In the second chapter of his letter (James 2:14-26), St James continues to explain to us Lectio Divina is.
The act of faith is to receive a word
What is faith then? Our understanding today of “faith” might not be the one meant in various passages in the Bible. Plus, each author in the Bible, makes some aspect of “faith” shine out. So we might feel that we have different versions of the same topic, but in fact these are only different angles that allow us to better grasp that spiritual reality of faith and of its act.
For many authors of the Bible, faith is an act that allows us to receive a Word from God, and to put it into practice. By this act, we open ourselves to God’s word/message, and we offer for it a space in us for it (in our existence, in our body, our soul,..), so that that word can “become flesh” in us.
The best example that illustrates the act of faith is Mary in the Annunciation. The Angel of God is transmitting to Mary a Word from God, a Message from God. Mary doesn’t immediately say “yes”, bypassing her mind. On the contrary she makes the effort, with her mind, to understand what that Message clearly means, discovering by doing so, the exact part she is about to play in allowing the word of God to become flesh in her heart and in her flesh. Only then does she say: yes, here I am, with all my being, offered to God, and to this word that He has uttered to me.
For this reason, Mary is praised, and Zechariah by contrast is blamed. The exact reason why Mary is called “blessed” is because she believed that if God utters a word (a message) He can fulfil his Word : “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) The Angel Gabriel explains to her the exact point of Faith: “no word [uttered by God] is impossible, to [be realised by] God”. (Luke 1:37). The majority of the translations say: “for nothing is impossible to God”, which is not what the text says and is not Luke’s purpose: in fact he wants to explain the mechanism of Faith.
How faith is transmitted to us
By Jesus’ Redemption on the Cross, we receive the Grace of Faith i.e. the capacity to open up to the Word of God. By Jesus’ Redemption, Mary was able to say “yes” to the Angel (see the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception). By Jesus’ Redemption, and through his Plan, He wanted Mary to be at one and the same time our Role model (Archetype of the perfect Disciple of Jesus) and our Mother (the one that generates us into God’s Life). Jesus made Mary and Mary’s “yes” (all her “Yes”) capable of holding our “yes”. By the “Yes” of Mary, we receive the Grace, in our turn, to hear a Word coming from God, understand our part in its incarnation, and say “yes” to it, like Mary, and in Mary. This is the full extent of the Act of Faith. This is why Mary is praised this way: “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42) (we are all, through her, capable of conceiving God’s will, a word from Him each day). What do we conceive? “blessed is the fruit of your womb”: Jesus! This is why “all generations will call her blessed” (Luke 1:48). Because all generations will go to her (as our mother) to draw from her the capacity to receive the word of God (to believe, to have faith).
St James explains the act of Faith
God’s word for us is to love God and to love our neighbour. So Faith will entail putting that word into practice. With this understanding of faith, let us read St James’ passage:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works/acts? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Having faith itself (i.e. having the capacity to say “yes” to a word sent by God to us) is a grace. But exercising faith, is something that is essential. Faith is not passive. It is a grace, a Talent to be implemented, activated, invested in. Imagine Mary not saying “yes” to God, and not receiving Him in her! The fact that she is the “Immaculate Conception” gives her Faith the capacity to say “yes”, the capacity to “conceive the word” in her heart and in her womb. But if she doesn’t say yes, if she doesn’t use that faith, then nothing will happen. There is no fruitfulness.
If we don’t say “yes” to the word of God, if we do not receive into our life, in our flesh that “word”, if we don’t give it a space in us, what is then “faith”? Have we allowed the grace of faith to be enacted in us?
St James continues: “But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works/acts.” Show me your faith apart from your works/acts, and I by my works/acts will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)
The act of Faith is the capacity to receive a word from God, to give it our flesh.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works/acts is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works/acts, and faith was completed by works/acts, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works/acts and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works/acts when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:19-26)
Faith as a grace is one thing, and the act of faith is something different: it is to receive a word from God and “incarnate” it. “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of the word that was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
The total gift of ourselves to God
It is true as well, that one has to offer oneself totally to God when he makes his act of Faith. Let us contemplate Mary: she doesn’t say an intellectual abstract “yes” to God. She commits totally to Him, she puts all her life into God’s hands, and commits to his Word. This is the condition that will allow the Word of God to come into her heart and into her womb.
In order to see God we need to give ourselves totally to God, and this is purity, a purity that we can enact (with the Grace of God).
If we “loose our lives” by giving it to God, we get everything: God, and all the rest. Seek the kingdom of God first, and all the rest will be given to you for free.
Purity is the condition of success of Lectio Divina: offering ourselves to God, completely, unconditionally,… this is the only way to receive God. If we give everything to Him, we get everything (Him).
Lectio Divina is a real act of Living Faith where we listen to a word coming from God to us, where we offer ourselves to God totally and where God incarnates in us his word. Very much like the Annunciation.