Reading Acts Before Dawn
At Matins this morning (well before dawn) we read the 16th chapter of the book of Acts in which Saint Lydia figures so prominently. Saint Luke’s account of the conversion of Lydia Purpuraria (the dealer in purple stuffs) is a paradigm of three fundamental monastic values: 1) Lydia listens to the Word with an open heart; 2) she is baptized, 3) she practices hospitality.
These three elements come down to us in a somewhat stylized form (1) as lectio divina, a listening to the Word that leads to conversion; (2) as the Opus Dei, the full sacramental and liturgical life; and (3) as sacred hospitality, the service of Christ in guests who, according to Saint Benedict, are never lacking.
By the River
Saint Luke places Lydia at the center of a tableau rich in details. It is the Sabbath, the day of repose in God, the day of listening to the Word. Paul and his companions go outside the city gates. There is a place of prayer by the river. We are given to understand that this is an “unofficial” place of prayer, not a synagogue. In order to hold a proper synagogal liturgy the presence of at least ten men is required. Luke mentions only the presence of women. This “assembly of women,” irregular and marginal in its own way, is the context for Lydia’s hearing of the Word. “God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9), and “the Spirit blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8)
Lydia and Mary of Bethany
Lydia is a professional woman, a merchant dealing in purple dyed fabrics. I imagine her to be smart, capable, a good judge of character. She is already an adorer of God, that is to say, one who adheres to the worship of the God of Israel. Adoration of the one God, the God of Israel, has prepared her heart to receive the seed of the Gospel. Lydia was “all ears” because the Lord had opened her heart to heed what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14). The Word Himself says, “No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). Reception of the Word of God is itself a gift of God. It is the Lord who opens the ear of the heart to the Word. Luke’s portrait of Lydia bears a certain resemblance to his portrait of Mary of Bethany who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching” (Luke 10:39).|
The Sacramental Finality of the Word
Through ears opened by the Lord, Lydia receives the Word of God into her heart. This is the very substance of lectio divina. For Lydia, it leads to Baptism. The Word is fulfilled in the Mysteries, in the Opus Dei, the work wrought by God for us. Every hearing of the Word has this sacramental finality. The celebration of the Holy Mysteries delivers what the Word proclaims. We experience the same pattern in every Holy Mass: the Word proclaimed, heard, repeated, and prayed sends us to the altar for its actualization in the Mystery of Sacrifice.
The Divine Hospitality
Lectio divina and Opus Dei come to fruition in service and, particularly, in hospitality. Lydia, having experienced the hospitality of God in Word and in Sacrament, witnesses to the Divine Hospitality by extending it. Having opened her heart to the Word, she opens her home to Paul and his companions. This is the very foundation of monastic hospitality. All of us, guests and sojourners in the house of God, “hospitalized” in His Word, and nourished from the altar of His Sacrifice, are compelled to go and do the same.
Come, Holy Spirit
Lectio divina, Opus Dei, and Hospitality — each being sacramental in its own way — imply the secret action of the Paraclete promised by Our Lord in the Fourth Gospel. In lectio divina, as in the Opus Dei, and in sacred hospitality, we witness the presence and action of the same Holy Ghost to whom we shall sing in the hymn at Tierce:
Let flesh and heart and lips and mind
Sound forth our witness to mankind;
And love light up our mortal frame,
Till others catch the living flame.