Spiritual reading has gone high-tech. In growing numbers, Catholics are switching on their computers to listen to daily Mass readings, homilies and reflections. Many are using the latest iPod/MP3 offerings. They listen while exercising, cooking, driving, mopping the floor or folding laundry. They plug in to prepare for Mass, when unable to go to Mass, or to meditate on a Mass just attended.
How to know that the use of such media is soaring? Look at the supply side. EWTN is now seeing more than 10,000 downloads a day of Mass readings and homilies, according to Jeff Burson, manager of the network’s online services.
Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops’ daily lectionary podcast has doubled its listener count since it launched just over a year ago. Mary Elizabeth Sperry, associate director of USCCB Publishing, reports that the lectionary page on the bishops’ website is now receiving upwards of 8,000 hits a day; more than 2,000 people receive its automatic downloads every day.
Most intriguing of all, there are signs that the faithful are not lightly encountering God’s word but soaking in it in a way once thought reserved for monks and religious: by way of lectio divina.
And why not? Pope Benedict XVI has been promoting the ancient practice — the Latin is literally translated “divine reading”— since we still knew him as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
“Assiduous reading of sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer makes that intimate dialogue possible in which, through reading, one hears God speaking,” the Holy Father said of lectio divina just last summer. “One must never forget that the Word of God is a lamp for our steps and a light on our path.”
“I use the USCCB and EWTN daily Mass podcasts to do lectio,” one stay-at-home mother says, explaining that her daily duties make it difficult to find solid blocks of time to sit with Bible in hand. She also makes it a point to listen to a daily 15-minute Scripture reflection, “Food for the Journey,” on the Renewal Ministries website (renewalministries.net), and invites her family to listen in by putting her laptop on the dinner table.
Hundreds of Web pages are devoted to the teaching and practice of lectio divina on iPod, and in many languages. Both religious and laity from many walks of life have taken to sharing how the practice, first described by the Church Father Origen (ca. 185-254), has transformed their lives.
Their efforts to promote lectio on the Web are finding a friend in technology that allows users to hit pause as they listen to God’s word, ponder a verse and listen repeatedly if needed.
Soaking in Scripture
Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll, professor at Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore., has written and lectured on lectio divina. He says he is delighted to know that many people are making use of digital technology to experience Scripture in a life-changing way.
Meanwhile he cautions against any tendency to think that one can have a fill of God’s word by casually listening to Scripture.
“Lectio is not Scripture study or information gathering,” he explains. As listening to holy Scripture via iPod outside of Mass lends itself well to multi-tasking, he counsels bearing in mind that God’s word is but a means to the living Word: Christ himself.
“When I am doing lectio, I do it with an awareness that I am in Christ’s very presence in a unique way,” he says. “Thus, I bring reverence to the task, a reverence that helps me to detect this presence and to honor it for what it is. Likewise, I know that the Holy Spirit moves in me with special force during my encounter with the sacred text.”
Karl Schultz, author of How to Pray with the Bible: The Ancient Prayer of Lectio Divina Made Simple (OSV, 2007) and 10 other books on lectio divina as applied in various fields of endeavor, personally prefers to have Bible in hand in a quiet setting to pray with Scripture. As someone who, admittedly, finds it difficult to sit still and slow his mind, Schultz finds that reading Scripture slowly and, at times, aloud, is his preferred way to begin lectio divina.
“Although I wouldn’t consider myself a proponent of using electronic forms to ponder God’s word, I’d say make use of whatever means you have available to let God into your daily life,” he says.
Schultz concurs with Pope Benedict’s stated conviction that, “if effectively promoted, the practice of lectio divina will bring to the Church a new spiritual springtime.”
The author sees great hope in Pope Benedict’s call for a synod of bishops this coming October with the theme “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”
The gathering will aim, according to its draft guidelines, “to spark an appreciation and deep love of sacred Scripture so that the faithful might have easy access to it” and “to renew listening to the Word of God, in the liturgy and catechesis, specifically through lectio divina, duly adapted to various circumstances.”
‘Dialogue of Love’
By way of illustrating some of the fruits that can come from listening to God’s word online, EWTN’s Burson tells of a truck driver he met at an EWTN convention. “He told me that he burns EWTN’s programs onto a CD during weekends, listens to them during his long drives, then passes on the CD to others as a way to evangelize,” Burson recalls.
Evangelizing has never been easier with the advent of digital technology, he adds, pointing out that EWTN’s podcasts are in common use in many Third World villages.
Burson points out that EWTN’s founder, Mother Angelica, has always reminded EWTN’s staff to be “on the tip of technology ” — but to always regard technology as simply a means to an end. Burson sees Scripture, as it’s freely given online, as seeds that need to grow and be grounded in the faithful’s encounter with Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and in Eucharistic adoration.
In speaking of what could happen to a life saturated with God’s word in lectio, Pope Benedict refers to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, whose life showed “how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart.” (The quote is from his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte.)
One may also recall John Paul II’s vision of a new missionary age dawning and his reminder that the Church today, as never before, has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness or word, to all people and nations (Redemptoris Missio).
Googling for proof of signs of this new springtime reveals that the cyber missionaries of lectio divina have, indeed, been rising up to the challenge.
Jo Garcia-Cobb writes from
Mount Angel, Oregon.