Part I of a IV Part Series
by Fr. Paul Gros
“Lord, teach us how to pray!” (Mt 6:9) This was the request by Jesus’ disciples in Matthew’s Gospel as they observed Jesus Himself praying. To be in relationship with God, our Creator, is the desire of every human heart whether we know it or not. However, since the fall of humanity, our minds have been darkened, and we have found ourselves alienated from our Creator and unable to be in right-relationship with Him, until, that is, He made Himself one like us in all things but sin. The Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, His passion, death and resurrection, and His sending of the Holy Spirit upon us has enabled us to now follow that pathway to restored relationship with our Creator, who has made Himself not just Creator but now Father and One who desires more than anything (even more than ourselves) to be in communion with us. And so, “Lord, teach us to pray!” should be the request of every human heart.
Fortunately, He has taught us to pray! Yes, He responded to the disciples’ request by giving them the “Our Father” (Mt 6:9-13). But even now, His Church has set before us a long tradition of prayer that helps answer that request. One of those traditions is what the Church calls Lectio Divina or in English, Divine Reading. This form of prayer allows us to go beyond just vocal prayer (words simply spoken to the Lord externally or internally) and enter into meditative prayer, which draws us into a more heart-to-heart and personal relationship with the Lord.
Regrettably, in my experience as a priest, I have found that many Catholics are unfamiliar with this latter form of prayer and have been stuck in simply repeating the prayers they learned as children like the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” “Glory Be,” or reading stacks of holy cards or novenas over and over and over. Don’t get me wrong, this form of prayer is absolutely essential, and, as St Teresa of Avila very clearly writes, it is always necessary for growing in holiness. The Mass itself is a form of vocal prayer and so is the Liturgy of the Hours that priests and religious are required to pray daily on behalf of the Church. However, if we are stuck only praying vocal prayer, then we are missing out on this deeper form of prayer He desires for us! And yes, if you are baptized Christian, this prayer IS FOR YOU, not just the deacons, priests, and religious sisters and brothers!
So, what is Lectio Divina and how do we pray it? Lectio Divina is essentially a way of reading and praying with sacred scripture, not just as a book to be studied but as it truly is, the Living Word of God. Scripture is not a dead letter from the past, but rather our faith tells us that it is the Living Word of God, His Love Letter to us, and one of the primary ways God communicates with His children! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this Living Word can interact with our own hearts to speak to us in a very personal and unique way. Going all the way back to the early monastic tradition of the Church (3rd-4th century), Lectio Divina has been a primary way Christians have meditated and reflected on sacred scripture in order to cultivate their relationship with God. The structure of Lectio Divina is generally made up of 4 different steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and finally, contemplatio (contemplation).
Follow us next week for Part II of Lectio Divina with Fr. Paul Gros