By Jean Khoury

Summary: Primarily we will delineate the “status questionis”. Thereafter we will suggest some criteria of discernment to address the possible place for a practice of Lectio Divina in Carmel. Finally, we will try to explore, in the Carmelites Doctors, ways for a possible practice of Lectio Divina. As a result, we will see that the work that Lectio Divina achieves takes the place of the work of the virtues in the book Way of Perfection.

Note: My perspective is that of the Formation in Spiritual Life: science, experience and discernment combined.

[Please check the following videos on the same subject: Video A1  Video A2 and Video B.]

The Contents of our presentation now follows:

Introduction

Part I: Defining the Elements

1- Lectio Divina

2- Contemplative Prayer According to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross

3- Carmel and the Word of God

Part II: Criteria of Discernment

1- “Outstanding Pairs”

2- Important Points in Spiritual Formation

3- Avoid Confusing the Different Types of Prayer

4- Special Attention to the Importance of the Historical Context

Part III: What Can Be Done Today?

1- St. John of the Cross

2- St. Teresa of Avila

3- St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus

Conclusion


 

Introduction

This contribution intends to explore the relationship between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer[1] in the Carmelite Tradition by answering the questions that arise, as follows. Would it be viable to combine Lectio Divina with Contemplative Prayer? Is Lectio Divina supposed to replace Contemplative Prayer? Should Lectio Divina, as a distinct way of prayer, take place side by side with Contemplative Prayer, as St. Teresa of Avila advocated for “the work of the virtues” in her pedagogical masterpiece, Way of Perfection? Is Lectio Divina as fruitful as “the work of the virtues”? Can Lectio Divina replace it? How can this be done?

Admittedly this type of questioning is very recent, since it was only after Vatican II that the Church became aware of the existence and practice of Lectio Divina[2]. No Carmelite author or document prior to Vatican II mentions Lectio Divina. Therefore, the question we are asking today regarding the relationship between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayerin the Carmelite Tradition is strictly made retrospectively. We can’t ask St. Teresa of Avila to talk to us about Lectio Divina – even in her time there wasn’t any such expression as Lectio Divina. At best we can find (as will be shown below) some elements of the Medieval Lectio Divina (i.e. Reading, Meditating[3], Praying, Contemplating) here and there in the first and the second generation of the Reformed Carmel. In no way can one find a proper distinction between Contemplative Prayer and Lectio Divina. This distinction has evolved mainly because of the slow post-Vatican II discovery of Lectio Divina and the possible recent acknowledgement of the difference between these two forms of prayer.

I would also like to stress from the start that, the reflection on this new phenomenon – i.e. the emergence of Lectio Divina– forces us to think of the possible existence of two types of contemplation, one we already know, very deep, proper rather to Contemplative Prayer and a “new” one proper to Lectio Divina – a contemplation to be explored.

PART I: DEFINING THE ELEMENTS

1- Lectio Divina

Today’s Lectio Divina

Before asking ourselves “What is Lectio Divina?”, it would be advantageous to say something about the way our actual discovery of it came about.

Council Vatican II is the fruit of around sixty years of renewal in many important fields: liturgy, Fathers of the Church, exegesis, … With its documents and more especially Sacrosantum Concilium, Dei Verbum, the Council exhorted us to place the Bible, the Word of God, at the centre of our prayer life. Also, as a result of this return of the Bible from exile we have the new Lectionary of 1969, which offers a far greater number of Biblical texts on a daily and weekly basis. Unwittingly this Lectionary initiated a momentous change, a silent revolution. Spontaneously, in many countries, especially facilitated by the availability of the monthly missals offering the daily readings, faithful (lay and priests) started to place the Word of God found in the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the centre of their prayer! The desire to listen to God was generated by the spontaneous reading of the daily readings. A new “lay” or “liturgical” practice of Lectio Divina was born! It cannot be compared with the classic monastic Lectio Divina that has come down to us through the centuries. Even if many now endorsed the four-fold content of the mediaeval summary of Lectio Divina (i.e. read, meditate, pray, contemplate), today’s Lection Divina is something slightly different. There is no opposition between them, they are just different. Again, when one thinks about the time the monks have available for ruminating or Lectio Divina, it is not feasible for the daily life of the faithful. One needs to pay attention to this difference.

Then too, the real practice of Lectio Divina existed before the Middle Ages! It came from the Liturgy, from Day One, from the time the Apostles had integrated the Sabbath readings and added the new readings of the New Testament. Then the Desert Fathers lived it not only in the ruminating and reflecting form but also in the memory form[4]. Then it was developed by the Fathers of the Church who read and commented upon the Mass readings. Indeed, ruminating upon the Word of God was and has always been the main activity of the Monk and the Hermit. Many monastic Rules can testify to this, and among them the Carmelite Rule.

But, today’s perception and practice of Lectio Divina is slightly different. If we accept that a Benedictine is still capable today of having a three-hour Lectio in his monastery, including study of the bible and research in the patristic tradition, then today’s experience of Lectio Divina among the people of God will be seen to be different, more “portable” (i.e. an hour can suffice) more prayerful, more to the point. In this sense it is important to acknowledge the new phenomenon.

A new spontaneous way of practising Lectio Divina by the laity and parish priests has emerged. For the first time in history.

Now, how can we define Lectio Divina today? In order to do so, and despite the tendency and the trend of using the too-short mediaeval definition of Guigo the Carthusian (Reading, Meditating, Praying, Contemplating), it would be good to digress a little from it and stick to a definition closer to that of the Bible and the Fathers the Church, namely: Lectio Divina is “to listen to the Word of Jesus to us through the readings of Scripture and to put it into practice”. To list and to put into practice. Two important moments. The Lord himself reminds us of this basic truth of the Gospel and sums it up: “Not everyone who is saying to me: Lord, Lord, shall come into the reign of God, but those who keep my Word” (Mt. 7:21+; Lk. 6, 46-49). He invites us to build our lives on the rock, the Word of God, so that it may be everlasting (see Matthew 7). When someone speaks to Him of his mother and his brothers, He teaches us saying: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (cf. Lk. 8:19+). He reminds us also that whoever truly loves Him will keep his commandments. (see Jn. 14:21.23 and Mt. 7:24.26).

In Mediaeval times, however, we witness a split in the initial way of practising theology by the Fathers of the Church. Theology departs from the practice of the Monasteries and the Cathedral Schools and changes aspect into University Theology, i.e., Scholastic theology. More intellectual, it will stop nourishing the people of God in the cities and they will take refuge in a more silent type of prayer, which will be Contemplative Prayer or “Mental Prayer”. The new period and style in spiritual life in the Church is called Devotio Moderna. In a way, and unwillingly, it will ironically isolate the people of God from the Bible – but not the monasteries. The Imitation of Christ is the main book now that will nourish spiritual life. This trend will continue and will be even more accentuated during the Counter-Reformation, despite various renewals of Bible studies in the golden century in Spain (XVth) and in France (XVIth), when the Bible will “go into exile”.

Let us briefly pause and recall the Castilian translation of the Bible, for instance, that was taken out of circulation because of certain “dangers”. “The Index of Toledo (1551), then that of Valdes (1559) and finally that of Quiroga (1583) prohibited the publication and reading of the Bible in the vernacular “[5]. “The introduction of Bibles translated or commented on by suspicious or openly heterodox authors forces [the Inquisition] to complete the list of the prohibited books using constant updated letters.” (Ibid. p. 144).

Next the era of the Counter Reformation focused almost totally on the sacraments and on mental prayer, causing considerable neglect of the use of the Bible. Significantly, though, throughout these difficult times when the Bible was in exile, the practice of Lectio Divina continued silently in the Monasteries, but unfortunately it stayed confined inside of them.

In this sense we need to acknowledge that we live in amazing times For the first time in history all of us can have access to excellent translations of the Bible, with introductions and footnotes, as well as excellent study bibles. We easily forget that it was only in mid last century that, for instance, girls who entered the Carmelite monasteries possessed an entire Bible! St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus for instance didn’t have a full bible in the Monastery! This access to the Scriptures is truly an amazing opportunity for us and for our prayer life.

It is important to understand what Lectio Divina realises on a daily basis: first and foremost, it links us directly to Jesus. Our eyes are fixed on the Risen Lord, and by his grace we learn to become able to Listen to Him. True supernatural Lectio Divina is very challenging: on a daily basis it pushes us out of our comfort zone, invites us to come out of ourselves in a true act of Love. In fact, listening and putting the Lord’s word into practice is an Act of Love (see Jn. 14:21 and 23). Through it the Lord teaches us how to follow Him and how to love the others. It helps us receive the healing power of God.

Other Interpretations of Lectio Divina

The awareness of Lectio Divina emerged slowly from the 1980s, through to the 1990s, finally reaching the 2000s with Pope Benedict. We have many intellectual reactions to the phenomenon – a sincere desire to seize the opportunity and the grace. Despite that and very quickly some “new” interpretations of Lectio Divina have been born. Today one can easily find books offering a Lectio Divina on this or that Gospel or book of the Bible. However, this use means that the author is offering his own spiritual meditation on the sacred text! This is an undoubted deviation of the use of the expression Lectio Divina.

Another deviation, intellectual in nature, thinks that Lectio Divina is about finding the different spiritual meanings of the text, following the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church in their spiritual interpretation. Abundant developments along these lines can be found in the works of Henri de Lubac: “Mediaeval Exegesis” and “Spirit and History” (on Origen’s exegesis). All masterpieces.

Lectio Divina, it must be stressed, is not a spiritual intellectual endeavour that aims to understand the text! Its raison d’être is to listen to the Lord and put his word into practice! The distance between the two is stellar.

2- Contemplative Prayer According to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross

As mentioned above, we use here the expression Contemplative Prayer to mean “Oratio Mentalis” (Mental Prayer), or “oración” (in Spanish) as taught by St. Teresa of Avila.

St. Teresa of Avila begins by speaking of the effort of recollecting ourselves. This is our role and the effort we must make based on the “general help of the grace of God”. God’s response is in fact the particular help of the grace of God, which is the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit which St. Teresa describes using diverse expressions, for example, the “supernatural” (see 4th Mansions, 1) or “supernatural recollection”. The most common one is: “Prayer of Quiet”, followed closely by the “Prayer of Union”. Supernatural contemplation is therefore the second most important ingredient of Contemplative Prayer for St. Teresa of Avila, with the effort we make to become recollected as its first part.

When it comes to defining Contemplative Prayer according to St. Teresa, however, it is better to offer one that relies on the extensive description of Teresa of Avila without falling into the cliché of quoting a text by taking it out of its context[6]. What is Contemplation then according to the saint? It is to be in the deepest part of God or being immersed in God.

We would like to stay with Contemplative Prayer as it is presented by St. Teresa of Avila in her books, especially the Way of Perfection, as well as all the supernatural stages, from the supernatural recollection to Prayer of Quiet, Prayer of Union… It is the supernatural response of God to our recollection that must be emphasised, and this, furthermore, is in total unity with the teaching of St. John of the Cross.

In the Way of Perfection not only do we have the pedagogical masterpiece of St. Teresa of Avila, but we have also the fundamental rules of spiritual life, valid for all of us, which we necessarily have to understand and practise. Also summarised next is what could be considered as the main lesson of her Conversion. Here, then, are the two parts of her book which correspond to two important elements of Spiritual Life:

Recollection Itself

To briefly reiterate the above, St. Teresa not only teaches the necessity for recollection in Contemplative Prayer in Chapters 26, 28 and 29 of the Way of Perfection, but she also describes God’s nourishing response to our efforts in Chapters 30 and 31.

Working on The Virtues: Conditions for Growt

Practising Contemplative Prayer twice on a daily basis is not enough in the pedagogy of St. Teresa of Avila. She is very clear on this. This point is fundamental in our reflection here on comparing Contemplative Prayer and Lectio Divina. It should be recognised as essential that this other side of Contemplative Prayer complements it, makes it work and makes us grow. It is the fundamental lesson of her conversion. The link between this teaching (essentially found in her pedagogical book, aforementioned, which was written for the reformed monastery) and her conversion is rarely underlined by the commentators. Let us examine it in her works and teaching:

a- Perfection

In the mind of St. Teresa when she wrote the Way of Perfection, the word “Perfection” means a specific quality in the practice of the virtues. In fact, she offers us three Evangelical virtues to practice, Humility, Detachment and Charity, but the key to her teaching lies in the fact that there are two ways of practising each virtue, and both are spiritual: one is not perfect and the other is. All her genius in the first part of the Way of Perfection is to show us the difference between these two types of practice. And by doing this, she is forcing us to cross a threshold. The threshold is a threshold of perfection, a trigger for the Grace of Contemplation, a perfect way to offer ourselves, to commit totally to Jesus during our daily life.

In this sense, if these three virtues are practised “perfectly” they will trigger the graces of God during the practice of Contemplative Prayer. One triggers the other!

b- Understanding Her Conversion

Studying her conversion and the connection between the main teaching of the Way of Perfection is of the utmost importance in order to understand St. Teresa’s teaching. To start with she practised Contemplative Prayer for years before her conversion. But it never triggered the amazing exponential growth that we witness after her conversion. What was the secret? She mentions it in Chapter 16 of the Way of Perfection, in the Ms. Escorial and in her Autobiography in chapters 6-9 and 23-24. It occurred only after meeting one of the priests who was key in her conversion and who said to her that she needed to pay serious attention to mortification (ascesis) and to the practice of the virtues.

Then for the first time she began to understand that there was a link between the practice of Contemplative Prayer and its backbone: working on the virtues.

We tend to consider that her conversion was purely a grace given from God, and we forget that it took her around two years to succeed and to take on board the precise role of the solid advice given by this priest. In other words, it was not enough to practise Contemplative Prayer but it had to be backed by and complemented with a serious commitment to the practice of the virtues. It is only when we read the Way of Perfection, where she has the opportunity to present her full pedagogy, that we understand this key factor in her conversion. In a way, the structure of the Way of Perfection epitomises the key trigger of her conversion. It shows what was lacking in her many years’ practice of Contemplative Prayer and the secret of her exponential growth. The serious commitment to the practice of the virtues, crossing the threshold of quality to a perfect way, embodied a powerful gift of herself to Jesus and allowed the graces of God to be poured into her.

c- “You will stay there”

In Chapter 16 of the Way of Perfection St. Teresa states very clearly the link between the two aspects. She says that if we don’t practice the virtues “we will stay there” (i.e. not move ahead, no growth). In fact, we can better understand the link between the two parts of the book and why she seriously delayed starting to speak about “Contemplation”. Let us remember that the motivation which sparked off the writing of this book was in answer to her nuns’ request to talk to them about “Contemplation”. It takes her almost half of the book to lay bare the secret of triggering contemplation: total perfect commitment in the practice of the Evangelical three virtues. This is the secret. If we give ourselves to Jesus totally, He in turn gives himself to us.

d- “You will remain dwarfs”

In her book the  “Interior Castle” (7th Mansions 4,9) she comes back to this central point in her teaching and says that one can practise Contemplative Prayer all one’s life, but if one doesn’t pay attention to working on the virtues one will remain like a dwarf in the Spiritual Life, in the sense that growth will not occur! We see clearly here again the same teaching

e- To learn to “checkmate” Jesus (Way of Perfection 16)

In one of her most beautiful texts, she teaches us the secret of spiritual growth, in other words, how to trigger the Grace of God. She uses an element of the game of Chess, which is to checkmate the opponent’s King. By this she means by that in order to “force” the king (i.e. Jesus) to give out his grace, we need to “corner him” as we would do for  checkmate in Chess, and we do this by the total gift of ourselves, in reality, practising to perfection the three evangelical virtues.

This is a passage of sheer genius that ought to be remembered every day.

Please note that “forcing God” to give himself is not an unusual expression or a heterodox one. St. John of the Cross himself uses a similar expression in the “Spiritual Canticle” where he says that practising Charity toward our brothers, is like pushing God to give himself to us. (see below note 18).

f- Gift of oneself as a condition for contemplation

Through all the above, we sense one of the fundamental rules or equations of spiritual life: the more we give ourselves to Him the more Jesus gives himself to us.

The supernatural action of God

The key factor of growth in spiritual life is to learn how to put ourselves in the Hand of God, so the Holy Spirit can realise the in-depth and vital work in us of, purification, growth and transformation. In Contemplative Prayer in order to do this, our part is to use the general help of the grace of God so as to maximise the influence of His work, i.e., to give us the particular help of His Grace. Hence the need to remind ourselves about the fundamental teaching on the importance of “supernatural contemplation” (needed pleonasm).

3- Carmel and the Word of God

Rule of Carmel and praying with the Bible

No doubt the Carmelite Rule, well rooted in the jargon and mind of the Fathers of the Church and the Desert Fathers, alludes in its main recommendation[7] to a certain practice of Lectio Divina, and very probably to the “ruminatio” of the Word of God[8].

In the 16th Century, St. Teresa offered an interpretation of this central recommendation of the Rule that is more oriented toward Contemplative Prayer. In fact, “all the historians recognise that Teresa of Avila was never able to read the Sacred Text in a partial or complete Bible, neither in Latin (which she did not know) nor even in Castilian. She could therefore only have access to the Holy Scriptures through her “prayer books (…)”[9] and the “Life of Christ” by Ludolph of Saxony, the Carthusian, which she advised the nuns to read (see Constitutions, 8).

As we mentioned above the Bible in Spanish was taken out of circulation because of the Index of Toledo (1551), then that of Valdes (1559) and finally that of Quiroga (1583)[10].

This may be the reason why the Lord appeared to her and told her that He would be her living book:

“When they prohibited the reading of many books in the vernacular, I felt that interdiction very much because reading some of them was an enjoyment for me, and I could no longer do so since only Latin editions were allowed. The Lord then said to me: ‘Don’t be sad, for I will give you a living book.’ I could not understand why this was said to me, since I had not yet experienced any visions. Afterward, just a few days later, I understood very clearly, because I received so much to think about and such recollection in the presence of what I saw, and the Lord showed so much love for me by teaching me in many ways, that I had little or almost no need for books. His Majesty had become a true book in which I saw the truths. Blessed be such a book that leaves what must be read and done so deeply imprinted that you cannot forget!” (Autobiography 26,5).

The Lord, in fact, appeared to her in 1559 (year of the Index of Valdes), when other spiritual books were withdrawn.

We can conclude with the words of Fr. Jesus Castellano: “Even if we have to recognise that the contact of the Saint with the Word of God has been fragmentary, sometimes veiled because of the Latin and impoverished because of the lack of a global vision of the Biblical message, we need to acknowledge the decisive weight that the Word of God has in her spiritual formation and magisterium.”[11]

Generally speaking, then, during the period of the “devotio moderna”, spirituality found a form of prayer that replaced Lectio Divina. Contemplative Prayer became a pious exercise independent from “spiritual reading”, i.e. which was no longer nourished mainly by the Bible; this lasted well into the 20th century and up to the beginning of the “return to Sacred Scripture”[12].

We also know that St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus did not have access to all of the Scriptures in her Carmel in Lisieux. This was common in the Carmels of women until the 1950s.

This explains why St. Teresa of Jesus does not talk about the Scriptures in her writings or, more precisely, why she does not introduce them into her teaching on Prayer. This silence leaves us unsatisfied. Today it is impossible to read her works without introducing this correction: “What would she have taught if she had had access to the Bible?” The Way of Perfection would certainly have been modified, in the sense that the element permitting “the check and checkmate” of the Lord[13] would have been formulated differently, since listening to the Lord through Scripture allows us to give ourselves to Him by conforming our will to His. Thus, in Lectio, it is easy to find the three virtues of St. Teresa of Jesus – humility, fraternal love and detachment – which propel us forward to the gift of self, and still more.

By contrast, Scripture is very present in the works of St. John of the Cross. He does not, of course, indicate a precise method for meditating it. But taking his inspiration from Guigo I the Carthusian and the patristic heritage of the entire medieval period, he says: “Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation”[14]. His writings reveal a steadfast reading of Scripture as well as a deep understanding of it, which can only be fruits of this practice, and which can be deduced from “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” Book II chapters 19 to 22[15]. Fr. Louis Guillet, o.c.d., in his posthumous work, presented a beautiful interpretation of these four chapters: he considered in a new and deep way St. John’s reading of the Bible[16]. In fact, the works of Jean Vilnet[17] and other authors have been incomplete in this area.

a- The methods of Contemplative Prayer in Carmel’s history

First, we have the book on Contemplative Prayer written at the beginning of the Discalced Carmelites’ Reform (and signed by St. John of the Cross!). Here the method for Contemplative Prayer offered speaks about “reading” as a step but doesn’t specify at all if “reading” means reading from the Scriptures. The structure very much follows Guigo on Lectio Divina and creates confusion because monastic Lectio Divina is not Contemplative Prayer. The steps are as follows: 1. Preparation, 2. Reading, 3. Meditation, 4. Contemplation, 5. Thanksgiving, 6. Petition, 7. Epilogue

What does “Contemplation” exactly imply for them? Since the only contemplation taught was the one of St. John of the Cross, a rather a deep one, and not the Lectio Divina one.

The same applies for the “Instructions for Novices” (in both the Spanish and Italian Congregations). In my view, their presentation of Contemplative Prayer creates confusion.

Note: The confusion arises as “meditating” is considered by many as a necessary step in Contemplative Prayer toward contemplation for beginners. Therefore, to offer the same plan for a beginner and for an advanced person is questionable. There is a moment when one will cross from “Meditation” to “Contemplation” (see St. John of the Cross’ three signs of the beginning of Contemplation).

As a consequence of this presentation of Contemplative Prayer, some areas of the OCD communities still practise it this way: at least in some monasteries or convents in Italy (both women and men), where they start the hour of Contemplative Prayer by having a nun or a religious reading to all, in an audible voice, the same text on a spiritual subject – maybe this comes from the influence of Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene who follows the reform text books! In many other countries, too, you just remain in silence from the beginning and of course if you want to read in order to recollect yourself, you may do so with your own choice of book.

One wonders how we went from what St. Teresa of Avila explains in the Way of Perfection Chapters 26 and 28 through to 31, especially “Prayer of Recollection”, to this!

Note: – The format of this confusion between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer today continues in the majority of the initiations into prayer (think of the Seminaries): you start with a clear Lectio Divina (whether God talks or not to you) and finish with a time in silence, which is Contemplative Prayer.

– It is important also to notice that today only one type of Contemplation is spontaneously accepted or understood, the one that belongs to a silent moment (i.e. Contemplative Prayer).

– One has to praise Cardinal Martini’s shrewd improvements added in the 80s to Lectio Divina (‘consolatio’, ‘discretio’, ‘deliberatio’, ‘actio’). One can certainly notice the influence of the “Spiritual Exercises”.

b- What is the place of the Bible while practising Contemplative Prayer?

The Bible is used during Contemplative Prayer essentially for Recollection (a remedy for distractions), fighting distractions and to help ease meeting Jesus heart to heart. The use of the Bible during Contemplative Prayer, however, cannot be considered as a proper Lectio Divina.

c- What is the place of the Bible outside of Contemplative Prayer?

The use of the Bible in Spiritual Life is versatile. We can use it as “Spiritual Reading”. We can study the Bible. We can practise Lectio Divina. We can also practise something very close to Lectio Divina, i.e. Ruminatio.

d- What about Lectio Divina in Carmel?

What about the practice of Lectio Divina in Carmel today? This is in fact the main aim of this  contribution, but we had to clarify all the different realities before attempting an answer. In the third and last part we will address it.

PART II: CRITERIA OF DISCERNMENT

In order to shed some clarity on the relationship between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer, we need to acknowledge different points of discernment:

1- “Outstanding Pairs”

We need to acknowledge the existence of a series of enlightening pairs at different levels of our Christian life and Christian Spiritual Life and examine their implications.

a- Two uses of the Bible (+ others)

We can use the Bible at least in two powerful ways:

i- In Lectio Divina: to discover God’s will and put it into practice, and

ii- In Contemplative Prayer: in order to recollect ourselves and draw closer to Jesus. (Contemplative Prayer is not about having good thoughts but to love more (see Way of Perfection, Chapter 26): contemplation acts in our very depths, beyond consciousness, i.e. beyond the grasp of the conscious mind or imagination or senses, but in the spirit.)

Of course, there are other uses of the Bible as mentioned above, and they are important: when we study the Bible, in Exegesis and in Theology. When we praise the Lord (Divine Office), …

b- Two types of contemplation

We need to make an effort in our understanding of what Contemplation is and acknowledge that today, because of the renewal of the practice of Lectio Divina, we need to distinguish two types and not only one. This is new in history.

i- In Lectio Divina: there is a specific contemplation typical of Lection Divina. We speak very little about Contemplation in Lectio Divina and we mix it with Contemplation in Contemplative Prayer fusing them. The contemplation then falls into our consciousness, in the sense that it is a supernatural grace but it falls into our conscious mind, where it allows us to understand what Jesus is saying to us, and moves us toward putting, by his grace, into practice what He caused us to understand.

ii- In Contemplative Prayer: in Carmel and elsewhere we talk only about deep contemplation, the one specific to Contemplative Prayer, the one St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila describe. This contemplation occurs in our spirit, i.e. the supra-conscious part where we are unaware of it.

c- Carmelite anthropology

Using St. John of the Cross’ anthropology, i.e. distinguishing the spirit from the soul, is fundamental in order to understand the need to nourish each one of them specifically. In fact, we have:

i- the spirit, which is in supra-conscious, i.e. above our conscious part, tends to be receptive, and contemplation as described by St. John of the Cross implies that God essentially pours himself into our spirit. We are not conscious of this action.

ii- soul-body which is conscious. i.e. we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and senses. When Jesus talks to us through his Word, through the Scriptures, we understand what He says. His word communicated supernaturally talks to our mind, we understand. And we are aware that we understand. It doesn’t happen in total “silence”, our mind has received a message, a light, a word from Him.

Both areas of our being (spirit and soul-body) need to be nourished by God himself. It is true that all the graces that reach the soul and/or the body go always first through the spirit then to the latter, as St. John of the Cross says. There are graces, however, that are fundamentally destined for our conscious part: Lectio Divina’s contemplation.

In order to understand the relationship between these two areas of our being we can use the image of the tree: the roots need water and minerals and the branches need sun and CO2. The roots are the image of our spirit and they need to water the specific type of contemplation we find in Contemplative Prayer. The branches need the sun of Jesus’ Word.

Another image also is useful: a high mountain whose summit pierces the clouds. The part that is above the clouds is our spirit, which can enter directly into contact with God’s Nature in Contemplative Prayer. The part that is below the clouds, is the conscious part, body and soul, and this part is supposed to receive Lectio Divina’s graces. But during Contemplative Prayer it can’t perceive the grace of God given to the spirit (above the clouds).

d- There are two Breads (two foods)

In St. John Chapter 6 we have the presentation of two types of food:

i- Jesus’ Words that are spirit and life. Holy Spirit and Eternal Life.

ii- His Body, Blood, all his being.

e- The Gospel has two parts

The Gospel itself can be divided in two main parts:

i- The Lord’s Preaching, by words and deeds. Jesus’ Words to be received.

ii- His Passion death and resurrection. Jesus’ Body and Blood to be received.

f- The Mass

The Mass is the source and summit of our daily Spiritual Life. Like the Gospel, it has two parts, two liturgies:

i- “Sacrament” of the Word, i.e. the Liturgy of the Word, where the “visible sign” is the sound of the voice of the proclaimer, while the “invisible grace” embodies Jesus talking to each one of us. The Sacramentality of the Word is more prominent in recent Theology. “He [Christ] is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.” (Vatican II, SC7) See “Verbum Domini”.

ii- Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Liturgy of the Eucharist. Receiving Jesus himself deep within us: Communion.

g- The famous key verses

These outstanding pairs are very much present in the following summarising verses: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21) “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

i- On one hand we need to “Keep the commandment”. It implies the practice of Lectio Divina.

ii- And on the other hand we need to “Have the Trinity coming and dwelling in us (invisible coming of the Persons of the Trinity)”. It implies the practice of Contemplative Prayer.

These outstanding pairs are a powerful clear constant teaching that there is a complementarity between the two types of spiritual food, and therefore two types of prayer.

2- Important Points in Spiritual Formation

In general terms, it would be beneficial today, in order to have a proper theological and spiritual reflection on prayer and on the types of prayers, to avoid compartmentalising spiritual practices into “Schools of Spirituality”. The danger is to fall into making exclusive choices that can impoverish our spiritual life and slow it down, just as what happened in the case of St. Teresa of Avila before her conversion: she unilaterally applied Contemplative Prayer without its complementary aspect: working on the virtues. Today, more than ever, while acknowledging the unique and utterly blessed moment of discovering in a new way Lectio Divina, we need to search for a balanced and more complete spiritual food. In order to do so we need to really address the main tasks of Spiritual Formation: What is the goal of spiritual formation? What is Spiritual growth? How do we trigger Spiritual Growth? How do we maintain a steady growth?

In order to do so, we need to:

a- Avoid Compartmentalisation of the “Schools of Spirituality”

Compartmentalisation often implies:

  • mutual exclusion,
  • diminution
  • atomisation (fragmentation).

Example: The interesting case of Balthasar Alvarez SJ (1533-1580) who was St. Teresa’s Spiritual Director at a certain point: his superiors didn’t stop him from personally practising Contemplative Prayer but stopped him from teaching it. This meant just receiving consolations, but not working on the virtues. To be strenuously avoided. Significantly the Spiritual Exercises are their Charism. (See Melquiades Andres Martin, “Los Recogidos”, 1975.)

b- Deepen our understanding of the spiritual criteria

We need to have a deep understanding of the criteria of a way of prayer: we need to give priority to more fruitful and powerful means. We need to trigger steady growth, a notion which is not always studied.

c- To understand the notion of “being complete”

Many schools of spirituality have a focus on one way of prayer, viewing it in a privileged light. While singling out the way of prayer and forgetting the rest of the elements of a charism of a school of spirituality, however, we risk weakening the school itself and exclude the contribution of other schools. We escape from pursuing a proper reflection on the ways of prayer. Each school wants to prove to itself that it is right and forgets that it can benefit from other schools. Therefore, it is important to really understand, and not from a charism point of view, what makes a spirituality complete. It is challenging and it pushes us out of our comfort zone.

d- The notion of “being balanced”

Being complete is one thing. But also, we need the ingredients of Spiritual Life to being balanced. If we practise only one type of prayer, the main one that characterises our school of spirituality, the risk sometimes is to create an imbalance regarding the input of the nourishment we need to receive from God. When St. Teresa of Avila says: you can practise Contemplative Prayer all your life and if you do not work on the virtues you will remain dwarfs, spiritually – i.e. you won’t grow -, a very wise element of discernment is present on how to balance the spiritual practices, the ingredients and nourishment we get from God.

On the other hand, many schools of spirituality don’t have Contemplative Prayer among their daily practices! Aren’t they losing out enormously? Can Contemplative Prayer be the privilege only of Carmel?

And so on….

e- Rooting Lectio Divina in the Liturgy of the Word

One has to acknowledge that there are many ways today of practising Lectio Divina, i.e. by using different readings, and not necessarily the daily readings. However, can Lectio Divina be disentangled from Liturgy? All the main authors say that it cannot. But when it comes to daily practice, it becomes patently obvious that many do go astray from the daily readings! Where is the sacramentality of the Proclamation of the Word? What is our understanding of it, and how do we link our practice of Lectio Divina to it? Significantly, initially the modern discovery of Lectio Divina occurred quite spontaneously after the publication of the new Lectionary (1969).

f- Rooting Contemplative Prayer in the Liturgy of the Eucharist

Also, it is important to return to an important intuition in St. Teresa of Avila, an intuition that we find in the Way of Perfection, towards the end when she comments, “Give us this day our daily bread” and spontaneously connects Contemplative Prayer with Communion. Doesn’t she ask her daughters to observe 10-15 minutes of silence in the choir after Mass? Didn’t she receive many of her most powerful graces right after communion? Isn’t there an unexplored link between Contemplative Prayer and Communion? Isn’t Contemplative Prayer the natural extension of our last Communion?

In my humble opinion we shouldn’t disentangle Contemplative Prayer from Communion.

3- Avoid Confusing the Different Types of Prayer

As above-mentioned it is important to reflect deeply on the different types of prayer in order to find the one that is more fruitful and more wholesome.

a- In the election of types of prayer to adopt some consider that all types are equal and that the important thing is to just pray, to spend some time with God.

b- We need to pay attention to the mechanism of the workings of the Grace of God. This will help us better understand our part and God’s part in the different ways of prayer. We need a clear understanding of the difference between the General help of the Grace of God and the Particular help of the Grace of God! St. Teresa of Avila talks about this in various places. The best practical explanation we can find is when she describes the difference between the Prayer of Recollection and the Prayer of Quiet. This teaching is fundamental but is still very rarely studied or paid attention to.

The risk also is to draw a practical conclusion regarding the way Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer should be practised, a conclusion that doesn’t necessarily adhere to what the grace of God requires in order to work fruitfully. The Theology of Grace is always at the heart of Prayer.

c- Our practice even today often ends with a “minestrone” type of prayer – a veritable vegetable soup of prayer – where we might start with the first steps of Lectio Divina and finish with some Contemplative Prayer. All in one session

4- Special Attention to the Importance of the Historical Context

a- One can’t accept a diminution of our spiritual life, vitality and growth in the name of a blind faithfulness. Hence the necessity for looking in-depth at the doctrine of our saints (St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross), in order to discern and understand the criteria for spiritual growth and choice of the type of prayer that generates better growth.

b- The formula that worked in the past had extra help from God because of the absence of the Bible:

We need to acknowledge that in Carmel, at the time of St. Teresa, there was an emergency situation where the Bible in Spanish was absent. In this sense we can’t expect St. Teresa to teach us Lectio Divina, as she had no direct access to the Bible. (see Appendix 1)

God, however, didn’t leave her without fundamental means to compensate this lack.

i- He gave her himself as an open book: “I will give you an opened book” (the Lord’s words to St. Teresa when she was lamenting the absence of the Bible.)

ii- She receive various Apparitions – to be distinguished from Visions. Apparitions are not the normal mainstream spiritual journey necessity

iii- The Lord gave her Locutions.

iv- Most importantly the Lord indicated to her through the teaching received from her spiritual directors a summary of the Gospel in the three virtues humility, detachment and charity (see Way of Perfection, first part). In a way, Thereby, it can be said, she was given the essence of the Gospel.

v- She felt compelled, because she then understood how it contributes to the gift of oneself to God, to go for a Stricter style of life in the reformed monasteries.

c- Today Carmelite spirituality is faced with a choice: either to continue in the same vein (i.e. without Lectio Divina), or, since the circumstances and tools have changed, Bibles, Exegesis and Biblical Theology being now available to everybody, a distinct practice from Contemplative Prayer can be introduced, i.e. Lectio Divina. But how can we find a place to practise Lectio Divina, a place that is distinct from Contemplative Prayer?

Should we consider the avidity in more recent Carmelite women saints, who didn’t have a full Bible to hand, namely, St. Thérèse and St. Elisabeth of the Trinity, for using the parts of the Bible they had access to? 

PART III: WHAT CAN BE DONE TODAY?

What would the Carmelite Doctors have done today? Today we have access to the entire Bible, in our own language. Is it possible to continue not to use it in our spiritual life, i.e. use it only as a tool for recollection? Should we maintain a confusion between the two types of contemplation: Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer, and practise a mix of these two in one session?

1- St. John of the Cross

a- The act of faith St. John of the Cross makes when he reads the Bible is very pure and powerful: “The one who speaks in the Bible is the Holy Spirit,” where St. John of the Cross teaches us to make an Act of Faith in the Scriptures (see the Prefaces of “Ascent” and “Spiritual Canticle”).

One can use chapters 26 and 31 of “Ascent of Mount Carmel” Book II to build a solid theology of the specific contemplation in Lectio Divina. Unfortunately, they have never yet been explored in this way. In these two chapters, we find the only time where he doesn’t reject the light offered by God for Contemplative Prayer. We can readily consider that this is an open door to considering another type of contemplation specific to Lectio Divina.

b- When St. John of the Cross speaks about “Contemplation” it is strictly the Contemplation received during Contemplative Prayer. Therefore, we need to distinguish between the specific contemplation of Lectio Divina (the saint doesn’t speak about Lectio Divina) and the one specific to Contemplative Prayer. We shouldn’t consider what he says about Contemplative Prayer and apply it to Lectio Divina. He talks about two things:

i- a Distinct Light that falls into the soul, and he tends to reject it because he is teaching the deep Contemplative Prayertype of contemplation (see chapter 29 in Book II of “Ascent”).

ii- a General Light that falls into the spirit, and this is the contemplation he advises for Contemplative Prayer.

c- We can extract a teaching on Lectio Divina that is very Christological. See his beautiful passage in “Ascent” II, 22 when he makes God the Father talk to the reader saying: “if you need a vision” … “consolation” … “look at my Son” … “He is all my Word”.

d- A new theological treatise on Prophecy in the New Testament should be developed from: “Ascent” Book II, chapters 19 through to 22.

f- Lectio Divina is also an indication on how to love our neighbour: it boosts spiritual life, Contemplative Prayer, see: “Spiritual Canticle” 13[18]. What is Lectio Divina if not giving us ways to practise the Second Commandment on a daily basis? This observation is fundamental and really deserves extensive consideration because it unifies our analysis on Lectio Divina.

2- St. Teresa of Avila

a- Let us acknowledge that all that she was led to do was to summarise and encapsulate the Gospel in its two components: the necessity to follow Jesus and give ourselves totally to Him, and the summary of all practices –  the three Evangelical “Counsels” – humility, detachment and love. (Way of Perfection) It should be acknowledged that St. Teresa of Avila, not having access to the Gospel, still came back to it and offered it in its completeness to her daughters and to us.

b- She always stated her love for the Scriptures and her desire to align her life with the Scriptures and her need to verify in the Bible all that was happening within her.

c- If on the one hand Lectio Divina allows us to know Christ, we can say that this was her constant wish and desire.

d- Way of Perfection and Lectio Divina are led by the same divine rule: in order to receive Him fully => we need to give ourselves to Him.

In fact, Lectio Divina follows the same rule: we can’t really listen to Jesus if our life is not surrendered into His Hands. Therefore, it is necessary in order to practise Lectio Divina to give ourselves totally to Jesus. We see here how St. Teresa indubitably sheds a unique light on the practice of Lectio Divina!!

e- Fr. Marie Eugène, a Teresian saint, mentions the necessity to pay attention and obey on a daily basis an interior light[19]that Christ offers us with sufficient clarity. Paradoxically, his explanation of this interior light coincides in my view with the interior light we are supposed to receive in Lectio Divina. Unwittingly he is offering us an amazing avenue to understand the essence of Lectio Divina. He perceived the necessity for us to receive this light in order to be guided with clarity on a daily basis and grow spiritually. These chapters also deserve theological exploration.

f- St. Teresa’s insistence in the Fifth Mansions on Charity (she doesn’t mention the other two virtues in the Fifth Mansions). In this sense we can consider that Charity encompasses all other virtues. Charity is the New Commandment => leading us to give up our life (lay it down for our brothers), die for others. She repeats it in the Seventh Mansions[20].

g- In the modern methods of formation we often cease paying attention – as a separate exercise and entity – to “working on the Virtues”. Therefore, the edifice of our spiritual life finds itself greatly weakened. In this case a serious, committed, daily practice of Lectio Divina becomes the new necessary condition of growth. If we compare “working on the virtues” and Lectio Divina, it becomes clear that Lectio Divina is a better way because it allows direct contact with the Lord through the Holy Spirit.

3- St. Therese of the Child Jesus

A very short word should be addressed on St. Therese. She constantly had the Gospel in her pocket, near her heart. She states that she often opened the Gospel in order to discover better the character of her Spouse, Jesus! She wanted, from the Gospel, to know what He liked and what pleased Him. Isn’t this the real goal of Lectio Divina?

Of course, a lot could be said and developed about the way she read the Bible. But Lectio Divina is a slightly different issue, as it invites us to put into practice and not just read in a new way the Gospel or the Scriptures. Lectio Divina is not an intellectual endeavour, but it is to put into practice a word, a light we receive from Jesus through the Scriptures.

Therese’s habit of often opening her New Testament is closer to the Desert Father’s Ruminatio, and of course totally in line with the core of the Carmelite Rule: to meditate, day and night, on God’s Law –  The Scriptures.

Conclusion

Today, because of the new and abundant access to the Scriptures that we have, we can’t avoid a reflection on the role of Lectio Divina in any school of spirituality.

After the above presentation, and as a conclusion, in Carmel, we need to put together all the elements of a deep and more complete reflection on not only our practice of Contemplative Prayer (thinking of the Working of the Virtues), but also by posing the following question to ourselves: can the practice of supernatural Lectio Divina be a better option for today, a more powerful, more fruitful one than what is described in the first part of the Way of Perfection? In fact, as we mentioned in the beginning of this contribution, Lectio Divina puts us in direct contact with Jesus, it teaches us how to listen to him and put his word into practice. On a daily basis, it pushes us to cross the threshold of perfection St. Teresa of Avila talks about in the first part of Way of Perfection, which in turn triggers greater graces to be received in Contemplative Prayer. It teaches us how to love our neighbour, not in our way, but in Jesus’ way. It constantly forms our conscience in a new way, to know Jesus in Spirit and in Truth. It is an amazing powerful tool for change and daily conversion.

As a matter of fact, in recent times, some Carmelite convents have introduced in the noviciate’s Horarium an hour of Lectio Divina in the morning on top of the two hours of Contemplative Prayer. It is an interesting new initiative.

I am well aware of how challenging this issue is, especially for the Contemplative Carmelite Nuns. St. Teresa didn’t engineer the Horarium with Lectio Divina in mind. And it must be recognised that the hour of spiritual reading is not only for Lectio Divina. This provides much food for thought.

I am aware also, that other Contemplative Orders may find some help in this contribution in shedding some light on the connection in their practice between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer, the relationship between Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer being constantly present amongst Contemplative persons. Pursuing this reflection is important. In fact, I find no more powerful a boost for Contemplative Prayer than a proper supernatural Lectio Divina.


Appendix 1: A Bit of History[21]

When browsing through the first official treatise of the masculine Reform on prayer[22], we find that the author, Juan de Jesus-Maria (Aravalles) attributes an unexceptional place to reading as did the monastic tradition. In this sense he did not innovate. He follows the same movement: 1. Preparation, 2. Reading, 3. Meditation, 4. Contemplation, 5. Thanksgiving, 6. Petition, 7. Epilogue. But nothing is said of the scriptural text! Is it really obvious that the text to be read and meditated is that of the Scriptures? Juan de Jesus-Maria does not indicate this. Certainly, Saint Teresa of Jesus applied a similar method in the inner organization to be used in prayer. A fairly popular trend, with crystallized methods of prayer, enriching spiritual life, had taken root in Spain[23]. In her writings Saint Teresa of Jesus did not deal with the question of which books should be meditated[24]. Nor can she speak about Scripture itself, for the reasons we have already mentioned. Nevertheless, the place Juan de Jesus-Maria attributes to contemplation in the whole process of prayer is very important and manifests the good beginnings of the Discalced Carmelites, even if the way of treating the question is classical. Let us also note that, in his work, he refers neither to Saint Teresa of Jesus nor to Saint John of the Cross, in any case not explicitly.

All in all, the absence of a treatise about Scripture as a means of sanctification at the time of the Reform of the Carmel, can today be considered a lacuna[25]. Today each Christian can have a Bible (with introductions and notes), there is a tendency to meditate the readings of the Mass[26], and it is impossible to leave Scripture aside. But it is necessary to explain its relationship to prayer. Today we are the beneficiaries of a great grace and we should take advantage of it, and hope that the Bible will have its proper place in the Carmel.

To conclude this point, we may say that in the Carmelite Order no resolve has been made concerning a particular manner of meditating Scripture independently from mental prayer. Mental prayer does have its place in the daily schedule, while the reading of Scripture is left up to the discretion of each religious. Carmelite nuns may do this during their hour of spiritual reading or after Compline. A precise teaching on the meditation of the Word, equivalent to Lectio as we have presented is, is not given; this is so because reading was included in the prayer times. The attachment which St John of the Cross had for Scripture remains as a personal approach rather than a “norm” or a “method” for life [27].

Appendix II: Summary Table

Screenshot 2020-03-14 at 19.17.55

[1] I will be using the term “Contemplative Prayer” for “Mental Prayer” (“Oración” in Spanish), which, in Carmel, is specifically practised for two hours daily – one in the morning and one in the late afternoon – as instituted by St. Teresa of Avila.

[2] Of course, as we will mention it below, the monastic world kept this type of prayer throughout the ages (Benedictines, Cistercians,…).

[3] Throughout our contribution, the word “meditation” will be used in a traditional way and not as it is used today in the modern English-speaking world. “Meditation” in medieval times meant essentially the use of the mind on a text, going from one idea to another and trying to apply it to oneself. It is essentially the work of the mind with the general help of the grace of God. This is why “meditation” is considered as preceding “contemplation” which then will involve the supernatural action of the grace of God. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn° 2705-2708. In this sense St. John of the Cross will talk about the change in God’s type of action in us, going from “Meditation” to “Contemplation” (see for instance “Dark Night” I,9,8).

[4] Asking how St. Antony spent his day he answered: I go from the Old (Testament) to the New (Testament) and then from the New to the Old. Drawing from his memory of the text of the Sunday Mass, he would do a proper Lectio, allowing the spark of the Word of God to move him.

[5] Cf. Emmanuel Renault, “Thérèse d’Avila, aux sources d’eau vive, Lecture du Nouveau Testament”, Paris, 1978, p. 7. In order to know about the Bible in Spain, its exegesis, and the problems related to the spread of the Bible, one can read the work of “Miguel Avilés Fernandez”, “La exegesis biblica espanola (1546-1700)” in “Melquiades Andres Martin, “Historia de la Teologia Espanola”, Vol. II, pp. 75-151. Especially pp. 143 to 151.

[6] The classic and easy choice made by the commentators is to quote St. Teresa of Avila when she says: (Autobiography 8,5): “mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us”. There is nothing wrong with this definition, but it is more of a descriptive one rather than one that renders the richness of her developments in other chapters and books.

[7] “Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering [meditating/ruminating] the Lord’s Law, day and night, in prayer, unless attending to some other duty.” (Carmelite Rule, Chapter 10)

[8] See Matta el Maskine’s book on “Spiritual Life” where he explains “ruminatio” according to the Desert Fathers.

[9] Cf. Emmanuel Renault, “Thérèse d’Avila, aux sources d’eau vive, Lecture du Nouveau Testament”, Paris, 1978, p. 8.

[10] For the very case of St. Teresa of Avila one can read Roman Llamas, “Biblia en santa Teresa”, Madrid, 2007, especially the first chapter.

[11] Our translation. “Introducción a la lectura de santa Teresa” (Madrid: 1978), pp. 126-7.

[12] “Ma all’epoca della ‘devotio moderna’, la spiritualità trova una forma di preghiera nuova che si sostituisce alla Lectio Divina” (G.M. Picasso, in: “La preghiera…”, p. 755-69): “l’orazione mentale” diviene un esercizio di pietà indipendente da una “”lettura spirituale”, che non si alimenta più principalmente nella Bibbia, sino a che nasce, nel sec. XX, un “ritorno alla Sacra Scrittura” (P. Visentin, in: “La preghiera …”, p. 909-14).” (Jean LECLERCQ, art. “Lectio Divina”, in: “Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione”, vol. 5 [Rome: 1973 sq.])

[13] We explained this expression above.

[14] St. John of the Cross, Maxim 209 / Dichos 162.

[15] We would also like to indicate a chapter that is often forgotten which actually deals with the problem: The Ascent II, chapter 26.

[16] Louis Guillet, Seigneur, augmente en nous la foi, Saint-Foy, Quebec, 1994, pp. 89-154.

[17] Jean Vilnet, Bible et mystique chez Saint Jean de la Croix, Paris, 1949.

[18] “God does not establish His grace and love in the soul except in proportion to the will of that soul’s love. He, therefore, that truly loves God must strive that his love fails not; for so, if we may thus speak, will he move God to show him greater love, and to take greater delight in his soul. In order to attain to such a degree of love, he must practise those things of which the Apostle speaks, saying: “Charity is patient, is benign: charity envies not, deals not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks not evil, rejoices not upon iniquity, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7) (SCB XIII,17)

[19] “I am the Daughter of the Church”, Chapter VII: “Active Night Outside of Prayer”, A. Absolute Asceticism, B. Realisation of Asceticism: 1- Interior light, 2. Providential Events, 3. Prudence.  See “I am the Daughter of the Church”, pp. 124-147. Fr. Marie Eugene never explains Lectio Divina but gives its core.

[20] “Do you know when people really become spiritual? It is when they become the slaves of God and are branded with His sign, which is the sign of the Cross, in token that they have given Him their freedom. Then He can sell them as slaves to the whole world, as He Himself was sold, and if He does this He will be doing them no wrong but showing them no slight favour. Unless they resolve to do this, they need not expect to make great progress. For the foundation of this whole edifice, as I have said, is humility, and, if you have not true humility, the Lord will not wish it to reach any great height: in fact, it is for your own good that it should not; if it did, it would fall to the ground. Therefore, sisters, if you wish to lay good foundations, each of you must try to be the least of all, and the slave of God, and must seek a way and means to please and serve all your companions. If you do that, it will be of more value to you than to them and your foundation will be so firmly laid that your Castle will not fall.” (7 M 4,8)

[21] Extract from Jean Khoury, “Lectio Divina at the School of Mary”, 2018, on Amazon.

[22] Juan de Jesus-Maria (Aravalles), o.c.d., Traité de l’oraison, translated from Spanish by a Carmelite nun (Marseille, 1939).

[23] Francisco de Osuna, Bernardino de Laredo, Alonso de Madrid, Pedro de Alcantara, Luís de Grenada, Juan de Avila, and Bernabe de Palma were among the most famous and prolific authors.

[24] In Chapter 26 of The Way to Perfection she talks about the possibility of reading a book in Castilian. She says: “a good book”, and that is all. But she also states that she prefers the words of the Gospel: “I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels – uttered by the very lips of the Lord – and have found more recollection in them than in the most carefully planned books” (Way of Perfection, Escorial manuscript 21, 4). She says nothing about this.

[25] In a Carmelite post-conciliary document we find the following statement concerning the bond between Lectio and mental prayer: “A certain time shall also be devoted to ‘Lectio Divina’.” Our Rule states, with perspicacity, that there is an intimate rapport between the meditation of the Lord’s Law and the continuous vigilance in prayer, and it asks us to preserve this good in our lives. Now, our Founders in a certain way expressed this precept of the Rule in their lives, esteeming it very highly (Saint Teresa of Jesus, The Life 35, 5; C 21, 4; Conceptos, Prologue. And c. 1; Saint John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Prologue; The Living Flame of Love, Prologue.) and considering it as the supreme criterion of the truth of personal salvation (The Life 25, 13). Saint Teresa was indeed persuaded of “all the harm that comes to the world from its not knowing the truths of Scripture in clarity and truth” (The Life 40, 1). Vatican II encourages us especially to observe this rule in our lives: “let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.” (Dei Verbum 25; ibid. 2, 2, 8).

An interesting effort was made in this sense by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, o.c.d., in an article published in Summer 1991 in an American journal: “Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer”; see also Fr. Filippo Bettati, o.c.d., and Fr. Armando Rosso, o.c.d., Lectio Divina al Carmelo,Milano, 1999.

[26] In the various regions of the world the daily Missal, the liturgical calendars and monthly publications of the texts of the Mass have become very popular.

[27] We will deal in greater depth with the place of Scripture during prayer in another book.

[28] Ludolph of Saxony, “Life of Christ”.