by Fr. Mark Weidner
I received this note from Reverend Father a couple of weeks ago, “Dear Fr Mark, Would you be willing to give the community chapter on Sunday, February 27th on Lectio Divina?” So for a few minutes that’s our business. Constitution #21 gives us a definition: “… this excellent monastic practice, by which God’s Word is heard and pondered, is a source of prayer and a school of contemplation, where the monk speaks heart to heart with God…”
We begin Lectio by facing the truth: we need God’s help. And so, however briefly, we ask for it. We’re in this together; He and we. How many times have we heard Cardinal Newman’s motto: Cor ad Cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart. On both side openness of heart is a necessity if there is to be intimacy. We don’t cover a broad wide field but with God, we penetrate what we have.
It is almost 50 years now since Abbot Columban sent me to Rome for a year of study in Monastic Spirituality. I recall one of the American students over there as a griper. He tended to complain especially about the Father Master of the students. Now, the Fr Master was a good, solid teacher. He was not an exciting teacher, but solid and monastic. On one Sunday, after a conference by the Fr Master, the student was complaining, “What new thing did he tell you? Name one.” I don’t remember what I said to him, maybe nothing. But Lectio Divina is not about new stuff. It’s about God’s sacred Word.
A figure: Picture a man who buys a field. The field is out in the middle of nowhere. The soil is poor; nothing there but scrub. But this man scrapes together everything he can and buys some equipment because he knows something about that field nobody else knows. With his new drill he goes down 10’, 100’, 1000’, many thousands of feet and then he plunges into an enormous ocean of oil. Isn’t that a good figure of our digging into God’s sacred Word? No! It’s a terrible figure! For this reason; when we come to Lectio, God’s sacred Word, we are not alone. It’s something we do together, He and we. Every bit of it is rewarding.
I have 2 pictures in my mind: the way things are now and the way things were when I entered the monastery. I entered in 1947. In those days, there were no periodicals, no newspapers, and no time except for a few tiny bits: 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, that sort of thing. One of my fellow novices, I noticed, never wasted those little bits of time. He’d either be at prayer in the novitiate chapel or in the reading room with his breviary meditating on the antiphon we’d be having at day hour. If there was adequate time, on a Sunday perhaps, he’d have a longer reading: A sermon of Augustine or Bernard or one of those people. By God’s mercy to our community he was one of those picked to help make the new foundation. We knew him as Fr John Baptist.
Flashing ahead now: 64 years. There is still a difficulty with regard to Lectio Divina. I realize that some of us carry a heavy workload and responsibilities. For most of us, I believe, and hour or two of solid Lectio is very possible. On this point, our private rooms can be a blessing. The difficulty now is the great abundance of newspapers and periodicals: Time; Economist; Bloomberg Business Week. Those people are experts at getting our attention. They know how to sell us a product, namely, their magazines. But do they nourish our souls? How strong would we be if the only thing we ever ate was popcorn? If we give them anytime at all, we should at least be sure that our Lectio Divina is firmly in place. Every day at Mass we hear God’s Word in the Gospel, in the responsorial psalm, and in the first reading. Anyone of them or all three would reward solid Lectio. Not only study out of a commentary, that can help; but especially prayer. We are not alone in our Lectio. Another great source is the Psalter. Every day we pray it many times in our Divine Office. Sacred Time. I suspect some of us pray it privately, at our own pace, pausing when we want to linger. Like all of God’s Word, it rewards Contemplation.