Lectio Divina as School of Prayer among the Fathers of the Desert

Posted on February 8, 2009. Filed under: Christianity, John Cassian, lectio divina, Prayer, Religion and Spirituality |

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Lectio Divina as School of Prayer among the Fathers of the Desert By Abbot Armand Veilleux, O.C.S.O.

A scholarly piece, with lots of quotations, like this from St. John Cassian: “Brought to life by this food (that of the Scriptures) on which he does not cease to nourish himself, [the monk] penetrates to the point of all the sentiments expressed in the psalms, which he recites henceforth not at all as having been composed by the prophet, but as if he himself were the author, and as a personal prayer…This is, in fact, what the divine Scriptures reveal to us most clearly, and it is their heart and in some way their marrow that are shown to us, when our experience not only allows us to know, but makes us anticipate this very knowledge, and the sense of the words is made known to us, not by some explanation, but by the proof that we ourselves have made of them.”




First : Job 7:1-4.6-7; Second: 1 Cor 9:16-19.22-23; Gospel: Lk 24:13-
Suffering, sickness and weakness are words that appear in the readings of today’s liturgy. Others accompany them as a response: care, preaching, service. The Gospel presents a typical day in Jesus’ apostolic ministry: he preaches, he heals, he retires to pray, he leaves for other places to preach and cast out devils. In the first reading, Job complains: “I have assigned to me nothing for my own but nights of grief… My life is but a breath, and … my eyes will never again see joy.” Finally, Paul makes himself weak with the weak to save the weak, he makes himself a slave of everyone to win as many as he can (second reading).


Human suffering. When Job likens man’s life to military service, he is not focusing on the heroic or glorious aspects of the militia as much as on the meaning of struggling, pain, suffering and punishment. Whether one wants it that way or not, pain is present at the origin, middle and end of human life. There is the pain of the daily toil of work, and the nightmares that molest people from dusk to dawn. There is the reality of illness in all its various forms and the anguish of dying, of having to die and of feeling apprehensive about eternity. There is physical suffering with its cruel, disturbing face, and the suffering of the soul which upsets one’s inner self and tumbles one into a bottomless pit. There is obligatory renunciation because of superior and beautiful decisions, but which as a renunciation continues nevertheless to be painful; and there is voluntary renunciation for the good of others which also brings its own load of suffering. Above all, there is the pain of sin, that pain whose traces linger in the soul even when the sin has been forgiven. How immense is humanity’s pain! The infinite meaninglessness of life and the horrible absurdity! The awareness that pain and suffering will last as long as time, however many breakthroughs are made in medicine and biomedical technology.
The mystery of pain. Pain is a reality outside our door and in our inner selves. Pain is also a mystery. That is, it is something outside the human being’s grasp, however great his extraordinary capacity for understanding; it is something incomprehensible to all. It is also something which in escaping from your grasp you cannot dominate or manage as you will, but which imposes itself upon you and subjugates you. Neither Job nor Peter’s mother-in-law, nor those “possessed by devils” of which the Gospel speaks, sought suffering or sickness; rather, they were the passive subjects of a superior power that was imposed upon them against their will. Pain is also a mystery because it refers us to something or someone superior, above us and far beyond us, who enters into our lives and on whom we must depend. It is a mystery, lastly, because it requires “treatment” by a specialist, not to understand it, but rather to integrate it in our life and to succeed in giving it meaning. For us Christians, the specialist in pain is Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only he who can introduce us to the science of pain; only he can preach the Gospel or the good news of suffering to us with authority.
The Christian Way. In the liturgical texts there are indications of a Christian reaction to the reality of pain and the mystery of suffering. First of all, as Job teaches us, we must adopt a stance, not of resignation but of a quest for meaning. Far more important than seeking tranquilizers for suffering is the search for its meaning. A search which endures throughout life, because pain accompanies us to the grave. Secondly, we Christians must try to alleviate human pain. The discovery of pain is not an excuse in order to do nothing to soften and alleviate people’s pain. Since suffering is an evil closely linked to sin, we must fight it with determination and efficacy. Jesus did not fold his arms when faced with so many sick people, possessed by devils or terrified by some pain or other. The attitude of service in the face of suffering, as exemplified by Paul who made himself the servant of all, is a quintessentially Christian imperative. Teaching the meaning of pain and bearing authentic witness when facing one’s own suffering in the light of Christ’s mystery, is a high point of the Christian way.

The “beautiful” face of Christian suffering. Can pain be “beautiful”? Is it really the absolute evil in which there is no spark of beauty? Is it possible that a beautiful act can be reflected in the mirror of pain? For some people today, pain is more horrible than death, which is why euthanasia or suicide seem to solve the possible dilemma. For doctors, whose profession is to combat pain and for whom it is an enemy, it must be difficult to think of the beautiful side of suffering. I think telling the relatives of a dying person – of a patient with a terminal illness or of someone who has suffered a gruesome accident – that there can also be a beautiful side to pain, runs the risk being insolent or, at the least, inappropriate. Altogether, suffering has a certain human and Christian “beauty”. Physical or moral pain humanizes and dignifies man in his humanity and makes him more fully man when he accepts it and lives it with nobility of spirit, although his whole body may be contorted with the most unspeakable convulsions. It dignifies those who suffer it and their loved ones, when they bear with it and live it with noble elegance. Above all pain “Christianizes”, that is, it likens us to the great master and artist of pain who is Jesus Christ. His pain is beautiful because it embellishes all humanity, purifying it from the leprosy of sin and instilling in the old body of a fallen humanity the splendor of purity and innocence. A pastoral approach to suffering cannot do without this beautiful aspect of pain. What are the most appropriate ways and times to preach the good news, the beautiful face of suffering?
At the service of the suffering. Jesus Christ was a doctor of bodies and souls. The priest must follow in Christ’s footsteps. By his vocation he must always be available to alleviate human suffering as best he can. Accompanying those who suffer, comforting them with words or simply by being present, sharing an anxiety or a very deep sorrow, praying for those who suffer and getting them to pray with him about their suffering condition… Listening to the sinner in his inner anguish, speaking to him simple but true and authentic words which come from the heart, encouraging the despairing and the depressed, imbuing serenity in those who are overwhelmed and, as it were, devoured by pain… The priest should be, like Christ, a loving and compassionate doctor of bodies and souls. A full-time doctor, tireless, committed to all without reserve, like Jesus Christ, as this Sunday’s Gospel portrays him. Do I visit the sick and the elderly? Do I bring them the comfort of my words and especially the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist? Do I believe that service to the sick in body and mind is a fundamental element of my ministry? What can be done in my parish, in my religious community, to give a “beautiful” face to suffering?

–Clerus.org Library – Homilies

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