Living prayer with the Word
If you start with Acts, Luke or Mark, you can pick it up and read it as a living story, as an encounter. There is a point in the Gospels where Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Evidence for your answer to this question is being offered to you.
If you start with John or Matthew it will not pay you to hit the ground running. Stop. Reflect. And above, all don’t read on from habit, when your attention has either been caught by something else or has simply shut down.
It is all about listening
Your all powerful Word leaped from heaven,
from your royal throne,
into the heart of a land that was doomed.
The Word of God is alive and active, it leaps down to the heart! It is immediate – even if you are not reading Mark; and ‘immediately’ is his favourite word.
Some people recommend you to have a Scripture commentary, but, frankly if you really need a commentary before you start to read Scripture, well:
1 The Holy Spirit, who stands behind the sacred authors would have got it written-up differently and
2 The Church would issue a formal commentary, regularly updated in the light of scholarship and archeology.
This is something that the Church has never done. From her earliest days the Church has promoted catechesis, that it the systematic summary of the teachings of the faith from the Catecheses of St Cyril of Jerusalem to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
But it has never presumed to upstage the Holy Spirit as the interpreter of Scripture for, as the Lord said, he shall teach you all things and bring all thinks to your remembrance.
It is a great thing to read the Bible with friends; to meet as a group, to pray for the Spirit’s leading and to share your own understanding. After you have read with attention in the Spirit, there may be questions you want to ask. It is rewarding to study the section in the Catechism on reading scripture (Article 3: Sacred Scripture 101 onwards). You may, after studying the text, find a good, modern, orthodox commentary will answer some of your questions. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is one that has received many recommendations. But don’t try answering questions until you have asked them!
The most profound presentation of the Word is the Dogmatic Constitution Verbum Dei. It has been called the most important and influential document of the II Vatican Council. It is short, but it is not simple and it caused more excitement at the time than any other document. A young professor of theology, Dr Joseph Ratzinger was one of the experts who helped to put it together, and as Benedict XVI he was still putting it together! In the five centuries that had preceded the Council, we had, outside the liturgy, rather lost sight of Scripture, perhaps because it is so simple a child can pick it up and so deep that saints and doctors of the Church fall down before it and so exciting that enthusiastic people with a cause to bolster up can isolate texts from their context and run off with them in all directions! Sometimes disastrously.
Don’t let that put a stumbling block between you and the Lord. It is not too simple, or too clever or too powerful for you. With the Holy Spirit, in the Church it is the voice of Jesus speaking to you…. and those who ask receive, those who seek find and to those who knock the door of the Word will be opened.
This is not a commentary on the Bible, but it is a wonderful introduction to it
The Word of the Lord abides for ever! Benedict XVI 30 September 2010
This highly readable presentation of scripture is available as html, but, unfortunately, the individual sections are not numbered in the text! Which makes navigation to interesting topics taxing.
Find it here
The PDF version is here and takes a lot of paper to print!!
Here is a taste of it!
The word of the Lord abides for ever. This word is the Gospel which was preached to you”. With this assertion from the First Letter of Saint Peter, which takes up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word. This word, which abides for ever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word “became flesh”.
Saint Augustine puts it: “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God”.
Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced, in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love.
In his Letter to Gregory, Origen gave this advice: “Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’.
By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’”.
Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.
We find the supreme synthesis and fulfilment of this process in the Mother of God. For every member of the faithful, Mary is the model of openness and acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51); she discovered the profound bond which unites, in God’s great plan, apparently disparate events, actions and things.