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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

APHORISMS OF ELDER SOPHRONY (SAKHAROV) The following words of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) were recorded by various Athonite monks.


my source: Pravmir
“I am neither Greek nor Russian; I am an Athonite.”

“I have been wearing a cassock for sixty years, but whenever I meet an Orthodox Christian or any other person, I bow my head low before him.” (Thereby the Elder wished to indicate that he feels himself to be the most unworthy.)

“Theology is the content of our prayers.”

“The Fathers of the fourth century left us certain prophecies, according to which in the last times salvation will be bound up with deep sorrows.”

“We must have the determination to overcome temptations comparable to the sorrows of the first Christians. All the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were martyred. We should be ready to endure any hardship.”

“Psychology brings the greatest evil to mankind today, because this science does not take into consideration Divine revelation, according to which man is created ‘in the image and likeness of God.’”

“All of us, at every moment of our lives, are in absolute need of Divine grace, which is given to man through pain and effort. When we pray in the morning, pray in the evening, and pray every moment – then we have the right to say: ‘Lord, do not leave me; help me.’”
“It is essential to read the Gospel, that incomparable book. Then our life will be built up on the basis of the Word of God. And we will begin to think and make decisions in the spirit of the Divine commandments. How beautiful, when one begins to think like the Creator of this world!”

“When we begin to lead the Christian life, all our labor, all our struggle [podvig] is directed towards accepting even our enemies with love. In this consists the Christian’s martyric witness.”

“The earthly life is for us a continual Judgment of God. If we follow Christ’s commandments, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit will come to us; but when we embark on them (even in small ways), God leaves us and we feel that abandonment about which outsiders do not even know. They do not understand what abandonment by God is.”

“The human soul is the image of God. It finds rest only when it attains perfection.”

“We do not think about how to change the world with our own powers. We strive to receive strength from God in order to act at all times with love.”

“When the grace of God comes to us, then we already here live in the dimension of eternity.”

“The most important thing in the spiritual life is to strive to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. It changes our lives (above all inwardly, not outwardly). We will live in the same house, in the same circumstances, and with the same people, but our life will already be different. But this is possible only under certain conditions: if we find the time to pray fervently, with tears in our eyes. From the morning to ask for God’s blessing, that a prayerful attitude may define our entire day.”

“Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.”

“The Christian’s great tragedy is the inability to find a spiritual father. Laymen are themselves guilty in this, if they are unwilling to listen to the words of their spiritual instructors.”

“Life without Christ is tasteless, sad, and forlorn.”

Translated from the Russian

Monday, 24 February 2014

THE PRIESTHOOD AND CELIBACY


A Case for Celibacy by Priests
By Fr. Robert Barron

(As seen on CNN.com)
The scandal surrounding the Rev. Alberto Cutie has raised questions in the minds of many concerning the Catholic Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. Why does the church continue to defend a practice that seems so unnatural and so unnecessary?
There is a very bad argument for celibacy, which has appeared throughout the tradition and which is, even today, defended by some. It goes something like this: Married life is spiritually suspect; priests, as religious leaders, should be spiritual athletes above reproach; therefore, priests shouldn't be married

This approach to the question is, in my judgment, not just stupid but dangerous, for it rests on presumptions that are repugnant to solid Christian doctrine. The biblical teaching on creation implies the essential integrity of the world and everything in it.

Genesis tells us that God found each thing he had made good and that he found the ensemble of creatures very good. Catholic theology, at its best, has always been resolutely, anti-dualist -- and this means that matter, the body, marriage and sexual activity are never, in themselves, to be despised.

But there is more to the doctrine of creation than an affirmation of the goodness of the world. To say that the finite realm in its entirety is created is to imply that nothing in the universe is God. All aspects of created reality reflect God and bear traces of the divine goodness -- just as every detail of a building gives evidence of the mind of the architect -- but no creature and no collectivity of creatures is divine, just as no part of a structure is the architect.

This distinction between God and the world is the ground for the anti-idolatry principle that is reiterated from the beginning to the end of the Bible: Do not turn something less than God into God.

Isaiah the prophet put it thus: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts and my ways above your ways, says the Lord." And it is at the heart of the First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods besides me." The Bible thus holds off all the attempts of human beings to divinize or render ultimate some worldly reality. The doctrine of creation, in a word, involves both a great "yes" and a great "no" to the universe.
Now there is a behavioral concomitant to the anti-idolatry principle, and it is called detachment. Detachment is the refusal to make anything less than God the organizing principle or center of one's life.

Anthony de Mello looked at it from the other side and said "an attachment is anything in this world -- including your own life -- that you are convinced you cannot live without." Even as we reverence everything that God has made, we must let go of everything that God has made, precisely for the sake of God.

This is why, as G.K. Chesterton noted, there is a tension to Christian life. In accord with its affirmation of the world, the Church loves color, pageantry, music and rich decoration (as in the liturgy and papal ceremonials), even as, in accord with its detachment from the world, it loves the poverty of St. Francis and the simplicity of Mother Teresa.

The same tension governs its attitude toward sex and family. Again, in Chesterton's language, the Church is "fiercely for having children" (through marriage) even as it remains "fiercely against having them" (in religious celibacy).

Everything in this world -- including sex and intimate friendship -- is good, but impermanently so; all finite reality is beautiful, but its beauty, if I can put it in explicitly Catholic terms, is sacramental, not ultimate.

In the biblical narratives, when God wanted to make a certain truth vividly known to his people, he would, from time to time, choose a prophet and command him to act out that truth, to embody it concretely.

For example, he told Hosea to marry the unfaithful Gomer in order to sacramentalize God's fidelity to wavering Israel. Thus, the truth of the non-ultimacy of sex, family and worldly relationship can and should be proclaimed through words, but it will be believed only when people can see it.

This is why, the Church is convinced, God chooses certain people to be celibate. Their mission is to witness to a transcendent form of love, the way that we will love in heaven. In God's realm, we will experience a communion (bodily as well as spiritual) compared to which even the most intense forms of communion here below pale into insignificance, and celibates make this truth viscerally real for us now. Though one can present practical reasons for it, I believe that celibacy only finally makes sense in this eschatological context.

For years, the Rev. Andrew Greeley argued -- quite rightly in my view -- that the priest is fascinating and that a large part of the fascination comes from celibacy. The compelling quality of the priest is not a matter of superficial celebrity or charm. It is something much stranger, deeper, more mystical. It is the fascination for another world.


Everyone Hates Celibacy!
By Rev. Robert Barron

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Fr. Alberto Cutie scandal, an editor at CNN.com asked me to write a short piece (800 words) on the meaning of celibacy from a Catholic standpoint.  So I composed what I thought was a harmless little essay, laying out as simply and straightforwardly as I could why the Church reverences celibacy as a spiritual path.  I purposely avoided a number of the hot button issues surrounding the matter, and I pointedly insisted that any explanation of celibacy that involves a denigration of sex and marriage is inadmissible.  Well, I sent this article off to CNN, rather proud that it would appear in such a prominent venue.  

Then they started coming, first on my own e-mail:  critiques, as vociferous as any I’ve ever received.  A little taken aback, I went to the CNN.com site and found the article posted on the main page—and followed by nearly a hundred comments, 98 of which were sharply negative.  About a week later, the article was picked up on Anderson Cooper’s blog site and once again, it was accompanied by unanimously disapproving commentary from readers.  It appears as though this matter of celibacy strikes a nerve!  And thereupon, I think, hangs a tale.  

What were the criticisms, you ask?  Well, they came from two basic camps, the evangelical Protestants and the radical secularists.  Over and over, Protestant critics informed me that celibacy had no biblical foundation, and several of them pointed to a passage from the fourth chapter of 1st Timothy to the effect that “deceitful spirits” will one day invade the church of Jesus and “forbid marriage.”  Well, the last time I checked, St. Paul, a celibate, told his people that, though he wouldn’t impose celibacy on them, he would prefer that they remain as he is (1 Cor. 7:7), and Jesus, a celibate, told his disciples that some people “make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom,” that is, they eschew marriage, and that he would urge those who are able to embrace this sort of life to do so (Matt. 19:12).  I don’t know, but that seems like pretty good Scriptural support to me!  As for first Timothy, the Catholic Church forbids marriage to no one.  In fact, throughout its history, the church has condemned as heretical those movements—Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Catharism—which did look upon marriage and sex as aberrational. No one in the church forbade me to marry; rather, I chose not to marry in order to pursue another path of love.

From the secularist side, I heard ad nauseam the claim that, in defending priestly celibacy, I was out of touch, otherworldly,  didn’t have my feet on the ground, etc., etc.  Well, yes.  At the heart of my argument was the assertion that celibacy is a living witness to a supernatural way of love, to the manner in which the saints live in heaven.  When he was challenged by the Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die, for they are like angels”  (Lk. 20: 34-36).  The Catholic church recognizes that even now certain people should live as eschatological signs of this world to come, as embodied witnesses to a transcendent kind of love.  It struck me that the vehemence of the critiques I received on this score flowed from the extreme challenge that celibacy offers precisely to the secularist view of the world.  Another standard charge from the secularist camp was that the practice of celibacy has led and continues to lead to the sexual perversion of priests and the abuse of children.  It frankly amazes me how persistent is this delusion.  Though it’s been said thousands of times already, it evidently bears repeating:  the overwhelming majority of sexual abusers of children are not priests and are not celibates.  To say that celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse is about as reasonable and statistically defensible as to say that marriage is the cause of sexual abuse.  Please don’t get me wrong:  the sexual misconduct of way too many priests is a serious problem indeed, and one that the church has to address at many levels.  But it’s a mistake to correlate it to simple-mindedly to celibacy.  

A criticism common to both the evangelicals and the secularists is that celibacy was a cynical invention of medieval Catholic bishops and Popes eager to consolidate their hold on church property.  If priests were married, you see, their wives and children would inherit the wealth that would otherwise have gone into the coffers of the church.  I don’t doubt for a moment that there might have been some hierarchs who thought along those lines, but to reduce the discipline of celibacy to such commercial considerations betrays a pathetic grasp of the spiritual history of the human race.  Celibacy has been embraced by religious people trans-historically and trans-culturally.  Certain Hindus, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, and Jewish Essenes have, over the centuries, abstained from marriage for spiritual reasons, convinced that it ordered them to God in a unique way.  Why can’t the same be said of Catholic priests?

I mentioned above that the very venom of the reactions to my article is telling.  In a certain sense, celibacy is meant to annoy, puzzle and unnerve us, for it witnesses to a dimension of existence that we can’t directly see, that remains alien to our experience and our ordinary categories of thought.  Celibacy make a lot of people sputter and scratch their heads.  Good.

Posted: 6/30/2009 10:23:03 AM by Word On Fire Admin 

NOW READ THIS:


 The irony is that this Eastern rite priest, standing heroically before the barricades, is probably married.


POPULAR ROMAN CATHOLIC MEDIA ATTACKED MARRIED CLERGY 
An article by someone in the UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH.


Firstly, I think that Fr Robert Barron's articles on celibacy are excellent.   The offending article in the Word On Fire blog has been taken down, so I hope the Ukrainians are pleased.

In fact, there is nothing that anyone in the Eastern churches could object to in Fr Robert Barron's two articles.  The Catholic view of both East and West is that marriage and celibacy are complementary, and any local Church would be sub-Catholic if either of these two vocations were missing. It can be argued that the witness of celibacy is probably more necessary than ever. That is not the issue.   The question is whether priests should be married.

Here there are two great traditions, each with as much claim to be Catholic as the other, each has been much blessed by God.   All agree that priests cannot marry; so that an Orthodox or Greek Catholic priest who loses his wife in an accident, for example, cannot marry again.   All agree that bishops should be celibate: hence, Eastern bishops are normally monks.   The great difference is that secular clergy in the East, in both Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches, are chosen from among men who are married, though sometimes unmarried men are chosen, in which case, they have to remain celibate; while in the Latin West, secular priests are chosen from among those who choose the celibate life, though sometimes ex-Anglican clergy etc are ordained, even if they are married.

Hence, it is an over-simplification to say that ''Catholic priests are celibate;" because Greek Catholic priests are just as Catholic as we are, and there are exceptions, even in the West.   

We can never use any argument in favour of celibacy that assumes that our Latin practice is more Catholic than the Eastern practice: it is simply not true.
We must get used to the idea that "Catholic" includes a number of traditions, all of which are equally Catholic.

However, we can claim rightly that Tradition, which is the history of Grace in the Church from the time of the Apostles until now, the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church down the ages, has taken a distinctive form in the Latin Church, just as in the other traditions, and that one of its distinctive graces that has borne much fruit in the Latin Church is clerical celibacy.   It is part of what we are, something we do not want to lose because of the secular atmosphere of modern times.   As Fr Robert Barron argues, the fact that it annoys the secular world is something in its favour!

On the other hand, I wonder if it is justifiable to impose it in situations where it is clearly not working.   I have been to parts of Peru where the people get Mass once a year, if they are lucky.  Of course, the pentecostals are having a field day, because they can mould their structures to their situation and we can't.   What a contrast to Greece where every village has its Sunday Mass etc because a local married peasant is ordained. 

In fact, the Orthodox tradition and the Latin tradition are based on exactly the same principles; and Father Barron's arguments can be used to support the Orthodox pattern as well, even with its married secular priesthood.   He writes:
Everything in this world -- including sex and intimate friendship -- is good, but impermanently so; all finite reality is beautiful, but its beauty, if I can put it in explicitly Catholic terms, is sacramental, not ultimate.
In the biblical narratives, when God wanted to make a certain truth vividly known to his people, he would, from time to time, choose a prophet and command him to act out that truth, to embody it concretely.

The Orthodox and Greek Catholic tradition is in complete agreement that this is what happens; but, in their tradition, the person who must embody this truth is the monk or nun: that is the essential witness of monasticism to such an extent that a married monk or nun is as illogical as a square circle.   A secular priest is a member of the Christian community in the world: the monk is apart, bearing witness by his life to the impermanence but sacramental value of the world.     

Father Timothy Radcliffe, speaking to the Congress of Benedictine Abbots in 2,000, said:
I would like to suggest, then, that the invisible centre of your life is revealed in how you live. The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God: First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God. And I wish to suggest that in each case it is the celebration of the liturgy that makes sense of this void. It is the singing of the Office several times a day that shows that this void is filled with the glory of God.

Part of this void, this space, is brought about by celibacy which is essential to the monastic vocation.   The practice of celibacy spread from monasticism to the secular clergy in the Latin West, but not in the East.   I believe that a celibate clergy was God's gift to the West, but that God has taken the Orthodox down a different path.   As someone said, ''Diversity is divine: only division is diabolical."  Let us not turn a wonderful diversity into a terrible division by our prejudice. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

AN EXTRAORDINARY VIDEO: POPE FRANCIS ADDRESSES A PROTESTANT PENTECOSTAL CONGRESS IN TEXAS BY VIDEO


 HOWEVER, A MESSAGE OF CAUTION BY FR DWIGHT LONGENECKER
my source: PATHEOS


 Pope Francis’ Message to Pentecostals…. …But who is Bishop Tony Palmer? Yesterday the Catholic blogosphere lit up with Pope Francis’ heartwarming video message to a gathering of Pentecostals in Texas. The whole video lasts about 45 minutes, and it is worth watching the whole thing because, while Pope Francis’ message is heartwarming and truly moving, in the full video you see Kenneth Copeland introduce his protege Bishop Tony Palmer. 

Tony gives a long, enthusiastic message to the gathered Pentecostals, and I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but Bishop Palmer’s message really needs to be analyzed. As a former Evangelical and former Anglican priest I guess I am pretty well qualified to sniff out what is really going on here. First of all we have to ask who “Bishop” Tony Palmer is. He is billed as a bishop in the Anglican Episcopal Communion. However, in an online search I couldn’t find such a body. This webpage lists the well over one hundred Anglican breakaway churches worldwide. For readers who do not know what an Anglican breakaway church is–it is a group of Christians who, for some reason or another, have split away from the official Worldwide Anglican Communion which has the Archbishop of Canterbury as its head. There is an Anglican Episcopal Church in the USA, and here is the webpage of the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Europe. If this is the organization that Bishop Palmer belongs to, then it is one of the many Anglican schism groups. Mr Palmer is also listed as a leading member of “EuroChurch” which seems to be a confederation of Protestant Evangelical leaders working in Europe. At the EuroChurch page it says Mr Palmer is a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the CEEC (Celtic Anglican Tradition). CEEC stands for Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. The CEEC website is here and it seems this Anglican body accepts women as priests. Is this the CEEC that Mr Palmer belongs to or is it another one of the many Anglican styled groups, and what is the “Celtic Anglican Tradition” The CEEC website says they “stand in the Celtic and Anglican traditions.” If by “Celtic” they mean that they affirm Celtic spirituality there would be nothing wrong with that, but I suspect they have embraced a bogus historical theory that has been growing in popularity in Anglican circles: this is the idea that there is a pure strand of British Christianity which dates right back to the Roman times when Coptic Christians brought Christianity to the British Isles along with Joseph of Arimathea who came to Glastonbury as a missionary. This Anglican legend has been promoted because they then claim that “from the beginning there was a pure British church that was not tainted by Roman corruption. This British Celtic Church existed in an autonomous way separate from Rome until the Synod of Whitby where Rome imposed her authority on this church. Therefore Anglicanism continues that same ancient strand of Christianity free from the dominance of Rome. The whole theory is completely and crazily bogus–rather like British Israelitism or the Mormon claim that the native Americans were the lost tribes. You can read my demolition of the loopy theory in an article here that I wrote for Catholic Answers some years ago. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that the pope sent a heartwarming message of love to the Pentecostals, and I’m happy that he is friends with Tony Palmer, but we can’t be too starry eyed or sentimental about this. Tony Palmer is clearly from one of these enthusiastic (and usually conservative and for the most part theologically orthodox) schism groups. If he is then I have a novel and potentially exciting proposal for him. If he is an Anglican bishop of sorts, and if he truly desires unity with the Holy Father, then he should join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Bishop Palmer lives for a good bit of the year in Wiltshire in England. Why don’t he and his fellow clergy and people in the Anglican Episcopal Church join the Ordinariate? Such a step would strengthen his claims to desire unity. It would also provide encouragement and a bridge for other schismatic Anglicans to come into full, corporate and recognizable unity with the Bishop of Rome in a way that they can still exercise their ministry and affirm their Anglican traditions. 

There are a couple of other questions that arise from Bishop Palmer’s presentation. For one so enthusiastic about union with the Catholic Church he is poorly informed. He says in his talk that before the Reformation the Catholic church taught salvation by works. No. That’s called Pelagianism and it was the Catholic Church that firmly refuted both Pelagianism and semi Pelagianism in the early centuries. Mr Palmer’s most gross error is telling the Pentecostal audience that doctrine doesn’t matter and that it will all be sorted out in heaven. This is totally irresponsible. If doctrine doesn’t matter why was Mr Palmer so intent to prove to the Pentecostals that the Catholic Church and the Lutherans now agree on justification? For that matter, if doctrine doesn’t matter why doesn’t Mr Palmer and all the Pentecostals simply join the Catholic Church? If it all doesn’t matter then it would be fine for them to join the Catholic Church. It would all be sorted out in heaven. No, I think doctrine does matter, and most self respecting Evangelical scholars and commentators would also pick up the enthusiastic Mr Palmer for such a lazy error in thinking. 

Brantley Millegan over at Aleteia picks through the Bishop’s message and discovers several other howlers which indicate a skewed theology, leaky historical understanding and weak understanding of ecumenism and ecclesiology. 

 But let’s be positive! Here’s a way forward. As I have said, let Mr Palmer join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, then let the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (which is also based in Kenneth Copeland’s Texas) reach out to the Pentecostals and Evangelicals. Let the leaders of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches get together with Monsignor Steenson the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter and talk about real re-union and talk about the hard work and sacrifices that are required.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

MONASTIC SPIRITUALITy from St John´s Abbey, Minnesota


Prayer and Work

As Benedictine monks, we approach prayer in a distinctive, monastic way. We pray the Psalms, those ancient, iron-age poems given to the Church by the people of Israel, at regular times each day. We come together to do this "work of God" and it is the glue that holds our community life together.

The Psalms are a rich repository of human religious experience, at times pleading, cursing, hoping, despairing, grieving, resting, rejoicing, praising, always from a position of profound trust in the saving power of God. Over the centuries, praying monks quickly learned that some of the Psalms were better suited to the morning, some for the evening, and some for midday. They noted that some of them were keyed to the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus. So our prayer as monks is largely biblical and liturgical, ever responsive to the rhythm of the day and season.

We celebrate Eucharist each day, and with special festivity on Sunday. All of our prayer flows to and from the Sunday Eucharist, recognizing both spiritually and theologically that Christian monastic life would not make any sense without the resurrection of Jesus. Sunday is a "little" Easter!

Our individual prayer is also rooted in the Scriptures. From the earliest days of monastic life, monks have immersed themselves in the language, images, and narrative of the Bible. In the daily practice of reading a short passage of Scripture, pondering its meaning, and praying in and through the text, we continually rediscover the purpose and meaning for our lives and God's work in them. One of the great gifts of the monastic tradition is that we read Scripture continuously, that is, we don't jump around from one passage to another, from one book to another. Rather, we read and pray the Scriptures continuously, always in context.

Another powerful practice from the monastic tradition is centering prayer. Many times individuals find their prayer stymied and unfruitful because they conceive of it as human beings "talking to God." Centering prayer rebalances this equation because in this practice we simply sit in silence, in the presence of God, and let the Holy Spirit "work on us." Initially, because we are not speaking, our minds rush around, grabbing at everything. But with practice, we learn to let go of the mind's activity and to be in silence before God, who, as Saint Benedict teaches, is everywhere.

Monks work. They understand work as a normal, creative expression of being alive as a human being. They do everything from pastoring to teaching, administrating, repairing and maintaining the monastery, and growing food for the table. Saint Benedict instructs his monks that they should not complain if they have to "do the harvest," thereby ensuring that later generations of monks would respect all honest labor.

Note that the title of this section is "prayer and work." The conjunction "and" is extremely important because we are always struggling to maintain the balance between the two, between prayer and work. If we tip in either direction, we will surely be less than optimal in our search for union with God. Too much time in prayer can easily turn into a self-serving narcissism that is unaware of the needs of others. Too much work can easily lead one to rationalize being absent from community prayer, Eucharist, holy reading, and the life of the community. Prayer and work, in balance, are a sound-bite that expresses a distinctive element of Benedictine monastic spirituality.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB
June 25, 2013

The Spiritual Art of Lectio Divina
Prayer is at the center of Benedictine life. Understood as “the work of God,” lectio divina and the liturgy of the hours are among the first concerns in the day of monk. As a shared calling, prayer brings the differences and various pursuits of a community together with a common role and identity as monks. Prayer is a comfort in times of distress, a resource when in need, a selfless sharing and outpouring in times of success and joy. Prayer is so fully a part of the “ins and outs” monastic life, that it establishes the pattern and rhythm of the day through the dynamic interchange of worship and work. We come together each day to pray the liturgy of the hours and celebrate the Eucharist, but lectio divina, though usually a private practice, is also fundamental to the Benedictine life of prayer, and is essential to living and growing in Benedictine identity and spirituality.

“Lectio divina” translates to “divine reading,” meaning a prayerful reading of Holy Scripture, and other spiritual texts. Though often referred to by its Latin title, striking some as distant or foreign, the practice is really very common. It may be that the practitioner does not realize they are praying in the lectio divina fashion. Active and fundamental to the whole of the 2,000 years of Christian Tradition, and inherited from the Jewish reverence of Scripture, lectio divina is an open, hopeful and faithful trust and listening to God revealed in the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Spirit-filled writings and instructions of the Church. In short, every time you take a moment from your day to read from these writings in faith, hope and love, you are practicing lectio divina.

Cultural2.jpgBeginning and returning again and again to Scripture in lectio divina is a trustworthy spiritual practice, even without extensive instruction. However, committing yourself to lectio divina can be challenging, and as a private spiritual practice, an exclusion of conversation and guidance within the Church community can lead to misunderstandings. As a 2,000 year-old form of Christian prayer, many words of advice and methods have been developed and inherited throughout the Church Tradition for the purpose of helping establish this practice as a perpetual and reliable part of Christian life and spirituality. 



An excellent introduction we favor and recommend is Accepting the Embrace of God:The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B., from Saint Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, California. 

Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
 by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.


1. THE PROCESS of LECTIO DIVINA



A VERY ANCIENT art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina - a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. Together with the Liturgy and daily manual labor, time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.



Lectio - reading/listening

THE ART of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to hear “with the ear of our hearts” as St. Benedict encourages us in the Prologue to the Rule. When we read the Scriptures we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah. We should allow ourselves to become women and men who are able to listen for the still, small voice of God (I Kings 19:12); the “faint murmuring sound” which is God's word for us, God's voice touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an “atunement” to the presence of God in that special part of God's creation which is the Scriptures.

THE CRY of the prophets to ancient Israel was the joy-filled command to “Listen!” “Sh'ma Israel: Hear, O Israel!” In lectio divina we, too, heed that command and turn to the Scriptures, knowing that we must “hear” - listen - to the voice of God, which often speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly we must learn to be silent. We must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds. The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God's word to us. This is the first step of lectio divina, appropriately called lectio - reading.

THE READING or listening which is the first step in lectio divina is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally - not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day.



Meditatio - meditation

ONCE WE have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures that speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it. The image of the ruminant animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the Word of God. Christians have always seen a scriptural invitation to lectio divina in the example of the Virgin Mary “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard of Christ (Luke 2:19). For us today these images are a reminder that we must take in the word - that is, memorize it - and while gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our memories, our desires. This is the second step or stage in lectio divina - meditatio. Through meditatio we allow God's word to become His word for us, a word that touches us and affects us at our deepest levels.



Oratio - prayer

THE THIRD step in lectio divina is oratio - prayer: prayer understood both as dialogue with God, that is, as loving conversation with the One who has invited us into His embrace; and as consecration, prayer as the priestly offering to God of parts of ourselves that we have not previously believed God wants. In this consecration-prayer we allow the word that we have taken in and on which we are pondering to touch and change our deepest selves. Just as a priest consecrates the elements of bread and wine at the Eucharist, God invites us in lectio divina to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given us in our lectio and meditatio. In this oratio, this consecration-prayer, we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the word of God.



Contemplatio - contemplation

FINALLY, WE simply rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One Who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition - contemplatio, contemplation. Once again we practice silence, letting go of our own words; this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.



2. THE UNDERLYING RHYTHM of LECTIO DIVINA


IF WE are to practice lectio divina effectively, we must travel back in time to an understanding that today is in danger of being almost completely lost. In the Christian past the words action (or practice, from the Greek praktikos) and contemplation did not describe different kinds of Christians engaging (or not engaging) in different forms of prayer and apostolates. Practice and contemplation were understood as the two poles of our underlying, ongoing spiritual rhythm: a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual “activity” with regard to God and “receptivity.”

PRACTICE - spiritual “activity” - referred in ancient times to our active cooperation with God's grace in rooting out vices and allowing the virtues to flourish. The direction of spiritual activity was not outward in the sense of an apostolate, but inward - down into the depths of the soul where the Spirit of God is constantly transforming us, refashioning us in God's image. The active life is thus coming to see who we truly are and allowing ourselves to be remade into what God intends us to become.

IN THE early monastic tradition contemplation was understood in two ways. First was theoria physike, the contemplation of God in creation - God in “the many.” Second was theologia, the contemplation of God in Himself without images or words - God as “The One.” From this perspective lectio divina serves as a training-ground for the contemplation of God in His creation.

IN CONTEMPLATION we cease from interior spiritual doing and learn simply to be, that is to rest in the presence of our loving Father. Just as we constantly move back and forth in our exterior lives between speaking and listening, between questioning and reflecting, so in our spiritual lives we must learn to enjoy the refreshment of simply being in God's presence, an experience that naturally alternates (if we let it!) with our spiritual practice.

IN ANCIENT times contemplation was not regarded as a goal to be achieved through some method of prayer, but was simply accepted with gratitude as God's recurring gift. At intervals the Lord invites us to cease from speaking so that we can simply rest in his embrace. This is the pole of our inner spiritual rhythm called contemplation.

HOW DIFFERENT this ancient understanding is from our modern approach! Instead of recognizing that we all gently oscillate back and forth between spiritual activity and receptivity, between practice and contemplation, we today tend to set contemplation before ourselves as a goal - something we imagine we can achieve through some spiritual technique. We must be willing to sacrifice our “goal-oriented” approach if we are to practice lectio divina, because lectio divina has no other goal than spending time with God through the medium of His word. The amount of time we spend in any aspect of lectio divina, whether it be rumination, consecration or contemplation depends on God's Spirit, not on us. Lectio divina teaches us to savor and delight in all the different flavors of God's presence, whether they be active or receptive modes of experiencing Him.

IN lectio divina we offer ourselves to God; and we are people in motion. In ancient times this inner spiritual motion was described as a helix - an ascending spiral. Viewed in only two dimensions it appears as a circular motion back and forth; seen with the added dimension of time it becomes a helix, an ascending spiral by means of which we are drawn ever closer to God. The whole of our spiritual lives were viewed in this way, as a gentle oscillation between spiritual activity and receptivity by means of which God unites us ever closer to Himself. In just the same way the steps or stages of lectio divina represent an oscillation back and forth between these spiritual poles. In lectio divina we recognize our underlying spiritual rhythm and discover many different ways of experiencing God's presence - many different ways of praying.



3. THE PRACTICE of LECTIO DIVINA


Private Lectio Divina
CHOOSE a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray. Many Christians use in their daily lectio divina one of the readings from the Eucharistic liturgy for the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text: the amount of text “covered” is in God's hands, not yours.

PLACE YOURSELF in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; other have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.

THEN TURN to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightening or ecstasies. In lectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence.

NEXT TAKE the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas. Do not be afraid of “distractions.” Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself which, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.

THEN, SPEAK to God. Whether you use words or ideas or images or all three is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to Him what you have discovered in yourself during your experience of meditatio. Experience yourself as the priest that you are. Experience God using the word or phrase that He has given you as a means of blessing, of transforming the ideas and memories, which your pondering on His word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.

FINALLY, SIMPLY rest in God's embrace. And when He invites you to return to your pondering of His word or to your inner dialogue with Him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.

SOMETIMES IN lectio divina one will return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given, or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to anxiously assess the quality of one's lectio divina as if one were “performing” or seeking some goal: lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.



Lectio Divina as a Group Exercise
THE most authentic and traditional form of Christian lectio divina is the solitary or “private” practice described to this point.  In recent years, however, many different forms of so-called “group lectio” have become popular and are now widely-practiced. These group exercises can be very useful means of introducing and encouraging the practice of lectio divina; but they should not become a substitute for an encounter and communion with the Living God that can only take place in that privileged solitude where the biblical Word of God becomes transparent to the Very Word Himself - namely private lectio divina.

IN churches of the Third World where books are rare, a form of corporate lectio divina is becoming common in which a text from the Scriptures is pondered by Christians praying together in a group. The method of group lectio divina described here was introduced at St. Andrew's Abbey by oblates Doug and Norvene Vest: it is used as part of the Benedictine Spirituality for Laity workshops conducted at the Abbey each summer.

THIS FORM of lectio divina works best in a group of between four and eight people. A group leader coordinates the process and facilitates sharing. The same text from the Scriptures is read out three times, followed each time by a period of silence and an opportunity for each member of the group to share the fruit of her or his lectio.

THE FIRST reading (the text is actually read twice on this occasion) is for the purpose of hearing a word or passage that touches the heart. When the word or phrase is found, it is silently taken in, and gently recited and pondered during the silence which follows. After the silence each person shares which word or phrase has touched his or her heart.

THE SECOND reading (by a member of the opposite sex from the first reader) is for the purpose of “hearing” or “seeing” Christ in the text. Each ponders the word that has touched the heart and asks where the word or phrase touches his or her life that day. In other words, how is Christ the Word touching his own experience, his own life? How are the various members of the group seeing or hearing Christ reach out to them through the text? Then, after the silence, each member of the group shares what he or she has “heard” or “seen.”

THE THIRD and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing Christ “calling us forth” into doing or being. Members ask themselves what Christ in the text is calling them to do or to become today or this week. After the silence, each shares for the last time; and the exercise concludes with each person praying for the person on the right.

THOSE WHO who regularly practice this method of praying and sharing the Scriptures regularly find it to be an excellent way of developing trust within a group; it also is an excellent way of consecrating projects and hopes to Christ before more formal group meetings. A summary of this method for group lectio divina is appended at the end of this article.



Lectio Divina on Life
IN THE ancient tradition lectio divina was understood as being one of the most important ways in which Christians experience God in creation. After all, the Scriptures are part of creation! If one is daily growing in the art of finding Christ in the pages of the Bible, one naturally begins to discover Him more clearly in aspects of the other things He has made. This includes, of course, our own personal history.

OUR OWN lives are fit matter for lectio divina. Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations naturally intertwine with our pondering on the Scriptures, as has been described above. But sometimes it is fitting to simply sit down and “read” the experiences of the last few days or weeks in our hearts, much as we might slowly read and savor the words of Scripture in lectio divina. We can attend “with the ear of our hearts” to our own memories, listening for God's gentle presence in the events of our lives. We thus allow ourselves the joy of experiencing Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes “salvation history.”

FOR THOSE who are new to the practice of lectio divina a group experience of “lectio on life” can provide a helpful introduction. An approach that has been used at workshops at St. Andrew's Priory is detailed at the end of this article. Like the experience of lectio divina shared in community, this group experience of lectio on life can foster relationships in community and enable personal experiences to be consecrated - offered to Christ - in a concrete way.

HOWEVER, UNLIKE scriptural lectio divina shared in community, this group lectio on life contains more silence than sharing. The role of group facilitators or leaders is important, since they will be guiding the group through several periods of silence and reflection without the “interruption” of individual sharing until the end of the exercise. Since the experiences we choose to “read” or “listen to” may be intensely personal, it is important in this group exercise to safeguard privacy by making sharing completely optional.

IN BRIEF, one begins with restful silence, then gently reviews the events of a given period of time. One seeks an event, a memory, which touches the heart just as a word or phrase in scriptural lectio divina does. One then recalls the setting, the circumstances; one seeks to discover how God seemed to be present or absent from the experience. One then offers the event to God and rests for a time in silence. A suggested method for group lectio divina on life is given in the Appendix to this article.



CONCLUSION
LECTIO DIVINA is an ancient spiritual art that is being rediscovered in our day. It is a way of allowing the Scriptures to become again what God intended that they should be - a means of uniting us to Himself. In lectio divina we discover our own underlying spiritual rhythm. We experience God in a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual activity and receptivity, in the movement from practice into contemplation and back again into spiritual practice.

LECTIO DIVINA teaches us about the God who truly loves us. In lectio divina we dare to believe that our loving Father continues to extend His embrace to us today. And His embrace is real. In His word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of a word which He gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to Him in the Scriptures.

FINALLY, lectio divina teaches us about ourselves. In lectio divina we discover that there is no place in our hearts, no interior corner or closet that cannot be opened and offered to God. God teaches us in lectio divina what it means to be members of His royal priesthood - a people called to consecrate all of our memories, our hopes and our dreams to Christ.



APPENDIX: TWO APPROACHES to GROUP LECTIO DIVINA 


1. Lectio Divina Shared in Community
(A) Listening for the Gentle Touch of Christ the Word

(The Literal Sense)

1. One person reads aloud (twice) the passage of scripture, as others are attentive to some segment that is especially meaningful to them.

2. Silence for 1-2 minutes. Each hears and silently repeats a word or phrase that attracts.

3. Sharing aloud: [A word or phrase that has attracted each person]. A simple statement of one or a few words. No elaboration.



(B) How Christ the Word speaks to ME

(The Allegorical Sense)

4. Second reading of same passage by another person.

5. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “Where does the content of this reading touch my life today?”

6. Sharing aloud: Briefly: “I hear, I see...”



(C) What Christ the Word Invites me to DO

(The Moral Sense)

7. Third reading by still another person.

8. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “I believe that God wants me to . . . . . . today/this week.”

9. Sharing aloud: at somewhat greater length the results of each one's reflection. [Be especially aware of what is shared by the person to your right.]

10. After full sharing, pray for the person to your right.

Note: Anyone may “pass” at any time. If instead of sharing with the group you prefer to pray silently , simply state this aloud and conclude your silent prayer with Amen.



2. Lectio on Life: Applying Lectio Divina to my personal Salvation History
Purpose: to apply a method of prayerful reflection to a life/work incident (instead of to a scripture passage)

(A) Listening for the Gentle Touch of Christ the Word

(The Literal Sense)

1. Each person quiets the body and mind: relax, sit comfortably but alert, close eyes, attune to breathing...

2. Each person gently reviews events, situations, sights, encounters that have happened since the beginning of the retreat/or during the last month at work.



(B) Gently Ruminating, Reflecting

(Meditatio - Meditation)

3. Each person allows the self to focus on one such offering.

a) Recollect the setting, sensory details, sequence of events, etc.

b) Notice where the greatest energy seemed to be evoked. Was there a turning point or shift?

c) In what ways did God seem to be present? To what extent was I aware then? Now?



(C) Prayerful Consecration, Blessing

(Oratio - Prayer)

4. Use a word or phrase from the Scriptures to inwardly consecrate - to offer up to God in prayer - the incident and interior reflections. Allow God to accept and bless them as your gift.



(D) Accepting Christ's Embrace; Silent Presence to the Lord

(Contemplatio - Contemplation)

5. Remain in silence for some period.



(E) Sharing our Lectio Experience with Each Other

(Operatio - Action; works)

6. Leader calls the group back into “community.”

7. All share briefly (or remain in continuing silence).

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