Category Archives: lectio divina

Mary’s Visits: Fatima

When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth she said “all generations shall call me blessed, the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” All generations know her; occasionally over the years Mary visits some in apparitions. 

Three prominent apparitions of Mary have occurred in the last 500 years commemorated in major Marian shrines –in Mexico City, Lourdes and Fatima. In 1531, she appeared to the Mexican peasant Juan Diego on a hillside outside of Mexico City. In 1858 Mary appeared to 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes in France as she was gathering firewood. In 1917 Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima in Portugal. These are major pilgrimage sites today. Three liturgical feasts in our church calendar honor these apparitions.

The depictions of Mary in art follow closely, if not perfectly, the accounts the visionaries gave of the apparitions. Mary, arms folded in prayer, prays for her children on earth and she encourages them to pray with her.  

The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes made by Fabisch in 1864 and placed in the grotto at Lourdes in France is a model for the many statues of Our Lady of Lourdes in churches and shrines throughout the world. We have one in our Lourdes Grotto in Jamaica, NY. (below)

Various images of Our Lady of Fatima exist; we have one in our monastery chapel.(above) Her bright white garments witness to the glory the visionaries saw surrounding her. She brings the glory of heaven to brighten the earth, as Jesus did at his transfiguration. “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:2-3)

Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe show her in the native dress of the time; she identifies with the native peoples then under colonial subjugation.

Contemporaries of Bernadette and the children of Fatima faced trials of another kind than the native peoples of Mexico. Secularizing governments promoted unbelief in society and wars were increasing in number and intensity. Mary’s appearances were not only the occasion of physical cures and healing. To ordinary people then and afterwards Mary’s appearances brought reassurance and renewed faith in the promise of God’s glorious power and presence. Their faith was real.

In his letter Laudato si’ Pope Francis calls upon Mary to visit us today as we struggle to care for the earth we have neglected. I like this image of Mary, holding her Son, which we have in our Mary Garden. Creation seems to raise its voice in praise. Her Son, Jesus Christ, offers us life-giving Wisdom. “We can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom,” the pope says. May she hold in her hand our wounded world.

I AM. Fear not!

Amédée Varin (1818-1883), Le Christ marchant sur la mer

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

John 6:16-21

Darkness, turbulent waters, and a mighty wind threatened to capsize the disciples into the whirling vortex of chaos. The image recalls the antediluvian waters at the dawn of creation.

and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—

Genesis 1:2 (New American Bible Revised Edition)

The One who brings order out of disorder stepped out onto the surface of the deep. Fear struck the hearts of the disciples who, in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, thought they were seeing a ghost (Mark 6:49; Matthew 14:26).

“I AM. Fear not.” 

John 6:20

Egō eimi. The Greek words for “I AM” in John 6:20 match the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14. The holy, almighty and ever living God—I AM WHO AM—is the Alpha and the Omega with a human voice and face in Jesus Christ. Moses parted the Red Sea by the power of God. Jesus commanded the wind and waves by his own power.

The Spirit of God in the Word of God pacified the waters as “in the beginning.”

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

Innocent Job deluged by wave after wave of suffering extolled the God of all creation who “stretches out the heavens,” recalling Genesis 1:1, and “treads” or “walks on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8), anticipating the Son of God walking on water centuries later.

They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.

John 6:21

Many commentators, including St. John Chrysostom, have thought that this last statement needed reconciling with the accounts of Mark and Matthew which explicitly state that Jesus entered the boat. Reading the line with the lectio divina approach, however, Noah’s ark comes to mind. The Lord of all creation is neither in nor out of the ark, but encompasses all space and time and brings the boat safely to land, with the sign of the Spirit (an olive branch in the beak of a dove).

“I AM. Fear not.”

-GMC

John Neumann, January 5

Neumann

Shrine of St.John Neumann, St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia

Today’s the feast of St. John Neumann,. “The sacrament of Holy Orders is at the service of the communion of the church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). In his life as a priest and bishop John Neumann heroically served the church.

Born in Bohemia in 1811, John Neumann studied in the seminary there and was attracted to the new lands of the United States of America. Arriving in New York City in 1835, he was accepted for ordination by Bishop Dubois and sent to the northern parts of New York State which then was experiencing explosive growth because of the newly built Eire Canal.

The young priest, zealous and able to speak a number of languages, worked among the many new immigrants looking for work and a new life in the vast area opened by the canal. He worked tirelessly establishing churches and new parishes, and wore himself out in the immense task.

He joined the Redemptorist Order seeking the support and stability that a religious order provided. Still, he continued in the work of building up the church in a growing country; he traveled extensively through the northeastern United States establishing parishes, preaching and catechizing an immigrant people.

In 1852 he was appointed bishop of Philadelphia and worked vigorously in that diocese as its shepherd. He built over 100 new schools and 50 churches there, until his death in 1860. Convinced of the need for good instruction in the faith, he wrote two catechisms, preached continuously, administered the sacraments and established the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese.

John Neumann was a priest at the service of the communion of the Church. He left his home and a well established church in Europe to build a new home and church in the United States. He was a true missionary of Christ.

We need priests like him today.

O God, who called the Bishop Saint John Neumann,

renowned for his charity and pastoral service,

to shepherd your people in America,

grant by his intercession

that, as we foster the Christian education of youth

and are strengthened by the witness of brotherly love,

we may constantly increase the family of your Church.

Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Raising of Lazarus

In the desert of Lent, we fast from food, but feast on the Word of God. The ancient practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading, invites us to chew on the words of Scripture and savor them.

In the eleventh chapter of St. John, we meet the Christ who has power over life and death. Earlier, the disciples had already witnessed his power over nature, as when he calmed the storm on the sea and healed the sick. Yet his divinity does not overshadow his humanity. The shortest verse in the Bible, “And Jesus wept,” eloquently proves this. 

Thomas appears in this passage full of doubt. He is on a journey toward faith, from witnessing the raising of the dead Lazarus to life, to putting his hand in the side of the risen Christ at the end of the Gospel. Let us ask the Lord for the gift of faith as we journey toward Easter.

Living Nanoscope

Christ Pantocrator, Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Cefalù, Sicily, 12th century. Licensed by Andreas Wahra under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 2:13-17

An eye for microscopic detail, a steady hand, and ultra-fine motor skills are required of surgeons in the operating room. Cataract surgery or blood vessel repair demand technical finesse and expertise.

Medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in the modern era as studies of the most intricate anatomical structures have reached the nanoscopic scale, even to mapping the entire human genome.

If the life of the body (bios) is complex, how much more delicate must be the life of the spirit (zóé)? What kind of scalpel or nanoscope divides and heals the thoughts and intentions of the heart? 

A surgeon’s scalpel is a non-living tool that divides living tissue, but the divine scalpel is a “living” (zaó from zóé, divine breath of life) and “active” (energés, energetic) personal being who is all eye and light. Nothing slips from this all-seeing, razor-sharp eye because all things are contained in it.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

The “word of God” is first of all Scripture, post-patristic commentators point out, critiquing the Fathers for misapplying the Johannine Logos to Hebrews.1 However, lectio divina (sacred reading) is not only a study of words in a book but encounter with the living God. Receiving the word by ear and heart unites the hearer to the Word himself by divine, energizing grace. 

The Spirit of God transports human persons from the word to the Word, from the eye to the “I AM,” and from the ear to the silent Voice in the depths of God.

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The sword of the Spirit makes our spirit one with his by cutting away all that is alien to divine grace. Delicate incisions between soul (psuché) and spirit (pneuma), “joints and marrow” of our inner being purify our nature for divine communion. Thoughts, reasonings, intentions, images, forms, dreams, concepts and ideas are all illuminated by the Spirit.

But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 1 Corinthians 6:17

The transformation from the psychological (psuchikos: animal, sensuous) to the spiritual (pneumatikos: of the Holy Spirit) is the work of God.

Now the natural (psuchikos) person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual (pneumatikos) person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone.

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

The human person is the new temple of the Holy Spirit, of the same nature by grace as Jesus the great high priest who has severed the curtain between humanity and the Father.2

From henceforth all children of the Father are one in the Son of God. All are one in the priesthood of Christ:

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

Untouchables, pariahs, “tax collectors and sinners” are all loved and welcomed by our high priest and humble shepherd.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Hebrews 4:15-16

-GMC

1 Examples of this critique can be found in Meyer’s NT Commentary and Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.

2 Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:19-20. 

Citizens of a New World

Simone Martini (c. 1284-1344), St. Simon and St. Jude, National Gallery of Art

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

From heaven’s perspective we are all exiles far from home, refugees in the same boat—the saving ark of Christ—sailing through this vale of tears (1 Peter 3:18-22). Adoption into the family of God by baptism makes no distinctions of race, class, gender, passport or visa. 

The pilgrim Church is our home away from home, a center of hospitality for strangers/foreigners (xenos) and sojourners/aliens (paroikos) returning to their motherland in the heart of the Father. 

The Son of God became the brother of every human person, uniting all races and nations into one family. The Body of Christ is the new and indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19-21).

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Luke 6:12-16

Jesus spent an all-night vigil with the Father and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the call of the Apostles, who with the prophets would form the foundation of the eternal and indivisible temple of God. 

On October 28 we celebrate the feast of two foundation stones, St. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude. Lit by the Spirit’s transforming fire, Saint Simon widened his nationalistic zeal to universal scope and joined St. Peter the fisherman in catching the globe in their net. Nothing definite is known about St. Jude, but tradition has made him the patron saint of impossible causes.

Jesus’ original desire that all may be one as a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” is surely an “impossible cause” that can be entrusted to Saints Simon and Jude (John 17:21). They join heaven’s throng in a continual vigil for our unity as citizens of a country not of this world.

-GMC