In his beautiful letter, St James explains to us Lectio Divina and its conditions. “Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:19-27)
Let us see how this presentation of Lectio Divina goes and let us discover a deeper understanding of this outstanding analysis of Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina is about listening to Jesus’ Word for us every day. Can we really listen to him? Should we prepare our heart in order to become able to listen?
First and foremost it is important to remember that with the Fall (the Original Sin) we lose the capacity to listen and speak directly to God.
Moses is one of the first human beings to speak directly to God, face to face. People were scared of God.
Sin, separates us from God, and radical grave sin, stops us from hearing, and hardens our heart. We need a deep operation that will change our heart of stone to the heart of flesh.
This is why Jesus will perform a very important act on the Cross: he will open our “hearing” and our “speech” (capacity to talk), so we become, for the first time capable of hearing the Word of God directly and talking to God directly and personally.
Even if this event happens during Jesus’ ministry, it happens centrally on the Cross where Jesus accomplishes our Redemption, this is why we have this long sigh:
“31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. 33 And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; 34 and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”” (Mark 7:31-37)
On the Cross Jesus brings us back from our darkness, our deafness to the fluency of communication with God (listening-speaking). It is on the Cross that Jesus opens us to God, changes us, gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26), (like Mary’s one), capable of listening. “Give thy servant therefore a heart that listens” (1 Kings 3:9).
The Old man, by definition isn’t capable of listening. This is why among many other rites, during Baptism, the Minister performs that same act that Jesus did and touches the ears of the person who is baptised and his or her mouth, saying after Jesus: “Ephphatha” that is: be opened.
When we sit down, in order to listen to Jesus, we need to remember that listening to Him is a Grace, not something obvious and automatic. This is why Jesus gives a very special Grace of the Holy Spirit to us, in order for us to listen to Him, hear his voice, See him in the Scripture: he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Without this supernatural intervention of Jesus in our mind/heart, we can’t really hear him, see him, be touched by his words deeply, be moved by them.
It is important to acknowledge that we can’t take Lectio Divina (listening to Jesus) for granted, and that it is a huge Grace, that we need to ask for humbly and insistently.
Note: For these reasons Mary is considered by Luke to be the only one who was capable of Listening to the Word of God and obey it, put it into practice. This is why we need her, New Eve, our Mother, to generate our new heart, in the image of her heart, capable of listening and putting into practice Jesus’ Words.
Impurity makes us deaf
St James will explain to us some of the dispositions in order to become capable of listening to Jesus-God:
“19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)
The goal is to become “quick to hear”. In order to do so, there are plenty of other operations of our soul (mind and will) that should stop: speaking and being angry. “chatter” could be an expression of anger. We can’t in the same time hate somebody and want to listen to Jesus. Because “hating” is an act of inner silent speech, where with our thoughts we direct the arrows of our anger against this person. The word of Jesus doesn’t have a space in us.
We can’t expect two things that are opposite to dwell in us: anger and God’s action in us. “Anger” has many forms in us. Frustration for instance can makes us angry.
The Word of God needs and awaits for a clean heart. There is a cleanness that we can perform, which is refusing to surrender to anger and ask from God to give us a new heart, a heart of flesh, a heart “quick to hear”.
“21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
St James will clarify his thought: “anger” is for him any “filthiness and rank growth of wickedness”. If we want to receive the “implanted Word” of Jesus, we need to put away all what goes against it. Remember the thorns in the third soil in the Parable of the Sower. It has thorns that suffocate the Word of Jesus implanted in us. These thorns are all that is against the Word of God, all the desires that are not “the desire of God” (richness, worries,…).
God wants to save us. He has two means for that: His Word (his preaching), and His Body and Blood (the Cross). Jesus’ word is capable of Saving our soul, changing it, purifying it, helping it to walk the path from the land of the darkness to God who is Light and Love. God’s Word is powerful and we need it everyday so we can be saved: each day bears its effort, and each day has its own Bread. For man doesn’t live alone from Bread but from the Real Bread: Jesus’ Words.
“A heart quick to hear give me O Lord! A meek heart.”
Putting into Practice
One of the characteristics of the heart that can receive the word of God is the heart that from the beginning is ready to put it into practice, unconditionally ready for this. We know that God can fulfil any Word he would say to us. So why are we doubting God? We need to trust him, trust that he knows what is best for us today, we are his children, his dearest children and he wants to “save our souls” with his Word.
Do we really believe that we need to be saved, i.e. changed by him, by his words? Do we really entrust our being into the Hands of Jesus who then will give us each day a Word of Salvation, of change, of transformation, purification? Do we really see Jesus as our doctor, healer? Do we acknowledge the existence of this Grace every day? Are we following Jesus everyday?
So, from start, the process of “listening” bears in it the deep determination to put into practice what we will hear from Jesus, we are totally opened to him: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Being in front of Jesus is being in front of THE Truth, the truth about us. We expose ourselves to His Light. Wanting to listen to Jesus means that we want to see ourselves in Him: he sheds a light a day on us, reflects it to us, shows it to us. “For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror” (James 1:23).
Jesus is our Divine Mirror
But we really need to accomplish all the operation of listening: i.e. listening and putting into practice.
Otherwise: “he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:24)
Really we need to be persons who listen and put into practice the daily word of Jesus. This is what characterises us. We believe in the Incarnation, and part of the Incarnation is the incarnation of Jesus’ words in us. This incarnation really changes our life, modifies it radically. This is a fundamental criterion of discernment. One can claim that he or she has a life of prayer, but it can be deeply false. We can’t deceive God by just praying and doing various sacred acts of worship. If the Word of Jesus doesn’t become incarnate in us, our worship is superficial, not made “in Spirit and in Truth”, we just worship Jesus with our words, and body, but our heart doesn’t listen to Him, is not guided by Him and is not transformed by His Word. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8-9)
Jesus is our living Law, Jesus is our living example and guide, he is our Way. Jesus came to free us from the darkness, bringing us to the Light and transforming our inner being into His Light.
“But he who looks into the perfect Law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25)
Again and again: otherwise our worship is false, superficial, pharisaic. How can we continue to have a heart that doesn’t listen to Jesus, and is not moved by his words if from our heart come all sorts of thoughts and silent acts?
“If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26)
One can say: but what will Jesus ask me to do? Loving Jesus’ Body:
“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11) “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20)
Who are the most vulnerable persons on earth according to the biblical tradition? The persons that have nobody on earth to take care of them? The orphans and the widows. These are the most “poor” persons. Before reaching them, we need to open ourselves up to the people closest to us, followed afterwards by our going deeper and deeper into Jesus’ Body until we reach the poorest of the poor: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) “Religion” is worship, is to love God, is all the acts of worship. Giving what we have, who we are, letting the love of God flow from him, through our heart to the poor, Jesus’ body, is really one of the deepest and most powerful ways of “putting into practice” Jesus’ Word: Lectio Divina.
We really need to meditate upon these few verses of St James’ letter, in order to deepen our understanding of Lectio Divina.