Praying With Scripture

How easy it is to fall into the routine of responding "Thanks be to God" whenever we hear someone say "The Word of the Lord". At times, it almost seems as if "The Word of the Lord" is a wake-up call after we have daydreamed for a little while - are we really thankful, or are we even aware, of this great Gift given to us in the Word of the Lord?

Mary of Bethany treasured this Word. While her sister Martha was distracted with much serving, Mary received the Lord into her house, and sat at His feet to listen to His teaching. When Martha complained about Mary not helping, the Lord replied: ""Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10.41-42). Do we take the time to receive the Lord into our hearts when we hear the words "A reading from the book…"? Do we find the presence of mind to remain in peace, listening attentively at His feet while the reading is spoken, or are we distracted like Martha, thinking about the things that vie for our attention rather than the Word?

In the Transfiguration, when the glory of Jesus was revealed to three of the Apostles, they heard the words of the Father spoken: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." (Matthew 17.5) Even today, these words are given to us as a reminder to recall the great gift that the Father has given to us in His Son. When we listen to Him as we are called to do, we open our hearts to accept the message contained in the words spoken. We call to mind the teaching behind the words, and we ponder the meaning. We respond verbally with thanksgiving, and internally with a resolve to welcome the message of the Word deep within. We allow the Word to take root and become part of us.

In listening to the Word, we try to minimize the internal noise of the many distractions clamoring for our attention. St. John of the Cross explains: "We shut the door to all things [from which] distraction may come, causing the memory to be still and dumb, and the ear of the spirit to be attentive, in silence, to God alone, saying with the Prophet: "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. [1 Sm. 3.10]." (Ascent of Mount Carmel, III.3.5).

Listening is not only part of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass; it is a fundamental part of our personal prayer. If we only speak to the Lord without listening to Him, how will our relationship with Him ever grow? We have often heard it said that "listening is the first duty of love."

A practical way to invite Him to speak to us, and then to practice our listening, is divine reading (or lectio divina). Lectio Divina is a practical method of reading the Word of God properly. Let us break open the bible to the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4.1-20). Finding a quiet and peaceful place, let us read the passage very slowly, pronouncing each syllable with care. Let the words be heard clearly as they are spoken out loud. Repeat each verse slowly as needed to allow it to soak in. As we read, let us ponder the meaning of the words in our minds, and cherish them in our hearts. After five or ten minutes of reading a short passage in this way, it becomes planted in our hearts. Let us spend another five or ten minutes pondering the meaning of the passage, relating to it as best as we can with the understanding we have been given. Then let us respond to the message we have heard with a resolve to take what we learned to heart and to put it into practice the next day.

This poem captures the beauty of the prayer of listening to the Word deeply and meditatively, from the perspective of Mary of Bethany.

Listen To Him

Mary welcomes Him from her heart,
And nestles at His feet to hear
Each word His lips are to impart --
Her mind is attentive and clear.

Like parched soil in early spring,
Her heart awaits to hear Him speak;
The rains of grace shower, stirring
Her heart to hold the Word she seeks.

The Word she hears becomes like seed:
In listening, this Word is sown;
The rains of grace nurture her need,
For this Word to mature full-grown.

He will speak to the heart that hears:
That cherishes the Word He brings;
That opens to Him as He nears -
And responds with heart-felt stirrings.

The seed that bears fruit is the Word;
How fertile are the hearts that heard!

Holy Spirit, open our ears
And hearts to welcome the Word in;
Form in us a true heart that hears
That the Word may take root within. Amen.


St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2653, 2654, 2667

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2005