The Sacred Scriptures have always held a special post in the life of the Church. Jesus himself used to pray on the Word of God and live according to it. He used to hear it delivered, to read it and to explain it in the Synagogue. He used to pray on it, especially through the Psalms, together with his parents in their house in Nazareth. Later on in life he used to pray on it either with the apostles or on his own, up to His crucifixion on the cross. In the desert He struggled against the devil and triumphed over him by means of the Word of God. He used to live according to what the Spirit inspired Him by means of the Sacred Scriptures. He knew that in Him the prophecies of the Scripture were being realised.
Following his example, the disciples and the first Christians learned how to treasure the Scriptures. They used to gather to share not only the Holy Eucharist but also the Word of God. After his resurrection, Jesus continued to explain to them the Holy Scriptures, as He did to the two disciples of Emmaus. Through the Scriptures, He continued to make himself present among them. The Church has always received light and strength from the Word of God. Throughout the ages, the Word of God has been meditated on in depth by people like the Fathers of the desert, who found in it a fountain of Truth which they passed on to the Church in their writings and sermons. The Fathers of the Church found Truth in it whenever they were faced by some bad teachings which threatened Christian faith. The Holy Scriptures were also instrumental in bringing about the conversion of various sinners who then became great saints, like St Anthony the Abbot, St Augustine, St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Therese of Jesus. This happened because the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, and “God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4,12).
The extent of the importance that the Word of God has in the formation of the priest is highly evident. The young man who aspires to embrace priesthood finds in the Word of God the necessary enlightenment to help him decipher fully his vocation and to accept it willingly and heartily. In the light of the Word of God he learns to mould his heart on the Heart of the Good Shepherd and to kindle within him the same sentiments of Jesus Christ. Holding the Word of God in his hands, or better still in his mind and heart, the seminarian trains himself so that in the future, as a priest, he can lead the people of God entrusted in his care.
In the years of formation for priesthood the Gozitan seminarians are called daily to read the Holy Scriptures and to spend at least half an hour in silent prayer in the morning after Mass. Once a week they pray together as a community, in what the Church calls lectio divina. Pope Benedict XVI has quite often urged priests, seminarians and lay people to follow the practice of lectio divina.
What exactly does one mean by lectio divina? “It consists of the practice whereby one takes an extract from the Bible, reads it more than once, as if, according to the Fathers of the Church, to decipher its real meaning, and in other words to wean out its significance, to keep alive the spirit of meditation and contemplation, giving in this way a concrete meaning to everyday life” (Benedict XVI, Angelus, 6th November 2005). This leads to a dialogue with God: “The intensive reading of the Scriptures, accompanied by prayer, creates that kind of dialogue in which God communicates with us, and through prayer we answer with an open heart.”
In this way, one’s meeting with the Word of God becomes truly a meeting with Christ. At the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II said: “Above all it is necessary that the listening to the Word of God becomes more and more a true meeting with Christ, a meeting that gives life, through that tradition which is old yet always new and which is called lectio divina, that extracts the Word of life from the Sacred Scriptures; that same Word that creates in us an awareness, shows us the right way and forms our life” (Novo millennio ineunte, 39).
Pope Benedict XVI adds: “A requisite of the lectio divina is that the mind and heart are to be kindled by the Holy Spirit that is He who inspired the Holy Scriptures. So it is important that the mind and heart are ready to listen to the reading of religious texts. This was the typical attitude of the Holy Mary, as is evident in the Annunciation: The Virgin welcomes the heavenly Messenger while she is meditating the Sacred Scriptures, represented normally by the book which Mary is holding in her hands or which is lying on her lap or somewhere close by” (Angelus, 6th November 2005).
Of special importance is the message of the Pope to young people on 9th April 2006, the twenty-first Youth World Day:
Dear youths, love the Word of God…..Meditate often on the Word of God, and let the Holy Spirit be your Master. In this way you will understand that the ways of God are different to those of man; in this way you will succeed in understanding (contemplating) the true God and in reading historical events through the eyes of God; in this way you will succeed in relishing the full joy that emanates from truth.
We need to understand truly that the Word of God is the strongest ‘weapon’ in our spiritual battles… Let us learn to listen to the Word of God so that we can then live it.
Dear youths, I urge you to become more familiar with the Bible, to keep it close to you so that it will lead you along the road that you have to take. As you are reading it, you will learn to know Christ. St Jerome says: ‘He who does not know the Scriptures does not know Christ.’
A praiseworthy way in which one reads in depth the Word of God and enjoys it is the lectio divina. This consists of a real and true journey made up of various stages. From the lectio, which consists of the repeated reading of an extract from the Holy Scriptures so that its principal elements can be elicited, one passes on to the meditatio, which is a moment of quiet meditation in which the soul turns to God and tries to understand what the Word is conveying that day and how its message can be applied to the life of the individual. Then follows the oratio, which helps us to keep a direct dialogue with God. Then we come to the contemplatio which helps us to keep our heart open to the presence of Christ whose Word is like ‘a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts’ (2Pt 1,19). The reading, study and meditation of the Word of God have then to be applied to a life that resembles that of Christ and that follows his teaching.” This is the actio.
The Pope adds: “Dear youths of the third millennium, your programme is to construct your life on Christ, to welcome his Word with joy and to live his teaching. There is an immediate need of a new generation of apostles who have their roots in the Word of Christ and who are able to face the challenges of our times and are ready to spread the Gospel everywhere. This is what The Lord asks of you: this is what the Church is calling you for; this is what the world expects of you, perhaps unknowingly. And if Christ is calling you, do not be afraid to open up and tell him ‘yes’, especially when He is calling you to follow him in priesthood or a consecrated life. Don’t be afraid! Trust in Him, and you won’t regret it!”
The Pope’s message applies especially to those who are preparing themselves for the life of priesthood. For this purpose the community of the Gozo Seminary meets every Monday for the lectio divina to meditate and pray on The Scriptures. Normally they read the Gospel of the previous Sunday, as a sign of gratitude to the Word that The Lord would have given us on the previous day. After the Word has been given to them as a ‘gift’ in the Liturgy of the Day of The Lord, they read it through again to meditate deeply on it and to do their best to live according to it. In this way also, their walk with the Word of God is one and the same thing with their walk with the Liturgy of the Church. At the end of the week the seminarians meet again to share the ways in which the Word of God would have influenced them during the week (collatio). Thus the Word of God remains truly “a lamp to my feet…..a light to my path” (Ps 119, 105).
With a sense of gratitude to the Lord who told us: “The gift you have received, give as a gift” (Mt 10,8), we would like to share with the readers on this site these weekly reflections which help us in our gatherings of the lectio divina.