A Simple Approach to Lectio Divina With the Sermon on the Mount

By Archbishop Thomas Collins

Ave Maria Press, 2011

139 pages, $12.95

To order:

(800) 282-1865

Taking a multilayered approach to the Church’s ancient practice of lectio divina (divine reading), Archbishop Thomas Collins has written a recipe to help fill souls hungering for the word of God.

The archbishop of Toronto provides a combination of a handbook on prayer and personal reflections on St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The book is divided into nine chapters based on sessions he led at Toronto’s cathedral. “I go through the text, section by section,” he explains. “It is like spiritual lasagna: a layer of text, then a layer of my own reflections, ending with a question to consider regarding personal application of the text. That’s followed by a layer of silence, then a layer of text, and so on.”

The archbishop calls lectio divina a “prayerful encounter with the word of God,” and this book certainly aids that encounter. The reflections draw from the archbishop’s personal experiences, but he also makes a consistent effort to relate the Sermon on the Mount to the experiences of his readers as well as that of the whole Church. He uses pertinent and inspiring examples from the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Mary and the saints, as well as practical living, to illustrate Jesus’ words to his disciples, both past and present.

For example, his examination of the Our Father and the particular passage “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” yields this explanation, using images readers can relate to quite easily: “We often use the word ‘savior,’ but it has become so religious a word that it is like a crucifix on a wall that we do not see because it is always there. We forget the meaning of ‘savior,’ which is rescuer. It means the lifeguard diving in to pull us out of the water when we’re sinking. It means the firefighter rushing into the building to save us from the flames. That’s what the name ‘Jesus’ means; that is what a rescuer, a savior, is.”

The archbishop recommends that the practitioner of lectio divina focus on just one particular word or phrase from the Sermon on the Mount and slowly and quietly let it enter one’s heart. He is insistent that lectio divina is not teaching, preaching, catechesis, Bible study or exegesis: It is its own way of truly listening to the words of Jesus as if one were there on the side of the mountain hearing his words for the first time and letting those words sink in deeply.

The layout of the Scripture passages in the book can tend to be overly repetitive and create confusion at times. Frequently the same passage is repeated three times in italics over just two pages. They are part of the spiritual lasagna recipe, but it might be too much of a good thing. One clear passage set in bold at each chapter’s beginning might make it easier for the reader to do the focused listening that the writer recommends.

But it is a book full of warmth and wisdom. It is also an act in confidence that the Lord Jesus will give to the attentive reader and practitioner of lectio divina the same experiences of himself that have clearly filled Archbishop Collins.

Father Matthew Gamber writes from Chicago.