1- Dwelling in Jesus’ Words
As a starting point we should turn to the words of Jesus when He says: “Dwell in my word” (John 8:31) Dwelling in the Words of Jesus is a commandment, a necessity, not an option. Here are his words:
“Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without dwelling in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever dwells in Me and I in him bears much fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15: 4-6)
The explanation Jesus offers on how to dwell in Him adds further significance to the said words: “If you dwell in me and my words dwell (remain) in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”(John 15: 7) In another place in the Gospel Jesus said: “If you dwell (Gr. “meinete”) in my teaching, you are really my disciples.” (John 8:31) The same teaching will be given by St John in his second letter: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not dwell (Gr. “ménon”) in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever dwells (Gr. “ménon”) in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
How does this commandment of dwelling in Jesus’ Word apply in the Liturgy of the Word?
2- The Main Marian Exercise
It is also the “spiritual exercise” his mother constantly performed: “Mary treasured all these things in her heart and always thought (pondered) about them.” (Luke 2:19) Another translation: “But Mary treasured up all these things, often dwelling on them in her mind.” (Luke 2:19) “And his mother stored (treasured) all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) Thus we see that Mary is constantly given to all of us as the most perfect example of a Disciple of Jesus because She is the First one who believed in God’s Word and the mother of the Believers in God’s Word (see Exegesis of Luke 1). In fact, she constantly listened to God and put his Word into practice (see Matthew 12:46-50). She is the one who invites us to focus on whatever the Lord will say to us and do it (John 2).
3- Memorising or Being Transformed?
When we read: “And his mother stored (treasured) all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) We might be tempted to think that what is at stake is essentially to memorise the word of God. To have such a high quality of attention and focus that we are enabled to memorise what we have heard.
However, in fact it is not about memorising, or simple storage. Today we have excellent memory sticks that can store billions of words. It is about “dwelling in” and “dwelling on” the Word Jesus is giving us. Creating a relationship through Jesus’ Words. Experiencing them first hand. It is a Wisdom activity: dwelling in Jesus’ Words until they deliver all their sap. The branch dwells in the vine, this way the sap is constantly provided.
Ruminating the Word of God has long been the practice of monks and hermits. They show us the way. They are masters of Spiritual Life. Not only do they ingest but also they digest it spiritually: “dwelling on”, i.e. sitting on the egg until it hatches. “Dwelling on” allows life to grow until it reaches completion. Each word pronounced by Jesus is like a shell enclosing divine power and light, divine life. The risk is to dwell on its external appearance and not allow the Action of the Holy Spirit to take place. His action communicates divine meaning and divine life, healing, conversion, change and transformation.
As a consequence, it is important also to pay attention to and properly live the privileged moment that He has established during which He communicates to each one of us His Words, namely, the Liturgy of the Word. This is when the hearing of the voice of the reader becomes the listening to Jesus’ Word directed personally to us. His word is shaped and tailored for us, according to what He knows we really need.
We often think that Jesus’ contemporaries were privileged to have had Him and to have heard Him talking. But this is to forget the utter importance of the Liturgy of the Word as the unique moment where Jesus himself, the Risen Lord, makes Himself present and opens his mouth and speaks to us, speaks directly to our hearts. If we forget this, we miss the sacramental part of the Liturgy of the Word, the privileged moment of spiritual encounter, divine listening. It becomes only a reading… recalling events in the past, not something happening right now!
4- The Spark
There are two main moments during the Liturgy of the Word: a rather human moment, with the general grace of God: dwelling in and on the Word. And a Sacred moment when the Divine Sap, i.e. the Holy Spirit, pierces the shell and delivers the Divine Power enclosed in Jesus’ Word.
Jesus came to give us His Words. They are Spirit and divine Life (John 6).
Dwell on what you have heard or read, the voice and the letter. Dwell, dwell, dwell… repeat the act of dwelling. Be patient, hope and expect the Word, until He comes through the letter heard: The Lord’s light suddenly appears through the text. Increase the desire, empty your heart from its worries by increasing the desire to listen to Jesus. Until you reach the breaking point. Suddenly the letter becomes alive through the Holy Spirit. “He will remind you” said Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit, “he will take from what is mine [my words] and give to you”. We say it in the Creed: the Holy Spirit is the “Giver of Life”, He gives life to the moment of listening to the Word, and brings it to life in our hearts.
5- Becoming Prophets
We become Prophets, which means “direct listeners”, in the sense that the Holy Spirit speaks to us the Word that we heard. He breaks the shell and offers us what is enclosed in the Word. The opening of our inner hearing is performed during Baptism, with the rite of the “Ephphata” – we remember in it how Jesus opened the ears of the dumb mute, which in its turn reminds us of how with Adam’s Fall, we lost the capacity to hear God’s voice. This is why during Pentecost, the Scriptures remind us of this beautiful prophecy that we find in Joel (2:2-32): “These men are not drunk as you suppose. It is only the third hour of the day! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:15-18) First and foremost, prophesying means hearing God once again, hearing the Spirit talking once again to humanity. Let us notice also that prophesying is not constricted only to some persons like in the Old Testament but to all who are baptised.
Also, since we are all baptised in Christ, and Christ is THE Prophet, the Word of the Father, in Him, we are all Prophets, we have a share in his quality of “Prophet”, capable in his human nature to hear the Father talking to Him all the time and showing Him what to do. “the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (John 5:21) After listening to Jesus’ Word, we need to put it into practice.
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this important aspect:
Participation in Christ’s prophetic office
“783 Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king. The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them.”
“785 “The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office,” above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy, when it “unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints,” and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ’s witness in the midst of this world.”
6- How do we serve the Word?
How can the words read or listened to become for us “Jesus’ Words”? By listening attentively. By allowing the Holy Spirit to work and make them alive for us: “hearing” merely the letter of the words kills; “listening” communicates Divine Life, and thus we can say confidently: “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Co 3:6)) The reader, then, is in truth not the minister of the letter, but the minister of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is the sword or the tip of the sword of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17: “Take […] the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword” (Ap 19:15))
The Word of God has its Virtue in Itself.
How to serve the Word? It is not done by the power of the voice or the energy of our anger, or our human eagerness. It is done by being docile to the Word, by allowing the Word to proceed from us, leaving it free to speak to people and not merely using it. Serving it. It belongs to each person in the assembly visible or invisible: angels, saints, people who have passed away.
7- Dwelling vs. Running Ahead
It is important to realise that “anyone who runs ahead and does not dwell (Gr. “ménon”) in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever dwells (Gr. “ménon”) in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
The temptation in this day and age is to “run ahead” … to skim… to escape… we are all running, like headless chickens. While Christianity is about dwelling.
It is true that St. Paul uses the expression running in the stadium. But he means something different, and is referring more to the spiritual journey itself (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7, see also Acts 20:24, 1 Co 9:24-26, Ga 2:2))
8- Not Stopping at “Contemplating”: “Doing”
When St. James in the following quotation says don’t just contemplate but put into practice, he is talking about the danger of stopping the process at contemplation: reading, meditating, praying, contemplating. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves. For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and after observing himself [contemplation] goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so – not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25)
Contemplation: is to see under God’s light what should be done.
Listening should never stop at “contemplating” the Word of God. It should reach completion, i.e. by putting into practise what the Lord made us see.
9- The Grace Given to Us During the Liturgy of the Word
For each person who attends Mass, it is of the utmost importance to acknowledge the existence of a special grace that is given to each individual, in order to be able to properly participate spiritually and fruitfully. Nobody can be ready through his own capacity, or just through ordinary general grace. Nobody can be at the level of the Sacredness of what happens during Mass. We all (Priests and Faithful) need a special grace, linked to the Mass, to allow us to be recollected and to draw closer to God and to the great Mystery that is being celebrated.
The Vatican Council, in its document on Liturgy, has underlined various times the importance of “participation” in the Liturgy. The Council, also, often added the adjective “fruitful” to it. Pope Benedict often came back to this important notion, underlining that it is not only about material participation (i.e. taking part in the Liturgy by reading or singing…) but it is also about a spiritual participation. We still need to do much in order to deepen our understanding of what should really be happening during the Mass in the hearts and minds of the celebrant and of the faithful. This is evidenced by the existence of a number of prayers throughout the Mass which reveal what should be happening in the hearts and minds of the Priest and Faithful. Thus, at the beginning of each Eucharist we ask for forgiveness in order to really enter into the movement of the Grace of God during the Liturgy; then, we see the Priest, before proclaiming the Gospel, says a special prayer, asking for the Grace of God, while we too, cross our forehead, our lips and our heart to show that we need to the Grace of God in our minds and hearts in order to really listen to Jesus; and last but not least, when we enter into the second part of the Mass the Priest invites us to “lift up our hearts” to the Risen Lord, who is seated at the right hand of the Father. Intense theological effort should be made in order to understand the special Grace God wants to give us during the Mass, in order to really enter into it and follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in us. It is by deepening the “Prayer of Recollection” described by St. Teresa of Avila, that we will be able to receive the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit during the Mass as it happens in the “Prayer of Quiet”.
It is not enough to just attend Mass, to just stand up in order to listen to the Gospel Proclamation. There is a deeper formation that is needed in order to learn to correspond to the Grace of God that draws us closer to God, focuses and sharpens our attention on Jesus present and talking, otherwise, our “participation” to the Liturgy of the Word is not “fruitful”.
10- Liturgy of the Word and “Liturgical Lectio Divina”
By “Liturgical Lectio Divina” we mean a Lectio Divina based on the daily readings of the Mass. In fact, there are many ways of choosing the texts on which we practise Lectio Divina, and many ways of practising Lectio Divina.
It is true that the most ancient form comes from the liturgical experience of the Proclamation of the Word and has developed from it.
When St. Antony the Great, Father of all monks was asked how he spent his day, while making baskets, his answer gave witness to his attention to and memorisation of the Liturgy of the Word he had attended on the Sunday before: “I go from the Old Testament to the New and from the New to the Old”. Only a person who practised Lectio Divina on the Readings of the Mass is capable of understanding this mysterious answer.
We can thereby sometimes understand that the Fathers of the Church sometimes, while preaching, are doing a sort of a Lectio Divina, where they knock at the Lord’s door, so He can open the meaning of the letter that has been read. Their homilies are often the living example of a kind of open Lectio Divina offered to the faithful present at Mass. But they show us how to do it ourselves, how to beg in order to receive Jesus’ Light through the text. By their humility, faith, and hope, renewed while they are preaching, we learn how to do our personal Lectio Divina.
A new awareness may grow in us when we acknowledge the direct relationship between Lectio Divina and the Liturgy of the Word.
This also has great benefits for both moments: the Liturgy of the Word and the practice of a “Liturgical” Lectio Divina, i.e. a Lectio Divina based on the daily readings. Its benefits are immense.
11- “Guided Lectio Divina” and Liturgy of the Word
A Guided Lectio Divina is an exercise done together with other persons, where the readings are read aloud various times, to allow each person to interiorise what is read, in order to practice a proper Lectio Divina. Each text of the daily readings is read various times as it would be done personally, and then, toward the end, 10 to 15 minutes are left in silence, so that each person can gather the core of the message focusing only on the parts that are touching her.
It is important to understand the pedagogical importance for parishioners of a “Guided Lectio Divina” based on the readings of the Mass as a common spiritual exercise. It could be considered as a paraliturgy, an exercise made outside of the Mass, but an important prayerful exercise nonetheless. It could be performed from time to time in the parish to keep the awareness well present in the mind of the faithful, of the importance and sacredness of what should occur during the Liturgy of the Word.
The Guided Lectio Divina is quite different from how it is often done when people do a “Group Lectio Divina” (called sometimes “sharing the Gospel”) where the readings are read various times and, after a moment of interiorisation, people share with other what touched them or spoke to them in the readings.
In the case of a Guided Lectio Divina the exercise allows full attention to the practice of a personal Lectio Divina. The goal is not to share, but to listen to the Lord first and foremost. Since the personal message of the Lord to each person is unique and meant to be put into practice, it is better to focus on receiving it properly and fully (i.e. putting it into practice) rather than later sharing it with others.
A Guided Lectio Divina, in addition, shows in a practical way, how each Christian is called to make his The Daily Bread of the Lord’s Word.
A Guided Lectio Divina, in fact, could be the missing link between the Liturgy of the Word and an important section of our personal prayer and spiritual life.
As a consequence, a Guided Lectio lasting an hour could be organised (either regularly or from time to time) to help improve our attention during the Liturgy of the Word and its fruitfulness.
12- The Word of God and our Theological Life
Our spiritual life is in fact a theological life, i.e. a life led by the three theological virtues. These virtues are the measure of our spiritual growth. They are meant to grow constantly. God nourishes them. He nourishes them essentially with his Word in the Liturgy of the Word and by His Body and Blood in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The food is taken differently as and when. The Liturgy of the Word touches the conscious part of our Soul, where our mind and will need to be nourished by intaking the Word of God.
The state of growth of our faith, hope and love is the measure of our spiritual life. If we deepen our awareness of the above-mentioned points the Word of God will become more alive and active in our spiritual life.
In fact, the Word of God is the nourishment of our Faith and helps increase it (“Lord increase our faith”). The Word of God illuminates our mind, cleanses it, heals it elevates it, widens its horizon… the Word of God is the direct food of our Faith and its growth. It should never be underestimated. Each time we put in practice, by the Grace of God what we have heard from Him, our faith grows, we draw closer to God. Faith is proportionate with our practice of the Word of God. The latter teaches us how God thinks and sees things.
The Word of God shows us the object of our Hope (to be transformed by and united to the Risen Lord). The Word of God tells us about God himself, who He is, how Good and merciful He is. It is by experiencing God’s Word, by tasting it, that our Hope grows. Our desire for God, for a greater knowledge of his love grows exponentially. Hope truly nourishes our Hope, by presenting to it the true content of what we are called to receive: God’s Promises.
Finally, when we, by the help of the Holy Spirit, put the Word of God into practice, we boost our spiritual life and really Love the Risen Lord. “whoever loves me, keeps my commandments”: putting into practice Jesus’ Word is on one hand a true act of love, and also it increases our Love for God and for our brothers. The goal of the Word of God is to make us grow in the love of God and the love of our neighbour; it challenges us to love more, to love our enemies, to pray for them, to forgive, to be more merciful.