Christmas 2020: Lectio Divina
In the Beginning (John 1:1-18)
Lectio: What the Word says in itself
John’s gospel is described as the gospel. Fr John Quinlan who was a professor of Scripture in Maynooth recommended to us as students to use John’s gospel if we were ever to visit the Holy Land. It has intricate dialogues and detailed points of interest about the temple and the pool of Bethsaida. The gospel ends by saying that the story is the trusted testimony of an eye-witness.
We will hear the Prologue on two occasions over the Christmas celebrations. It is an in-depth teaching on the mystery of the incarnation. The Word of God which was made flesh has his beginnings with God before creation. Genesis starts with the phrase – ‘In the Beginning.’ John’s unique introduction tells us that God waits and nature waits. He echoes the waiting in the bible and the waiting in the life of Jesus. He celebrates the story of creation as an ongoing process. He charts the vocation of John the Baptist and links it with our own calling as witnesses of the light. He delves into the mystery of God who became human in Christ who is ‘closest to the Father’s heart and has made him known’ and was then rejected by the same humanity. John assures us that ‘from his fullness we have all received’ and we grow ‘from grace to grace’.
You are not your past. That is not an uncommon expression in counselling sessions. No-one should be identified solely with their past failures, triumphs, hardships, sufferings, successes and joys. The past is, in important respects, formative of our identities. John’s gospel literally goes back before time to the beginning to lead us to go beyond our narrow thinking and to listen, reflect, meditate, contemplate and wait in joyful hope.
Meditatio: What the Word says to me/us
The Covid-19 has us watching, wondering and waiting. Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) was a Dutch author who, after being deported from Holland died in Auschwitz. She writes in her diary: ‘I shall allow the chain of this day to unwind link by link. I shall simply have faith.’ This was written in the horror and degradation of the concentration camps. She had a religious awakening in her time of waiting. Etty received power to become a child of God’ (Jn 1:12). She was born Esther. In the bible Queen Esther persuades the King to retract an order to massacre the Jews. We think of the many people in the world and in society who find waiting a difficult endurance.
Oratio: What the word leads me/us to say
‘To all who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God’ (Jn 1:12). Human Rights Day is on 10 December. We pray for those who have been exiled from their native land, refugees, who have been forced to leave behind their people and possessions, their families and their friends, and those among us who have had to begin life anew as strangers in a new land.
We pray for those who are discriminated against on the grounds of their race, religion or sex, who offer gifts of their presence, culture and personality but find them despised and rejected. ‘He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him’ (Jn 1:11).
Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word
Thomas Merton died on 10 December 1968. He was a teacher of contemplative prayer and gospel action. He writes: ‘Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny and to work out our own identity with God’ (New Seeds of Contemplation). ‘We saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only son of the Father full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).
Oratio: Putting the Word into Practice
The feast of St John of the Cross (1542-1591) is on 14 December. He found love at the darkest and lowest part of his life when he was imprisoned and tortured by his own brothers. It was in the healing darkness of the prison that John felt the embrace of God’s love. It led him to write ecstatic love poetry. Here are three quotes from John of the Cross: ‘Silence is God’s first language.’ ‘In the evening of life we will be judged on love.’ ‘God leads every soul by a separate path.’
Whatever we may say of ourselves, or other people say of us, the gift of God’s love is within every one of us and it is illuminated for us in John’s gospel and in the writings and short life of St John of the Cross. May we respond to this Christmas gift that lasts a lifetime with thankful hearts.
‘The sight of the star filld with delight and opening their treasures …’ (Matthew 2:11)
Lectio: What the Word says in itself…
This line is from the gospel of the Epiphany. We have just said goodbye to 2020 which was dominated by the world-wide pandemic that still restricts our freedom, our lives and our choices. Thomas Merton writes: ‘We must never think of ourselves so sullenly, wearily, sceptically and morosely that this brooding becomes a mistrustful way of thinking about God.’ The Epiphany gospel is about a journey of searching. It highlights the insecurity of King Herod who was perturbed at the thought that a Baby would bring a new religious insight into the world for all people. The Baby’s presence was going to disrupt Herod’s cosy, powerfully, controlling world. This gospel is a story of recognition, a sense of homecoming and the sheer simplicity of the presence of God. This gospel conveys to us that the Bethlehem Child is born for all peoples. The gospel ends with a discovery that when we welcome and accept Christ, our lives take on a new direction. It leads us to open the treasures of our hearts to share this Good News. Missionaries are generous witnesses of this gospel story. We are all called to be missionary disciples.
Meditato: what the Word says to me/us
A New Year is a journey. Do we see the days ahead as blessed and graced from God to us? Embrace and welcome 2021 as a Jubilee time. The prophets heralded a year as a time of the Lord’s favour. The gift of time is entrusted into our hands by the Lord. January 1st is World Day of Prayer for Peace and is also dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. ‘They saw the child with his mother Mary’ (2:11). She is the woman that gave birth to her Saviour-Shepherd-Son. ‘And you, Bethlehem, for out of you will come a leader, who will shepherd my people’ (2:6).
Oratio: What the Word leads me/us to say
The gospel for the Epiphany opens for us the treasures of world religions. You could say that Hindus offer the gift of gold, of interior religion, prayer and contemplation. Muslims can be seen to offer the gift of frankincense, the incense of prayer and adoration, which they offer five times a day to the one supreme God. Buddhists can be seen to offer the gift of myrrh, the symbol of suffering and death, the sign that the world is passing away and that our destiny lies beyond the grave. Christians offer the beatitude of a heart that sees God in all things. May we be a Church of welcome that is called to receive the gifts of ALL peoples.
Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word
The famous pilgrimage described by the German-Swiss writer Herman Hesse (1877-1962) in his novel The Journey to the East, told of a great pilgrimage breaking up and all the pilgrims returning home disillusioned. They asked: what had happened to the dream? They found that the pilgrimage did not require a physical leaving of home for faraway shrines: the challenge lay on their own doorstep. ‘Be doers of the Word’ (James 1:22) wherever you are.
Actio: Putting the Word into practice
The week of Prayer for Christian Unity is marked annually each 18-25 January. Lectio Divina and prayer is an expression of our readiness to commit ourselves to each other under God. ‘That All May Be One’ (John 17:21) is the prayer of Christ and the desire of God. The week of prayer for unity is a new beginning to set out together on pilgrimage and follow the star that is the unfading light of God’s love for all people. May we never be discouraged from being avowed pilgrims together journeying towards the full ‘reconciling in Christ of all things, in heaven and on earth’ (Col 1:20). Unity would be greatly served if we fully realised the obsolete and often petty questions that cause division and dismal distance from God and from one another.