Guided Lectio Divina for Discerners: He Loved Me and Gave Himself for Me

“He Loved Me and Gave Himself for Me!”

453px-Caravaggio-The_Conversion_on_the_Way_to_DamascusIntroduction: St. Paul, who was known as “Saul” before his encounter with Christ, was a good man and a devout Jew who was quite conscientious about keeping the Law of God. He desired to serve God, but was too focused on what he wanted to do for God, rather than on what God was doing. Saul’s zeal was so misguided that he sought to persecute the Christians, whom he felt were destroying the Jewish religion. On his way to Damascus, instead of accomplishing this task, he encountered Jesus the Savior, who revealed to Paul the depth of God’s mercy and love. Paul’s foundational experience of Christ’s saving and merciful love for him and for the people to whom he would send Paul shaped Paul’s entire life and mission. It was an experience of love, light, and beauty to which Paul returned to over and over again.

For this lectio divina, we’ll pray with one of the Scriptural accounts of Paul’s encounter with Christ from Acts, followed by a short description of the experience from a letter of Paul.

Lectio: Acts 9:1-19 and 1 Tim. 1:12-17

Acts 9:1-19 (Read from your Bible or click here for this first reading.)

1 Tim. 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Meditatio

The Acts of the Apostles gives three different accounts of the conversion of Saint Paul because of its importance in the early Church (see Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:3-16, and 26:2-18). In his letters, Paul often refers to his encounter with Christ, although often indirectly (see 1 Cor. 15:8, Gal. 1:11-16, 2 Cor. 4:6).

Initially, Paul had found fulfillment in living the Law to the point of perfection. But his encounter with Jesus changes all that. The brilliance of Jesus’ love and truth blinds Paul initially. He thought he had been able to see, but his temporary blindness enables him to see himself and his relationship with God and others in a whole new way. Paul must have felt great distress for being so wrong, for recognizing that he was persecuting the followers of Jesus, whom he now recognizes as the Messiah, the Son of God, his Light.

In his encounter with Jesus, Paul truly listens. He discovers that God’s merciful love in Christ gives the deepest meaning to his life, and he doesn’t have to do anything to win or earn that love. He just has to believe in it and receive it. Paul’s response is the beautiful and moving response of a discerning disciple, even though his world has just been turned upside down: “Lord, who are you? What do you want me to do?”

Praying with Paul’s dramatic encounter with Jesus, we can see that God may communicate to us in many ways: through an interior whisper or an insight, through others such as Ananias, or through an unexpected event that shakes us up. Jesus’ gaze of mercy on Paul transformed his life forever. But this profound transformation in Paul is not easy, nor is it over in three days. Paul’s growth in Christ and carrying out the call of Christ was lifelong.

In our times of discernment, we may experience similar moments to Paul in his encounter with Christ:

  • disturbance/shake-up (Paul fell to the ground)
  • great light
  • listening/attentive (light and voice)
  • dialogue
  • fasting (from both food and human sight)
  • absorbed in prayer and in one’s relationship with Christ
  • obedient to Christ’s call
  • receiving grace through the community and the celebration of the sacraments
  • guidance of an “elder” of the community
  • community confirms God’s call
  • obedience to the community
  • commitment to the entrusted mission of proclaiming/witnessing to Christ

How do we experience Christ’s invitations in our lives? When we are confronted with interruptions, unexpected changes, or times of transition, it can be difficult to see God’s light or invitation. But suppose we “refocused” our gaze from the distress of the unexpected experience to seeing it as an invitation from God, as Paul did? What insights would we receive if we did this? Discovering that we need to convert, change, or grow is an inherent part of receiving God’s call. How do I want to respond to God’s invitation?

Contemplatio

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because…I received mercy. (See 1 Tim. 1:12-13)

From the second reading (from 1 Timothy) it’s clear how Paul’s encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus shaped his whole life. Paul’s descriptions of his relationship with Christ are marked by thanksgiving for Christ’s merciful love. It’s a deeply warm and personal relationship. This invites us to reflect:

  • What are our earliest memories of our relationship with God?
  • How have our encounters with Christ “marked” our lives, transformed us? How have I experienced Christ’s mercy, and how have I responded?
  • How would we characterize our relationship with Christ? How do we feel Jesus is inviting us to grow in our relationship with him?

Oratio

My favorite prayer posture is to sit or kneel on the floor near the tabernacle. As I was praying, I suddenly realized that this receptive and adoring posture–sitting at the feet of the Master–characterizes my relationship with Christ. At the feet of the Master, I am receptive to his call and his sending me; I listen, adore, love, receive his love, learn his way of gentleness, plead with him, receive forgiveness. I am blessed to be at his feet.

Sometimes when I’m coming to the end of my prayer time, I will joyfully remind Jesus, “I’m not going anywhere” — meaning that I will stay at his feet always. It’s a little renewal of my fidelity to the All-Faithful One.

Renew your relationship with Jesus in your own words. 

Actio

Be mindful of Jesus’ merciful love for you throughout your day today, choosing at least three times throughout the day where you will stop and thank Jesus for the gift of his love for you.

Free in Christ: Lectio Divina for Discerners

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Free in Christ

Discerning with the Word: A Guided Lectio Divina for Discerners

Introduction: Freedom is essential to making a good discernment. But it is often misunderstood, seen solely as the elimination of all constraints. In this lectio divina, Saint Paul will guide us to reflect on and pray for the gift of interior freedom.

Lectio: Acts 16:16-40 and Galations 5:1, 13-14

Acts 16:16-40
Though flogged, chained, and imprisoned, Paul and Silas sang for joy

The passage from Acts is too long to quote, but you can find it in your Bible or here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=297400123.

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).

Galations 5:1, 13-14
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Read through both readings slowly and attentively, taking your time with them. 

Meditatio

How would you describe freedom?

We often pray to God for happiness; how often do we pray for the gift of freedom! And yet, Paul says here that Christ died to set us free!

Sometimes we equate freedom with a lack of external constraints–such as rules, or walls, or consequences. But for Paul, freedom is a lack of inner constraints–from unhealthy attachments and addictions, from anger, and from fear; above all, from sin.

Freedom is not an escape from, but an ability to choose for. Freedom truly is the ability to “Love, and do what you want,” but the key is that “what you want” is a pure desire, free from self-love and directed towards God.

Saints such as Saints Paul, Silas, and Mother Teresa are truly free persons–giving themselves completely in love to others because they are confident in God’s love for them. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus broke out of the prison of fear to be fully free: he freely chooses to do the will of his Father, out of complete confidence in his Father and out of the love for humanity which he shares with his Father.

What is your vision of freedom? Does it include the “slavery” of love? Can you imagine being in prison, but glowing with trust and joy, as Paul and Silas were when singing in prison?

Contemplatio

Thrown in prison for the sake of Christ, Paul and Silas are interiorly free. They sing and praise God; they are unafraid in the earthquake; they reach out to their jailer who is so fearful of the future that at one point he attempts to take his own life. Because Paul is looking at his circumstances with the eyes of Christ, he can see how even his imprisonment has led to the Gospel being proclaimed to more people (see Phil. 1:12-13).

  • How do I desire to grow in greater interior freedom?
  • What and who has God used to “form” me into the person I am today? How do I trust that God will continue to “form” me in the circumstance of my life?

Oratio

Love is the greatest freedom. Pray for the gift of freedom to love fully, without holding back:

Inflame My Heart with Love – by Blessed James Alberione

Jesus, Divine Master, I thank and bless you most meek Heart, which led you to give your life for me.  Your blood, your wounds, the scourges, the thorns, the cross, your bowed head tell my heart: “No one loves more than he who gives his life for the loved one.”  The Shepherd died to give life to the sheep.  I too want to spend my life for you.  Grant that you may always, everywhere, and in all things dispose of me for your greater glory and that I may always repeat: “Your will be done.”  Inflame my heart with holy love for you and for my brothers and sisters.

Actio

Today, notice the many occasions where you have the freedom to choose, and thank God each time for the gift of freedom. During the week, as you read the news, watch TV, listen to music, interact with others, consider: “What are some ways that people today long to be free?” Offer a prayer for them.