By: Deacon Steve Olmstead
Last month I wrote about my favorite chapter, Proclamation of the Word, in Pope Francis’ book, The Joy of the Gospel. I mentioned that all of us are called to write the homily of our lives. We are all called to be preachers, preaching the Good News of Jesus by our lives. The article focused on three overarching themes: the centrality of Jesus, living between two embraces, and continuing the conversation. This month I want to highlight what Pope Francis calls, “Personalizing the Word”.
According to Pope Francis, “The preacher ought, first of all, to develop a great personal familiarity with the Word of God.” I am completely convinced that these words are meant for all people. All of us are called to a deeper, more personal, and intimate understanding and love of God’s Word.
In highlighting the Scriptures and urging a personal familiarity with God’s Word, Pope Francis is calling attention to the necessity of the Scriptures in our lives and in the lives of all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. “The preacher… needs to approach the Word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him.” Pope Francis goes on to write, “It is good for us to renew our fervor each day and every Sunday as we prepare the homily, examining ourselves to see if we have grown in love for the Word which we preach.”
To grow in love for the Word of God is an invitation to let God’s Word penetrate our hearts, souls and minds so that our lives may express to others the truth of God’s amazing grace and love. For some people falling in love is instantaneous. However, for many, falling in love is an ongoing process of discovery, intention, experience, time and offering of one’s self to another.
Pope Francis is encouraging all Bishops, Priests, Deacons and all God’s people to a life-long love affair with Jesus and His Word. We are called to this ongoing process of discovery, intention, experience, time and offering of ourselves to God’s Holy Word. In order for the Word to speak truth from our lives, the Word must first penetrate our hearts. For example, Pope Francis writes, “The Sunday readings will resonate in all their brilliance in the heart of the faithful if they have first done so in the heart of their pastor.” A priest is called to preach the Word which has first captured his heart. The same is true for all of us. The more we fall in love with Jesus and let His Word capture and penetrate our hearts, the more the Word of God may capture and penetrate the hearts of those who witness the homily of our lives. “Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the Word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life. In this way preaching will consist in that activity, so intense and fruitful, which is communicating to others what one has contemplated…we need to let ourselves be penetrated by that Word which will also penetrate others, for it is a living and active Word.”
Pope Francis invites us to one particular way of listening and spending time with God’s Word and letting ourselves fall in love with God’s Word and be transformed by His Spirit. “It is what we call Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). It consists of reading God’s Word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us.”
We are invited through this prayerful reading and reflection of God’s Word, to continue our life long journey of falling in love with Jesus and His Word. While there is much written about Lectio Divina and I encourage you to read and learn about it, I offer here a brief description:
Take time in prayerful reflection with Scripture. Read the Sunday Gospel or any short passage of Scripture and read it slowly and prayerfully. After a moment of silent reflection, read it again. In your meditation and reflection, is there a word or phrase that speaks to you? Is there a word or phrase you are drawn to? If so, take time to talk to God about this word or phrase. Why this word? What about this phrase that captured your attention? God’s Word is alive and active and has something to say to you. After your prayer time, let this word or phrase become your mantra for the day. Let this word or phrase continue to penetrate your being and sink into your heart and soul.
Pope Francis offers other questions to ask during this prayerful reading of God’s word: Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about his text?… Or perhaps: What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this Word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?
After reflecting on a word or phrase from your scripture reading and/or reflecting on the above questions, close your time in prayer by reading the passage one more time and praying the Our Father. (Lectio Divina can also be done in a group in which you share with God and one another how God’s Word is speaking to you.)
The Joy of the Gospel truly invites all of us to an ongoing encounter with Jesus. An encounter that ushers us into God’s great love story!