Friday, 29 July 2016

154: Lectio Divina in daily life 7: Lectio in a busy life

Continuation of 153: Lectio Divina in daily life 6

We encounter objections to lectio in ourselves. We do not have time for it because our days are already full and, moreover, it is quite possible that we consecrate our free time to various groups or associations, to our Parish or a movement. What should we do then? Let us look at these two objections.

a) “I don’t have time”

This is a big issue: How can an hour of lectio be integrated into each day when one already has so many occupations? Even if we were to give examples of people who are immersed in the activities of the world or who have numerous activities who still find time to listen to the Word that Christ speaks to them each day, this would probably not be convincing. So how should we proceed? There is a simple way that is useful to many people who really have the desire to do lectio.

If we are truly convinced that lectio has an essential place in our lives but we think that we are unable of finding time for it in our day, and if this saddens us, we might address this simple prayer to the Lord: “Lord, you have made me understand how important encountering you and listening to you in the Words of the daily Mass readings is, but you see that my daily schedule doesn’t allow it. Since you have the desire to speak to me and since you are Almighty, I offer you my schedule, my life, my plans: organise my daily life and show me how to find the time, how to use the time you give me; tell me how to reorganise my life, take away the obstacles and strengthen what is good, and establish this sacred time for our encounter.” Let us address this prayer to him with all our heart. Let us repeat it from time to time, and, above all, let us put our faith in the Lord and open our eyes. He will show us many things. If we want Him to be the Master of our lives – and this is the meaning of Baptism – then we should have faith in Him, hand everything over to Him, and, at the very least, make this prayer. It will not be long before we see some results.

Of course, the lack of time is a formidable argument. This argument is apparently solid and reasonable (our occupations are always legitimate and necessary, and often more necessary than the Lord who gives us life and health). Nothing could break down this argument. But the prayer given here, as an example, is all-powerful. When we make it, our sincerity is absolutely crucial.
Very busy

b) “I already have commitments in the Church”

Another argument might be put forward: “I already give a good deal of time to God and the Church; that’s prayer and listening to the Lord, isn’t it?” One may be engaged in Catholic Action, in a movement of the Church, and there are many of these, both active and charitable. This also seems to some people to be a strong argument, sufficient to exclude all other possible ways of giving oneself. But lurking behind this kind of excuse there may be a desire to calm one’s conscience, or to flee from these “other ways of giving oneself” by re-assuring oneself that one already does lots of things for the Lord; But all of this comes down to escapism. This does not mean that action is bad, but more precisely that one is made for action. The Lord also wants action. He said so explicitly: “I work , and my Father works till now” (see Jn 5:17). But the Lord wants action that proceeds from God; He wants contemplation and union with God. In the first book we showed how lectio is fundamentally directed to the will, action and change. But what good is it to want to change the world if one does not change on a personal level. This, however, is the most difficult undertaking. Let us change through lectio and thus the entire world will have changed with us and through us. A single act of pure love, i.e. accomplished in God – and this is what lectio is –, is of greater value than all the works one could do1.

The mission can only be accomplished by and in Christ, who is the Master. “Apart from me you are not able to do anything” (Jn 15:5). Now, lectio brings us into direct communion with the Author of our lives and allows us to bear lasting fruit, to do God’s work and not our own.

He who remains in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, because apart from me you are not able to do anything” (Jn 15:5). But how can we remain in Him? “If you remain in me, and my Words remain in you […]”. We see quite clearly that in order to remain in Christ and to bear fruit, it is necessary for His Words to remain in us. “No more do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his lord does, and I have called you friends, because all things that I heard from my Father, I made known to you.” In lectio He reveals to us, day after day, what He taught us, what He heard and saw from His Father. He does nothing by himself. He gave us the example so that we may do as He did. This point is essential. If the Son had not acted in response to the situations, if he had simply applied rules or laws, if the Son had not continuously and ever anew contemplated the Father who each day was showing him his plan, he would not have born fruit. In order to bear fruit he contemplated what his Father does. He let himself be instructed by this vision. And then he told us to do likewise. He revealed to us what he had received from his Father, and he also showed us his method: “‘Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son is not able to do anything of himself, if he does not see the Father doing it; for whatever things He may do, these also the Son does in like manner; for the Father loves the Son, and He shows to him all things that He himself does; and greater works than these He will show him, that you may wonder” (Jn 5:19-20). Lectio is the way of putting this attitude of the Son into practice.

In this way we march to God’s rhythm. We do not impose our personal daily or weekly programme on God. We do not insert God into our lives. We insert ourselves into his plan and into His life. So we bear fruit and our fruit is lasting. The true work is done “in God”.

Even if these words of St. John of the Cross concern mental prayer, we perceive that they elucidate quite vigorously what we have said about lectio:

Because of her determined desire to please her Bridegroom and benefit the Church, Mary Magdalene, even though she was accomplishing great good by her preaching and would have continued to do so, hid in the desert for thirty years in order to surrender herself truly to this love. It seemed to her, after all, that by such retirement she would obtain much more because of the notable benefit and gain that a little of this love brings to the Church.
Let those, then, who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works, observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more, not to mention the good example they would give, were they to spend at least half an hour of this time with God in prayer, even though they might not have reached a prayer as sublime as this. Then they would accomplish more, and with less labour, by one work than they would by a thousand. For through their prayer they would merit this result, and themselves be spiritually strengthened. Without prayer they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm. God forbid that the salt should begin to lose its savour (Mt. 5:13). However much they appear to achieve externally, they will in substance be accomplishing nothing; it is beyond doubt that good works can be preformed only by the power of God.”
Oh, how much could be written here on this subject! […] [for] all those who impugn her holy idleness and desire every work to be the kind that shines outwardly and satisfies the eye, and do not know the secret source from which both the water flows and all fruit is produced. (Spiritual Canticle B 29,1-4)

1 “For a little of this pure love is more precious to God and the soul and more beneficial to the Church, even though it seems one is doing nothing, than all these other works put together.” (Saint John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle B 29, 2).

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

153: Lectio Divina in daily life 6: Difficulties in Lectio

Continuation of 152: Lectio Divina in daily life 5

2. Difficulties in lectio

In the first book (Lectio Divina I, The Method) we already looked at some difficulties that are encountered in lectio every day, precisely the “Temptations to flight”. Here we are going to consider other problems that we encounter in the daily practice of lectio. Is it really possible to do it each day? Is it possible to be unsuccessful? Don’t we succeed only progressively? Let us look at each one of these problems or objections.

a) Is it really possible to do it everyday?

Those who do not as yet practise lectio daily and who read the teaching on Lectio ask this question: Is it really true that we can (or should) practise lectio on a day-to-day basis? There are moments in life when we cannot, and there are different reasons for this.

At certain moments, we may be beset by heavy burdens which take up all our time. If the situation does not last too long this is just one of the phases of life. So, sometimes it is not possible to practise lectio every day for reasons that are beyond our control.
But this may also arise from a simple question of organisation: we do not make an act of faith vis-à-vis the right that we have to receive a daily Word from God as the “daily bread” we ask for when we pray the “Our Father”; or, if we have not yet really given our life to the Lord, we are not yet living a full relationship with Him. This means that we still own our time and ourselves. We are not really giving ourselves to the Lord. In that case, lectio would be just a moment accorded to the Lord and not the commitment of one’s entire life, of the entire day. This makes a huge difference.

Some people may ask whether they should do lectio in the evening, or in the afternoon, since they cannot do it in the morning. This is obviously better than nothing, and it will also give results. But lectio done in the morning is like a Light that illumines our whole day. One objection might be: “But if one does it in the evening, it will work like leaven throughout the night and, so, the next day it will be as if we had done lectio in the morning”. But the next morning are we really able to remember what was essential and to put it into practice?

Let us go back to the main point: an act of faith must be made. Each person will experience it in his or her own way. For example, for a married teacher, this act of faith may be to say to the Lord: “Lord, you see that I want to put you first. But I honestly don’t have the time. Help me to organise my time and to find a moment for lectio, because I understand how important it is in my life.” In saying this he has been honest, and has manifested his faith and hope in the Lord as being righteous and “pure”. And he has the surprise, at the beginning of the year, of not having to give the private tuitions that a gifted teacher of good standing like himself usually does. He recognises this as a clear sign from the Lord. This may not keep him from “panicking” and saying: “If things continue like this I will not be able to make ends meet, especially that my wife and I are expecting a child”. But in the depth of his heart he knows that he can organise his time, that the Lord has answered his honest prayer and has shown him how to organise his days by starting from above.

b) Failures

Sometimes it happens that despite faithful practice of lectio, lectio simply does not “work”. And there may be different reasons for this that are not necessarily dependent on us and do not come from a lack of effort. But the percentage of these “failures” is very low; this may occur once a month. From time to time the Lord wants to mortify us. In fact, the consolation we receive at the beginning in and through lectio – this consolation which is inherent in the encounter with the Light – becomes a bait and so we look for it to please ourselves, and this keeps us from searching for the Lord and discovering his will. But at other times the true reason for this dysfunction eludes us. Lectio then becomes a simple meditation, a little reflection on the texts. We should simply accept these failures and not lament over them excessively. But it should be noted again that these failures are not frequent.

c) Progressing in lectio or progressive lectio?

In this paragraph we would like to deal with another important point: Should one do lectio, right from the start, in the way indicated in the first book (The Method)? Or should things be done progressively?

One may succeed in doing it as indicated from the very beginning if one already has some knowledge of the Bible. And one may continue having other ways of benefiting from the Bible while practicing lectio: for example, through reading the whole Bible, the study of a particular book, exegetical studies, etc. To repeat: the practice of lectio with the two texts of the daily Mass is not at variance with other ways of reading the Bible, whether this be simple reading, meditation, listening to the Lord in a particular part of the Gospel, sharing Scripture or more formal study. Lectio is a specific activity which allows God to speak to us each day and to transform us in Him. This is food we receive at Mass and used in a particular manner. In short, lectio either happens or does not. There is no inner progression in this practice. Either it functions, and we listen to the Spirit, or it does not. But, in any case, before starting this exercise, we could spend some time getting to know the Bible by reading at least the most important books, with the introductions provided which introduce us to a world quite different from our own. But this is not what one might call “progressive lectio”. This is simply a way of enabling us to read the Bible better, and to avoid misunderstanding it. In this way the instrument becomes intelligible and transparent (I would say: “sacramental”) for God who wants to speak to us.

There is then a progressive access to lectio, but lectio in itself cannot be a progressive – or half-done – practice.

d) Problems or objections

One of the problems encountered is that of considering this way of listening to the Lord as efficient and irreplaceable. One may make the following reflection: I could just as well meditate one text. Why are two texts need to coincide to form a beam of single light, since God is not short of ways of speaking to us? And why should I do lectio with the texts of the liturgy of the day? These are questions that often arise along the way and in this faithfulness to God. Does this form of lectio, which uses the texts of the Mass, exclude all other forms of lectio? No it does not. Who could make such an assertion? On the contrary, as we have said above, other forms of lectio exist and are possible: for example, reading just one text, reading a particular book of the Bible, group lectio, sharing of the Gospel, readings in a retreat etc. But the realistic caracter and dense nature of this form of lectio leads us to insist on it. It is a grace given everyday. Certainly, our weakness causes us to not do it well at times, or not to be able to do it; there are several reasons for this: difficulties, laziness, and other legitimate reasons that may occur unexpectedly. This is also what large numbers of Christians throughout the centuries have experienced. But the Vatican II Council recently invited us to not let this grace slip by.

So we should renew our courage each day and believe in the renewal of our faith, through this grace which is offered to many people. Even if consolation and savour come from meeting the Lord in his Word, even if, at certain times or periods, this is easy – although it is never totally without some difficulties –, quite often the Lord wants to speak to me in a daily renewed faith, to tell me something special, to give me a light, to share a part of himself with me, through my conscious and attentive freedom. We are his “collaborators”, as St. Paul put it, or his “friends”, according to St. John, and he is expecting our intelligence and our free will to respond to his light each day. Our salvation and the salvation of others depend on us; we have an active part to play in it. Of course, He gained everything for us on the Cross, but he is awaiting our assent so that his grace may come to us and to our brothers.

He is not going to give us ready-made solutions, to be given as it were to slaves; he calls for our intelligent and responsible activity; he awakens our creativity through contact with his light. He often seems to say to us: “This is how things are; here’s my light, now what are you going to do with it?” He is also pleased when, having received his light, we decide whole-heartedly and with joy to give, to help, to collaborate in his work of Salvation.

Our responsibility in our relationship with God

Lectio actually has its place in the context of the relationship between man and God. If we do not grasp this context, the kind of relationship that should exist between God and man, we are really unprepared for lectio. At times we give God an important place in this relationship with man, to the point of turning man into a slave, a kind of good-for-nothing that just tags along. At other times, one attributes everything to man to the point that all is done in God’s name but without allowing Him to intervene in any way. And sometimes one conceives a kind of equality, but with a God who is no longer the Alpha and Omega. And even in the relationship with God, where He is the inspiring source and the goal of all our actions, the balance is not equal – without forgetting that man comes of age as an adult in his relationship with God or, as St. Theresa of Jesus put it: the Lord sometimes wants to let us take charge.

Let us repeat once again that when we do lectio we have - unconsciously - a vision of our relationship with God, which may impede or even stifle the grace of lectio! We therefore need to consider this delicate relationship more closely.

In a certain sense, God cannot completely create man1. In order for God to incarnate Himself in us and to develop Himself in human life, He needs man. He creates him in His image, but man must do his part to share His resemblance: man, in turn, must become a creator. A creator cannot be ready-made; he needs to become himself. In a certain way God minimised the creation of man. This repeats what Hölderlin stated: “God created man like the ocean created the continents: by moving away from them!”

e) And those who cannot?

For diverse reasons some people are not able to practise lectio. This is an exercise that the elderly may have trouble with, either because of reasons of ill-health, on account of poor vision, because they may not have the necessary human and spiritual “culture”, or simply because their age and failing physical strength no longer permit them to do it. Illness (but nuances need to be made), illiteracy, incapacity… these are all reasons which obviously keep certain people from doing lectio. The Lord shows them other ways to listen and to do his will. Let us not forget that the Lord is in our hearts, and that He speaks to us there. We are too often outside of ourselves and distant from Him. We are no longer able to listen to Him. Sometimes simple people have their way of listening to the Lord, and they are sometimes far ahead of those who are wise and erudite. But the fundamental principle is the same: listening, seeking the Lord, invoking His Holy Spirit to help us put into practice what He has told us in the depths of our hearts. But someone who is capable of practising lectio and does not do so tempts the Lord, i.e. he does not take advantage of all the means that the Lord puts at his disposition. This amounts to laziness and neglect.

1 These reflections are inspired by the article of Fr. Michel van Aerde, o.p., “Le fil triple”.

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

152: Lectio Divina in daily life 5: Lectio and Chastity

Continuation of Lectio Divina in daily life 4 (please click here)

b) Lectio and chastity

Scripture and especially lectio – is a great help for chastity1. If we compare the love for Scripture with that for a woman, the following passage will throw light on several aspects of lectio: “And Isaac brought Rebecca into his tent: and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.” (Gen 24:67). This sentence may surprise or even astonish us, however we know very well that a man has access to the feminine part of his being, to his Anima, through women – and it is in relation to man that a woman has access to her masculine part, the Animus. Now the first woman man encounters in his life is most commonly his mother. Thus, when he loses her, he is destabilised. She is in him, but he cannot find any concrete expression of her being, no “sacrament” of the Anima… and so he is grief-stricken, he no longer lives fully; he is, as it were, separated from himself. This is where we see that the encounter with Rebecca re-establishes the contact with the Anima… man’s balance is restored. When a man loses his mother, he loses energy; he is simply lost.

No psychological help or analysis is necessary at this moment because nature itself heals the man. The woman is a healer for the man, and the man for a woman. Man can enter in contact with his Anima through a woman.

Does Scripture also have this power? People talk about “living in Scripture”. A man also lives in a woman. Through Scripture and in it, a man looks at himself as if in a mirror. A woman is also a mirror for a man, allowing him to see, to reflect his negative aspects. So Scripture and women have a similar function, since both are a kind of mirror or magnifying glass that reveal to a man (or to a woman) the dark side of him (herself). Finally we do find in Scripture what we need. All the saints were passionately “attached” to Scripture! For man there is something vital in this relationship, just like in a marriage. This throws light on the Muslim proverb: “Marriage is half of religion”. This is so because it is the embodiment and facilitator of a therapy, of a change. Without marriage a man cannot evolve. And if he becomes a monk, he uses powerful means (lectio “as a mirror”, etc.), as others do through marriage (the spouse being the revealing “mirror”), in order to sanctify himself. But if one remains without one or the other, it is as if one were severing oneself from a part of one’s being…
We can see how dangerous it is to leave Scripture aside, since without it man is weakened in his emotions. Without Scripture he will look for consolation elsewhere. St. Paul states quite explicitly that Scripture is a source of consolation. St James says that Scripture is a mirror for us. It does appear that it alone can protect consecrated celibacy. And St. Thomas Aquinas was quite right in saying that the contemplation of divine things conveyed by Scripture is a strong remedy for the tendencies of the flesh.

Thirdly, the study of letters is becoming to religious as regards that which is common to all religious orders. For it helps us to avoid the lusts of the flesh; wherefore Jerome says: “Love the science of the Scriptures and you shall have no love for carnal vice.” For it turns the mind away from lustful thoughts, and tames the flesh on account of the toil that study entails according to Sirach (Eccles 31:1): “Watching for riches consumes the flesh.”” (Summa Theologica IIa-IIae, q. 188, a. 5, resp.).

The Scriptures actually do direct the eyes of the heart toward the contemplation of divine things. The eyes, impelled by desire (1 John 2:16) to search for beauty, will be fascinated by the beauty of God.

So, man is a deeply sexed being, not only physically but also and especially psychologically. His “Anima” is in his depths, with his “shadow”… He therefore cannot remain alone! “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18), i.e. it is not good for him to be alienated from himself, to be without an interlocutor who reflects himself back to him, to his inner being, and incites him to conversion. As we have said, being alienated from one’s “Anima” causes a loss of energy in him. Either a good marriage (lived as a “sacrament”) or attachment to Scripture2 are ways of putting him back into touch with himself, with his “Anima”, by restoring the equilibrium and the energy he needs.

Obviously, Scripture needs to be incarnated. And it does not suffice to be attached to Scripture; one must also put it into practice. Otherwise it would be as if one were seeing the truth but not dealing with it. Scripture is a mirror, but daily life is the field in which we deal with what has been seen in the mirror. This means that attachment to Scripture embraces the whole of man, and it necessarily implies practising and dealing with what has been perceived. This attachment is not disincarnated! It is a powerful aid to a fulfilled way of living.
We may of course find other things to replace Scripture. Fr. Congar put it well: “I love the Truth like a man loves a woman”. He put all his energy into his relationship with the Truth. But this does not mean that he neglected the Scriptures. But behind Scripture he sought for and found the One who speaks through them, the One who said: “I am the Truth and the Life”.

This love and attachment to Scripture obviously comes to one of its best realisations, if not the very best, in lectio simply because it is the food given to us each day at Mass. The Holy Spirit speaks through it, providing a contemplative light which quenches, fills, strengthens, consoles, encourages and leads man into the depths of God.

The times we live in, which are so strongly “erotic”, are in great need of the remedy offered through the love of Scripture, and most especially through lectio.

1 Although only the man vir is mentioned in this paragraph, both men and women are included.

2 Of course marriage does not exclude the Scriptures, which are just as necessary for each person’s growth!

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: To know more about Lectio Divina see: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Friday, 22 July 2016

151: Lectio Divina in daily life 4: Lectio as a Therapy

Continuation of 102: Lectio Divina in daily life 3 (please click here)

II - Lectio in the course of time

1. Lectio as a “therapy”

a) Lectio and psychology

Lectio is a therapeutic method. In fact, Christ is the Doctor, who knows us perfectly, and who daily speaks words to us in conformity with our needs as he sees them. Usually doctors of psychotherapy do not know us well enough and, ignorant of our true needs, do not know how to determine what should or should not be done; they cannot see the hidden recesses of our souls. But here Christ himself is at work… Moreover, the two dimensions, both the psychological and the spiritual one, are wholly present. Obviously this pertains to the broadest band of people, who are healthy; those suffering from pathological illnesses should seek medical help.

Beyond this, the Word of Christ has a purifying action. “Already you are clean, because of the word that I have spoken to you” (Jn 15:3). Lectio, which is an encounter with his word, also has this purifying effect.

This section will be of interest to all those who deal with psychology.
Today, thanks to progress in the field of psychology, we can easily recognize how Christ’s words bring psychological healing to the soul, psychological healing to our blindness. He works in the human soul, and enters deeply into the psyche. In the Sermon on the Mount, he shows us that not only our acts call for healing but our hearts also need to be healed. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21-22). But Christ also deals with the little Pharisee who is in each of us, and in doing so he unveils the mechanisms of the human soul. For example, in the St. Matthew’s Gospel, an entire chapter deals with the mechanisms of hipocrisy which divide the human soul (Mt 23). Their unveiling leads to the unifying work in the depths of our being. But in other passages, Christ speaks to the Pharisee in us, to “the prodigal son”, to “the adulteress who has been forgiven”, and so on. To the outside world one wants to appear pure, but the deepest roots of our being are entangled in contradictions. Instead of imagining a world that is pure, or barren, or black on one side and white on the other, filled with people who are either bad or good, Christ wants us to learn to become aware of our shadows, our undisclosed motivations, which we do not normally acknowledge or quite simply ignore although very real. When you fast or do good works (Mt 6) do not seek to blazon it abroad nor attract approval or praise.
Christ came to free with his power the depths of the human heart, and this is precisely what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: “and I say to you”… I will reveal your depths to you… if you are willing to see them.
Thus we come to understand that not only the world is a mix of black and white, but we too are. This discovery is quite an uncomfortable one; and yet, without it we would be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: the evil and the author of this evil, the wheat and the chaff!
Entering into our depths is therefore a healthy thing to do, enabling us slowly to be freed, as we discover at once our wretchedness – our “nothingness” as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus put it – and the great mercy without which we could not otherwise bear to confront the depths of our nothingness.

This therapy leads us to the humility of God and to the charity that comes from Him. We become like Mary, the poor Virgin who is nonetheless “full of grace”.
In fact, neurosis is the result of an opposition between the conscious soul and the unconscious spirit at the roots of the soul. On one hand, by our conscious part we build a “persona”, an image of ourselves, a social image, and on the other hand, the reality deep down our heart is quite different. The conflict between the inside and the outside (cf. the “outside and the inside of the cup” in Mt 23:25) erupts, creating neurosis, a disequilibrium in our psychological life. Now, through lectio we free ourselves by listening, so that the Lord may unify our being (“He who of the two has made one” cf. Eph 2:14).

Jesus heals our soul
So lectio is a very powerful means of psychological healing. It allows us, through our encounter with Christ, to discover a higher degree of unity, by the integration of our entire being. Marie-Louise von Franz, a disciple of C. G. Jung, compared Scripture with the unconscious self in a judicious and profound way! Let us not forget that the unconscious, taken as a whole – at least in Jungian psychology (the collective unconscious) – is mysterious and vast, and cannot be comprehended (in the sense of being contained) by human reason.

Again and again Holy Scripture as a whole is referred to by the Church Fathers in images that, taken psychologically, we would today regard as symbols of the unconscious: as spring, the labyrinth, endless sea, unfathomable heaven, impenetrable abyss, or as a wild and untamed stream from which we can draw life eternally but whose final mysteries remain forever unattainable for us.”1

M.-L. von Franz briefly recalls a parallel between medieval exegesis of the four meanings of Scripture (historical, allegorical, tropological and anagological) and the four basic functions of the human psyche (the senses, thought, sentiment and intuition), and then draws the following conclusion:

In the Middle Ages, Holy Scripture was looked upon as unit, as a mysterium, which makes clear to us the reality of the Christ. When this mystery, in itself inconceivable, rotates by means of the four wheels of the four scriptural exegesis, it draws nearer to our understanding. But our understanding can never explain Scripture “exhaustively,” for “the purport of the divine word is of infinite diversity,” as John Scotus Erigena puts it.”2

It must be remembered that, in psychology, the conscious always remains the key to “salvation”. Some things may be changed by it or be allowed to change. Through lectio – which activates the conscious part in response to the totality3 manifested by Christ who speaks in Scripture – the dark areas are approached each day, and the conscious and active being is daily called upon. This is therefore not only a kind of analysis (probably one of the best kinds since it is perfectly adapted to each person and to his or her degree of self-revelation) but equally a way of collaborating in one’s own healing. Here the subject is truly the co-author of his own cure. When one understands the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own self, one sees more clearly lectio’s great contribution to psychological health and its powerful influence as a means of healing.

Psychology applies different methods to reach the unconscious, in order to assist it and allow it to express itself. In this regard, and more especially when compared to the active imagination method described by Jung and his disciples, lectio is, at an even more comprehensive level, a highly efficient means because it leaves the path clear for the Lord to illumine our depths – in a way similar to Jung’s method. Lectio also strengthens the self and the conscious part in front of the unconscious, and unifies the person. Having said this, it is to be noted that lectio is ten times more efficient and easier to put into practice than the best therapeutic methods. This is so because God is both present and active here - He who is the best aid and catalyst - together with the Holy Spirit and Christ. Nevertheless, in the most severe or marginal cases, lectio cannot replace treatment by a doctor or at least the help of an experienced guide.
Certainly these observations would benefit from broader research and even an in- depth comparative study.

1 M.-L. von Franz, Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology : Reflections of the Soul (Open Courst Publishing, 1985) pp.45-46.
2 Ibid., p. 47.
3 The soul has access to its own totality – the conscience and the subconscious – only in so far as it advances to encounter the totality of what exists. For the faithful, this totality is Christ, who contains everything within himself.

Note 1: This is an extract from the book: "Lectio divina in daily life" (please click here)
Note 2: A keynote on Lectio Divina
Note 3: Remember to subscribe to this Blog so you can receive the posts directly to your email.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

151: Soothing Spiritual Fanaticism

In this post I do not claim to offer a full spiritual or psychological analysis of religious fanaticism. I wish I could. I am not an expert on the subject. But in the spiritual realm, there are analytical elements that can be added to the normal elements dealing with fanaticism. It is some of these points, rather, that I would like to share, that require us to pause, ponder and think, for in essence we all in one way or another are very keen on certain things in life, and this for many reasons (i.e. freedom for instance... Remember the May 1968 French saying: 'it is forbidden to forbid').
Here I will be trying to understand and analyse the mechanism behind 'christian fanaticism'. My interest, moreover, is not in what other religions think on this issue as I believe in leaving each to his own.

The little Pharisee in us

First and foremost, some might be tempted to think that they are not fanatical, that they are cool, open minded,... That is all well and good. But one important fact in the Gospel, it must be remembered, is striking: the presence of the Pharisees. They are amongst the most heavily criticised people in the Gospel. This should surprise us. They are, after all, a group of followers within the Jewish faith (and many will become Christians), rather akin to an elite group, of the purest amongst the pure: the word "Pharisee" in fact means "chosen". What is striking is that the Gospel - which is written for us and not for those Jews who remained in the Jewish faith - criticises them quite strongly.
When we read the Gospel, the temptation is to keep our distance from this criticism and say that it is not addressed to us, but rather to the Pharisees, remarking: "look how awful there were". However, in fact the Gospel is inspired by the Holy Spirit and written for us. So why are the Pharisees mentioned? The reason is simple: inside of every human being following Jesus there is a secret little (or bigger) Pharisee, who often escapes from our grasp.
This in fact affects the depths of the human soul and the religious attitude: whenever we are presented with a desirable object engendering possible worship, we have deep inside of us some mysterious mechanism that triggers behaviour quite similar to that of the Pharisee. It is in fact a mode of behaviour common to all human beings, and not just to some Jews living in Jesus' time. One can be perfectly Christian and yet have the attitudes and ways of a Pharisee.
It is worth bearing in mind, therefore, that all criticism (constructive and positive criticism) that we find in the Gospel about the Pharisees is very strong medicine that is being given to all of us, and more precisely to that hidden Pharisee in us.
That the Pharisee is always well-intentioned is important to remember! But this is not enough. Although he wants to defend the purity of faith, at the end of the day, the means he uses are not the right ones. In this light one cannot refrain from thinking of the parable Jesus recounts, which applies most significantly to the Pharisee:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus was not displeased by the zeal of the person he was blaming. Rather He encourages the person to take part in the sanctification of his brothers. Jesus points to the "means" used ('you will see clearly [how] to remove'): in other words, how do I help my brother? This observation, I feel, is rather pertinent, for the result is: "then you will see clearly [how] to remove"... It seems that the overzealous behaviour shown here is rather based on the 'old man' in us than the 'new man'. If the old heart of stone is removed, and a new humble and meek heart is transplanted, then the Spirit of God will be able to move the person to see more clearly and really help his brother.

"Hypocrisy" and "double standards" seem to be the characteristics of this type of mentality. A greater importance is given to external things (the outside of the cup (Matthew 23)) over internal things (the inside of it). But above and beyond this, thank the Lord, is God who sees only the heart of our brothers, and therefore only He can be the Judge because He sees the truth therein and can assess its worth.
I can consequently have great "fun" re-reading the best Bible-thumping chapters ever written, allowing the Light of God to shine in me, trying to fish out and corner that little escaping naughty pharisee: chapter 23 in St Matthew. As a result then when, for example, I am sitting close to a person whose body odour is offensive, the thought can be nourished in me that my sins smell exceedingly more in the eyes (rather in the 'nose') of God than the smell coming from this person. I myself am merely annoyed by this smell, while the truth is that it is God who is hugely offended by my sins. In this way my sins will have a powerful impact on me. This will calm down my hypocrisy and bring me to spiritual realism.

The mechanism of fanaticism

I would like to suggest a possible route to the birth of some types of catholic spiritual fanaticism.
The world we live in is quite chaotic, confusing and psychologically impoverishing. Instead of elevating us, giving us a sense of security, unifying our life around God's Presence amongst us, it offers us few values and references, and all that we find is unpredictability and random behaviour. This reality pushes us to go on a Quest for the Truth, a search for things more stable and long lasting and for a sense of security and peace. We search for our 'Messiah'.

As we journey on this quest, we might come across a more alive Christianity, a renewed discovery of Catholicism, and be overwhelmed by some graces that God gives us. The initial lack of order in our life, psychological instability, sense of loss, fear and weakness will then start to diminish because of the action of the Grace of God.

The initial Graces we receive give us the peace we were earnestly longing for. But what happens is that since we are still beginners, these graces fall into the hands of the ' old man'. Thus we receive them and understand them in a very base human way that prevents us from treating God, the Truth, for who He is. There is an unconscious deviation that occurs in us. Good intentions are always present. But they are not enough!! One can inflict a lot of damage with good intentions, starting with oneself!

When Peter says to the Lord, when was announcing that He will suffer, die and rise: "no never"... who was talking here? The Old Man in Peter. When Peter says that he will follow Jesus despite Jesus warning that he cannot do so, who is speaking here? When Peter cuts the ear of the guard, who is acting here? The Old Man in Peter!

It is not enough to have the New Wine, i.e. Jesus in our life. We also need the Old Wineskin to be transformed, purified, changed, into the New Wineskin!

When Jesus performed miracles, fed the crowds, stopped the wind, healed all illnesses, what was people's reaction? He greatly resembled a Political Messiah, with all the necessary solutions : food, clothes, shelter, and peace! They wanted to make him a King! The Messiah King! But who is reacting in them here? The Old Man. How does he react? According to the base human way.
The 'Pearl', the 'New wine' is being given to swine: the old skin. This will not work, it will not bear fruit.

It is worth stressing once more that Jesus is not questioning people's zeal. Yet, it is not because we have zeal that validates the use of baser human means. Emphatically not! When God's Graces fall into soiled hands, old hearts of stone, old skins, they become Idols - i.e. they are unconsciously worshipped like God! Our attachment to them is true spiritual idolatry, where importance is given to what we have understood, what we have felt, and not to God himself, the Giver.

The Old Heart tends to accelerate, rushing to conclusions, to interpret according to human values, hopes and desire. One light, one grace, is now given prominence according to the desire of the moment, the part becomes the whole. One light is transformed into an entire doctrine or conviction. We start to focus on things that matter to the Old Man in us... but in fact they are only a part rather than the whole of theTruth. We rush on, not wanting to wait until all the Truth is revealed to us, until the entire picture is painted before our inner eye. The attachment to such things is already the seed of fanaticism.

In essence, it becomes evident that Graces which have been undermined by selfish/subjective needs, can generate fanaticism, and lead us astray from God's ways.

Strangely, after having been 'poor', for a long time, in the spiritual sense, as we search for the Truth, any crumb of light that enters into our perception becomes the object of our new born fanaticism. If any person comes and challenges us, or touches this newly received part of the Truth, we become very confrontational, aggressive and insistent. Our approach becomes radical and fundamentalist. We build up in our mind the convictions we want, with the little we have, and totally disregard the different thinking or behaviour of anyone else.

Ironically, deep inside of us, we are unaware that our thinking and emotions are dominated by fear: the fear of losing our grip on the little crumb of light which has fallen into our hands, and which has become our "god". There is a subtle but vibrant idolatry at work here. A crumb of the Truth now becomes all the Truth. Now, into the bargain, we became very zealous about it.

Total blindness, total lack of humility! Who can save us? Nobody. Why? Spiritual pride has already taken root in us and it is impossible to convince a person who has spiritual pride.
A person with common human earthly pride is open to redemption, because an appeal can be entertained when it emanates from a higher point of view or perspective: an established spiritual life, God. But if you are dealing with a spiritually proud person, this is simply a dead-end! In fact this person actually claims to spiritual knowledge!

Fear, lack of full growth, a degree of ignorance, generate fanaticism and the dogmatic self-righteous insistence that comes with it. A zeal that does not emanate from God, for God is humble and meek.
Fear of losing what was gained when the light was experienced is enough to give him or her grounds for "certainty".

All this shows a lack of growth. A fragmented and reduced approach to the real God, the real Jesus, the real Gospel. It illustrates a very superficial understanding of Christianity, and quite a serious degree of spiritual blindness. " said, you see, therefore your sins remain" said Jesus to the Pharisees toward the end of Chapter 9 in St John's Gospel.

More significant even than this is to know that all fanaticism bears a degree of heresy in it, because one choses part of the Truth and not all of it. The challenge of doing the latter - choosing all the Truth - is infinitely harder, because grasping the whole Truth engenders quite a different way of behaving, and is necessary. It is a humble and meek way, and is founded on gratitude for the generosity and mercy shown by the Lord.

NB If you want to read about Spiritual Sins, read the First book of “The Dark Night of the Spirit" of St John of the Cross (Chapters 1-7), where the author addresses the seven spiritual capital sins: a reflection of the usual seven capital sins transposed onto the Spiritual Realm: spiritual greed, spiritual gluttony, spiritual lust, spiritual pride, spiritual laziness, spiritual jealousy,... All momentous sins!

The healing process
The needed purity

If a fanatic has a little seed of humility and repentance, he or she can find a way to heal and grow spiritually.

As a first step it is important to trust God and entrust ourselves to Him. This attitude is essential. It comprises a sincere wide and deep act of Faith in God. We are not the managers of our Spiritual Life, we did not call God, we do not deserve even one of His innumerable Graces. Everything flows from His immense Mercy, calling us to follow him. He Called us, it is not we who called Him.

It is God who knows that the greatest part of our being still needs to be purified and changed; that the Old Man is still very alive in us; that a big part of our make-up is still raw material. The work is one of transformation, of daily effort, of daily steps to take, of daily growth. Therefore it is extremely advisable, everyday, to place into the hands of God one end of a figurative woollen ball by concentrating on doing Lectio Divina as well as possible. If, everyday, we repeatedly ask Him to hold one end of the thread, if, everyday, we put it back into His Hands, He will finally possess the entire ball in his hands, but more importantly, the thread will be absorbed by Him to subsequently become the means of transforming us.

It is important to realise that spiritual life is like human growth: it takes years to become an adult. It takes years for a small seed to become a big tree! This means that we should not cease trying to achieve our first victories, but consider that everyday there will be a battle, and that we need to win it. We should not be satisfied with a few crumbs but aim for the abundant Table of Food God has ready and waiting for us. This means that patience, resilience and perseverance are the unavoidable keys to success in this situation.
It must also be kept to the forefront of our thinking that rushing, jumping to conclusions, taking short cuts over important steps, forgetting the daily spiritual realism, make us go astray.
Every day entails its own effort, pain, and growth. Spiritual realism dictates that 'today' is what matters the most. It is not beneficial at all to discard the necessary steps. Neither is it beneficial to look behind, or be attached to the "old edifice". Let it fall if it has to - and unavoidably it has to!

It is important as well not to mix and confuse one light with the Uncreated Light, Jesus himself, and to forget also the thousands of other lights the Lord wants to send us. As mentioned before, it is important to avoid transforming a grace we have received into an idol... into a "god". Only God is God, and anything created that falls into the narrow space of our mind cannot be idolised. God is infinitely wider that our little brain and understanding. One truth calls for another truth until the Truth is formed, until the whole picture of the Truth is formed. And remember, the Truth is not a theory, it is a person: Jesus.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

It is also useful to remember that fanaticism is fiercely insistent. On the other hand Jesus was meek and humble. He said to the Samaritan Lady (St John chapter 4): 'I am thirsty.' He did not start by saying: 'you have the wrong religion, you are an adulteress,...' Conquering others for Christ requires a lot of delicacy and forethought as well as patience, both of which constitute a purer form of Love.

The Church, in the final analysis, provides a better and more balanced judgement. Why try to out run the Church? Why run in a different direction to the Church? Why claim that the Church makes various assertions when it is you who make them, and do so in your own way? After all, who gave you permission to do so? What are your credentials?

It is of the utmost importance to believe in the Church. "To Believe" is not to stop at what we see. It is to go deeper, with pure intentions, to find Jesus and the Holy Spirit instead of seeking out trouble! St Francis of Assisi confessed to a known adulterous Priest. Why? To show us how his faith was stronger than appearances, that he saw and believed in the sacred Priesthood of this Priest! Do we have such faith?

It is important, also, to have recourse to the deposit of God's Wisdom which the Church holds in trust. Submitting to the Holy Spirit who is alive in the Church, who speaks through the Church and in the Church is a true wise choice. Thus it is beneficial to have recourse to the Church for solid doctrine in order to find in her, God. Likewise it is always very good to humbly consult God through his Priests, such behaviour, in fact, being endorsed by St John of the Cross who says that God loves this way of acting.

As a final reminder, let us remember that the Lord did not blame us for wanting to remove the speck from the eyes of our brothers, but He stressed the fact that we need to learn how do it: by removing first the beam in our own eye! The Lords wants us to really learn what is true love, true Mercy, true compassion, so we are more qualified to remove the speck from our brothers' eyes, not with aggressive fanaticism, but with peaceful, meek, compassionate Mercy.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

150: A Keynote on Lectio Divina

1- What does 'LD” mean?
'Lectio' in Latin means: 'Reading'.
'Divina': means 'spiritual' or 'divine'.
Note 1: LD (Lectio Divina) is traditionally applied exclusively to the spiritual reading of the Scriptures.
Note 2: It is called 'divina' because without the direct, 'divine', intervention of the Holy Spirit, this cannot come about.

2- What is LD?
It is the time we dedicate to sitting down, listening to what Jesus wants to say to us, and putting it into practice.
Practising LD is meeting the Risen Lord who comes everyday to my room to speak to me personally and change me.

3- What is the basis of LD?:
LD is based on the “daily Bread” that the Lord gives us essentially during the first part of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word of God.
Note: We have either two readings (week days), i.e. First Reading and Gospel, or three readings (Sunday, Solemnities) i.e. + one extra reading.

4- What is LD's place in our Spiritual Life?
LD is the most powerful boost to our Spiritual Life.
Well practised it ensures a steady growth.
Without it, our Spiritual Life is greatly undermined.

5- What is the goal of LD?
Its daily goal is to generate a real transformation in us.
It helps Jesus' words to become incarnate in us, so that Jesus grows in us.
We start to act with Him and through Him in new and previously unexperienced ways.

6- Is Jesus calling everybody to practise LD?
Yes. He emphasised, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4).
Note 1: He said: "man", not, "some men".
Note 2: It is equally true that there is a moment in our lives where, by the grace of God, we become more aware of the vital importance of listening to Jesus' Word and putting it into practice.

7- When do we practice LD?
The best way is to do it is on a daily basis, preferably in the Morning. Jesus advises us to petition God to "Give us this day our Daily Bread".
Usually we start with as little as 10 minutes a day, and the practice grows to reach about an hour.

8- What are the stages of LD?
There are two stages in LD:
1- To listen to Jesus' Personal Word for us .
2- To put it into practice.

9- Which texts do we use?
The best method is to use the readings of the Mass of the day. They can be found online and in the following: a liturgical calendar, the Bible, the Missal, or a monthly magazine dedicated to the Mass eg Magnificat...
For a person who is not acquainted with the Scriptures, it is better to start by reading the main books of the New Testament, and some important texts from the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah,...), and do the lectio on those texts, a paragraph or section per day.

10- What is the best way to start it?
1- to sit in a quiet place
2- to place myself in the presence of Christ and enter into my conscience so I can hear the voice of God
3- to consider Jesus' desire to speak to me
4- to repeat my choice of Him today as my First priority
5- to give myself to Him, unconditionally.
This stage should only take a few minutes.
11- What conditions does LD lay down?
The true desire to respond to Jesus' Call for me, and the willingness to change, to convert.
Jesus explained: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."" (Luke 5:31-32)

12- Is it enough to read the texts once to allow Jesus to talk to us?
The first reading is necessary in order to understand the passage in general, or we could risk applying our own analysis of the text, which, in turn, will colour prayer itself. The text merely has to have a minimum of clarity for you, as with stained-glass, to allow Jesus' Light to come through.

13- How can we really listen to Jesus?
It is important while reading to ask for the Holy Spirit. Before this, we need to fully accept that on our part we need to do our utmost to listen to Jesus, as if it all depended on us through our reading, focusing, rereading, understanding the text, digging deep. Then immediately after, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us listen to Jesus with his unique direct intervention, as if all depended on Him.

14- How does the process of Listening unfolds?
When the supernatural Action of the Holy Spirit is initiated, we notice that it is as if Jesus is highlighting a part of each text, making it more alive, more meaningful to us that day, using these words to talk to us.

15- How can we be sure that it is Jesus who is talking to us, not ourselves?
When the highlighted parts of the two (or three) texts we are reading start to say one thing to us. This gives us 95% certainty that He is speaking not us. Jesus, using the two texts to talk us, invites us to change and do something we were not doing before.

16- What characterizes the supernatural Intervention of the Holy Spirit?
There is a difference between understanding the text with our mind and having a new understanding, alive, because of the intervention of the Holy Spirit who sheds a new light through what we are reading. Now the same word of the text starts to give out a divine sap, an inner light, a meaning that we were not seeing before, and this meaning touches our heart, our will, our life, some area of our being, asking it to change, offering its healing.

17- What are the criteria of discernment?
The main criterion to discern that it is the Holy Spirit who is acting is when we notice that miraculously the two texts are saying the same thing (often using different words).
This action of the Holy Spirit tastes new, coming from Above; it is practical, i.e. it touches some area in us; it is little, just that day's step to be done, just the change the Lord wants to make in us today; and which still often sounds impossible to implement without His help.

18- What can He ask us to do?
There is an infinity of things He can ask us to do. In fact He is our Healer. It is the Holy Spirit who builds us anew. He can ask us to forgive a specific person; He can ask us to entrust a burden to Him; He can show us his mercy...

19- Can the outcome be a general indication or does it have to be clear?
The initial meeting of the two texts in one meaning is but a general light: mercy, forgiveness, love, patience, attention,... But this general indication leaves us with no practical act to perform, and may lead to our thinking process taking over and dominating LD.
The fruit of LD is a specific daily act inspired by the Holy Spirit, an incarnation of a clear word in us. Jesus does not remain in the vague and the uncertain. He came to guide us, He is our true Shepherd. (for a more developed explanation see here)

20- How does the general indication become a clear one?
Jesus' Word can be compared to a ball of light and love, about to become incarnate in us. When we perceive the general light of the Holy Spirit, we must allow it to go, first, through the mind in different stages as we start to understand God’s will, (say ‘mercy’), then, through insistent begging, we see very clearly where it touches us in the will (‘forgive this particular person’), until finally we understand which act He wants us to perform. (for a more developed explanation see here)

21- How do we implement what He asks us?
Yet again the direct help of the Holy Spirit is vital in order to put into practice the Word received by Jesus on the specific day. When Our Lady asked the Angel how the Incarnation would come about, he replied: "the Holy Spirit will come upon you" (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit is the Master of the Incarnation of the Word in us. The case for LD, in a nutshell, is that it is a Word, a Light, an Indication, a Message, that we receive on a daily basis, so that Jesus the Word of God will grow in us.

22- What change occurs in us on a daily basis?
The Word of God feeds and transforms our Mind and our Will. Our Mind is enlightened by the Word of God, our Will is healed in one specific area.

23- What is the relationship between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit?
'The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God' (see Ephesians 6:17) How does this 'sword' work?
"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." (Hebrews 4:12)

24- How does the Word of God allow the Holy Spirit to fertilise our mind?
It is in the Word of God passing through us that the Holy Spirit offers crucial attributes to the mind: "wisdom" to see things as God sees them; "understanding" of the Word of God, and its connection with previously received words; "knowledge" of what it means in my world on a practical level; "counsel" on how exactly to apply it that day.

25- How does the Word of God allow the Holy Spirit to fertilise our will?
The Holy Spirit also offers to the will: "piety", showing how today's act will be led most fervently by that new received word; "fortitude", drive and power to put it into practice; "delicate attention to God's will" ("filial fear of God") to be grounded in his Word and not to disregard it.

26- How does LD influence our day?
LD unifies our day under its supernatural light. We often notice that the whole day is like varying illustrations of the same light we had received in the morning. The Lords teaches us throughout the day how that same light fecundates different aspects of our daily life, reflections of it echoing throughout the day.

27- What are the steps of the first part of LD?
The listening process in LD can be summarised in the following 5 steps:

Active phase: seeking understanding
1- Read (1) in order to understand the text
Listening phase: asking for the help of the Holy Spirit
2- Read (2) in order to discover Christ’s will
3- Read (3) until I see only one light
4- Read (4) until the light becomes clear
5- Write down the words or sentences from the readings that touched me

28- What are the steps of the second part of LD?
The implementation process (putting into practice the word received) can be summarised in the following 5 steps:
1- Asking the Holy Spirit’s help in order to put into practice the Word
2- Giving thanks, being immersed in Him
3- Putting into practice the Word received
4- Echoes during the day
5- At the end of the day: giving thanks.

29- How can we summarise LD?
It is literally a real act of love and a way of discerning if we really love Jesus or not: "whoever loves me will keep my words" (John 14:23)