Lectio Divina: October 2008 Archives

The Word Has A Face

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Pope Benedict XVI preaches like a monk! By this I mean that his preaching, like that of Saint Gregory the Great and others of the Fathers, is manifestly the fruit of 1) lectio, 2) meditatio, 3) oratio, and 4) contemplatio. It reveals an intimate familiarity with the Word of God, and notably with the Psalter, that can come only from a quotidian fidelity to the Opus Dei, the Divine Office.

A word about this picture of Pope Saint Gregory the Great: the work of Carlo Saraceni, it dates from about 1601. Note that the tiara rests upon the book. What book? Is it the Bible? Or is it an antiphonary? Peu importe. The message is that all authority in the Church, even the supreme authority, rests upon Tradition. Saint Gregory is shown writing. He is writing what he hears whispered to him by the Holy Ghost. In the form of a white dove, the Holy Ghost flutters quite close to the pontiff's head. Remark Saint Gregory's large ear! He was, after all, a son of Saint Benedict, whose Holy Rule begins with the words, "Listen my son to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RSB, Pro 1).

In this homily/meditation delivered on the morning of October 6th, readers of Vultus Christi will rejoice to discover Pope Benedict XVI's allusions to the Face and Heart of the Word.

The Holy Father Meditates Psalm 118

Dear brothers in the episcopacy, dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours presents a passage from Psalm 118 on the Word of God: a praise of his Word, an expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to recognize his will and his Face. I would like to meditate on some verses of this Psalm with you.

The Power of the Word

It begins like this: "In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet". This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which one must base one's life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history, words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Building on Sand

Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order.

The Foundation of Our Life

The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. The realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.

All Things at the Service of the Word

The following verse says: "Omnia serviunt tibi". All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. "In the beginning was the Word". In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is "creatura Verbi". All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is conceived of to create the place of encounter between God and his creature, a place where the history of love between God and his creature can develop. "Omnia serviunt tibi". The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature. In this sense, salvation history, the Covenant, precedes creation

All Creation is Ordered to Christ

During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here. This is what we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: Christ is the "protòtypos", the first-born of creation, the idea for which the universe was conceived. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the Covenant is the true cause of the cosmos. We reach the roots of being by reaching the mystery of Christ, his living word that is the aim of all creation.

Seeking the Word in the Words

"Omnia serviunt tibi". In serving the Lord we achieve the purpose of being, the purpose of our own existence. Let us take a leap forward: "Mandata tua exquisivi". We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We do not find the Word in the words.

In this context St Augustine recalls the scribes and pharisees who were consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Saviour of the world would be born. They know it, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Saviour. St Augustine says: they are signs on the road for others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of Scripture: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today in the words from the past. In this way we do not enter the interior movement of the Word, which in human words conceals and which opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for "exquisivi". We must always search for the Word within the words.

Communion with the Word

Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming ourselves to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that he may help us search the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.

Word, Church, and Mission

At the end: "Omni consummationi vidi finem, latum praeceptum tuum nimis". All human things, all the things we can invent, create, are finite. Even all human religious experiences are finite, showing an aspect of reality, because our being is finite and can only understand a part, some elements: "latum praeceptum tuum nimis". Only God is infinite. And therefore His Word too is universal and knows no boundaries. Therefore by entering into the Word of God we really enter into the divine universe. We escape the limits of our experience and we enter into the reality that is truly universal. Entering into communion with the Word of God, we enter a communion of the Church that lives the Word of God. We do not enter into a small group, with the rules of a small group, but we go beyond our limitations. We go towards the depths, in the true grandeur of the only truth, the great truth of God. We are truly a part of what is universal. And thus we go out into the communion of all our brothers and sisters, of all humanity, because the desire for the Word of God, which is one, is hidden in our heart.

Therefore even evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, the mission are not a type of ecclesial colonialism, where we wish to insert others into our group. It means going beyond the individual culture into the universality that connects all, unites all, makes us all brothers. Let us pray once again that the Lord may help us to truly enter the "breadth" of His Word and thus to open ourselves to the universal horizon that unites us with all our differences.

I am Yours

At the end, we return to a preceding verse: "Tuus sum ego: salvum me fac". The text translates as: "I am yours". The Word of God is like a stairway that we can climb and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of his love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. "I am yours". The word has a Face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say "I am yours", he has already told us "I am yours". The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: "You gave me a body.... Then I said, "Here I am, I am coming'". The Lord prepared a body to come. With his Incarnation he said: I am yours. And in Baptism he said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, He says ever anew: I am yours, so that we may respond: Lord, I am yours. In the way of the Word, entering the mystery of his Incarnation, of His being among us, we want to appropriate His being, we want expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us.

In the Heart of the Word

"I am yours". Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. Thus we will be in the heart of the Word. Thus we will be saved.

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From the Lineamenta. Read the entire document here.

Mary: Every Believer's Model for Receiving the Word

25. Salvation history has great examples of hearers and evangelizers of the Word of God: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Sts. Peter and Paul, the other Apostles and the evangelists. In faithfully hearing the Lord's Word and communicating it to others, these people created a space for the Kingdom of God.

From this vantage point, the Virgin Mary assumes a central role as one who lived, in singular fashion, the encounter with the Word of God, who is Jesus himself. She is then a model of every aspect of hearing and proclaiming. Already possessing a familiarity with the Word of God in her intense experience of the Scriptures of the Chosen People, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation to her presence at the foot of the Cross, and even to her participation at Pentecost, receives the Word in faith, meditates upon it, interiorizes it and intensely lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19, 51, Acts 17:11)). Because of her uninterrupted response of "yes" to the Word of God, she knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from the Son is a gift meant for everyone: in the service of Elizabeth, at Cana and at the foot of the cross (cf. Lk 1:39; Jn 2:1-12; 19: 25-27). Therefore, the words, uttered by Jesus in her presence, are appropriately applied to her as well, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). "Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate" (32).

Maria, Virgo Audiens

Mary's way of hearing the Word of God deserves special consideration. The Gospel text, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), means that she heard and knew the Scriptures, meditated upon them in her heart in an interior process of maturation, where the mind is not separated from the heart. Mary sought the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and found it, associating it (symallousa) with the written words, the life of Jesus and the moments of discovery in her personal history. Mary is our model not only for receiving the faith which is the Word, but also for studying it. It is not enough for her to receive it. She reflects on it. She not only possesses it, but values it. She not only gives it her assent, but also develops it. In doing so, Mary becomes an example of faith for all of us, from the most simple soul to the most scholarly of the Doctors of the Church, who seek, consider and set forth how to bear witness to the Gospel.

Maria, Virgo Obediens

In receiving the Good News, Mary is the ideal model of the obedience of faith, becoming a living icon of the Church in service to the Word. Isaac of Stella states: "In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary.... The Lord's inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary's womb, he dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church's faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul (33)". She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, making our own the "here I am" of the prophet (cf. Is 6:8) and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in us. She "magnifies" the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her "blessed," because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). St. Ambrose says that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives him birth (34).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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