From today's readings we are reminded that like James and John, we can be so easily drawn into thinking that the way to get ahead in this life is through power, through domination. We see from Isaiah and from Christ Himself, that His absolute power and dominion is used to serve, is given freely and manifest in a form of apparent weakness. This apparent weakness unto a shameful death is turned into power and glory by the mysterious plan of the Father, who justifies many by the Cross.
From the Cross our loving God draws us to Himself, and we are transformed through our baptism into that mystery of salvation, which makes us confident as Hebrews says, to approach the throne of Grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. Christ has taken our humanity to heaven, so we have courage to pray. However, courage is not. We must also know how to pray: with the mind of Christ. This is where James and John failed: They don't seem to know what the Messiah's mission is to be. When Jesus says He came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” those last words should echo in their hearts and remind them of what we heard today in Isaiah, the last of the four poetic sections that speak of the “Suffering Servant,” which the Church reads every year on Good Friday. The disciples will hear Christ allude to these again in the Last Supper, in the words that the priest prays at every Mass when holding the chalice: “poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ, says St. Jerome. We must be readers of the Word of God, who is Jesus, in order to pray with His heart and mind.
So today I encourage us all to pray with Sacred Scripture, particularly through the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, Latin for “Sacred Reading” or “Divine Reading.” Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this in his Exhortation Verbum Domini, written two years ago, after the closing of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. I wish to conclude with his summary of this practice, quoting at length from that text.
The reading of the word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God. As Saint Ambrose puts it, “When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden” ... the greatest [during the Synod] attention was paid to lectio divina, which is truly “capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God”. I would like here to review the [four] basic steps of this procedure. It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity. (Verbum Domini, #87)
Thus Lectio Divina not only draws us into prayer with God who speaks to us in Scripture, but it also unites us to Christ the Word of God, who is our great high priest pleading before God on our behalf. And as we are absorbed into His mind and heart and will, our prayers are ever more effective and pleasing to God. Let us pray that as people of the New Evangelization in the midst of the Year of Faith, we may draw close to God through is Sacred Word and so be prepared for the transformation and renewal we encounter in the Mass and in the Eucharist.