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Saint Luke, Evangelist

The Evangelist

Saint Luke comes to us today as the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist of the little and of the poor, the evangelist of the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels. He comes to us as the iconographer of the healing Christ, the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. Saint Luke comes to us as the advocate and friend of the women disciples of the Lord, and as the witness of the Acts of the Apostles and of the life of the infant Church. He comes to us as the poet of the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, as the evangelist of the sacred liturgy, the one who closes his Gospel with the radiant image of a joyful Church semper in templo benedicentes Deum, “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52).

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

According to an old tradition, Saint Luke, in addition to being a physician (Col 4:14), was a painter. It is recounted that Saint Luke depicted the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ in three icons. He showed them to her. The Mother of God looked at them with joy and then blessed them, saying, “May the grace of Him to Whom I gave birth be within them.” The iconography of Saint Luke himself makes for a fascinating study; he is nearly always portrayed painting the Blessed Virgin and her Son. Paintings of a saint painting!

Saint Luke at the Cross

I know also of one painting of Saint Luke, different from all others and profoundly moving. It is by the Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaràn and dates from 1660. Zurbaràn shows Saint Luke standing on Calvary; he is holding an artist's palette in his hands and contemplating Jesus Crucified with rapt attention. Saint Luke is memorizing the scene so as to depict it in a painting, just as he depicts it in his Gospel.

A Rosary of Icons

Open the Gospel of Saint Luke and what do you see? Icons of the Virgin Mother and the Child Christ, of the healing Christ, of Christ in prayer, of the suffering Christ, of the Crucified Christ, and of the mysterious risen Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus. These Gospel icons, written by Saint Luke with an extraordinary spiritual sensitivity, invite us to the contemplation of the Face of Christ in much the same way, as do the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Lectio Divina of the Icon

Irish Benedictine Dom Gregory Collins has written an extraordinary little book on icons: “The Icons and Lectio Divina: Ancient and Post Modern Insights.” Dom Gregory applies the four moments of lectio divina to the practice of prayer before an icon. Lectio becomes a reading of the imagery, an attempt to “receive” the message it expresses through colour and form.

Meditatio takes the images received and turns them over in the mind; it can also mean focusing on a single detail of the icon: the face, the eyes, a hand, a gesture. Meditatio before an icon allows one to linger for a long time in the transforming presence of the light of God. “We all,” says Saint Paul, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Oratio is the prayer that, like a flame, shoots up in the heart. Gazing upon the icon, like repeating the sacred text, feeds the flame of oratio. Finally, one is surprised by a holy stillness. The “fiery darts of prayer” are absorbed into something more obscure: contemplatio. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

Dom Gregory’s insights may help us to read the Gospel of Saint Luke more deeply, searching on each page for the icon that slowly emerges from between the lines and behind the words, becoming visible to the eyes of faith. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9).

We Become What We Contemplate

Philosophers, psychologists and saints agree that we become what we contemplate. Look at goodness and you will become good. Look at beauty and you will become beautiful. Look at truth and you will become true. Look at purity and you will become pure. Saint Clare of Assisi, herself so marked by Gospel of Saint Luke, wrote to Agnes of Prague: “Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him” (Second Letter to Agnes of Prague).

Contemplating the Mysteries With Saint Luke

Understood in this way, the contemplation of the “icons” of Saint Luke’s Gospel, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, is transforming. The Rosary is, I have always believed, a uniquely Lukan prayer. Consider Saint Luke’s icon of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 38) and, with Mary, become “Yes” to the Word. Look at the Visitation (Lk 1:39 56) and learn the language of Mary’s praise. Look at the Child lying in the manger (Lk 2:16) and become little and poor.

Look at the merciful Christ (Lk 4:40 - 5:26) and become merciful; at the healing Christ (Lk 7:1-10) and become an instrument of healing; at the solitary Christ in prayer (Lk 11:1), and learn to converse with the Father.

Look at the icon of Christ in Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46), agonizing and comforted by an angel, and enter into his submission to the Father’s will. Look at the crucified Jesus (Lk 23:33-47) and learn from him to forgive and to show mercy, even in the hour of darkness. Look at the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) and know that he walks with you always, opening the Scriptures, breaking the Bread, causing your hearts to burn with a mysterious fire. Finally, look at the icon of the Church in the last sentence of Saint Luke’s Gospel -- “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53) -- and learn to bless God always and everywhere, learn to give the last word to praise.

To the Altar

The Benedictine vocation is that of the Church in the temple at Jerusalem: to bless. The transformation that begins in the contemplation of Saint Luke’s Rosary of Gospel icons is perfected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


A Preacher Unlike Any Other

Would that Saint John Chrysostom, the Patron Saint of Preachers, could stand here in my place today and preach with the golden-mouthed eloquence given him by the Holy Ghost! How would we respond to his preaching? Saint Chrysostom's preaching disturbed the placid, inflamed the tepid, woke up the drowsy, exposed corruption, frightened the indifferent, unsettled the comfortable, and caused the pious to squirm.

His preaching also inspired confidence in the Blood of Christ, gave hope to the hopeless, caused sinners to weep with sorrow for their faults, inspired the rich to give abundantly of their wealth, moved people to detachment from earthly goods, humbled the haughty, brought fornicators to chastity, converted swindlers to justice, and endowed the ignorant with the science of Jesus Christ.

Immersion in the Word of God

The secret of Saint John Chrysostom's eloquence was his total immersion in the Word of God. Centuries later, Blessed Abbot Marmion would say that nothing imparts a penetrating unction to preaching as much as a continual reference to the Word of God. On this point the greatest preachers are of one mind: their task is to repeat the Word in other words, to deliver not their own wisdom, but the wisdom of God revealed in the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18).

Take to heart Saint Chrysostom's admonition:

Listen carefully to me, I entreat you. . . . Procure books that will be medicines for the soul. . . . At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle's epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don't simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well.

The Cause of All Evils

The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well. Why does the Golden-Mouthed Doctor say this? Because he who fails to know the Scriptures well fails to know the mind and heart of Christ. He who knows not the mind and heart of Christ receives the Body and Blood of Christ with little fruit. It is the Word, the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), that prepares us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Lectio Divina

It is the Word heard (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio) that prepares the soul to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ, and prolongs the effects of Holy Communion throughout the day.

The Word of the Cross and the Fruits of the Precious Blood

The intensity of our Eucharistic life is directly proportionate to our immersion in the Word of God. Ask Saint John Chrysostom today to pray that we may cleave to the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18) and so experience the lasting fruits of the Precious Blood of Christ.


The Lectionary used at Matins is that edited by Stephen Mark Holmes for Pluscarden Abbey. Today's readings are especially lovely. The responsories are proper to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. The liturgical function of the responsory is to facilitate the inward assimilation of the message of the lesson.

The liturgical theology of Pope Saint Leo the Great, articulated in the lesson for the Second Nocturn, insists on the perennity of the grace that flows from the celebration of the mysteries of Christ. "We are not," he says, "left with a mere report of bygone events, to be received in faith and remembered with veneration. God's bounty toward us has been multiplied, so that even in our own times we daily experience the grace which belonged to those first beginnings."

At the First Nocturn:


(Foreigners and eunuchs are admitted into the house of the Lord: Isaiah 56:1-8)

Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil."

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.

"And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered."


These I will bring to my holy mountain * and make them joyful in my house of prayer. R. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. V. To the eunuchs who keep my ssbbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. R. For my house. V. Glory be.

At the Second Nocturn:


Dearly beloved, the day on which Christ first showed himself to the Gentiles as the Saviour of the world should be held in holy reverence among us. We should experience in our hearts the same joy as the three wise men felt when the sign of the new star led them into the presence of the King of heaven and earth, and they gazed in adoration upon the one in whose promised coming they had put their faith. Although that day belongs to the past, the power of the mystery which was then revealed has not passed away; we are not left with a mere report of bygone events, to be received in faith and remembered with veneration. God's bounty toward us has been multiplied, so that even in our own times we daily experience the grace which belonged to those first beginnings.

The Gospel story specifically recalls the days when, without any previous teaching from the prophets or instruction in the law, three men came from the far east in search of God; but we see the same thing taking place even more clearly and extensively in the enlightenment of all those whom God calls at the present time. We see the fulfilment of that prophecy of Isaiah which says: The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all nations, and the whole world has seen the salvation that comes from the Lord our God. And again: Those who have not been told about him shall see, and those who have not heard shall understand. When we witness people being led out of the abyss of error and called to knowledge of the true light, people who, far from professing faith in Jesus Christ, have hitherto devoted themselves to worldly wisdom, we can have no doubt that the splendour of divine grace is at work. Whenever a shaft of light newly pierces darkened hearts, its source is the radiance of that same star, which impresses the souls it touches by the miracle of its appearance and leads them forward to worship God.

If on the other hand we earnestly ask ourselves whether the same threefold oblation is made by all who come to Christ in faith, shall we not discover a corresponding gift offering in the hearts of true believers? To acknowledge Christ's universal sovereignty is in fact to bring out gold from the treasury of one's soul; to believe God's only Son has made himself truly one with human nature is to offer myrrh; and to declare that he is in no way inferior to his Father in majesty is to worship him with frankincense.


The Lord has bared His holy arm * in the sight of all nations, R. And the whole world has seen the salvation that comes from the Lord our God. V. The mystery which was then revealed has not passed away; God's bounty toward us has been multiplied. R. And the whole world. V. Glory be.

Ego sum vitis, vos palmites

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John 15 After Holy Communion

We held the blessing of grapes after Holy Mass, using the Latin text given in Father Weller's Roman Ritual. It brought to mind a time and place in my own spiritual journey, now over forty years ago, when, at 16 and 17 years of age, I used to read John 15 nearly every day as my thanksgiving after Holy Communion. I had a paperback pocket version of the New Testament. A dear friend had made me a special cover for it. After Mass, I would eagerly pull it out and go straight to the discourse of the vine and the branches. I never tired of reading it and, in those moments after Holy Communion, I could almost "taste" it.

I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.
[If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.
In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love.

The Magic of Daisy Street

I wonder why I was so affected by this particular passage. Perhaps it was because the reality of a grape vine entered into my consciousness at a very early age. There are still (somewhere) photos of me, at one year of age, being lifted in my father's arms to grasp the bars of the grape arbor in the backyard of my maternal great-grandparents, Giuseppe and Rosina Martino. Their little house on Daisy Street in the Highwood section of New Haven was magical to me. Not only was there the grape vine -- under which family meals would take place after a white sheet had been suspended above the table to prevent bugs from falling into the food -- there was also a deliciously mysterious cellar where the wine was kept, and where great bunches of basil and oregano were hung upside-down from the ceiling to dry. The fragrance of that cellar has followed me all my life. To this day whenever I smell the fragrance of basil, I am transported back to Daisy Street in the 1950s. Yes, it's all rather Proustian, I know, but apart from that, the experience somehow opened my heart to John 15.

Your Veiled Gaze Is Our Heaven

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Future Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle

The Most Reverend Edward J. Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, intends to establish in his diocese a monastery of Benedictine Monks (Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, O.S.B.) dedicated to adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist, intercession and reparation for priests, and the spiritual support of the clergy through hospitality, days of recollection, and retreats.

In This Year of the Priesthood

The project takes on a compelling relevance in the context of this Year of the Priesthood. It is moreover a direct response to the Letter of Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, dated 7 December 2007. Will we be able to break ground for the new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle during this Year of the Priesthood? Much depends on the generous donations of the faithful. Until now we have not been able to obtain the financial support necessary to launch this noble and worthy work.

Prayer for Priests

The connection of the project with yesterday's Feast of the Transfiguration and with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is striking. The saint added to her name in Carmel the title, "of the Holy Face," and said upon entering the cloister, "I have come to pray for priests."

Gazing on the Holy Face

It was August 5th, 1897, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration: the 24 year old Carmelite stricken with tuberculosis had a very special desire. She wanted an image of the Holy Face of Christ placed close to her bed. The image was brought from the choir and attached to her bed curtains. On the following September 30th,Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face died. Saint Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, fixed her gaze on the Face of Christ disfigured by suffering, and found the transfiguration of her own suffering in its radiance.

Preparation for the Mystery of the Cross

The Holy Face of Christ was a mystery familiar to Thérèse. As a result of the good works of the Venerable Léon Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours," devotion to the Holy Face had spread throughout France. The Carmel of Lisieux honoured the Holy Face every August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Every August 6th, the Carmelites exposed the image of the Holy Face in their choir and prayed before it.


Hidden in the Secret of His Face

A year before her death on August 6, 1896, Thérèse and two novices entrusted to her consecrated themselves to the Holy Face of Jesus. They understood the mystery of the Transfiguration just as the liturgy presents it to us: as a preparation for the Mystery of the Cross.

The three young Carmelites asked Our Lord to hide them "in the secret of His Face." They were drawn by the Holy Spirit into the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant described in chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah. They desired to be Veronicas, consoling Jesus in His Passion, and offering Him souls. Their prayer concluded: "O beloved Face of Jesus! As we await the everlasting day when we will contemplate your infinite Glory, our one desire is to charm your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus! Your Veiled Gaze is our Heaven!"

Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration

The Transfiguration is the Human Face of God shining more brightly than the sun. Tradition gives us two privileged ways of seeking, of finding, and of contemplating the transfigured and transfiguring Face of Christ: the first is lectio divina. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures -- the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text -- will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host will be transfigured and healed in its radiance.

To Seek God

The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle in the Diocese of Tulsa will be a place wherein priests and deacons may go apart for one thing only: to seek God. And where is God to be found except in Christ? "The knowledge of the glory of God," says Saint Paul, "is given to us in the Face of His Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

Yesterday's Introit is the liturgical expression of this spirituality of the Holy Face. "Thou hast said, 'Seek ye my Face.' My heart says to thee, 'Thy Face, Lord, do I seek.' Hide not thy Face from me" (Ps 27:8-9a). The Holy Spirit works in lectio divina and Eucharistic adoration to reproduce in us the traits of the Holy Face of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI has recommended that both forms of seeking the Holy Face -- lectio divina and Eucharistic adoration -- be part of one's daily rhythm of prayer.

Infinite Beauty

The Face of Christ is "the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart" (Vita Consecrata, art. 16). How fitting that, in the Greek text of today's gospel, Saint Peter's cry can, in fact, be translated, "Lord, it is beautiful for us to be here" (Mk 9:5)! In the transfigured Face of Christ we discover, in the words of Saint Clare of Assisi, "Him who gave Himself totally for our love, whose beauty the sun and moon admire, whose rewards and their preciousness and greatness are without end” (Letter III to Agnes of Prague).

Become What You Contemplate

Like Moses, to whom "the Lord used to speak face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex 33:11), and whose "face shone because he had been talking with God" (Ex 34:29), a soul faithful to lectio divina and to Eucharistic adoration will be transformed into the image that she contemplates. We become what we contemplate. One who contemplates disfigured things becomes inwardly disfigured. One who contemplates transfigured things becomes inwardly transfigured.

The Prophet Daniel

Yesterday's lesson from the prophet Daniel showed him awestruck in the presence of the Son of Man. Like Peter, James, and John on the holy mountain, Daniel is dazzled by the raiment of the Son of Man, white as snow (Dan 7:9). Again, like Peter, James, and John who were "heavy with sleep" (Lk 9:32), Daniel falls on his face, "in a deep sleep with his face to the ground" (Dan 10:9). This is no ordinary sleep; it is rather a mysterious sleep induced by the awesome proximity of the Divine, not unlike the sleep of Adam described in Genesis. "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man” (Gen 2:21).

Fear Not, Daniel

Daniel describes what happened then. "And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees" (Dan 10:10). The touch of the hand of the Son of Man raises Daniel from his complete prostration. "And he said to me, 'O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.' While he was speaking this word to me, says Daniel, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, 'Fear not, Daniel'" (Dan 10:11-12).

The experience of Daniel ends with him being told to stand upright. It is a kind of resurrection. This too, the call to stand upright, to take our place with the risen Son, facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit, is part of our own transfiguration into the Victimal Priesthood of Christ. The soul transfigured stands before the Father, joyful and free, certain of being greatly beloved, and invested with the noble beauty of Christ's royal priesthood.

Holy Mass

At Holy Mass, priest, deacon, and people together ascend the mountain with Christ. In the reading of the Scriptures, Our Lord reveals His Face; and in the hearing of the Word we go, as the Vulgate puts it, "from clarity to clarity." Today, Moses and Elijah attest to Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and of the Prophets, and point to the mystery of His Exodus by way of the Cross and tomb, from the regions of darkness and of death into the very light and life of the Father.

Passing in every Mass from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice, we, like Peter, James, and John, see his glory, not with eyes of flesh, but with the eyes of faith and by the light of the Holy Spirit. We know Him really present in the bread become His Body and in the wine become His Blood and, like Peter, cry out, "Master, it is beautiful to be here" (Lk 9:33).

The altar of the Holy Sacrifice is our Mount Tabor. Over the altar resounds the voice of the Father, "This is my Son, the Chosen One; listen to him" (Lk 10:35). Invisibly yet truly; mystically yet really, the altar -- and all of us who from it partake of the Body and Blood of Christ -- are enveloped in the cloud of the Holy Spirit and assumed into the grand priestly prayer of Christ to the Father.

Eucharistic Transfiguration

The grace of yesterday's festival was our own Eucharistic transfiguration. Our Lord would take each of us and all of us into His hands, to become with Him, in the Holy Spirit, one single oblation to the Father. Without fear, give yourselves over, then, as victims into the wounded hands of our glorious Priest. He will consecrate you with Himself in the Holy Sacrifice. Then the Father, looking down from heaven, will recognize in each of us the Holy Face of His Son, the Beloved, for by the mystery of the Eucharist we are "being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18).

If you would like to make a contribution toward building the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, please send it to:

Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle
1132 East 21st Street
Tulsa, OK 74114

Kindly indicate that your contribution is for the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. Thank you for your generosity. May Our Lord Jesus Christ through the intercession of Saint Thérèse, make the light of His Eucharistic Face shine upon you.

The Word Has A Face

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Pope Benedict XVI preaches like a monk! By this I mean that his preaching, like that of Saint Gregory the Great and others of the Fathers, is manifestly the fruit of 1) lectio, 2) meditatio, 3) oratio, and 4) contemplatio. It reveals an intimate familiarity with the Word of God, and notably with the Psalter, that can come only from a quotidian fidelity to the Opus Dei, the Divine Office.

A word about this picture of Pope Saint Gregory the Great: the work of Carlo Saraceni, it dates from about 1601. Note that the tiara rests upon the book. What book? Is it the Bible? Or is it an antiphonary? Peu importe. The message is that all authority in the Church, even the supreme authority, rests upon Tradition. Saint Gregory is shown writing. He is writing what he hears whispered to him by the Holy Ghost. In the form of a white dove, the Holy Ghost flutters quite close to the pontiff's head. Remark Saint Gregory's large ear! He was, after all, a son of Saint Benedict, whose Holy Rule begins with the words, "Listen my son to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RSB, Pro 1).

In this homily/meditation delivered on the morning of October 6th, readers of Vultus Christi will rejoice to discover Pope Benedict XVI's allusions to the Face and Heart of the Word.

The Holy Father Meditates Psalm 118

Dear brothers in the episcopacy, dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours presents a passage from Psalm 118 on the Word of God: a praise of his Word, an expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to recognize his will and his Face. I would like to meditate on some verses of this Psalm with you.

The Power of the Word

It begins like this: "In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet". This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which one must base one's life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history, words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Building on Sand

Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order.

The Foundation of Our Life

The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. The realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.

All Things at the Service of the Word

The following verse says: "Omnia serviunt tibi". All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. "In the beginning was the Word". In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is "creatura Verbi". All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is conceived of to create the place of encounter between God and his creature, a place where the history of love between God and his creature can develop. "Omnia serviunt tibi". The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature. In this sense, salvation history, the Covenant, precedes creation

All Creation is Ordered to Christ

During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here. This is what we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: Christ is the "protòtypos", the first-born of creation, the idea for which the universe was conceived. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the Covenant is the true cause of the cosmos. We reach the roots of being by reaching the mystery of Christ, his living word that is the aim of all creation.

Seeking the Word in the Words

"Omnia serviunt tibi". In serving the Lord we achieve the purpose of being, the purpose of our own existence. Let us take a leap forward: "Mandata tua exquisivi". We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We do not find the Word in the words.

In this context St Augustine recalls the scribes and pharisees who were consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Saviour of the world would be born. They know it, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Saviour. St Augustine says: they are signs on the road for others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of Scripture: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today in the words from the past. In this way we do not enter the interior movement of the Word, which in human words conceals and which opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for "exquisivi". We must always search for the Word within the words.

Communion with the Word

Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming ourselves to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that he may help us search the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.

Word, Church, and Mission

At the end: "Omni consummationi vidi finem, latum praeceptum tuum nimis". All human things, all the things we can invent, create, are finite. Even all human religious experiences are finite, showing an aspect of reality, because our being is finite and can only understand a part, some elements: "latum praeceptum tuum nimis". Only God is infinite. And therefore His Word too is universal and knows no boundaries. Therefore by entering into the Word of God we really enter into the divine universe. We escape the limits of our experience and we enter into the reality that is truly universal. Entering into communion with the Word of God, we enter a communion of the Church that lives the Word of God. We do not enter into a small group, with the rules of a small group, but we go beyond our limitations. We go towards the depths, in the true grandeur of the only truth, the great truth of God. We are truly a part of what is universal. And thus we go out into the communion of all our brothers and sisters, of all humanity, because the desire for the Word of God, which is one, is hidden in our heart.

Therefore even evangelization, the proclamation of the Gospel, the mission are not a type of ecclesial colonialism, where we wish to insert others into our group. It means going beyond the individual culture into the universality that connects all, unites all, makes us all brothers. Let us pray once again that the Lord may help us to truly enter the "breadth" of His Word and thus to open ourselves to the universal horizon that unites us with all our differences.

I am Yours

At the end, we return to a preceding verse: "Tuus sum ego: salvum me fac". The text translates as: "I am yours". The Word of God is like a stairway that we can climb and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of his love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. "I am yours". The word has a Face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say "I am yours", he has already told us "I am yours". The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: "You gave me a body.... Then I said, "Here I am, I am coming'". The Lord prepared a body to come. With his Incarnation he said: I am yours. And in Baptism he said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, He says ever anew: I am yours, so that we may respond: Lord, I am yours. In the way of the Word, entering the mystery of his Incarnation, of His being among us, we want to appropriate His being, we want expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us.

In the Heart of the Word

"I am yours". Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. Thus we will be in the heart of the Word. Thus we will be saved.


From the Lineamenta. Read the entire document here.

Mary: Every Believer's Model for Receiving the Word

25. Salvation history has great examples of hearers and evangelizers of the Word of God: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Sts. Peter and Paul, the other Apostles and the evangelists. In faithfully hearing the Lord's Word and communicating it to others, these people created a space for the Kingdom of God.

From this vantage point, the Virgin Mary assumes a central role as one who lived, in singular fashion, the encounter with the Word of God, who is Jesus himself. She is then a model of every aspect of hearing and proclaiming. Already possessing a familiarity with the Word of God in her intense experience of the Scriptures of the Chosen People, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation to her presence at the foot of the Cross, and even to her participation at Pentecost, receives the Word in faith, meditates upon it, interiorizes it and intensely lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19, 51, Acts 17:11)). Because of her uninterrupted response of "yes" to the Word of God, she knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from the Son is a gift meant for everyone: in the service of Elizabeth, at Cana and at the foot of the cross (cf. Lk 1:39; Jn 2:1-12; 19: 25-27). Therefore, the words, uttered by Jesus in her presence, are appropriately applied to her as well, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). "Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate" (32).

Maria, Virgo Audiens

Mary's way of hearing the Word of God deserves special consideration. The Gospel text, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), means that she heard and knew the Scriptures, meditated upon them in her heart in an interior process of maturation, where the mind is not separated from the heart. Mary sought the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and found it, associating it (symallousa) with the written words, the life of Jesus and the moments of discovery in her personal history. Mary is our model not only for receiving the faith which is the Word, but also for studying it. It is not enough for her to receive it. She reflects on it. She not only possesses it, but values it. She not only gives it her assent, but also develops it. In doing so, Mary becomes an example of faith for all of us, from the most simple soul to the most scholarly of the Doctors of the Church, who seek, consider and set forth how to bear witness to the Gospel.

Maria, Virgo Obediens

In receiving the Good News, Mary is the ideal model of the obedience of faith, becoming a living icon of the Church in service to the Word. Isaac of Stella states: "In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary.... The Lord's inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary's womb, he dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church's faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul (33)". She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, making our own the "here I am" of the prophet (cf. Is 6:8) and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in us. She "magnifies" the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her "blessed," because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). St. Ambrose says that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives him birth (34).


The Holy Father's homily at Vespers in the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris (12 September 2008) hasn't received the attention it deserves. Here is his message to priests, seminarians, and deacons.

To Priests

Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life.  Each morning the word awakens us.  Each morning the Lord himself "opens our ear" (cf. Is 50:5) through the psalms in the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer.  Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ.  In the celebrated phrase of Saint Jerome, to be taken up in the XII Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next month: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (Prol. in Is.).

Dear brother priests, do not be afraid to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office!  Almost without your knowing it, God's word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you.  As the manifestation of divine Wisdom, if that word becomes your life "companion", it will be your "good counsellor" and an "encouragement in cares and grief" (Wis 8:9).

To Seminarians

"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword", as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us (4:12).  Dear seminarians, who are preparing to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus to share in the threefold office of teaching, governing and sanctifying, this word is given to you as a precious treasure.  By meditating on it daily, you will enter into the very life of Christ which you will be called to radiate all around you. 

By his word, the Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrament of his Body and Blood; by his word, he healed the sick, cast out demons and forgave sins; by his word, he revealed to us the hidden mysteries of his Kingdom.  You are called to become stewards of this word which accomplishes what it communicates.  Always cultivate a thirst for the word of God!  Thus you will learn to love everyone you meet along life's journey.  In the Church everyone has a place, everyone!  Every person can and must find a place in her.

To Deacons

And you, dear deacons, effective co-workers of the Bishops and priests, continue to love the word of God! You proclaim the Gospel at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration, and you expound it in the catechesis you offer to your brothers and sisters.

Make the Gospel the centre of your lives, of your service to your neighbours, of your entire diakonia.  Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God's word!

Quaerere Deum

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Pope Benedict XVI
Collège des Bernardins, Paris
12 September 2008

The Holy Father's discourse today at the Collège des Bernardins (a familiar way of referring to monks of the Order of Cîteaux) in Paris, must be read in relationship to the equally masterful discourse he gave on September 9, 2007 at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The Holy Father's presentation of the monastic culture of The Word, and of the role it played in the development of letters and of learning in Europe, is simply brilliant. I was particularly taken by His Holiness' treatment of the birth of Christian liturgical chant: a music whose worthiness of God resounds in purity.

Built by the Sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


Dear friends, we are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. In particular, I greet the Minister of Culture, who is here representing the Government, together with Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Jacques Chirac. I likewise greet all the Ministers present, the Representatives of UNESCO, the Mayor of Paris, and all other Authorities in attendance. I do not want to forget my colleagues from the French Institute, who are well aware of my regard for them. I thank the Prince of Broglie for his cordial words. We shall see each other again tomorrow morning. I thank the delegates of the French Islamic community for having accepted the invitation to participate in this meeting: I convey to them by best wishes for the holy season of Ramadan already underway. Of course, I extend warm greetings to the entire, multifaceted world of culture, which you, dear guests, so worthily represent.

The Culture of Monasticism

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism's historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?

Searching for God

First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: "quaerere Deum". Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential - to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were "eschatologically" oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

The Culture of the Word

"Quaerere Deum": because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or - as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. "L'amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu"). The longing for God, the "désir de Dieu," includes "amour des lettres," love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a "dominici servitii schola." The monastery serves "eruditio," the formation and education of man - a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason - education - through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.


Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37). Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. "But if "legere" and "lectio" are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit", says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).

At the Origin of Liturgical Chant

And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him. The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the "Gloria", which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the "Sanctus", which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject: "The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates. The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes" (cf. ibid. p. 229).

Music Whose Worthiness Resounds in Purity

For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: "coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine" - in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) - are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the "zone of dissimilarity" - the "regio dissimilitudinis". Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God's likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the "zone of dissimilarity" - into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man's falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter.

The Culture of Singing is the Culture of Being

It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private "creativity", in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the "ears of the heart" the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

The Scriptures and the Journey Toward Christ

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply one book but a collection of literature, which came into being in the course of more than a thousand years and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately recognizeable. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as "the Scripture" but as "the Scriptures", which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that God's word only comes to us here through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the mediation of human agents, their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: "littera gesta docet - quid credas allegoria ..." (cf. Augustine of Dacia, "Rotulus pugillaris", I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.

A New Challenge to Every Generation

We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. God's word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings.

Christ the Lord Shows Us the Way

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). And he continues: "Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: "The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete's own idea, the exegete's own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. It presents itself anew as a task for our generation too, vis-à-vis the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today's European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

Monastic Culture of Work

Thus far in our consideration of the "school of God's service", as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word - towards the "ora". Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life. But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the "labora". In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit. The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate. Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. Benedict in his "Rule" does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen. He does, however, speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus's saying in Saint John's Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: "My Father is working still, and I am working" (5:17). The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The "making" of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history. In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. "My Father is working still, and I am working." God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God is working. Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God's activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.

The Monastic Journey

We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was "quaerere Deum" - setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him. So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks' seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God's word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith's intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have" (Logos must become Apo-logia, word must become answer - 3:15). In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation--indeed, the obligation--to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The Incarnation

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" - towards searching and questioning mankind - is seen in Saint Paul's address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know - the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason - not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence in our flesh of eternal reason. "Verbum caro factum est" (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man's humility, which responds to God's humility.

The Search for God and the Readiness to Listen to Him

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. "Quaerere Deum" - to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe's culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

Rise and Live

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Frère Jean, ermite.jpg

So wearied with long journeying,
and never didst thou cry, Enough;
still obstinate, confess thy need thou wouldst not.

Alas, what anxious fears were these,
that to my service made thee false,
of me no memory left thee,
no thought?

And all because I nothing said,
made as if I nothing saw,
till at last thou hast forgotten me!

Yet, thou wouldst have right,
it is I that must declare it;
thy own striving is all in vain . . . .
His the prize, that in me has confidence;
on my holy mountain he shall find a resting place. . . .

A message from the high God, the great God,
whose habitation is eternity, whose name is hallowed!
He, dwelling in that high and holy place,
dwells also amidst chastened and humbled souls,
bidding the humble spirit, the chastened soul, rise and live!

(Isaiah 57, 10-15, translated by Monsignor Knox)


But do thou continue in the things that thou hast learned and that have been entrusted to thee, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. For from thy infancy thou hast known the Sacred Writings, which are able to instruct thee unto salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Lectio Divina?

Growing up, my younger brother Danny and I shared the same bedroom without sharing quite the same interests. We had twin beds. Mine was the second one in; between my bed and the outside windowed wall of the room was a narrow space, perhaps twenty inches wide. It became my little hermitage.

How I used to love going to my room when my brother was out. I would close the door and, crouching in that little space between the bed and the wall, I would read Saint Paul from a New Testament belonging to my father. Dad must have given it to me at some point because, when I came across it while packing the other day, I remarked that I had stamped my name inside the front cover when I was probably ten or eleven years old.

How I Met Saint Paul

I'm attached to that particular New Testament. It represents a bond between my father and me. I think Dad bought it during a parish mission. It is the 1941 revision of the Challoner-Rheims version, published by St. Anthony Guild Press in Paterson, New Jersey. There is a prayer to the Holy Spirit on the same page as the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur. I'm digressing. My point is that I met Saint Paul at a relatively early age by reading his Epistles in the solitude between my bed and the wall. I remember the sweetness I experienced, and the peace that came from reading the Apostle.

Caves and Deserts

Children need spaces of solitude as much as they need playgrounds and baseball diamonds. Children are capable of silence. Nothing is more intriguing to a small boy than stories of hermits living in caves or braving the desert. Improvised and imaginary hermitages can be places of grace for a child. God has been known to speak between a little boy's bed and the wall.

And Again He Began to Teach

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Week of Sexagesima
Third Wednesday of the Year II

Mark 4:1-20

Behold, the Sower Went Out to Sow

Our Lord presents four situations to those who would hear His teaching: (1) the seed that falls on the path, (2) the seed that falls on rocky ground, (3) the seed that falls among thorns, and (4) the seed that falls into good soil.

The Vice of Routine

The seed of the Word falls on the path when it is received superficially. It lies on the surface; the earth does not open to take it in. Satan, like a great noisy flock of birds, swoops down to carry away the seed before it can sprout and take root. The defect here is in the superficial hearing of the Word, in a lack of intentional listening. Routine, that perennial vice of the devout, is the most common cause of this. Routine sets in where there is a lack of vigilance and a certain unwillingness to be surprised by the Word in its newness.

Hear What God Has to Say

The remedy is a lectio that is intentional and intelligent, humble and watchful. “I will hear what the Lord God has to say” (Ps 84: 9), says the psalmist. Listen to the reading of the text, ready to be surprised by the Word. Say, “O God, suffer not that Thy Word should strike my ears without piercing my heart. Open my mind and heart to receive whatever seed falls from the hand of the Sower.”

Fits of Fervour

The seed of the Word falls on rocky ground when it is received in fast-fading fits of fervour. Yes, fits of fervour fade fast. Instability in the face of temptations, contradictions, and failures, prevents the Word from taking root. One must be steady in hearing the Word. Paul’s words to Timothy apply as much to the practice of lectio divina as they do to the ministry of preaching: “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). The remedy is in meditatio: in the persevering repetition of the Word “day and night” (Ps 1:2). The regular psalmody of the Divine Office is immensely helpful in this regard. Falling steadily, the Word can pulverize even the stoniest of hearts.


December 14
Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1 (R. Jn 8:12)
Matthew 11: 16-19

Liturgical Coincidences

It often happens that the sacred texts given us in the Lectionary for the occurring ferial day correspond wonderfully to the saint whom we are commemorating. And so it happened today, on this feast of Saint John of the Cross.

The Light of Life

Did you hear — I mean really heed with the ear of the heart — the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm? It was taken not from Psalm 1 as one might expect, but rather from the eighth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. There Our Lord says: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

It is the allusion to darkness that invites us to relate this word to the life and teaching of Saint John of the Cross. Did not Saint John embrace the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night? Does not he come to us just one week before the longest and darkest night of the year? Is not Saint John of the Cross our best guide through the darkness of the night, which no one of us can avoid, or delay, the dark night of faith?

One Little Word Changed

Now, be attentive! What does the Church do with this word of Our Lord when she chants it in her liturgy? She changes one single word. Our Lord says, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The Church, having heard this word of Our Lord (lectio), and having repeated it over and over again in the recollection of her heart (meditatio), turns it into a prayer (oratio) addressed directly to Him who pronounced it, by saying: Qui sequitur te, Domine, habebit lumen vitae, “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Lectio Divina

We have everything to learn from this procedure. It is the Church’s own way of praying. All prayer begins not with our word or words to God, but with the word that He addresses us. Prayer begins in the hearing of the word, and this is what the tradition calls lectio. Once heard, the word has to be remembered and, in order to remember it, we must repeat it over and over again. This is what the tradition calls meditatio. The same word, heard, and then repeated, becomes the word by means of which we lift our mind and heart to God, and this the tradition calls oratio. “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). One who prays in this way will find himself drawn into a mysterious inner stillness. There all becomes silent. There we experience a sweet and irresistible force that compels us to adore. Tacere et adorare. To be silent and to adore in the presence of the Thrice Holy God.

Inter-Abiding in Love

If we yield to this sweet and irresistible force — the action of the Holy Spirit — we will find that the silence that is the fruit of the word heard, repeated, and prayed, becomes the sacrament of a mysterious union with God, of what I can only describe as an “inter-abiding” in love. And this is what the tradition calls contemplatio.


On John 15:1–8

The Source of All Fecundity

Our Lord, in the fifteenth chapter of Saint John, raises us straightaway to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the source of all fecundity. Consider the very first verse: ”I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn 15:1). When Jesus says, — “I am . . . and my Father is,” He opens for us a door into His life with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

“Knock,” He says, “and the door will be opened to you; to him who knocks it will be opened” (Lk 11:9-10). Shall we stand on the threshold and peer in from the outside, or shall we heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and cross the threshold of the banqueting house where the wine is already poured out? Let us go in to the Son, and with the Son and through Him, let us go in to the Father, drawn on by the Holy Spirit. “He has brought me to the banqueting house,” says the bride of the Canticle, “and His banner over me was love” (Ct 2:4).

Christ the True Vine

“I am the true vine” (Jn 15:1). Christ does not say, “I am like the vine.” The vine, rather, is like Christ. In Christ, the vine finds its perfection. The vine is like Christ, but Christ is the true vine, just as He is the true bread, sustaining us with eternal life; the true water springing up into eternal life; the true door opening onto the pastures of eternal life; the true Shepherd giving His life for the sheep of His flock that they may have eternal life. Today, He reveals Himself to us as the true vine imparting life to every branch and tendril, to every part of Himself.

The Father is the Vinedresser

Christ reveals the Father to us as the vinedresser (Jn 15:1). The prophets had already spoken of the God of Israel as the planter and keeper of the vine. Our Lord would have us understand that the Father is more than the One who tends the vine. The Father is the origin of its life, giving it growth from within. The Father fosters growth from within by pruning from without.

“Every branch in me that bears no fruit He cuts away and every branch that does bear fruit He purifies” (Jn 15:2). We should expect to be pruned. How are we to “bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16), unless we submit to the Father’s pruning? If we are to be fruitful, then everything withered, everything sterile, everything in the way of the expansion of divine life, every impediment to fecundity, in us must be pruned.


Pruning the Branches

Pruning takes place in a variety of ways. It is inevitable and it is not without pain. For some the pruning takes place in the experience of physical suffering, for others in the crucible of emotional pain or spiritual desolation. In the lives of some, the pruning is subtle and protracted; in the lives of others, it is intense and brief.


There are persons for whom pruning takes the form of relentless doubts, of temptations against the Truth, and of rebellion against God. In these the Father may be fashioning a strong and shining Faith, capable of withstanding every assault.


There are others for whom pruning takes the form of an apparent loss of meaning, with violent temptations to discouragement leading at times to the edge of despair. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face experienced this. In souls tormented by temptations to despair, the Father may be fashioning an immense and glorious hope, capable of boundless confidence and of heroic surrender.


In still other persons, the pruning knife is applied to the most intimate impulses, to the desire to love and to be loved. The experience of rejection, of sweet loves turned bitter, of desires that rage within and batter the heart, may in fact lead to a purification of the passions, rendering the soul capable of accommodating the blazing fire of divine charity. In these, the Father may be fashioning true lovers, passionate lovers, inflamed with the Holy Spirit.

Fruitful Suffering

The cutting edge of the pruning knife is suffering and yet, the hand which holds the knife is the hand of Infinite Love. Suffering is not good; it is the effect of sin. And yet, with an indescribable tenderness, the Father makes use of it in such a way as to make us bear abundant fruit. How often lives of great suffering are lives of immense fruitfulness!

Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles


John 14:6-14
Psalm 18:2-5
1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Today’s Antiphons in the Divine Office

There is no doubt that the antiphons given in the Divine Office for this feast of Saints Philip and James are among the most beautiful of the Paschaltide liturgy. The Church takes the dialogue of the Gospel and, with an artistry inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents it anew in a series of antiphons interwoven with alleluias:

The first antiphon is Philip’s bold request: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8). Philip’s prayer echoes that of Moses in the book of Exodus: “I pray thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18).

The second antiphon is Our Lord’s astonishing reply. He presents Himself to Philip as the icon of the Father: “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

The third antiphon is a poignant complaint of the Heart of Christ. It is addressed not to Philip alone, but also to each of us: “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

The fourth antiphon is a gentle reproach; it ends nonetheless in a triple alleluia. The reproach becomes a promise full of hope: “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).

The fifth antiphon is an appeal to love. Like the fourth it ends in a triple alleluia: “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).

Benedictus Antiphon

There are two more antiphons to be considered. At the Benedictus it is Our Lord himself who sings in the midst of His Church: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me, alleluia.” The Church cannot but reply: “Yes, Lord, you are the way, and the truth, and the life. Behold, I come to the Father through You.” There is no better preparation for today’s Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Church coming to the Father through the Son, united to Him as His Body and His Bride.

Magnificat Antiphon

At Vespers the Magnificat will be framed by the words of the Lord: “Let not your heart be troubled or afraid. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:1–2). These are words of comfort, words of hope for every situation of fading light and for those moments when darkness descends over the human heart.


From the lineamenta for the forthcoming Synod on the Word of God:

Mary, Every Believer’s Model of How to Welcome the Word

11. In penetrating the mystery of the Word of God, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation, remains the Teacher and Mother of the Church and the exemplar of every encounter with the Word by individuals or entire communities. She welcomes the Word in faith, mediates upon it, interiorizes it and lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19,51; Acts 17:11). Indeed, Mary listened to and meditated upon the Scriptures; she associated them with Jesus’ words and the events which she discovered were related to his life. Isaac of Stella says: “In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary.... The Lord’s inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb, he dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul."

The Virgin Mary knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from her Son is a gift for everyone. She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in believers. She “magnifies” the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her “blessed,” because “she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). She invites every believer to put Jesus’ words into practice: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe” (Jn 20:29). Mary is the paradigm of the person who truly prays the Word and knows how to keep the lamp of faith burning in daily life. St. Ambrose observes that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives him birth.

Answering Ron

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Lectio Divina

Ron, a reader of Vultus Christi, asked about the discipline of adhering to the liturgical Lectionary in one's personal lectio divina. He wonders if one might not also read other passages from Sacred Scripture chosen more subjectively. I will attempt to answer Ron's questions based on my own experience.

Obedience to the Lectionary

The liturgical Lectionary given us by the Church is the most effective means of exposing oneself objectively, consistently, and fruitfully to the Word of God. The Bible is like an immense botanical garden with an amazing variety of plantings, trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, and fruits; by means of the Lectionary, Mother Church takes us by the hand and, in the course of the liturgical year, guides us along its paths and byways. She invites to contemplate the sights set before us, to inhale the vast variety of its fragrances, and to taste its fruits.

The Word in the Midst of the Church

Obedience to the discipline of the liturgical Lectionary assures a Catholic hearing/reading of the Scriptures. The fullest and richest resonances of the Word of God are heard only when that Word is proclaimed and received in medio ecclesiae, in the midst of the Church and in the company of her Fathers, Doctors, saints, and mystics. One who make a subjective choice of texts for lectio divina risks reading only those passages that appeal to his sensibility, while avoiding those that challenge him and those that reveal their meaning only after a sustained effort of the mind and heart.

Sunday Lectionary

The Sunday Lectionary revolves over a three year (A, B, C) cycle. The semi–continuous reading of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Year A; Mark, Year B; Luke, Year C) commands the choice of the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm. The Gospel of Saint John is read during Lent and Paschaltide. The sixth chapter of Saint John, the discourse on the Bread of Life is inserted into Year B, immediately following Saint Mark's account of the multiplication of the loaves . The Second Reading is an independent, semi–continuous reading of the Epistles of Saint Paul and the other books of the New Testament.

Weekday Lectionary

The Weekday Lectionary in the Time Throughout the Year revolves over a two year cycle. The synoptic Gospels are read in a semi–continuous fashion over a one year cycle; the First Reading is also read in a semi–continuous fashion over a two year cycle with a corresponding Responsorial Psalm chosen for each day. During the privileged seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Lent, and Paschaltide, the same readings and psalms appropriate to the season are repeated each year. Solemnities and feasts have their own proper readings. Memorials may celebrated with the occurring ferial readings or with proper readings as suggested by the Ordo Celebrationis or by pastoral need.

Sapiential Knowledge of the Scriptures

One who remains faithful in his lectio divina to the discipline of obeying the liturgical Lectionary will, over time, become familiar with the mystery of Christ that unifies the Scriptures from the first page to the last, and begin to acquire a sapiential knowledge of the Bible. On days of retreat or whenever one disposes of more time the liturgical lectio divina may be supplemented by lectio divina in particular book of the Bible, or by searching out a particular thematic.

Doing More

Cistercians have the tradition of praying the entire Psalter, beginning with Psalm 1 and proceeding numerically through Psalm 150 at least once a year in suffrage for the faithful departed. During retreats I often return to the Canticle of Canticles, to the Gospel of Saint John, or to the Epistles of Saint Paul. This kind of lectio divina is, nonetheless, subordinate to that determined by the liturgical Lectionary.

The Four Movements

I further recommend that one follow the rhythm in our movements described by Guigo the Carthusian:

1. lectio, i.e. reading the Word in order to hear it. It is helpful always to read the text aloud or, at least, to murmur it audibly.

2. meditatio, i.e. repeating the word heard so that by dint of repetition it descends from the mind into the storehouse of the memory and into the heart.

3. oratio, i.e. reformulating as a Word directed to God, that is as prayer, the word heard in lectio and repeated in meditatio.

4. contemplatio, i.e. the Word heard, repeated, and prayed becomes the indwelling Word uniting the soul to the Blessed Trinity in the silence of love and of adoration.

Beginning and Ending

I have always found it helpful to follow our traditional monastic practice of beginning lectio divina on my knees, imploring the Holy Spirit to show me the adorable Face of Christ concealed and revealed on the sacred page. I then kiss the open Bible and pursue the rest of my lectio. At the end I pray a Gloria Patri and entrust to the Blessed Virgin Mary the Word that I have heard, repeated, and prayed, that I may keep it in my heart as she kept it in hers.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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