March 9, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: The use of Scripture in our prayers

John F. Fink(Twentieth in a series)

Someone (I forget now who) said, “When we pray, we speak to God. When we read the Bible, God speaks to us.”

Actually, I think that God also speaks to us in the silence of our meditation or contemplation as well as in spiritual reading, but certainly the sentiment in that quotation is good.

Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, made it clear that God is the author of sacred Scripture: “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” So we should indeed think of reading the Bible as God speaking to us.

The early Fathers of the Church (Augustine, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, among others) taught that the Old Testament is a symbolic anticipation of the New Testament.

Dei Verbum said that the books of the Old Testament “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way.”

If the Old Testament presents the mystery of our salvation in a hidden way, the New Testament does so explicitly because its central object is Jesus Christ, God’s Son made incarnate. And at the heart of all the Scriptures are the Gospels because, again quoting Dei Verbum, “They are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior.”

Benedictine monks introduced what is known as lectio divina, the meditative reading of Scripture or the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Jesus made it easy for us, too, because he taught much of the time with parables. These stories are great for meditation purposes. We can picture the scene that Jesus describes, focus on the message Jesus was trying to teach with the parable, think about how it applies to our lives and resolve to act on it.

There are three principal parables on prayer in St. Luke’s Gospel: the friend who persists in asking for bread for another friend until the man gets it for him, the widow who persists in pestering a dishonest judge until he grants what she wants, and the Pharisee and the tax collector. The first two invite us to pray with persistence and patience, and the third is the humble prayer, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Besides the Gospels, St. Paul’s letters provide an endless supply of topics on which to meditate.

My favorite reading in all of Scripture is in the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, etc.”

It sums up the awesome mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption—that, although Jesus was God, he actually humbled himself to become a human and then not only died, but did so through the horrible torture of crucifixion, and all for each one of us. †

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