Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lectio Divina - Part 4

Who performs lectio divina?
          Perhaps, in light of what we have just discussed, it may be comforting to think that when we practice lectio divina, we do not do so all by ourselves. We have plenty of help! This brings us to the question of who actually performs lectio divina. Once again, the answer seems simple. We do, as individual Christians sitting quietly alone in Church or in our homes. Certainly this is true...even though after all we have said about reading Christ and standing before the Blessed Trinity during lectio divina, we may wonder how we broken, sinful people could ever be worthy to perform such an activity. Of course, without the grace of God, we would never be able to approach Him, but while we are indeed fallen and sinful, we are still God's creatures and even His children. The principles of theological anthropology and sacramental theology help us to understand this. We were created good, just like all of creation, but our first parents fell into sin and have passed down to us their fallen state. At Baptism, however, we were united with Christ. God now lives inside us when we are in a state of grace. He is present in our posterior or inner soul to greet us as we read, meditate, and pray. Further, He is aware of our human nature, of our frailty and weakness, so He helps us when we seek Him. He accommodates Himself to us by offering us signs, the words and deeds of Scripture, that speak to us of divine realities we could not otherwise comprehend. God offers us a material object, the Bible, a created thing, to help us created people reach up to Him, the Uncreated Being. What a marvelous God we have!
          God also gives us the Church to help us in our practice of lectio divina. Our Scriptures have come to us from the apostolic witness kept alive and well in the Church. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the People of God in the Old and New Testament eras created and canonized the Scriptures; therefore, we can know with certainty that when we approach the Bible, we are approaching the inspired Word of God. Today, the Church, under the guidance of the Magisterium, carefully listens to the Scriptures, guards them, and expounds them faithfully, particularly in the liturgy and in magisterial teaching. (37) Even as we read the Bible in our own private lectio divina, we remain immersed in the ecclesial context. (38) Mariano Magrassi stresses this point. The Church is the Body of Christ, and the mystery of Christ remains living and active in the Church, integrating its members into a profound unity. Further, every baptized member of the Church, Magrassi explains, contains, in some way, the “entire mystery of the Church” in his or her soul. He quotes Origen, who sees a “mircocosm of the perfect Church” in the soul of every believer, and Bernard, who wrote that “Each of us is also the Church,” to support this point. (39) With the whole Church contained within us, not to mention the support of communion of saints and all the angels, we certainly are not alone in practicing our lectio divina! We have the comfort and support of the entire Church, which reads, meditates, prays, and contemplates along with us.
          We can also be assured of an even high assistance as we seek God during lectio divina, for God Himself reads with us and in us as we peruse the Holy Scriptures. First, Jesus reads in us. Jean LeClerq has much to say about Jesus' role as Reader during lectio divina. “When we read,” he notes,” Jesus in us continues His reading of Himself.” He goes on, “Christian reading of Scriptures...will lead to understanding because Christ Himself did this same kind of reading, and our Christian reading at its best is the reading done by Jesus in us.” (40) How can this be? How can Jesus read in us during lectio divina? First of all, Jesus lives in us. He was united with us in Baptism and deepens that unity with us in every sacrament, especially in the Holy Eucharist. So it is no wonder that He is present to guide our minds and touch our hearts as we read the Scriptures. Second, Jesus reads with us as we imitate His style of reading the Bible. When He lived on earth, Jesus read the Jewish Bible continually. In it He found the mystery of His own Person and mission. He saw Himself, His relationship to the Father, and prophecies of His life, death, and resurrection. He knew that the Scriptures were all about Him, and He read them accordingly, discovering new and fresh meanings. (41) If we also do this, if we read the Scriptures with the attitude of searching for and finding Jesus Christ, we are imitating Jesus the Reader, and we can be sure that He is guiding us in our endeavors. Finally, Jesus reads with us when we practice lectio divina because He is the Divine Word. We have already discussed how God is the Author of Scripture, and when we read the Bible, we are really reading Jesus, God's single Word to humanity Who has been diffused into many words in order to accommodate weak human nature. When we read the Divine Word, then, that Word, which is living and active, pronounces itself in our hearts. Jesus Christ, the Logos, pronounces Himself. He practices lectio divina right alongside us.
          Divine guidance for lectio divina comes also from the Holy Spirit. Masini discusses the theology of the Holy Spirit in some depth as he explains how we are guided by the Spirit when we practice lectio divina. (42) We have already seen how the Holy Spirit inspired Sacred Scripture, essentially breathing the Word into human authors and the written text. We have also learned that the Spirit remains present in the Bible, “inhabiting” it as “a light which causes the grace of God's Light to be set free.” (43) The Holy Spirit, then, because of His constant indwelling presence in the text of Scripture, not to mention His constant indwelling presence within our souls, is the primary “exegete of Scripture,” Who “unlocks (the coffers), manifests and renders visible and comprehensible things hidden and closed,” “unseals the book,” and provides the reader with the true “spiritual” sense of the Bible. (44) When we approach the Biblical text, we must always be aware of our limitations. Scripture is God's Book, His Word “inverbated” into human words by the power of the Spirit. (45) We cannot, therefore, expect to be able to fathom the mysteries of Scripture on our own. Our humans minds are, as Magrassi notes, “too limited to understand a Word that comes from a place far above human intelligence.” (46) We are lucky to comprehend just a little bit of the most basic meaning of the Bible through our own power! We need to have the Holy Spirit as our divine exegete. We need Him to come into our hearts and explain to us mysteries of the Scriptures, the mysteries of Christ. We need Him to do His job as our Advocate, to stand beside us, to lead us into the truth, to guide our reading, our meditation, and our prayer, to intercede for us in sighs too deep for words, and to gently lift us into contemplation.
          Before we move away from our discussion of the “who” of lectio divina, we must pause for just a moment to recognize a very important principle. Lectio divina is God's gift to us. We may practice it (with, of course, a great deal of divine help!). We may put significant effort into careful reading, meditation, and prayer. We may use our intellects well as we work through the dimensions. We may even feel the calm, silent joy of contemplation. But we must never attribute our “successes” to ourselves. Whatever benefits we receive from lectio divina are given to us by our loving God, Who is the “principal agent” of all our reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. (47) We may, and must, cooperate with God's work, but we must also be humble enough to give Him all the credit and thank Him for His wonderful gift of lectio divina.

37. Second Vatican Council. 
38. Magrassi, 4.
39. Ibid., 9.
40. LeClerq, 240.
41. Ibid., 244-247.
42. Masini, 8-12.
43. Ibid.
44. Ibid., 10.
45. Ibid., 9.
46. Magrassi, 43.
47. Ibid., 19.

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