“On the feast of the Nativity of our Lady I feel special joy. When this day comes, I think it’s good to renew my vows. And once while I was about to do so, the Blessed Virgin, our Lady, appeared to me through an illuminative vision; and it seems to me I renewed them in her hands and that they were pleasing to her. This vision remained with me for some days, as though she were next to me at my left.” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Spiritual Testimonies #43)
St. Teresa of Jesus reformed the order dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She wore the habit of Our Lady and entrusted her life to Mary. As Secular Carmelites we too consecrate ourselves to Our Lady and should trust that she will prepare us for Our Lord. On this feast day of the Birth of Mary it would be good to imitate our holy founding mother, St. Teresa, by renewing our promise and consecration to so good a Mother.
And although we may not ever experience such gifts as locutions, vision and infused knowledge the way St. Teresa did, we can, as a source of hope, keep Our Lady at our side as we go about our day.
Desiring to follow the Crucified and Risen Christ in the Secular Order of Carmel, I renew my profession, and I promise to tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, and of the Beatitudes, according to the Constitutions of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. I confidently entrust my promise to the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel.
Prayer (oratio) is the personal response to the chosen text of Scripture that was used for meditation. With the help of grace, thoughts move to prayer. This is the response of the heart to ask for the grace that corresponds to the text or perhaps just to draw closer in union with God. Prayer is conversation that asks with love and with the intention to grow in the virtues. In this affective element of lectio the soul desires God.
Contemplation (comtemplatio) is the final element of lectio. It is a loving gaze at length where sometimes, by the grace of God, infused contemplation occurs and the soul is raised above meditation to experiencing the mystery and reality of the Scripture text. The experience is one of peace, harmony and quiet. God’s presence is experienced as a loving awareness where His love is felt and lovingly returned.
In summary, reading seeks; meditation finds meaning; prayer demands; contemplation tastes God.
For a more excellent explanation on lectio divina check out the following link where in a ten minute video Dr. Tim Gray expounds on this ancient practice.
“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation, knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation“ (Sayings of Light and Love #158 ~ St. John of the Cross)
Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation make up the four elements of lectio divina. Lectio divina is the way the early monks and desert fathers prayed. It literally means, “divine reading”.
Reading (lectio) is understood as reading and carefully repeating a short text of Scripture. Take a selection of the Bible, read it and when a thought, word or line stands out or captures your attention pause here to reflect on it, carefully repeating it and dwell on it for a time. If you become distracted, simply return to the repetition. Stay with the text until it is dried up and then move on with the reading until you become engaged in another thought, word or line.
Meditation (meditatio) is making an effort to grasp the meaning of the text and to make it relevant to you personally. The word meditate means ‘to ruminate’, to chew the word. Try to enter into the meaning of the text and identify with it. This is not hard work just make use of the faculties. Simply listen to the words. Let them suggest images, thoughts and reflections. Ponder and perceive the message that lies in the words.
All Carmelites are to greatly esteem the Sacred Scriptures. They are an important part of their day. Prayers are recited from the Breviary which consists of Psalms and Scripture readings from both the Old and New Testament. These are prayed rooted in the tradition of lectio divina (literally, “divine reading”), which is a particular way of reading and praying over the Scriptures.
The heart of the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert is that “each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Law of the Lord (i.e. Scripture) day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty” (Rule no. 8)
However, our prayer life can become routine and performed more out of duty than of love. In The Imitation of Christ, a book well known and loved by St. Therese of Lisieux, the author tells us how we should hear the scriptures (the Word of God) and what our disposition should be in order to receive them.
“My words are spirit and life – John 6:69, and not to estimated by the sense of man. They are not intended to gratify a vain self complacency, but are to be heard in silence and received with all humility and great affection.” (Imitation of Christ- Bk III ch 3 ~ by Thomas a Kempis)
They should be heard in silence. Exterior silence, of course, which is why the Carmelite is to stay in his cell, unless duty calls. But once alone and all is quiet the soul will need to approach the Scriptures in interior silence as well in order to hear the divine voice. All those extraneous thoughts and concerns must be calmed in the soul.
The Scriptures must be received in all humility, remembering who we are and who God is. The humble soul knows that it is in need of instruction, knows it is nothing and is open to what is being asked.
The Words of God should be received with great affection, reverenced and loved whenever they are read or heard. Fostering this attitude will aide the soul at prayer.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to love the Lord incessantly in return for His love. St. Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart whose feast day it is today, was a Discalced Carmelite nun in Florence. She lived from 1747 until her early death at the age of 23 in 1770. She was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was given a special contemplative experience concerning the words of St. John, “God is Love”. Her life of heroic virtue, living a hidden life of love and self-immolation, is an example for all of us. Like St. Teresa Margaret we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude for the love God has shown us. Contemplating the great sacrifice of Christ for our salvation and for love of us can help us to cultivate this spirit of gratitude. In this spirit of thankfulness we can foster our love for God and for others. Loving God and our neighbor is to return Love for Love.