“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This admonition of Saint Jerome reminds us that an adequate training in holiness and the art of prayer, which I have been writing about, calls for a renewed emphasis on listening to the word of God. In the dialogue of faith, God calls and awaits our response: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!” (1 Sm 3:10). It is through a reverent attentiveness to the word of God, especially when it is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy, that we are able to hear and respond in faith to the saving word.
Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) placed renewed emphasis in the role of God’s word in the life of the Church, we have witnessed great progress both in devout listening and attentive study of the Scriptures. The homily, based on the biblical texts of the lectionary, is now recognized as an integral part of the Mass. Individuals and communities do well to strive to know the Scriptures, always within the framework of the Church’s faith and tradition. This effort is certainly enhanced by having recourse to good biblical and theological resources that enable Catholics to grasp the integral nature of the Old and New Testament through the lens of our faith in Christ. The work of evangelization and catechesis draws its life and energy from being deeply rooted in the word of God.
Beyond the intellectual study of the word, however, it is particularly important that listening to the word lead to a life-giving encounter with the Person of the Word, Jesus Christ. This is the aim of the ancient traditional practice known as lectio divina. This slow, deliberate, prayerful reading of the Bible allows God’s word to fill our mind, echo in our heart and move our will to respond, and sometimes simply to rest in God’s loving embrace.
Pope Benedict described lectio divina as a spiritual reading of the Bible. ‘“Spiritual reading’ of Sacred Scripture consists in poring over a biblical text for some time, reading and rereading it, as it were, ‘ruminating’ as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its ‘juice,’ so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, Nov. 6, 2005).
Mary’s perfect receptivity to the word of God is a model for the Church and every believer. Through her “yes” to the angel at the moment of the Incarnation, her presence at the foot of the Cross and on the day of Pente-cost, Mary shares intimately in God’s plan of salvation through the obedience of her faith. She lives her life in constant attentiveness to God’s word, pondering it in her heart, and allowing God’s Word to take flesh in and through her. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word!” (Lk. 1:38).