During this Lenten season I want to encourage everyone to pray with and learn from the Scriptures. The two primary ways I want to speak about today are: Scripture helping us with personal prayer, and Scripture in the Liturgy. How can we receive more from the Word of God because the Word is Jesus, who speaks to us if we are open. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, but as what it really is, the Word of God. In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” (CCC #101)
Scripture in the Liturgy
The words of Sacred Scripture are unlike any other texts we will ever hear, for they not only give us information, they are the vehicle God uses to reveal himself to us. What is more, the Word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy possesses a special sacramental power to bring about in us what it proclaims. We believe that all Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
What, then, must we do to receive what God has to say to us in the Word of God proclaimed at Mass?
1. Prepare yourself. The General Instruction tells us that "the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone" and it admonishes us to "be carefully prepared.” One suggestion I would make is to read the readings before you come to Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Not only that, I would encourage everyone to pray with them; not on Sunday morning, but sometime during the week. I do this to prepare my homily. I read the readings on Monday, and then again on Tuesday and I let them sit in my mind and think about them. Inevitably a story or a thought comes to mind – this is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. Then I leave it for a day or so and then read the Scriptures again and allow the words to mull around in my mind.
This is what St. John Paul II encouraged in his work: Dies Domini (The Day of the Lord) “Reflect beforehand upon the Word of God, because it is difficult for the liturgical proclamation of the word of God alone to produce the fruit we might expect" In this way we will till the soil, preparing our souls to receive the seeds to be planted by the Word of God so that seed may bear fruit.”
2. “I don’t get anything out of Mass” Many say they don’t get anything out of Mass, but maybe it’s because they fail to first bring anything to it. We often bring our issues, stresses, anxieties, fears, concerns, and personal baggage to Mass. May I suggest that you check your bags at the doors of the church. Focus rather on thanksgiving, a special intention with you, someone or something you want to offer up to the Lord upon his altar alongside the gifts. Your problems are not unimportant to our Lord. But, let’s remember, as the Word of God tells us: “He knows our needs even before we ask them…” Turn your attention for the hour of Mass to the “divine space and time” of Mass - the Lord is offering up His very life for you. Don’t you think that He will take care of you? When we enter into God’s time and space, He is able to work His divine power and grace in us.
3. A pure heart, a clean heart Create in me Oh God. Are you really putting your heart upon that altar during Mass? Are you really giving God permission to have his way with you, entrusting him with your health, your finances, your job, your marriage, your children, your vocation, and your future? At Mass, Jesus, the Word of God is offering to give you a “new heart” a “heart of flesh, not of stone.” Give God permission to speak to you and transform your heart.
4. The Word of God calls us to Mission. Do you leave Mass with a mission? There are people who desperately need what you have! Before you exit that pew, before your genuflection is complete, and before you deactivate the car alarm in the parish parking lot, have a goal, a purpose, and a plan. This is an important way we can allow the Word of God to produce fruit in us. Who are you going to invite next week? Who are you going to reach out to at work or school? What do you need to work on personally, and how do you plan to unleash the powder keg of grace within your soul in the coming hours and days? The question is not whether you have been empowered at Mass but whether you comprehend the power that exists within you—and what you plan to do about it.
Scripture in Personal Prayer
Did you know that God wants us to talk with Him as we read His Word? He wants us to actively talk with Him in our heart. We gain so much strength as we read His Word and listen to Him.
1. First of all we must listen. God is interested in our needs. He knows them before we ask, but He delights that we come and ask Him. And there is certainly a place in prayer for asking and interceding for our needs and the needs of our neighbor. However, the Lord wants to speak to our heart as well. And to do this, we must cooperate. We must listen. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide (live) in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).
2. Give thanks and open your heart and mind. First, give thanks to God for who He is, and all that He has done. Then invite the Holy Spirit to open your mind and heart to the Lord. Ask for understanding. Become aware that you are always in the presence of a loving God. Thank God for creating you, loving you, adopting you as God's own child. Ask God for an increase in faith, hope, love, or any other grace you may need.
3. Read with Faith. Scripture is the living Word of God. When we read God’s Word, we encounter God Himself. When you read with Scripture, make sure that you proclaim in your heart that you believe God’s Word is true. Anyone can read the Bible, but the person who reads in faith, this will transform them.
4. Have something to help you focus. I encourage all those who come to me for spiritual direction to have a holy icon or image, a candle, a Bible open to a certain passage (a Gospel story, a psalm, etc.). Distractions are normal and common in prayer. When we are distracted, simply focus on the holy image or candle, and refocus on the Lord’s presence.
5. Reflect. As you end your prayer period, reflect on what you have just experienced, the key thoughts, feelings, interior movements. Thank God for giving you this time and opportunity to encounter and communicate with God, your loving Father. Speak aloud a short concluding prayer, such as the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, a prayer by your favorite saint, etc.
6. Journal. As you grow and become more comfortable and more faithful in prayer, consider taking time to journal. It doesn’t have to be a big, long process. Simply jot down your thoughts as you pray-read the Bible. Journaling helps us to capture the truths that God wants to give us.
During Lent we will be offering a couple evenings of prayer. This may be something which can help you in your personal prayer journey.