How Lectio Divina Can Help in Missionary Discipleship


In this latest issue of the Missionary Discipleship newsletter, James Jansen, the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Omaha, talks about how he discovered the value of Lectio Divina in the context of missionary discipleship, especially during the time of accompaniment.

What he learned was that his frustrations and judgments — his agenda, in other words — was not allowing Jesus to work in the lives of others. So he reframed his mindset and prayer life from “Lord, this is my plan, and this is what I’m doing, and please help me” to “Lord, what are you doing, and how can I help?”

The key to his change of mindset was bringing in the Word of God into the center. So when he accompanied others, he and the other person would do shared lectio divina.

Please click on the audio above to listen to James do an excellent job of sharing the power of doing lectio divina with someone else and how Jesus was moving in the other person’s life — and in James’ life — as they grew in discipleship together.

Below, I’ve included a short video and two excerpts that offer a little bit of a deep dive into lectio divina to help you all be inspired to use lectio divina as one of the tools in your toolkit as a missionary disciple.


In the Vineyard of the Text

The process of prayer is strikingly similar to cultivating wine. The hard work of preparing the soil and planting the vines, is analogous to the equally arduous effort of breaking up the hard ground of our heart and planting the seeds of the Gospel. And the fruit that grows must be collected in the well-known stages of harvest.

At harvest time in the vineyard you first walk through the rows of vines and pick the grapes. Picking grapes is tedious and time consuming, done by hand so as not to damage the grapes. So too, the first rung of prayer, the reading (lectio) of Scripture, must be done with care and concentration. Readers must make their way carefully through the lines of the text, selecting key words and phrases that stand out to them.

After the grapes are picked, they are put in a large vat, and if you have friends who have a vineyard you may even get to take your shoes off, roll up your pants, and tread on the grapes! The juice must be squeezed out. Similarly, in the second rung of meditation, meditatio, we squeeze out the meaning of the text we have carefully read in lectio. Once the juices are collected they are given time for fermentation. This is like prayer (oratio), where the heart ponders and reflects on what the mind has meditated, and its feelings bubble up to a heartfelt transformation and dialogue with God.

The last and final stage is the finest. After the wine has had time to ferment, age, and find its balance, under the guidance of the expert vintner, one gets to taste the fine wine. It is striking how the biblical tradition describes contemplation (contemplatio) as something to be “tasted” and “savored.” This is expressed often in the Psalms, which call us to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:8).

Here is a simple outline to help visualize these vital steps to harvesting the vineyard of the divine text, a summary of the rungs of Guigo’s ladder of lectio divina:

Lectio: In which the words of Scripture are examined closely, their connections and patterns noted. Similar to how the grapes of a vineyard are examined and collected with care.

Meditatio: In which this reading of Scripture is squeezed to extract its meaning. Similar to how grapes are squeezed for their juice.

Oratio: In which our conversation with God about the Word allows us to ponder it in our heart with a growing desire for the One who has spoken to us. Similar to how grape juice ferments over time in an oak barrel to produce the sweet wine.

Contemplatio: In which we “taste the goodness of the Lord.” Similar to how the wine is opened and its sweetness consumed.

Following these four steps, and in response to them, we can add a fifth step:

Operatio: In which we make operative some practical resolution to bring the wine of God’s Word to fruitfulness in our life and the world.

The monks who relished the idea of Scripture being a spiritual vineyard surely grasped just how analogous winemaking is to lectio divina. Perhaps this is why so many monasteries specialized in making wine. The monks found that lectio divina, like winemaking, was always worth the effort.

— From an article called “Lectio Divina—Stairway to Heaven” by Dr. Tim Gray



I. Methods of Prayer

A. Methods are a means to an end

Methods of prayer are like the scaffolding on a building under construction. Scaffolding is needed to construct the building, but it is not the building. The scaffolding serves the construction of the building, but what matters is the building. So too, we need methods of prayer to help to dispose us to God, but methods can never become more important to us than our relationship to God! It sounds silly but this is a mistake many people make. They are so worried about techniques and methods of prayer that they miss the whole point. They spend all sorts of energy discovering and refining and changing techniques of prayer — and never really pray! Don’t do this. Sacred Scripture and the lived experience of the Saints give us very reliable methods that will dispose us very powerfully to God.

B. Methods of Prayer

Most people begin with vocal prayer after their conversion (set prayers, the rosary, prayer booklets such as The Miracle Hour by Linda Schubert, etc.). There is no better model than that proposed by Fr. Bob Bedard, our founder, in his book called The Catholic Disciple. It is important, for those who are able, to move on to some form of meditation. There are many different methods in the history of the Church and its various spiritual traditions, but the core of them is the same:

Ex. Classical Meditation

1) Recollecting yourself (entering into God’s Presence)

2) Meditating on a passage from the Creed, a good meditation book, an icon, a passage of Scripture, etc. One may imagine himself in a scene of the Gospels, etc.

3) End with a colloquy

The method of prayer that we recommend is called Lectio Divina. We’ll spend the rest of this talk explaining it and why we recommend it above other methods.

II. Lectio Divina

A. What does “lectio divina” mean?

Lectio Divina = “Divine reading” ….. Praying the Scriptures with the mind of Christ. It has been around almost as long as the Church herself:

“The first to use the expression ‘lectio divina’ was Origen (circa 185-254), who affirmed that to read the Bible profitably it is necessary to do so with attention, constancy and prayer. Later on, lectio divina became a mainstay of religious life. The monastic rules of Ss. Pacomius, Augustine, Basil and Benedict made the practice of diving reading, together with manual work and participation in liturgical life, the triple basis of monastic life.”

B. Why Lectio Divina?

- Not just one more method of prayer out of all the methods out there

- Not just another devotion that is here today and gone tomorrow

- Tested and proven form of prayer, a Saint-maker!

- An ideal integration of all that we have said above about prayer. It incorporates vocal prayer and meditation, and leads to contemplation. It facilitates a real intimacy with the Lord.

- It is strongly recommended by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who have exhorted the faithful to adopt this form of prayer:

“It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the Biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.” (St. John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 39)

- Pope Benedict has given similar exhortations:

“Lectio divina consists of meditating fully on the Biblical text, reading and re-reading it, ‘ruminating’ it in a certain sense, and squeezing all of its ‘juice’ so that it nourishes meditation and contemplation like sap, and is able to irrigate concrete life. As a condition, lectio divina requires that the mind and heart be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that is, by the Inspirer Himself of the Scriptures, and place oneself, therefore, in an attitude of ‘religious listening.’ ” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus at St. Peter’s Square, November 6, 2005)

“If this practice is promoted with efficacy, I am convinced that it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church.”

(Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the International Congress Organized to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation ‘Dei Verbum’)

- Let’s break these quotes down a little to see why lectio divina is so highly recommended.

1) Led by the Holy Spirit

“Lectio divina requires that the mind and heart be illuminated by the Holy Spirit” (Pope Benedict XVI)

- Form of prayer that is led by the Spirit, not my agenda, not me deciding what I want to do with the prayer.

- The Lord chooses the text for us, speaks to us about the text, instructs us, prompts us, guides our response. His agenda predominates. Prayer time becomes His time, where He can accomplish what He wants to do.

- We grow in docility to the Holy Spirit, learn to listen to the voice of the Shepherd and respond to it. Who knows our wounds, our weaknesses, our faults, what we need at any particular time, but the Holy Spirit?

2) Facilitates real communion with God

“Facilitates an encounter with the Lord” (St. John Paul II)

“Puts us in an attitude of ‘religious listening’ [to the Lord]” (Pope Benedict XVI)

- Helps us develop a personal relationship with the Lord.

- Brings us to a place of real communion with the Lord, to that “intimate conversation between friends” spoken of by St. Teresa of Avila, where two are speaking, two are listening, sharing with the confidence of friends, not hiding things, not playing games, but being real, honest and vulnerable.

3) Immerses us in the Word of God

“…meditating fully on a Biblical text… squeezing all of its ‘juice’” (Pope Benedict XVI)

“…draws from the text the living word…” (St. John Paul II)

- Scriptures are not a dead letter; they are the living word of God:

They are ‘Spirit breathed’, which means they are a pure wellspring of prayer. They are the sure revelation of the heart of God. They reveal clearly and powerfully who God is and what He calls us to. Vatican II said that “such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 21)

- Immerses us in Scripture, to learn it, memorize it, love it, and let it change us.

- Surest and quickest way to get to know Jesus.

“Our prayer must be firmly rooted in meditation on that Word otherwise we run the risk of constructing our own image of God in place of the true God revealed in Jesus Christ. St. Jerome made it clear that ‘ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ The Catechism puts it succinctly and eloquently: ‘The Church “forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.’ ” (CCC 2653)

4) Lectio divina transforms us.

“…the living word that questions, directs and shapes our lives.” (St. John Paul II)

- As I meditate upon the Scriptures, led by the Spirit, I get inside the heart and mind of Christ, and truly become His disciple.

5) We need to have union with the Lord for effectiveness in ministry

“If this practice is promoted with efficacy, I am convinced that it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

- It is only when we begin with real intimacy with the living Lord that our apostolic efforts will bear fruit. You have to fill the chalice before you can pour it out (Soul of the Apostolate). If you’re not being filled with Jesus, what are you pouring out?

III. The Steps of Lectio Divina

A. Lectio Divina is a conversation with God - What happens in a conversation between friends?

1) Reading God speaks.

2) Meditation I ponder what God says – how does it apply to my life?

3) Prayer I respond: “Lord, I need this, I want this, I repent, please do this…”

4) Contemplation God fills us = communion

B. Lectio Divina is like eating the Word of God

1) Reading Biting Separating a chunk (different amounts for different people)

2) Meditation Chewing Repeating it (aloud as a murmuring in medieval times)

3) Prayer Swallowing Making the Word my own, so it becomes a part of me; asking God for grace to make the Word a reality in me

4) Contemplation Digesting The Lord gives me a taste of that which I seek

- This analogy is inspired by the word of the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel:

“As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you. It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me.” (Ezekiel 2:8-10)

C. Ladder to Heaven with Four Rungs (from Ladder of Monks by Guigo the Carthusian)

- The four steps are like four rungs of a ladder leading to heaven (communion with God):

4 ___________ contemplation

3 ___________ prayer

2 ___________ meditation

1 ___________ reading

- This analogy is inspired by the story of Jacob’s ladder:

“Then he [Jacob] had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God's messengers were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12)

D. Seeking and Finding, Knocking and Opening (from St. John of the Cross)

“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.”

- This analogy is inspired by the words of Jesus:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

— From Companions of the Cross

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