Lent is a time to fast, pray and give alms — more than we normally do. A time to go to Mass more often — perhaps daily — and a time to meditate more on the word of God.
This year, we have some help in making scriptural reading a better part of our Lenten observance.
It can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church). Pope Benedict issued the letter last November, two years after the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which met at the Vatican in October 2008.
“The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord,” writes the Pope. “The God who speaks teaches us how to speak to him.”
The apostolic exhortation is very long, and it’s worth reading. But in the interest of fostering greater reading of the word of God this Lent, we offer the following summary of the Holy Father’s recommendations for better Bible reading. He focuses on the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading).
This process, he explains, “opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: What does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas.”
For those who have no experience of lectio divina, it’s good to begin with a familiar or favorite passage, maybe a scene from the life of Christ. Put yourself into the scene, as if you were, say, one of the crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount or a member of the congregation in the synagogue when Jesus preached there.
“Next comes meditation (meditatio),” the Pope continues, “which asks: What does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged.
“Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: What do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us.
“Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves: What conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us?”
Contemplation, the Pope writes, “aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment.”
The Pope concludes: “We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.”
Benedict adds that the reading of the word of God “sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God.”
Words that are most certainly apropos for Lent.