Lectio Divina is an ancient Christian practice of encountering Christ in the Scriptures. At St. Catherine’s we have developed a particular method of lectio divina that is particularly effective for small groups: for the building of communities of faith, listening to the Word of God, and growing in faith. The material we present below is being prepared into a small book which will soon be published and available for you to use.
Why does it seem like we Catholics have a complicated relationship with the Bible? Has it maybe become so commonplace that it has lost our interest? Or does it intimidate us and make us hesitant that we won’t understand its message correctly? Is reading the Bible one of those things we feel like we “should be doing,” but never seem to actually do? The reasons that we might have a complicated relationship with scripture are many. Yet somehow, something in our heart continues to incline us towards the scriptures. This something is the Holy Spirit, and he is constantly at work in us, inviting us to encounter the living God. In this small book, I would like to give an introduction on why the Bible is vital for our Christian faith, propose a version of the ancient Christian practice of Lectio Divina adapted for small groups, and offer a three-part cycle of scripture readings so that all of us might re-encounter the God who reveals himself to us and calls us to life in him.
Part I: Vital for Christian Life
Revelation: God Tells Us Who He Is
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).
The word that God the Father speaks is the Word, God the Son. When God the Father wanted us to know who he is, he spoke this Word to many and various writers, who through the Spirit wrote the texts of the bible that come down to us today. When we read the text of the bible, the Spirit works within us that we might come to know the Word of God, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity. The Word, the Son, tells us of his Father and his Spirit. He tells us who he is. This is why we call scripture “revelation,” because in it God reveals himself to us. The bible is a work of love and mercy of God who wants us to know who he is, who we are, what he has done for us, and the life that is possible for us.
Without the gift of revelation, people in every age and century have and always will guess about who or what God is. Does God exist? Is there one God or many gods? Did they create me? Do they expect or demand something from me? Do I owe them something? Do my actions make them happy or angry with me, and am I rewarded or punished accordingly? We ask these questions to explain and orient our existence. The answers to these questions have a profound impact on our life. This is why revelation is such an incredible gift. God doesn’t want us to live in ignorance or to blindly guess about these questions. He wants us to have certainty about who he is, what he thinks of us, what he has done for us, and what our future could be in him. St. Jerome famously said that “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we don’t know the scriptures, we don’t know God.
Scripture: Living and Effective
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
There’s something intimate and personal about the Word. He sees and knows the stuff of our minds and hearts. The encounter with the Word is a dynamic and personal experience between the Christian and God. Through the text of scripture, we come to know the profound truth about God and our life with him. Both by its content and its ability to make this personal encounter, scripture is unlike any other text we might come across in daily life. The difference is the Spirit. The non-Christian can read the text of the bible like any other ancient religious text to be studied. The Christian, through grace, has the in-dwelling and abiding presence of the Spirit. That Spirit which inspired the human writers thousands of years ago is the same Spirit that lives within the Christian by grace. Instead of stumbling in the dark about the questions of God and our life with him, the Spirit so powerfully reveals God to us that the difference is night and day.
Every time we read scripture there is the possibility of a dynamic encounter with God. We speak of this as a possibility of encounter for two reasons, one natural (at our particular human level), the other supernatural (at the level of God and his grace). At the natural level, we have to be well-disposed and prepared to listen to the voice of God and hear what he wants to say. Sometimes it is the busyness and noise of our everyday lives that keeps us from hearing the Word. At other times, our hearts might be closed to the graces of on-going conversion. The message that the Father speaks to us is so profound that it is always “living and effective,” it invites us to go deeper, to give more, to love more, to be increasingly humbled before the awesomeness of God and to ask him for forgiveness and mercy. At the supernatural level we encounter the mystery of God who is a generous giver of his great gifts. Yet he is also the “wise and prudent steward” of the Gospels par excellence (Luke 12:42), who knows when and how to give certain graces to us, as we are prepared for them, throughout the pilgrimage of our life.
In the end, revelation exists because God wants us to know who he is. He wants us to live in the light, and not to stumble around in the darkness. When we not only read, but pray with the scriptures, we encounter the mystery of the Word. To be named “Christian” is to have been “buried with him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4), to have “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14), and “living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
Part II: Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina (pronounced lek-see-o div-een-a) is Latin for “divine reading,” and it is an ancient Christian way to pray with Scripture. The phrase covers a whole host of ways, ancient or modern, strictly or loosely defined, to encounter the Living and Eternal Word of the Father: Jesus Christ. The preeminent way to meet Jesus Christ is in the Holy Mass where we encounter him both in his Word (the reading of the scriptures) and in Sacrament (the Eucharist, his body and blood). Through the richness of this encounter at the Mass, the Church has always proposed ways of remaining with Jesus even after the Mass. To remain near to his Body, Catholics throughout the world visit churches to be near Jesus’ Body in the tabernacle. To remain near to his Word, Christians throughout the world read and pray the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Lectio Divina is but one way that we might read and pray with Scripture to meet Jesus Christ in and through his very words. The purpose of this introduction is not to define the only way of lectio divina, but to propose one way that it could be done. In our experience, the method we propose is well-suited to build and form communities of faith through Lectio Divina in small groups.
Prayer: Better Together
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
By doing Lectio Divina in a small group you will experience the truth of this Gospel. The Spirit that is at work within us when we read scripture in private prayer multiplies when we read the scriptures together. Why? Because when gathered together we experience something of the power of the Body of Christ, the Church. When I pray with the Gospel by myself, I only ever “hear” it internally in my own voice. My attention is directed to the words, phrases, and images that only my mind is perceiving. When I hear the Gospel read by another person (and another) in the context of a small group, the words sound subtly different, certain words and phrases and images begin to look different to me, and I see and hear something beyond what I myself might have discovered. When “two or three are gathered together,” the Spirit is more strongly and subtly at work so that we might hear the Word that God speaks to us. In a traditional way of things, Lectio Divina is usually done alone. When done together, you might find praying with scripture to become much more possible, regular, and spiritually rewarding.
A Method of Lectio Divina for Small Groups
Size. We have found it helpful that a lectio group be no more than seven people. To be a group lectio, it must necessarily be no less than two people.
Commitment. To be open to an encounter with the Word requires a certain vulnerability with God, and therefore a kind of trust, privacy, and respect is required between the members of a small group. In this group setting for prayer, we are primarily growing in our relationship with God, but we also discover that the fruitfulness of this encounter extends to the building of relationships between one another. From this relationship with one another, it is important that members commit to lectio meetings at the agreed-upon interval (e.g., weekly), and for a certain period of time (e.g., semester, quarter, liturgical season, etc.). With lectio groups that follow an specified sequence members cannot drop out and rejoin at a later date. Especially in the three part sequence in this book, it is very important that people go through each distinct phase. Because of this, it may be necessary to ask an irregularly attending member or someone who has dropped out and wants to rejoin, to wait until they can commit to another group.
Time. The group should have a well-communicated duration. For the lectio portion itself, it should be no less than twenty minutes but no more than forty-five minutes. It is for the leader of the group to be attentive to time and end the prayer accordingly. Even if the prayer is going well and people are engaged, out of respect for the time of others, it must end at the cut-off maximum of forty-five minutes. If between the twenty and forty-five minute mark the group lulls and significant periods of silence emerge, this is an appropriate time to close the prayer.
Location. A lectio group could meet anywhere, but not all locations are conducive to prayer. To establish a space intended for prayer, the group should be able to light a candle (signifying the presence of the Spirit) and/or place a holy icon in the center of the group. When selecting a location, the leader and group should be very attentive to the possibility of significant distractions and plan accordingly.
Eliminate Distractions. To listen to someone takes attention, and therefore a certain amount of effort. It is easy to become weary and distracted, turning one’s attention away from the Word. Here are some recommendations to eliminate distractions:
No eating or drinking; we normally don’t do this during prayer.
Avoid locations with loud background noises or conversations.
Keep phones put away.
For groups composed of unmarried people, making separate mens and womens groups.
Part III: A Three Step Plan
Based off of the Light-Life movement from Poland, we propose below a three step plan of scriptures for the forming of mature Christian disciples. The three parts are Encountering Christ, Healing and Moral Liberation, and Life in Christ. Below is a brief introduction of each section, and a selection of 14 passages of scripture for each. A small group could move through each step over the course of an academic year, or in any pacing. Only note: the steps are designed as an intentional sequence, don’t skip to Moral Liberation or Life in Christ without first praying with the previous sections!
In these Gospels Jesus meets people. What does it look like when people run into Jesus for the first time? How does he speak to them? What kinds of reactions to they have to him?
We are always encountering and re-encountering Christ. Regardless of where you’re at in the pilgrimage of faith, God is always inviting you to meet him again and anew.
John 2: 1-11
Mark 10: 17-22
Matthew 14: 22-36
Mark 1: 14-20
Matthew 2: 1-12
Matthew 17: 1-8
Mark 10: 17-22
John 20: 11-18
John 20: 19-23
John 20: 24-29
Mark 15: 1-5
Healing and Moral Liberation
After meeting Christ, he invites you to follow him, and he gives you the graces to begin (again) the path of conversion. In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly performing the works of the Messiah: he is healing. Why does he heal so freely? How has he healed me? What part of my life do I desperately want and need the healing of Jesus?
Mark 1: 40-45
Matthew 8: 5-13
Mark 2: 1-12
Matthew 9: 18-26
Luke 7: 11-17
Mark 5: 1-20
Matthew 12: 9-15
Mark 9: 14-29
Luke 8: 40-42, 49-56
Mark 10: 46-52
Luke 11: 14-26
John 5: 1-15
Luke 17: 11-19
John 11: 1-5, 17-27, 38-43
Life in Christ
After meeting him and being healed by him, what’s next? These selections focus on the Acts of the Apostles, where we see how the very first Christians lived. After being with Jesus, after witnessing his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, after the Ascension, after they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, what do they do? How is Jesus calling me to live in him? What does it actually look like to follow him and be a member of his Body the Church?
Acts 1: 1-14
Acts 2: 1-12
Acts 2: 42-47
Acts 3: 1-10, 12-21
Acts 8: 54-60
Acts 9: 1-9
Acts 9: 32-42
Acts 11: 19-26
Acts 12: 1-14
Acts 13: 1-12
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29
Acts 17: 25-34
Acts 18: 1-11
Acts 19: 24-28