uring the three weeks of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, I thought often of the ways we use Sacred Scripture in personal prayer; and I recalled Pope Benedict’s words to the U.S. bishops last April, when he told us to teach people how to pray in order to prevent the secularization of our lives and our society.A traditional way in the church to pray with Holy Scripture is called “lectio divina” or the spiritual reading of biblical texts. Seminarians are introduced to this form of prayer, and many of the synod resolutions spoke to the need to make all Catholics familiar with this spiritual exercise. I will present an outline of it here.
First of all, every prayer is through Christ our Lord, “through him, with him and in him,” as the eucharistic prayer concludes. The source of every prayer is therefore an encounter with Christ, a union with him in mind and heart. Since Holy Scripture is the written witness to Christ, praying with Sacred Scripture is a privileged way to come to know him surely and to love him devotedly. At the beginning of our prayer with Scripture, we should ask the Holy Spirit, sent upon the church by the risen Christ, to guide our prayer.
Reading: What does the Word of God mean in itself? The first step in praying with Scripture is to read the text slowly and thoughtfully, perhaps aloud. A contemporary biblical commentary that helps us to understand the context of the human author is useful for shedding light on hard passages. Who are the principle personages in the selected passage? Is there a use of images or symbols? What is the controlling message that the human writer meant to convey? A commentary by a spiritual author recognized by the church can also help uncover meanings that the divine author meant to teach through the inspired text.
Meditation: What does the Word of God mean for me? The second step in praying with Scripture is to ask what God might be telling me personally as I read. What is important to me about this text? Why? Is there a call to me in what I read? With what personage in the text do I identify? How am I being asked to change? If we try to identify personally with the biblical text we are reading, light might be shed and reflections might come to mind that are new to us. These are graces given to us to see our lives anew in the light of God’s word.
Prayer: What desires does the Word of God place in my heart? In the midst of the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture, we should find ourselves wanting to ask something of God. We have listened to God’s word and meditated upon it. What does it move us to ask for? What do we say in response to the Word of God? Gratitude is one response, but prayer might also move us to simplify our lives and to act in a way consistent with God’s word to us. We often do not leave the time of prayer with specific plans in mind; but we should always leave with more courage to face the demands of life in the light of God’s word.
Contemplation: How does the Word of God shape us? Sometimes at the end of our reading, meditation and prayer, God takes over our spiritual life and gives us a moment of special unity with him. These fruits of the spiritual reading of Sacred Scripture come seldom or often, depending upon the person. Always, they are meant to increase our intimacy with God and prepare us for loving him forever. In Holy Scripture, God is the principal author and actor. In contemplative prayer, God “writes” our lives so that Christ lives in us.
The steps outlined above are not a rigid schema. They are helps to organize the time spent praying with Sacred Scripture; but the most important element of prayer is simply taking time. I was grateful for the three weeks during the synod to step back from ordinary business and attend to the great gift that is the Word of God. It is often hard to find time to reflect and pray in the crush of ordinary concerns.
Jesus taught that his words remain forever. When many major institutions, banks, corporations, even some countries, disappear overnight, the Word of God remains because it is the center of reality. God spoke, and the world began. God spoke to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the Archangel Gabriel, and the Word became flesh. God continues to speak in times of great crisis. If we listen prayerfully, we will know where our security and salvation lie. And we will live in hope. God bless you all.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago