Continuation of 155: Lectio and daily difficulties
Neither intellectualism nor activism
Lectio is not an intellectual activity but the use of one’s intellect is necessary in serving God and in transforming our will. We are not searching for an understanding of what God is but intelligence is present and is essential to our quest. In intellectualism the light received remains captive of the intellect and is not incarnated. When doing lectio we are not looking for lovely thoughts about God, but we contemplate, with our intellect, what the Lord, who is light, offers of himself to us for each day.
Indeed the Lord is light and love. But, in him, light and love are inseparable. He is love-light, loving light, like a fire, which both illuminates and radiates heat. So, the light received is destined to be incarnated, to be put into practice and applied. This is then the way leading to action, and not activism. Even introverted people are sometimes succumb to the temptation of escaping themselves, leading to activism. Now, lectio helps us to avoid both problems: intellectualism and activism. In activism, our action has its source in us and not in the light coming from God. In this case, the “light” that guides our actions and orients them does not come from Him. We are not “oriented” toward Christ! Lectio, then, is neither wilfulness nor activism. It is an act, and an act moreover accomplished in God, in synergy with Him. The whole value, the splendour and the profoundness of the act lies in this.
Moreover, lectio forms a renewed will; through the acts it inspires and brings to fulfillment, it recreates the will in God. In the same way, it cultivates the sense of responsibility and of upright action. It compels us to make choices and decisions, and enables us to do so.
Lectio and Mission
The following remarks may be applied to all those who work in the Lord’s vineyard: priests, deacons, catechists, and so on. But here we will take the typical example of the priest.
The primary mission of a priest is to preach the Word of God: “From the priest’s lips comes science” (Malachi 2:7). Now, as we have seen above, the highest science is that of the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour; these are the objects of the priest’s daily search. Called also to celebrate Mass each day, it is absolutely normal for him to be the first in the assembly of the faithful to be instructed in the Word. And for this, lectio is certainly the most accessible and realistic means! The priest is specially called to this practice because he is responsible for the faithful to whom he must give solid and efficient food. He may even give a short homily at Mass during the week. But it is normal for him to find this difficult if he is not in contact with Scripture in the vivifying practice of lectio on a day-to-day basis.
Lectio will allow the priest to have a stronger relationship with Christ, and to be moved by Him, for it allows him to listen to Jesus anew each day. Lectio leads the priest to greater acquaintance with the Holy Spirit, who is the Author of Scripture, and who was living and working in the Evangelists and in the Church Fathers.
Lectio and homiletics
As we saw above, lectio and homiletics are connected. The Church recommends, especially since the Vatican II Council, that the celebrant at Mass briefly comments on the texts that have been proclaimed. The priest who daily practices lectio and is familiar with the Word of God will do this in a profound and divine way. He is used to letting the Word form him, and will not, inversely, use the Word to illustrate his own ideas or his personal commentary of the latest news. The point is important, because the Bible needs to be read in the same Spirit as that in which it was composed. But is the priest or the celebrant called to present his own lectio? Lectio is a word that God addresses to each person in a unique way. A personalised message like lectio is not necessarily useful to an entire assembly or to the majority of its members. Moreover, the circumstance of the celebration (a particular group, marriage, baptism, etc.) may not correspond to the light received. It is therefore recommended to prepare the homily in view of the listeners and not to deliver the personal message one has received from God. Sometimes the two may coincide in a certain way; but that is not always the case.
Lectio is therefore a distant preparation, a permanent and lengthy formation that prepares the priest for preaching - it is also true that he already comes to have a long personal experience and real acquaintanceship with Scripture and its Spirit, thanks to his own life and through his formation. But his personal experience does not necessarily prepare him to give homilies, for the precise reason that preaching implies that other elements are taken into account: the assembly, the circumstances, etc.
Needless to say, for a priest who practices lectio daily it will be much easier to say a few words at weekday Masses. And he will not have much difficulty in preparing the homily for Sunday Mass, which should be more substantial. He will probably come to realise that it is really useless to prepare his homilies five days ahead of time, and this is normal. In fact, there is food for each day, so he will then prepare his Sunday homily on Saturday afternoon.
The daily practice of lectio will allow the Spirit of God to direct him unequivocally, helping him to comment on Scripture more efficiently and appropriately. Lectio will give him more confidence in himself because he will understand as the days go by that the work of lectio primarily consists in inner conversion, that is the work of God in our hearts. And consequently he will exhort his listeners, by leading them to what is essential, in a more interiorised and efficient manner. The words will perhaps be simpler and more sober, but they will have an impact in our hearts, an impact of greater transparency of God’s action in the celebration. The celebrant will be a more docile instrument in the hands of God, and thus he will more easily unite the assembly to God.
The very way in which he prepares his homilies will be modified by lectio. He will understand that God wants to transmit his light through him and not his personal ideas (even if the ideas are important in life). He will have a better grasp of the functioning of a homily, which is actually very simple: it conveys a light (and not an idea) to be seen and incarnated in the daily life of the listeners. Lectio will reveal the secret of the homily to him. Quite often he will simply have to look, discover the light in the text, expose it, present it and explain it through images, and finally show how it may be incarnated in daily life. He will not need to write the text of his homily but an outline of the mains points will suffice. The light will make its own way to incarnation: it comes from God and takes flesh in the hearts of the faithful and in their lives. The intelligence of the priest will guide the way of transmission.