Finding the Treasure of God's Word

Interview With Toronto Archbishop on Lectio Divina

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By Kathleen Naab

TORONTO, MARCH 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is calling Catholics to a prayerful reading of Scripture known as lectio divina, so much so that the Pope explains how to pray this way in "Verbum Domini" and has led lectio divina himself with priests and seminarians of his diocese.

The archbishop of Toronto is one prelate responding to the Holy Father's call, not only personally but also with his faithful.

Archbishop Thomas Collins has been leading lectio divina at his archdiocese for 10 years. Now he has published a book to share his experience with a broader public.

ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Collins about promoting lectio divina and his work in "Pathway to Our Hearts: A Simple Approach to Lectio Divina with the Sermon on the Mount" (Ave Maria Press).

ZENIT: "Pathway to Our Hearts" is adapted from what we could perhaps call "lectio divina sessions," which you led at your cathedral. Is lectio divina made for a group setting with a leader? Or is it best to do individually?

Archbishop Collins: The most important way to experience lectio divina is individually, but for the last 10 years I have been conducting a kind of public lectio divina session on the first Sunday of the month from September to June in my cathedral. My hope is that those who participate once a month in the cathedral will benefit from the experience, but especially that they will adapt the public form of lectio divina for their own use in prayer in private every day.

ZENIT: The book is described as "adapting the ancient practice of lectio divina for today's Catholics." What does that adaptation require? What are the differences between the ancient practice and lectio divina today?

Archbishop Collins: Lectio divina basically means a prayerful reading of scripture -- as distinct from bible study (exegesis) -- or the proclamation of the Word of God in the liturgy, or the continuous reading of long biblical passages. The goal is to experience an encounter with the Lord through the prayerful reading of a small portion of the Bible. There have been many ways in which Christians have done this over the last 2,000 years.

In our modern age as well, various people have adapted this practice in different ways, either in public sessions or in private.

The public form of lectio divina that I offer is just one simple method of prayerfully reading a small portion of the Bible; I hope those who participate will adapt this in their daily private prayer.

ZENIT: Can you offer a simple summary of the method you propose for lectio divina? Is there just one defined methodology? Or can each leader -- in this case, the archbishop of Toronto -- have his or her own structure and method?

Archbishop Collins: The way I do lectio divina is based on approaches used by others, with some adaptations to my own situation. People can do this in various ways.

I begin with solemn Evening Prayer in the cathedral, with the chanting of the psalms. This is an ancient practice that enriches our modern life. Then I come out and stand at the edge of the sanctuary, and sometimes briefly give some information that may be helpful in praying the text.

There are three stages to the lectio divina:

First, we pray the Sign of the Cross to begin the period of lectio divina. We need to place ourselves consciously in the presence of God, asking forgiveness for our sins, and letting go of the distractions that block our attentiveness to the Word of God. We pray the prayer of young Samuel: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."

The second stage is the praying of the sacred text. First I read the whole passage slowly, aloud, and ask everyone to consider what it says to their head, heart and hands: that is, to know God, to love God, and to serve God.

After a period of silence, I read the first verse of the passage, and then make a few observations that come to mind, and invite the people to spend some time in silence reflecting on the verse. This pattern is followed for all of the verses -- text, comments, silence -- and then I read the whole passage aloud again, with a period of silence following it.

The third stage is the praying of the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and the Sign of the Cross, as we enter the busyness of our daily lives again.

ZENIT: Benedict XVI has repeatedly encouraged lectio divina. In 2005, he said if it is "effectively promoted," it would bring a new springtime to the Church. What makes for an effective promotion?

Archbishop Collins: I think it is good for a bishop or priest to lead a public form of lectio divina, or to describe this form of prayer in talks or at retreats. It is quite a simple and profound way of encountering God in the Bible.

ZENIT: The sessions that are the foundation for "Pathway" are from 2007-2008, so almost four years old already. Can we say a promotion of lectio divina has already taken root in the Church? Is it happening around Canada? And as far as you can say, around the world?

Archbishop Collins: I have been doing lectio divina in a public way for 10 years, but others have been doing this in other ways for many years. The sessions reproduced in "Pathway to Our Hearts" are from a year in which the lectio was focused on the Sermon on the Mount. In other years the texts have been psalms, or parables, or other Scripture passages. I do not know how this is being done elsewhere, though Cardinal Martini in Milan did a different form of lectio divina many years ago.

ZENIT: Finally, as an archbishop, what do you think lectio divina should be in the life of priests?

Archbishop Collins: I think that it is spiritually beneficial for priests to spend an hour every day in adoration before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and it is good to do a form of lectio divina during that hour of daily prayer.

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On the Net:

"Pathway to Our Hearts": www.avemariapress.com/product/1-59471-265-4/Pathway-to-Our-Hearts