not always used for that purpose: improving ourselves.

"The same tongue"

St James says: "the blessing and curse come out of the same mouth/tongue" (James 3:10). How this affects our understanding and our practice of lectio divina? As we saw above there is an "inner tongue", i.e. our mind produces thoughts. The mind (pushed by the will) is the main faculty that deal with the Lectio, in the sense that we need to have a clear understanding of Jesus' will. The mind is sacred and should serve the lord...
What the mind and will produce (the inner tongue) require from us a great attention and vigilance.
Our inner speech, our inner acts (acts of the mind and will) are very important. St James is inviting us to watch our acts, the roots of our acts. Only God sees our inner "tongue"... but our inner "tongue" is our judge: watch carefully how you judge things: if you have mercy, mercy will be done to you. The same way you judge people and things will be applied to you.
A great vigilance should be applied on the thoughts and inner acts that we produce and they should be full of God's Grace: Mercy, Compassion, practicing Spiritual Hospitality (receiving everybody, unconditionally, in our heart).

Saturday, 22 February 2014

92: St James explains Lectio divina 2

In the second chapter of his letter (James 2:14-26), St James continues to explain to us Lectio divina is.

The act of faith is to receive a word

What is faith? Our understanding today of “faith” might not be the one meant in various passages in the Bible. Plus, each author in the Bible, makes some aspect of “faith” shine. So we might feel that we have different versions of the same topic, but in fact these are only different angles that allow us to grasp better that spiritual reality of faith and of its act.
For many authors of the Bible, faith is an act that allows us to receive a Word from God, and to put it into practice. By this act, we open ourselves to God’s word/message, and we offer for it a space in us (in our existence, in our body, our soul,..), so that that word can “become flesh” in us.
The best example that illustrates the act of faith is Mary in the Annunciation. The Angel of God is transmitting to Mary a Word from God, a Message from God. Mary doesn’t immediately say “yes”, bypassing her mind. On the contrary she makes the effort, with her mind, to understand what that Message clearly means, discovering by doing so, her exact part in allowing the word of God to become flesh in her heart and in her flesh. Only then she says: yes, here I am, with all my being, offered to God, and to this word that He uttered to me.

For this reason, Mary is praised, and Zechariah is blamed. The exact reason why Mary is called “blessed” is because she believed that if God utters a word (a message) He can fulfil his Word : “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) The Angel Gabriel explains to her the exact point of Faith: “no word [uttered by God] is impossible, to [be realised by] God". (Luke 1:37). The majority of the translations say: “for nothing is impossible to God”, which is not what the text says and is not Luke’s purpose: in fact he wants to explain the mechanism of Faith.

How faith is transmitted to us

By Jesus’ Redemption on the Cross, we receive the Grace of Faith i.e. the capacity to open up to the Word of God. By Jesus’ Redemption, Mary was able to say “yes” to the Angel (see the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception). By Jesus’ Redemption, and through his Plan, he wanted Mary to be altogether our Role model (Archetype of the perfect Disciple of Jesus) and our Mother (the one that generates us into God’s Life). Jesus made Mary and Mary’s “yes” (all her “Yes”) capable of holding our “yes”. By the “Yes” of Mary, we receive the Grace, in our turn, to hear a Word coming from God, understand our part in its incarnation, and say “yes” to it, like Mary, and in Mary. This is the full extent of the Act of Faith. This is why Mary is praised this way: “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42) (we are all, by through her, capable of conceiving God’s will, a word from him each day). What do we conceive? “blessed is the fruit of your womb”: Jesus! This is why “all generations will call her blessed” (Luke 1:48). Because all generations will go to her (as our mother) to draw from her the capacity to receive the word of God (to believe, to have faith).

St James explains the act of Faith

God's word for us is to love God and to love our neighbour. So Faith will entail putting that word into practice. With this understanding of faith, let us read St James’ passage:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works/acts? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Having faith itself (i.e. having the capacity to say “yes” to a word sent by God to us) is a grace. But exercising faith, is something that is essential. Faith is not passive. It is a grace, a Talent to be implemented, activated, invested in. Imagine Mary not saying “yes” to God, and not receiving him in her! The fact that she is “Immaculate Conception” gives her Faith the capacity to say “yes”, the capacity to “conceive the word” in her heart and in her womb. But if she doesn’t say yes, if she doesn’t use that faith, then nothing will happen. There is no fruitfulness.
If we don’t say “yes” to the word of God, if we do not receive into our life, in our flesh that “word”, if we don’t give it a space in us, what is then “faith”? Have we allowed the grace of faith to be enacted in us?
St James continues: “But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works/acts." Show me your faith apart from your works/acts, and I by my works/acts will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)
The act of Faith is the capacity to receive a word from God, to give it our flesh.

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works/acts is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works/acts, and faith was completed by works/acts, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works/acts and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works/acts when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:19-26)
Faith as a grace is something, and the act of faith is something different: it is to receive a word from God and “incarnate” it. “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of the word that was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

The total gift of ourselves to God

It is true as well, that one has to offer himself totally to God when he makes his act of Faith. Let us contemplate Mary: she doesn’t say an intellectual abstract “yes” to God. She commits totally to Him, she puts all her life into God’s hands, and commits to his Word. This is the condition that will allow the Word of God to come into her heart and into her womb.

In order to see God we need to give ourselves totally to God, and this is purity, a purity that we can enact (with the Grace of God).
If we “loose our lives” by giving it to God, we get everything: God, and all the rest. Seek the kingdom of God first, and all the rest will be given to you for free.

Purity is the condition of success of Lectio Divina: offering ourselves to God, completely, unconditionally,… this is the only way to receive God. If we give everything to him, we get everything (him).


Lectio divina is a real act of Living Faith where we listen to a word coming from God to us, where we offer ourselves to God totally and where God incarnates in us his word. Very much like the Annunciation.

Friday, 21 February 2014

91: Lectio divina in daily life 1: Lectio and the Two Commandments of Love

"If Yahweh does not build the house,
in vain have its builders
laboured at it." (Ps 127:1)

Lectio is God’s great profession of faith in man and in his intellect. God needs our eyes and our hands in order to see, to love and to act in the world. Through lectio we become, just like St. Paul, “collaborators” in God’s work. Lectio is therefore vital. It is a yardstick for life and a scale by which the quality of our life is measured. Lectio brings us into relationship with God and leads us to intelligent communion with Him.

If we listen closely to the message that God himself sends us each day, if we offer Him the time and the attention that are necessary, He will transform our lives. Let us now look at the implications for daily life.

I - Lectio and the Two Commandments of Love

1. The two commandments sum up the whole of Scripture, the Law and the Prophets

These two commandments are the ultimate aim of all things, and in them we find everything. Now, lectio helps us to grow in the accomplishment of these two commandments. And indeed through lectio Christ unifies these commandments, making them into a single one, his own precept: we are to love our neighbour as he, Christ, loved us. Lectio introduces us into the depths of the mystery of these two commandments, the mystery of the love of God and of our brethren. Through it we come to know God and contemplate His love for us day after day.
a) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart”

Lectio’s aim is very simple; and this aim is the highest pinnacle of Scripture[1]: the possession of God himself. It is absolutely normal, after years of practicing lectio, for a word or an expression to be sufficient. We will then be able to savour it more deeply. We may notice that the messages the Lord addresses to us each day are centred and condensed in a few elements or in one essential notion. In fact, the role of Scripture is to lead us to full union with God, not to resolve our material problems. We can make use of our intelligence and we can listen to the counsel of competent people in order to find answers in harmony with the spirit of the Gospel.

A man once came up to the Lord and asked him: “Judge between my brother and me, to see how we should divide our heritage between us” (cf. Lk 12:13-14). The Lord’s reaction was clear and decisive: “who set me a judge or a divider over you?” We even hear him say: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). “The reign of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). This means that if we expect lectio to give us concrete answers, we would be trying, in a certain way, to appropriate the Word for ourselves; but by doing so, we would also completely miss the purpose of Scripture! This does not mean that God is not interested in our daily lives: Jesus said that each hair on our head is counted! But the essential aim is our sanctification: “this is the will of God -- your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). This would be an aberration of the meaning and Spirit of the Word of God.

Through lectio the Lord talks to us about Himself each day. He opens his heart to us and shows us his meekness and humility. In response, our hearts sing: “Come and see how good the Lord is!” Or, He may set our hearts ablaze with a single word, by revealing a new depth of meaning to us and leading us, in this way, further into his divine heart. We thus come to better understand the fire he came to throw on the earth and his great desire to eat the Passover with us (Lk 22:15).

b) “You shall love your neighbour”

Through lectio the Lord leads us into the depth of his love for us and reveals all he has accomplished for us. With his Word, he takes us by the hand and, day after day, illumines our intellect and stimulates our will so that we may love not just according to our limitations, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, which he gives to us. Thus we discover the depth, the width and the height of his love for us and enter into the mystery of what he undertook for us at the Last Supper, in Gethsemane and on the Cross.

This makes our capacity to love grow. Thanks to this living relationship with Christ, which is sustained through lectio, we penetrate the mystery of his love for all people and, from him, we learn to love them with His own love.

In the letters St. Paul wrote while in prison, he manifests a new and deeper understanding of the mystery of the Body of Christ, or of the “Christus totus” as St. Augustine put it. This is the sign that a new horizon for charity has opened up. At the end of her short life on earth, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said that the Lord had revealed the mystery of charity to her in a new way. And St. John, in his Gospel, indirectly suggests that we are called to do everything the Son of man does. This allows us to read the Gospel on another level: as a call for us to renew our being in Christ’s mystery for our brothers. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, filled with blessed audaciousness, took Christ’s words in St. John Chapter 17 literally and applied them to herself.

Lectio, this powerful means of staying in touch with the Lord on a daily basis, introduces us into the mystery of love for one another and the mystery of the New Commandment. And this unfathomable mystery is truly overwhelming.

[1] This expression comes from Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, Mystical Theology I, 1, but we find the same idea in the writings of Origen.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

90: St James explains Lectio Divina 1

In his beautiful letter, St James explains to us Lectio Divina and its conditions. "Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:19-27)
Let us see how this presentation of Lectio Divina goes and let us discover a deeper understanding of this outstanding analysis of Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina is about listening to Jesus’ Word for us every day. Can we really listen to him? Should we prepare our heart in order to become able to listen?

Original deafness
First and foremost it is important to remember that with the Fall (the Original Sin) we lose the capacity to listen and speak directly to God.
Moses is one of the first human beings to speak directly to God, face to face. People were scared of God.
Sin, separates us from God, and radical grave sin, stops us from hearing, and hardens our heart. We need a deep operation that will change our heart of stone to the heart of flesh.
This is why Jesus will perform a very important act on the Cross: he will open our “hearing” and our “speech” (capacity to talk), so we become, fort the first time capable to hearing the Word of God directly and talk to God directly and personally.
Even if this event happens during Jesus’ ministry, it centrally happens on the Cross where Jesus accomplishes our Redemption, this is why we have this long sigh:
“31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. 33 And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; 34 and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak."” (Mark 7:31-37)
On the Cross Jesus brings us back from our darkness, our deafness to the fluency of communication with God (listening-speaking). It is on the Cross that Jesus opens us to God, changes us, gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26), (like Mary’s one), capable of listening. “Give thy servant therefore a heart that listens” (1 Kings 3:9).
The old man, by definition isn’t capable of listening. This is why among many other rites, during Baptism, the Minister performs that same act that Jesus did and touches the ears of the person who is baptised and his or her mouth, saying after Jesus: “Ephphatha” that is: be opened.
When we sit down, in order to listen to Jesus, we need to remember that listening to Him is a Grace, not something obvious and automatic. This is why Jesus gives a very special Grace of the Holy Spirit to us, in order for us to listen to Him, hear his voice, See him in the Scripture: he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Without this supernatural intervention of Jesus in our mind/heart, we can’t really hear him, see him, be touched by his words deeply, be moved by them.
It is important to acknowledge that we can’t take Lectio Divina (listening to Jesus) for granted, and that it is a huge Grace, that we need to ask for humbly and insistently.
Note: For these reasons Mary is considered by Luke to be the only one who was capable of Listening to the Word of God and obey it, put it into practice. This is why we need her, New Eve, our Mother, to generate our new heart, at the image of her heart, capable of listening and putting into practice Jesus' Words.

Impurity makes us deaf
St James will explain to us some of the dispositions in order to become capable of listening to Jesus-God:
“19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)
The goal is to become “quick to hear”. In order to do so, there are plenty of other operations of our soul (mind and will) that should stop: speaking and being angry. “chatter” could be the expression of anger. We can’t in the same time hate somebody and want to listen to Jesus. Because “hating” is an act of inner silent speech, where with our thoughts we direct the arrows of our anger against this person. The word of Jesus doesn’t have a space in us.
We can’t expect two things that are opposite to dwell in us: anger and God’s action in us. “Anger” has many forms in us. Frustration for instance can makes us angry.
The Word of God needs and awaits for a clean heart. There is a cleanness that we can perform, which is refusing to surrender to anger and ask from God to give us a new heart, a heart of flesh, a heart “quick to hear”.
“21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
St James will clarify his thought: “anger” is for him any “filthiness and rank growth of wickedness”. If we want to receive the “implanted Word” of Jesus, we need to put away all what goes against it. Remember the thorns in the third soil in the Parable of the Sower. It has thorns that suffocate the Word of Jesus implanted in us. These thorns are all what is against the Word of God, all the desires that are not “the desire of God” (richness, worries,…).
God wants to save us. He has two means for that: His Word (his preaching), and His Body and Blood (the Cross). Jesus’ word is capable of Saving our soul, changing it, purifying it, helping it to walk the path from the land of the darkness to God who is Light and Love. God’s Word is powerful and we need it everyday so we can be saved: each day bears its effort, and each day has its own Bread. For man doesn’t live alone from Bread but from the Real Bread: Jesus’ Words.
“A heart quick to hear give me O Lord! A meek heart.”

Putting into practice
One of the characteristics of the heart that can receive the word of God is the heart that from the beginning is ready to put it into practice, unconditionally ready for that. We know that God can fulfil any Word he would say to us. So why are we doubting God? We need to trust him, trust that he knows what is best for us today, we are his children, his dearest children and he wants to “save our souls” with his Word.
Do we really believe that we need to be saved, i.e. changed by him, by his words? Do we really entrust our being into the Hands of Jesus who then will give us each day a Word of Salvation, of change, of transformation, purification? Do we really see Jesus as our doctor, healer? Do we acknowledge the existence of this Grace every day? Are we following Jesus everyday?
So, from start, the process of “listening” bears in it the deep determination to put into practice what we will hear from Jesus, we are totally opened to him: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Being in front of Jesus is being in front of THE Truth, the truth on us. We expose ourselves to His Light. Wanting to listen to Jesus means that we want to see ourselves in Him: he sheds a light a day on us, reflects it to us, shows it to us. “For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror” (James 1:23)
Jesus is our Divine Mirror
But we really need to accomplish all the operation of listening: i.e. listening and putting into practice.
Otherwise: “he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:24)
Really we need to be persons who listen and put into practice the daily word of Jesus. This is what characterises us. We believe in the Incarnation, and part of the Incarnation is the incarnation of Jesus’ words in us. This incarnation really changes our life, modifies it radically. This is a fundamental criterion of discernment. One can claim that he or she has a life of prayer, but it can be deeply fake. We can’t fool God by just praying and doing various sacred acts of worship. If the Word of Jesus doesn’t become incarnate in us, our worship is superficial, not made “in Spirit and in Truth”, we just worship Jesus with our words, and body, but our heart doesn’t listen to Him, is not guided by Him and is not transformed by His Word. "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:8-9)
Jesus is our living Law, Jesus is our living example and guide, he is our Way. Jesus came to free us from the darkness, bringing us to the Light and transforming our inner being into His Light.
“But he who looks into the perfect Law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25)
Again and again: otherwise our worship is false, superficial, pharisaic. How can we continue to have a heart that doesn’t listen to Jesus, and is not moved by his words if from our heart come all sorts of thoughts and silent acts?
“If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain.” (James 1:26)

One can say: but what will Jesus ask me to do? Loving Jesus’ Body:
“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11) “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20)
Who are the most vulnerable persons on earth according to the biblical tradition? The persons that have nobody on earth to take care of them? The orphans and the widows. These are the most “poor” persons. Before reaching them, we need to open to the closest persons, then after, we will go deeper and deeper in Jesus’ Body until we reach the poorest of the poorest: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) “Religion” is worship, is to love God, is all the acts of worship. Giving what we have, who we are, letting the love of God flow from him, through our heart to the poor, Jesus’ body, is really one of the deepest and most powerful ways of “putting into Practise” Jesus’ Word: Lectio Divina.

We really need to meditate these few verses of St James’ letter, in order to deepen our understanding of Lectio Divina.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

89: What is holiness?

Two days ago I was giving the Lesson on the Transfiguration of the Lord: "The Transfiguration in our Spiritual Life".
I was explaining some aspects of the Transfiguration: the state of Jesus' human nature (from day one, his human nature (body, soul, spirit) was united to His Divinity, in the only Divine Person of the Eternal Son). I was pointing out to the fact that our human nature doesn't help us understand his human nature because we are "below human nature" in the sense that our human nature is a fallen nature, that we are capable of being wolves, of "eating" our brothers and sisters. While, Jesus' human nature is more humane, more human! His nature (body, soul, spirit) is not fallen but is introduced/dwelling in the Divine Nature of the Eternal Son. His Human Nature is at the closest to the Divine Uncreated Nature of God.
We often fall into the trap of projecting our understanding and perception of who we are on Jesus. So when we say: "Jesus is perfect man", under "man" we may put things that have nothing to do with Him and His Human nature.

From that point, I moved on to a very close point, saying: what is our horizon? what is holiness? what is the final stage of our growth as christians, disciples of Jesus? how does it look like? how would be look like? Is it to walk with a halo or any circle of light on top of our head? is it to make miracles? is it to walk on waters?
None of the above. Our goal is to become more human, to become like Jesus: More humility, more compassion, empathy, welcoming in our heart (spiritual hospitality) all humans, unconditionally. Forgiving 7x77 times per day (see Mathew 18:21).
The good Samaritan
How much do we have to forgive? How should be the state of our heart? Grab your calculator: 7x77 = 539 time a day. If you sleep 8 hours, that leaves you 16 hours to forgive others. 539 times per 16 hours, makes it more than 33 times per hour. More than once every two minutes. This is Jesus' way to explain God's Heart, God's uncreated Being.. and how we need to become: "be merciful as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36), have the same way of being merciful: be as perfect in mercy as your Father (see Mt 5:48).

St Thomas Aquinas said that kneeling humbly in front of God is greater than making miracles. St John of the Cross makes us notice that in saint Paul's list of the qualities of the Apostle, he put Patience before miracles.

Jesus himself, when he tries to unveil to us the very nature of God's Heart, he takes the example of our goodness/kindness and multiplies it. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him." (Mt 7:11) All what I am trying to say lies in this "how much more".

We remember very well Jesus' core statement: "learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Mt 11:29)! What do we need to learn more from God? We need to know His Nature and His behaviour. We need to discover the way He thinks, the way he acts. And strangely, He appears to be more human than us. "Let us fall into the Hand of God, for he is most merciful" (2 Sam 24)!

This is how He reveals himself in a vision: "YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7).

A Devouring Flame of Love. (see Dt 4:24)

God is truly more human/humane than us.

So, conclusion, how do I imagine holiness? what is my horizon? What is to be holy? What is to get closer to God? what will happen?