|Archbishop José H. Gómez|
Prayer is seeking the face of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”
This is what prayer is — the loving dialogue, the back and forth, the give and take of the child of God in conversation with the Father.
Last week I talked about how important it is for you to speak to God naturally and honestly, as your friend and father, talking from your heart to his heart.
This week I want to recommend one of the most ancient forms of Christian prayer — lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture as a dialogue with God.
If prayer is conversation, then we need to listen to God as much as we talk to him. “When you read the Bible, God speaks to you,” St. Augustine said. “When you pray you speak to God.”
Lectio divina turns our reading of the Scriptures into a private audience with the living God, who comes to us lovingly and speaks with us in the pages of the sacred texts.
There are different approaches to lectio divina. I follow a kind of classical method, which involves five “movements” — reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation and action.
You can use this approach with any biblical text. But I recommend that, for your daily practice of lectio divina, you pray united to the Church’s liturgy, using the Gospel reading for each day.
Reading the daily Gospel with prayer, our lives become a journey we are making with Jesus, a pilgrimage of the heart. Day in and day out, we are walking with him — listening to his teaching, learning from how he handles situations and deals with people.
To begin your lectio divina, you need to find a place that’s quiet, where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off all your “screens” — computer, cellphone, TV. Try to give 15 minutes to be alone with the Lord.
Begin by placing yourself in God’s presence. Realize that he is everywhere and that he loves you. Ask his Holy Spirit to open your heart. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you ponder the mysteries of Christ in your heart, as she did.
Then begin to slowly read the Gospel text for the day. Read it once and then again and then again.
As you read, look for details. What’s going on? Who are the characters? Linger over words or phrases that stand out to you. Pay special attention to what Jesus is saying and doing.
But remember, you are not reading a storybook. This is a meeting with the living God. Jesus lives in the sacred texts. God is speaking to you, personally.
So your reading will turn naturally to meditation. Here you ask God what is he trying to tell you in this passage of Scripture. Is there a promise here for you? A command? A caution? How does this text apply to your life situation right now?
Let the word of God challenge you. If you are having trouble understanding what you are reading, ask the Spirit for help.
Jesus told us: If we ask, we will receive and if we knock, closed doors will open. So ask God especially to help you understand scenes and teachings that don’t fit your assumptions, your and expectations, your prejudices.
Prayer is what we say to God in response to the word he speaks to us. It may be a prayer of thanksgiving or praise. Your prayer may be a petition — asking God to give you strength to follow or some special grace or virtue.
Our lectio divina ends in contemplation. Here we try simple to be still and know God. In contemplation, we are children seeking to know the mind and will of the Father who loves us. Our minds quiet, we rest in the presence of his gaze. “I look at him and he looks at me.”
From our contemplation, lectio divina leads us to make resolutions and commitments for action.
True prayer leads us to a deeper sense of responsibility for the mission of Christ, the mission of the church. The prayer of every disciple in every moment is: “What shall I do, Lord?”
The more we pray with the Gospels, the more we have “the mind of Christ” — his thoughts and feelings; seeing reality through his eyes. The more we pray, the more we feel Christ’s call to change the world — to shape society and history according to God’s loving plan.
Let’s pray for each other this week! And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to bring us a new desire to seek God’s face in the prayerful reading of the scriptures.
Archbishop José H. Gómez is the fifth archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.