(All Summer in the Little Oratory posts can be found here)
Last week’s post was a big one. This week is no less big, but only deals with one book: The Bible.
Yes. That book, you know, that you have and may not have opened, ever? That your godmother gave you for First Communion or your sponsor gifted you at Confirmation? Or maybe you got it for your wedding? You have it, and you think it’s a nice book, but you’ve never actually cracked the cover?
We’re going to fix that. Well, maybe. In any event, we’re going to talk about why you should read the Bible (and a bit of “how” to read it.)
I know a lot of people (myself included) have tried to read the Bible straight through, only to get discouraged around Leviticus. That’s OK. The Bible isn’t a continuous story–it’s a lot of different books that are written in different styles. You don’t have to read it in a linear fashion.
(And yes, Catholics do read the Bible. Catholics believe in the Bible. Don’t tell us we don’t, please. I know this is a point of some confusion for our Protestant brethren. But trust me when I say the Catholic Church has a lot of Bible going on. 🙂 )
So let’s turn to The Little Oratory and see what it tells us about reading and praying with the Bible.
First: “The Mass itself is Scripture from beginning to end” (80). “It is clear,” the authors write, “that to love God, we must know Him, and to know Him, we would naturally want to draw closer to Him in His Word.” (80)
But what is God’s Word? Just the Bible? Nope. Dei Verbum, the Vatican II document on the Scriptures, says that “The Word is everything the Church offers to us: Scripture, the Church (the Body of Christ), and above all, Jesus in the Eucharist, the Word Made Flesh. Knowing Jesus in His Word leads us to the full knowledge and overwhelming love of the most holy Trinity…when we know God’s word well, we find that our participation in the Liturgy–the life the Trinity shares with us–deepens as well.” (80)
A great wade to wade into reading the Scriptures is to focus on the readings from Mass. Magnificat magazine, which I adore, has the daily readings and other devotions in a portable monthly format, or you can go to the USCCB’s website for the daily readings. By reading the readings for Sunday ahead of time, we allow ourselves to become familiar with what we’re going to hear, and allow it to sink into our minds, perhaps inspiring prayer or other meditations on what we’ve read.
A formal way of reading scripture is lectio divina (“holy reading”). This is when “The Word of God is so read and meditated that it becomes prayer [and] is thus rooted in the liturgical celebration.” (CCC 1177) This has several parts.
The first thing you want to do is get a Bible in a beautiful and approved translation, as the authors of LO suggest. Once you have it, there are four parts to lectio.
- Lection/Reading: Select a passage to read. “It’s more than permissable–it’s advisable–to skip around the books of the Bible!” (81). One system I like is to start with the Gospels, reading through them, and beginning again. Or, start with the New Testament, in General, and read it straight through. (You might not want to read Revelation without a good commentary, however!). Whichever way you want to start, the authors suggest started with a prayer for receptivity to God’s word (“Come, Holy Spirit” will do), and then read. “As phrases catch your attention re-read them. If nothing in particular jumps out at you, you may reread the whole allotted passage a number of times, or simply let it sink in…God will speak to you. (82).”
- Meditatio/thinking: “In the Christian tradition, meditation means “meditate upon,” which is the same as “think about.” So in meditation, you do pause and allow for the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the form of thoughts and ideas; when these occur, you ponder over them.” (82)
- Oratio/prayer: Talk to God about what you’ve read, ask for help in certain areas–whatever your reading has inspired in you.
- Contemplatio/contemplation: This part is more receptive (83). “It is a state of stillness of mind, of just being with God.” (83) It won’t always happen, and that’s OK. We don’t have any control over that part.
“You may nor notice any dramatic indications of God’s presence, as some holy people report. However, you can be sure that God forms the person of goodwill during the time of receptivity. Good things may be happening without our awareness, just as we see that children’s bodies grow without their knowledge of the process.” (83)
(the C.S. Lewis Bible is more for meditation/contemplation purposes. I love it!)
I read and I don’t always feel great stirrings of the Spirit. But that’s OK. The important thing is to develop the habit of lectio, of reading God’s word and letting it sink into your mind and heart.