"Lectio Divina." The Pope Takes Everyone Back to School
Benedict XVI has taught the clergy of Rome how to read the Sacred Scriptures. And also the seminarians. But his lesson is for all. And he has put it into practice in his book on Jesus
by Sandro Magister
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 17, 2011 – In the second volume of "Jesus of Nazareth," just as in the first, Benedict XVI proposes an interpretation of the Gospels that is not only historical-critical, nor only spiritual, but simultaneously historical and theological: the only interpretation that, in his judgment, is capable of leading to an encounter with the "real" Jesus.
"It is a matter of finally recovering," he writes in the preface to the book, "the methodological principles for exegesis formulated by Vatican Council II in 'Dei Verbum' 12. A task that, unfortunately, has hardly been faced at all."
Pope Joseph Ratzinger had recalled these principles forcefully in an address at the synod of bishops in 2008, dedicated precisely to the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. And he reiterated them in the postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini," released last year as the conclusion of that synod.
This kind of interpretation is so near to Benedict XVI's heart that he is also taking it up more and more often in his encounters with priests and seminarians.
In recent days, he has done so twice: on March 4 with the students of the Pontifical Roman Seminary, and on March 10 with the priests of the diocese of Rome.
Pope Ratzinger has made a practice of gathering the priests of Rome around him at the beginning of each Lent. In past years he had responded to their questions. This year, instead, he gave them a 'lectio divina,' in commentary on a passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
Benedict XVI again explained what 'lectio divina' is in "Verbum Domini." It is a "prayerful reading" of the Sacred Scriptures" that unfolds in four basic steps:
- the "lectio": what the biblical text itself says;
- the "meditatio": what the biblical text is saying to us;
- the "oratio": what we say to God in response to his Word;
- the "contemplatio": what conversion of mind, heart, and life God is asking of us.
With the students of the Pontifical Roman Seminary, the future priests of the diocese of Rome, in a meeting on the evening of March 4, Benedict XVI held a "lectio divina" on a passage from chapter 4 of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians.
The pope lingered over some key words, in their original language: call (which in Greek, he said, has the same root as "Paraclete," the Holy Spirit, humility (the same Greek word that Saint Paul uses to indicate the self-abasement of the Son of God to the point of becoming man and dying on the cross), sweetness (the same Greek word that is found in the Beatitudes).
The complete text of the pope's "lectio divina" with the seminarians of Rome is now available on the Vatican website, translated into various languages:
> "I am very glad to be here..."
With the priests of Rome, instead, Pope Ratzinger commented on what is called the "pastoral testament" of Saint Paul, his moving farewell address to the Christians of Ephesus and Miletus, related in chapter 20 of the Acts of the Apostles.
The "lectio" was held in the Hall of Blessing, behind the front balcony of the basilica of Saint Peter, the one on which the popes appear after they are elected, and for solemn blessings.
Benedict XVI spoke for more than an hour, off the cuff, with just a page of notes in front of him.
The transcription, with the necessary scrutiny, therefore took some time. And so when it was made public, it was by then seen by the media as too "old" for coverage.
As a result almost no one, except for the priests present, heard anything about it.
And yet the "lectio divina" held on that occasion by the pope is among those that deserve to be read and savored in their entirety. It is a prime example of adherence both to the letter and to the spirit of the Sacred Scriptures, in the footsteps of Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, the Fathers of the Church, and the great medieval theologians. With lively attention to the challenges of the present time and to the impact of the Word of God on our lives.
Here are some of the passages, in the style typical of spoken language.
"NOT A CHRISTIANITY 'À LA CARTE', ACCORDING TO HIS OWN TASTES..."
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers, [...] we have heard the passage from the Acts of the Apostles (20:17-38) in which Saint Paul speaks to the presbyters of Ephesus, intentionally recounted by Saint Luke as the testament of the apostle, as a discourse destined not only for the presbyters of Ephesus, but for the presbyters of all time. Saint Paul is speaking not only with those who were present in that place, he is really speaking with us. So let us try to understand a little of what he is saying to us, at this time. [...]
"I have served the Lord with all humility" (v. 19). "Humility" is a keyword of the Gospel, of the whole New Testament. [...] In the letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul reminds us that Christ, who was above all of us, was really divine in the glory of God, humbled himself, came down becoming man, accepting all the fragility of being human, going all the way to the ultimate obedience of the cross (2:5-8). Humility does not mean false modesty – we are grateful for the gifts that the Lord has given to us – but indicates that we are aware that all we are able to do is a gift from God, it is given for the Kingdom of God. In this humility, in this not wanting to make an appearance, we work. We do not ask for praise, we do not want "to be seen," for us it is not a decisive criterion to think about what they will say about us in the newspapers or elsewhere, but what God says. This is true humility: not to appear before men, but to be under the gaze of God and work with humility for God, and so really to serve humanity and men as well.
"I have never drawn back from what could be helpful, for the sake of preaching to you and instructing you" (v. 20). Saint Paul returns to this point after a few sentences and says: "I have not drawn back from the duty of proclaiming to you all the will of God" (v. 27). This is important: the apostle does not preach a Christianity "à la carte," according to his own tastes, he does not preach a Gospel according to his own favorite theological ideas; he does not draw back from the task of proclaiming all the will of God, even the inconvenient will, even the themes that personally are not very pleasing.
It is our mission to proclaim all the will of God, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. [...] And I think that the world of today is curious to know everything. [...] This curiosity should be ours as well: [...] truly to know all the will of God and to know how we can and should live, what is the path of our life. So we should make known and understood – as much as we can – the content of the "Credo" of the Church, from the creation to the Lord's return, to the new world. Doctrine, the liturgy, morality, prayer – the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – indicate this totality of the will of God.
And it is also important not to lose ourselves in the details, not to create the idea that Christianity is an immense package of things to learn. Ultimately it is simple: God has shown himself in Christ. Entering into this simplicity – I believe in God who showed himself in Christ and I want to see and realize his will – has content, and according to the situations, we can then enter into the details or not, but it is essential that above all the ultimate simplicity of the faith be made understood. Believing in God as he has shown himself in Christ is also the inner richness of this faith, it gives the answers to our questions, including the answers that we do not like at first and are nonetheless the way of life, the true way. When we also enter into these things that we do not like so much, we can understand, we begin to understand that it really is the truth. And the truth is beautiful. The will of God is good, it is goodness itself.
The the apostle says: "I have preached in public and in homes, testifying to Jews and Greeks about conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 20-21). Here there is a summary of the essential: conversion to God, faith in Jesus. But let's stay for a moment with the word "conversion," which is the central word or one of the central words of the New Testament, [...] in Greek "metànoia," change of thinking, [...] meaning a real change in our view of reality.
Since we were born in original sin, for us reality is the things that we can touch, it is money, it is my position, it is the things of every day that we see on the news: this is reality. And spiritual things appear a bit behind reality. "Metànoia," change of thinking, means inverting this impression. Not material things, not money, not the edifice, not what I can have is the essential, is reality. The reality of realities is God. This invisible reality, apparently far from us, is reality.
To learn this, and thus to invert our thinking, to judge truly how the real that must orient everything is God, this is the word of God. This is the criterion, God, the criterion of everything I do. This really is conversion: if my concept of reality has changed, if my thinking has changed. And this must then penetrate all the individual things of my life: in the judgment of every single thing to take as criterion what God says about this. This is the essential thing, not what I get now for myself, not the advantage or disadvantage that I will obtain, but the true reality, to orient ourselves to this reality.
We must precisely – it seems to me – during Lent, which is a journey of conversion, exercise anew every year this inversion of the concept of reality, namely that God is reality, Christ is reality and the criterion of my acting and of my thinking; to exercise this new orientation of our life.