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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

Updated: Feb 13

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 04, 2024)

Parish School of Prayer, Pt 4: Lectio Divina

Note: This series has been given new impetus from on high: on January 21, the Holy Father inaugurated the Year of Prayer, calling for rediscovery of both the value and the need of conversation with God for the lives of individuals, the Church, and society today. Through the course of the year, the Holy See will be publishing booklets on various topics related to prayer and spirituality, all in view of preparing the Church to celebrate a jubilee in the Holy Year of 2025.

Those booklets, alas, I do not have (we do have one on the Rosary and another on the PES Spirituality of the Sacred Heart available at the parish office). But I can offer you a monthly bulletin article. Shorter and easier to ignore! Our topic today? The ancient prayer technique of lectio divina: prayerful reading of a holy text, particularly the Sacred Scripture.

In the 37th chapter of the book of the prophet Ezekiel, God leads the prophet in spirit to behold a valley full of dry bones, so many that the floor of the valley is covered with them. (Imagine the sight! The crunch!) Then God commands Exekiel to “prophesy” to the bones. As he does, they begin to move. Like magnets, bone attaches to bone, ball to socket, leg bone to hip bone. As Ezekiel continues to speak, the bones, now skeletons, grew flesh, sinews, capillaries. Before long, they are no longer bones but bodies, fully reconstituted, one might say, into their natural state. But they lack the breath of life. Finally, at God’s command, Ezekiel “prophesies to the Spirit,” who blows upon the bodies and bring them back to life. They stand erect: “a vast army,” says the prophet (Ez 37:1-9). Death Valley is now teeming with life, through the power of the Spirit!

“Very interesting, Father,” you are thinking to yourself, “But aren’t you supposed to be writing about lectio divina? Perhaps that last paragraph was supposed to go in some other document; your next book, perhaps?” Not at all, O too-attentive bulletin reader! The episode of Ezekiel and his dry bones is exactly what happens when we do lectio divina well. Exactly, in the metaphorical sense, of course. As St. Paul says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). The written words of Sacred Scripture taken by themselves are so many “dry bones.” And when we play around with them in a merely human fashion, interpreting according to our dim wits and personal preferences, we tend to produce any number of “creative” monstrosities: bodies with no heads, hands for feet, and winged creatures of every sort. Thus new sects constantly emerge, all claiming to possess (for the first time) the Gospel truth!

But when we read Scripture as members of the Body and with the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of Prophecy” in Revelation 19:10), the matter is quite different. Things start to fit together. Revealed truths, which were previously lying in a jumble, are pieced together. Things start to make sense, connections are made. A figure emerges. Even better: when the Spirit blows, the saving words and deeds of God in salvation history come to life! They take on flesh and blood, and start to “stand and walk” before our eyes. Suddenly, before the eyes of our mind stands Christ himself. For everything in the Scriptures, Old Testament and New, ultimately refers to Him (Lk 24:44-45).

St. Peter speaks about lectio divina under a different metaphor. “We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable,” he says, referring to the Old Testament in particular. “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Indeed: many times we read Scripture as if at night, receiving light but as from a lamp, limited. Then, the Spirit shines upon our minds and we find ourselves walking in broad daylight, graced with deeper insight into the meaning that the inspired Word conceals. But Peter also cautions: “There is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Lectio divina must be done with the Church, in the same Spirit in which the Scriptures were inspired. Otherwise, we are back to assembling dry bones without the directions. Lectio divina must take place in the context of a life in which we are constantly being exposed to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42); to forming ourselves in the truth Faith.

“OK, Father, but how do we do lectio divina? How do we read ‘in the Spirit’?” 1) First, pray earnestly for His grace and guidance. 2) Read reverently (and slowly) the sacred text. 3) Sit in silence, savoring the words, and paying attention to which move you and how. 4) Apply the powers of your soul to enter the word and engage the scene: see, listen, feel, smell; work the understanding; ask, wonder, relate. 5) Repeat 1-4. 6) Finally, lift up your heart to the Lord in loving conversation, responding to what He has said, according to what has transpired in your heart. Or simply bask in the light of that Morning Star who is Christ, shining in your heart!

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