Pope Francis on Lectio Divina

Lectio divina, “divine reading,” is a form of prayer that includes meditation.

Pope Francis explains:

There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in His Word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s Word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us…

In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: ‘Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this?’

Or perhaps: ‘What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?’

When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away.

Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make.

This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s Word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait.

He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before Him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from Him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.

Evangelii Gaudium, 152-53.

The Catechism & St Francis de Sales on Meditation

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2705-08 and St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Second Part of the Introduction.

“Meditation is above all a quest,” as the Catechism phrases it, an expression of prayer that actively engages our “thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.”

The purpose of meditation is to understand what the Lord wants of us, to grow in faith, experience deeper conversion, and become better disciples. Hence authentically Christian meditation is rooted in and focused upon our personal relationship with Christ.

We must carefully distinguish Christian meditation from meditative practices of other religions. We read and reflect upon Sacred Scripture, the liturgical prayers and readings, the writings of the saints, creation, the workings of history, all in order to encounter the Lord. We do not seek an escape, a withdrawal into a semi-hypnotic state, or a concentration upon the self.

Rather, our meditation brings us into the presence of God – not an abstract cosmic force, but the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a personal God Who relates to us on an intimate level. We meditate upon our spiritual readings by prayerfully considering them in light of our own lives.

While there is no one definitive way to meditate, the method of St. Francis de Sales can be instructive. After placing yourself in God’s presence and invoking His help, use your imagination to envision the scene that you’ve read, and put yourself within it.

Consider further any particular point that strikes you, lingering if you find it helpful or moving on to another. Allow yourself to feel the affections and emotions that are stirred up toward God, and make resolutions (as concrete and specific as possible) that you can put into practice that very day.

St. Francis de Sales urges us to offer thanksgiving in our concluding prayers and advises us to gather a “spiritual bouquet” for later:

People who have been walking about in a beautiful garden do not like to leave without gathering in their hands four or five flowers to smell and keep for the rest of the day.

Similarly, we should choose a couple of the best points from our meditation, “think frequently about them, and smell them spiritually during the rest of the day.”

Meditation is also a key component of lectio divina, Latin for “divine reading,” typically involving deep reflection upon Scripture. In the next post, we’ll look at Pope Francis’ tips for lectio divina.

The Power of Prayer: Saints Monica & Augustine

St. Monica provides a powerful case study of the value of intercessory prayer.

This devout Catholic woman, who lived in Roman North Africa in the fourth century, was grievously worried about her son Augustine. Living in a persistent state of grave sin, fallen into an heretical cult, and still not baptized, Augustine was a totally wayward youth in danger of losing his soul.

Monica poured out her heart to God, praying, fasting and weeping for her son. She kept up her persistent intercession over many years, despite all of her prayers appearing to go in vain.

But in fact, they were not in vain. Augustine eventually experienced a life-changing conversion, a heart-rending repentance. Washed clean in the waters of baptism, he not only turned away from sin, but sought the perfection of the monastic life and ultimately became the bishop of Hippo. Augustine turned his prodigious intellectual gifts toward the study of theology, leaving us a priceless heritage through his writings, and ranking as one of the most influential doctors of the Church.

We celebrate his memorial on August 28, the anniversary of his passing from this earthly life. But the Church remembers that there may well have been no St. Augustine without the constant prayers of his mother. Therefore we fittingly celebrate the memorial of St. Monica on the day prior, August 27.

Aside from giving hope to all mothers whose children are going in the wrong direction, Monica also offers an example to wives enduring difficult marriages. Her husband, a pagan named Patricius, was the cause of much suffering. But he was softened by her prayers and her steadfast Christian witness, and converted shortly before his death.

Beyond just being an encouraging model for us to follow, Monica stands ready and willing to help us now with her intercession before the throne of God. All of us – in heaven, on earth, or undergoing purification in Purgatory – are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, able to share spiritual goods in the communion of saints. Let us boldly ask Monica, Augustine, and our patron saints to intercede for us.

For more, see St. Augustine’s Confessions (Book III, 11-12, and Book IX, 8-13), and Catechism paragraph 2683.

Difficulties in Prayer: Feeling Unheard

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2734-37:

How many times have we prayed for something, or someone, and felt that God did not hear us? Have we feared that God would not even listen to us, or that He has in some way abandoned us?

Such feelings may prompt us to stop praying altogether because it doesn’t “work.”

If we view prayer that way, then we aren’t praying to God in a loving relationship, but instead trying to use Him to get “results.”

Whenever we feel that our prayers are unheard, we must step back and remember Who God Is. Trusting that the Lord loves us beyond our wildest imagination, we know that He never ignores or abandons us. God hears us as a Father listens to His beloved children. As the infinitely good Father, He knows what is best for us.

But we, as His little ones, do not. We may believe with all our hearts that it would be right and good for the Lord to grant us our prayer, for ourselves or our loved ones. Yet in truth, we cannot understand the full implications of what we ask for, how our request may ultimately affect our earthly life or our eternal welfare.

When God appears silent, He is not rejecting us, but rather inviting us to greater trust in His will.

This is an opportunity for us to reflect and to grow in faith. Are we honestly seeking to do God’s will, or are we instead demanding that God do our will? Is our petition arising from a faulty desire or improper intention? Or is our prayer a true and sincere pursuit of the good?

God may not give us the “answer” we want, but He does answer us out of His tender mercy. We can please God greatly, and delight His Heart, if we trust in Him in spite of all the tensions and uncertainties we feel while waiting. God will bless us abundantly for our faithfulness in ways that we might not expect.

As the fourth-century theologian Evagrius Ponticus wrote, “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.”

Difficulties in Prayer: Acedia

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2733:

One of the most pernicious temptations to infiltrate our prayer life is a certain sluggishness, laziness, or lack of interest in pursuing the things of God. The proper term for this is “acedia,” spiritual sloth.

While our emotions are subject to change, and it’s only natural for our energy or enthusiasm to level off, acedia goes deeper than feelings. It burrows into our will, where we make the choice to pray or not, to seek God’s will or not, to strive to be a better disciple, or not.

Acedia can be the result of presumption. If we take our salvation for granted, believe that God doesn’t expect anything of us, or think that holiness is for other people, we will likely not have much motivation for the spiritual life.

But we can overcome acedia by remembering the high stakes involved – nothing less than our eternal destiny. Do we want to accept God’s offer of salvation? Then we cooperate with God’s saving grace by attending Mass, remaining faithful to personal prayer, doing our best to avoid sin, and seeking forgiveness when we fall short. By fighting the fight, so to speak, we answer His call to holiness, even in the midst of our human frailty.

Because acedia can be described as insufficient love for God, reflecting on God’s intense, personal love for us can also fire our motivation. How can we be indifferent to the Lord Who has thought of us from all eternity, created the world for us, mapped out salvation history for us, became man for us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and wants to sanctify us so that we may delight in eternal life with Him?

Difficulties in Prayer: Lack of Faith

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2732.

A lack of faith is “the most common yet most hidden temptation” in our prayer, according to the Catechism, because it isn’t as straightforward as simple disbelief. Instead, lack of faith is something more insidious and subtle, which is why we may have trouble recognizing it for what it truly is.

Do we turn to God only as a “last resort,” after all else fails? That implies that we didn’t have the faith to go to Him right away in our distress, but thought that we, or others, could handle it.

On the other hand, we can be tempted to treat God as the cosmic Being Who caters to our wishes, and arranges everything just the way we’d like. In that case, our prayer devolves into telling God what we want Him to do for us. That’s not faith in God, but presumption.

While the Lord obviously wants us to ask Him for our needs, we must do so in the humble spirit of creatures who don’t really know what’s best for us, or for our eternal destiny. True faith means that we turn our needs over to the Lord in prayer, while submitting ourselves to His will, in an attitude of radical trust in His loving providence.

Sometimes a lack of faith creeps in when we try to pray, but remember other things that we have to do. At that moment, do we resolutely remain with the Lord, and put our other action-items aside for a more appropriate time? Or do we put the Lord aside?

If we’re jumping up to help someone in urgent need who depends upon us, we are serving the Lord in that person. But otherwise, if we’re just dropping prayer to do something that could wait, we’re effectively telling the Lord that He doesn’t take priority in our lives.

We may not say it, but our actions reflect that we are prioritizing something other than God. The Catechism describes this as “the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?”

Distractions & Dryness in Prayer

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2729-31:

Although it would be wonderful if our prayer time were always filled with warm and fuzzy feelings, such consolations do not persist over the course of our spiritual life. Instead, we often encounter difficulties in trying to pray, and that is why our tradition describes prayer as a “battle.”

Two of the most common problems are distractions and dryness.

Distractions are bound to happen, considering that our minds are constantly occupied, and whenever we try to quiet them, our habitual thoughts and worries are likely to resurface. We shouldn’t let the distractions take over, but simply refocus our attention on God:

To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart (2729).

At the same time, our distractions show us what is uppermost in our mind, and that can itself be food for prayer. If it’s a worrisome situation, we can entrust it to God; if it’s a sin, we can beg to be healed of it; if it’s a good thing in itself, but we’re giving it too much importance in our lives, we can ask the Lord to straighten out our priorities and restore our balance.

To experience dryness in prayer is to feel far from God, to lack any taste for spiritual things. Sometimes we cause our own dryness, especially if we are attached to sin in our lives and thus put up a barrier to God’s grace. Conversion of heart would cure this kind of dryness.

But in other cases, God Himself allows dryness for our own spiritual growth. By remaining faithful to prayer when it’s most difficult, we show that we love God for Himself, not for His consolations.