"Lectio divina," an antique scriptural meditative practice, is an ideal way for modern Catholics to unplug from worldly distractions and establish holy intimacy, enduring friendship and fruitful companionship with Jesus Christ, according to Trappist Brother Simeon Leiva.
Brother Leiva, a Scripture scholar and monk at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass., said encountering the living Christ in shared knowledge and love is transformative and challenging. "The word of God must never be a calming narcotic. God calls us out of our comfort zone and offers us new life on his own conditions," he said.
"The movement toward Jesus requires bravery and generosity and is both exciting and frightening," Brother Leiva said."Lectio divina" -- "the reading of the sacred" or "the divine reading" -- dates from the second century. It uses a pattern of reading, reflection, prayer, thought and action to meditate on short scriptural passages.
Brother Leiva addressed priests of the Archdiocese of New York Dec. 9 at the American Bible Society's launch of two books dedicated to the practice: "The Catholic Prayer Bible -- 'Lectio Divina' Edition" and "Pray With the Bible, Meditate With the Word -- a Manual for the Prayerful
Reading of the Bible."
The new books are a timely reaction to a post-synodal article in which Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians to get to know the Scriptures better."Verbum Domini" ("The Word of the Lord") is an apostolic exhortation on the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. In it and in earlier statements, Pope Benedict optional "lectio divina" as an effective way to encounter Christ in Scripture and respond with openness and generosity.
Brother Leiva said "lectio divina" cultivates the human heart to activate to its uppermost potential and helps bring Christian souls to their natural state with Jesus Christ at the center of their being. "Union with Jesus is the whole of my life and my association with him is the primal relationship that invigorates all others," he said.
He described "lectio divina" as leisurely, ruminative, cordial, contemplative, disinterested, provocative, ecclesial and mystagogical. "Each session of 'lectio' is a unassuming foretaste of heavenly experiences," he said. He called "lectio divina" a tool to "make our lives themselves a living exegesis of the Word."
Brother Leiva told Catholic News Service that "lectio divina" is "a Catholic way to decompress and pray at the same time. For whatever reason you practice it, it requires you to slow down and unplug yourself. It's healthy and it's very achievable."
Paraphrasing St. Bernard, the Trappist said, "'Stay at home, you may receive an significant visitor.' "'Lectio divina' is coming home to oneself."Mario Paredes, presidential liaison to the American Bible Society's Catholic ministries, said the "lectio divina" initiative is an effort to get the Bible read. "We have studies that show there is an excess of Bibles, three to five in each household, but the problem is that no one is reading them," Paredes said. "We're uneven tactics. 'Lectio divina' is not a Bible course, but an invitation to read the Bible carefully."
Paredes said the Bible society provides the "lectio divina" materials in English and Spanish and organizes and subsidizes training sessions for parish leaders in dioceses across the United States. He said 2,000 people attended training in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Miami, Houston, Brooklyn, N.Y., Chicago, Newark, N.J., and Norwich and Bridgeport, Conn., and are now training others.
Paredes said "lectio divina" is an effective tool to "redirect the enthusiasm of the charismatic movement."He told CNS, "There are many charismatic groups that read and interpret the Bible in a very free way. 'Lectio divina' helps people really know and develop a reading of Scripture within the framework of the teaching and tradition of the church."