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.
St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs
2653, 2654, 2667
(c) Paul Buis, 2005