Posted by: Thomas Richard | March 3, 2017

Praying Scripture – Lectio Divina (part I)

The Catechism teaches much about prayer that can help us to grow in prayer. It can help us know why we should grow in prayer – why we should want to grow in prayer. To begin this post, let us observe one truth about prayer that we need to know from the beginning: prayer takes effort, it can cost us to pray, it is beautiful and necessary that we pray – but know this, prayer is a battle.

Prayer is a battle.
CCC 2725 Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in His name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.

Prayer is a battle first against ourselves: we can resist prayer, consciously and subconsciously. And prayer is a battle against the enemy of all souls, including yours and mine, the evil one the devil. To defeat the enemy, within and without, it helps to have a plan. A ancient plan for prayer, that reaches back at least to the early centuries of the Christian Church, is “Lectio Divina”, “Sacred Reading” of Holy Scripture.

Lectio Divina is a method, a system, an attitude, a plan with which we can listen more carefully to matters and truths of God, Sacred Scripture especially, so as to receive – or grow in – holy faith. It is a process of four steps:

  • lectio – listening to a passage of Scripture,
  • meditatio – meditating upon that passage,
  • oratio – praying in accord with the truths of that passage,
  • contemplatio – resting in the contemplation of those truths.

In each of these four steps, the battle awaits! In each of the four, who will be the subject of attention: myself and my thoughts and opinions, or God and His divine Truth? Indeed, will I even wage the battle to be attentive to anything? Maybe I will let my mind wander like a butterfly from flower to interesting flower, with no commitment to any of them. Maybe I will day-dream, randomly, forgetting the flowers altogether. But if I am cooperative with this ancient practice of Lectio Divina, and if I am attentive to Him and His Truth, wonderful things can happen, in my praying Holy Scripture.

Lectio Divina, in the form we are discussing, dates to the 12th century and a Carthusian Abbot Guido II. In about AD 1150, he wrote to a fellow monk of “A Ladder of Four Rungs by which we may well climb to heaven.” Here he described a method of 4 steps by which one could practice Lectio Divina – literally “sacred reading” – in a disciplined way. Dom Guido wrote:

“This is the ladder Jacob saw, in Genesis [“Jacob’s Ladder”], that stood on the earth and reached into heaven, on which he saw heavenly angels ascending and descending, with God leaning upon the ladder. ……
Understand now what the four staves of this ladder are, each in turn.

  • Lectio – Reading, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit.
  • Meditatio – Meditation, is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill.
  • Oratio – Prayer, is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil.
  • Contemplatio – Contemplation, is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour.”

Essentials Needed in Praying Scripture
To point out the obvious – no plan, method or process of praying Holy Scripture can insure spiritual success without supernatural intervention. That is, we need grace – the grace, the presence, the active assistance of the Holy Spirit whose “assigned ministry” (so to speak) by God the Holy Trinity is to lead, to guide the members of His Church “into all the truth.” We need to listen “in the Spirit” to hear the words written “in the Spirit” concerning the Word, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A second obvious factor that must be present is the human person listening. He must not be merely “present” physically – more than “body-presence” is needed. He must be there, as St. Teresa of Avila said, with both attention and devotion. He must be there not in the audience, sitting in the dark in the last row of the auditorium, so to speak: he needs to be close to the words written and resting on his table or in his lap. He must be close, his life on the line; his mind alert and attentive to come to know ever more of God and His Truth – his will, his heart quick with assent to do all that he hears God’s will that he do. Attention and devotion are the offerings required at this altar, indeed the self-offering – the return of one’s self to God our Creator and Father – pleases God, as He wrote:

Is 66:1  Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
Is 66:2  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.

“Trembles” at His word? Yes. Such describes well the profound reverence – awe – fear before the All-Holy God, with which a humble, contrite soul would rightly approach Him in His word. His words are the words of life. When Jesus asked Peter if he and the others would leave Him, watching many who did leave after hearing the hard sayings of His teachings. But Peter responded,

Jn 6:68 …. ”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;
Jn 6:69  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

You then who will stay with Him, who want to hear His words of eternal life – this “method”, Lectio Divina, can be a help. An earlier post will continue this discussion. Maybe after a short break, please follow this link to “part II”, for more on the subject:

Lectio Divina – and Praying Scripture (part II)


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for a reminder for some of us, and an introduction for others, of this method of prayer: “Lectio Divina” or Sacred Reading. It is a blessing to receive — especially during this holy season of Lent.

    It is a further encouragement to me, after the last blog article on Martha and Mary to seek God’s grace in seeking the “one thing necessary” – relationship with God — or to put it another way, to seek Jesus more fervently, Who is our Way, our Truth, and Our Life, by listening to Him, particularly in Scripture.

    May Mary our Mother in this 100th Anniversary Year of her Apparitions at Fatima intercede for us that we may daily grow in grace as she did. Mary listened and pondered in her heart, all Jesus said and did. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we grow in prayer and thus in union with Jesus as Mary grew on this earth. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

  2. Dear Thomas, To say that prayer is a battle is an understatement, at least for me. I have read your book on Lectio Divina several times. I tend to be a slow learner at times, but I really want to do this. Lent seems to be the perfect time to try. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement.

    • It does take perseverance – don’t give up!

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