An Ever-New Encounter

 “The essence of Christianity…is an ever-new encounter with…  the God who speaks to us, who approaches us and who befriends us!”
– Pope Benedict XVI

 We seek these ever-new encounters with the God who became a man, who has a face and a name for me to call him by…Jesus! Jesus comes to us in a way that is very specific to our unique person, to my heart, to yours. He meets us in our individual needs and hurts, attractions, desires and hopes. This event may be surprising, totally delightful or earth-shattering. Perhaps it is a simple recognition of his persistence, the constancy and intensity of his gaze. Naturally, we want to respond to this Love that is unlike other loves, and our desire for prayer and silence begins to grow. And we’re zealous to “do it” right, especially if we’re just beginning… you know, St. Teresa of Avila style, climbing the stairway of perfection through the many mansions of the interior life. We begin to ascend Mount Carmel with St. John of the Cross, using St. Bernard’s ladder of humility, discerning spirits all the way up just like St. Ignatius. There is so much to learn about prayer, and many saints to show us the way, especially the Little Way. If we’re not careful, however, it can get a bit overwhelming! Off we go to the adoration chapel, packing our Bible, journal, 2 pens (one for backup so we can be sure to recount every inspiration), a rosary, a private devotional prayer book, an encyclical letter by the Holy Father and St. Faustina’s diary. Ahhh, the perfect recipe for intimate communion with the Triune God!    

Sometimes, without even intending to, we can complicate the spiritual life and set ourselves up for discouraging “results”. Prayer is not about achieving a goal, or measuring personal holiness, but about being with the One who created us, knows us in our depths, loves us, and forgives us. Discouragement is one of the most effective tools of the evil one to turn us away from our resolutions for prayer.

In truth, prayer is more necessary for us than food. It is time set aside for conversation with God alone, allowing the space and silence necessary to hear the voice of God speaking to our hearts, nourishing our souls. There are several tools available to the one who desires to grow in prayer, one being Lectio Divinapraying with scripture.  (Pope Benedict wrote a beautiful review of Lectio  Divina in Verbum Domini, n. 87)

Here is a simple outline when beginning to pray with the Word of God. Once again, structures are meant to aid us initially, not limit or distract us.

Trying to set aside 20 minutes a day for this time of mental prayer will be transforming. Prior to beginning, choose a passage from scripture to use for your meditation. Perhaps it is one of the readings from the Mass of the day, which is an ideal length. Or you may want to read through the Gospels.

The first step, Statio, is choosing a location to pray. Are you able to get to an adoration chapel or a church? Perhaps there is a private place you can go, with minimal distractions, like your room or porch. Once you have found a place , say a prayer to the Holy Spirit before opening to your passage of scripture. Ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells in your soul, to guide you to all truth. Calm your mind by focusing on the Lord.

The second step is called Lectio, which is the reading of the text. As you read the text slowly to yourself, ask, “What does the text say? What is happening?”

Third is Meditatio, or meditation. At this point, you may ask interiorly, “What is this saying to me?” Perhaps read the passage over again, noting words or lines that stick out to you. Pope Benedict encourages asking oneself, “How am I moved or challenged” by what I have read?

The fourth step is called Oratio, which means prayer. What do I say to the Lord in response to the word he has spoken to me? During this time, we speak personally to God who is present to us, by petitioning him (asking that he provide for needs), making intercession (asking on behalf of others in need), giving him thanks and praise.

Following this is Contemplatio– contemplation and listening. Allow yourself to be “taken up by God’s gift to us, seeing and judging reality as he does, asking what conversion of mind, heart, and life I am being called to.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

All of these steps should flow into the last one, Actio, which is action, wanting to act in response to this exchange and to the Word I have received. We are inspired to make a self-gift in charity to others, following Christ more closely. With patience, trust, and holy perseverance, this practice can become our daily bread.  The Word of God, the Word spoken by the Father, Jesus the Christ, is living and effective. He still speaks to us, using words audible to the heart alone.

 “That’s also how love came to me (when I least expected). That’s how Jesus came to my soul…like a thief. He told me, ‘You are mine.’ It was something divine, which I am still savoring; which has sweetened my life.”
– St. Josemaria Escriva, recounting his call to the priesthood