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Advent Bible Devon Wattam Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Lectio Divina: Grow Closer to God This Advent Through Divine Reading

Catholics get a bad rap when it comes to reading and knowing their Bible. It’s a shame, really, because not only is nearly every line from the Mass and sacraments imbued with biblical references and tradition, but there is so much grace, healing, and strength to be gained from spiritual reading.

Recently, I’ve been happy to see more priests and parishes incorporating biblical reading into their homilies, in addition to the scriptural references made on their bulletins, websites, and social media accounts. 

Catholics are thirsty for the active word of God in their daily lives, whether they realize it or not.

Now that the new liturgical year has begun with the start of Advent, we should all be striving to renew our hearts for the start of a new beginning and the coming of the Savior—the perfect opportunity to make scriptural reading a priority and habit.

But getting started can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never read the Bible on your own before. I’ve heard people say they’re going to read it from cover to cover, having never read even a chapter before. On the other hand, some people say they’ll just open the book and whatever page it lands on must be what God wants them to see. This lack of direction rarely ends well, especially for those unfamiliar with the scriptures. 

Lectio Divina, or “divine reading,” is a powerful way for beginners and seasoned Bible-readers to grow closer to God through the scriptures. It’s short, thoughtful, and effective. Here’s how it works:

Step One: Read

Choose a specific text from the Bible that you’re going to read. It could be as short as a few lines or as long as a chapter. Length is not important; what matters is getting to know the text. Light a candle or put gentle background music on to help you calm your thoughts, and ask the Lord to speak to your heart. 

Then thoughtfully and carefully read, paying close attention to any word, phrase, or image that jumps out to you. There’s no need to feel pressured or forced, simply sit with the reading and patiently wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to you.

Step Two: Meditate

After you’ve read your passage once, read it slowly and intentionally once more. While you do so, reflect on the word, phrase, or image that stuck out to you. This is not the time to overanalyze the theological aspects of the reading. It’s about listening to what God is saying to you. 

Step Three: Contemplate

After reading the scripture a third time, spend a few minutes in silence. Try not to pray or meditate. Instead, simply sit with God and be open to his guidance. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us that when practicing contemplation during Lectio Divina, “one [is given] a unique ability to connect one’s newly discovered insights to daily life experiences.” In this way, God’s words become even more relevant to our own personal lives. They live on.

Step Four: Prayer

After reading, meditating, and contemplating on the word of God, it’s time for you to respond. What will you say back to him? A powerful way to do so is by writing down your thoughts or prayers in a journal as you read the passage. It doesn’t have to be formal or formulaic. It should be as simple and casual as speaking to a friend. Feel free to write it down, pray it out loud, or hold it in your heart.

The events, stories, and teachings of the Bible are as captivating and significant today as they ever were. There is truth waiting to be revealed to each one of us personally through the unbelievable events that took place over 2,000 years ago. I pray that this Advent season, we all take the opportunity to grow closer to our Lord through Lectio Divina.

 The Holy Spirit has things to tell us, if only we give him the chance to speak.

 

 

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Alison W Bible Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mass Sacred Scripture

Scripture and the Beauty of Understanding

I think we can get into dangerous waters very quickly when we try to interpret things on our own. It’s like misunderstanding song lyrics. We sing what we think we hear, so it makes sense in our mind. Misunderstanding words changes the entire meaning. What if the words to “Bad Moon Rising” were actually “there’s a bathroom on the right”?

I’ve found this to be the case with scripture sometimes and for the most part I have misunderstood in a way that left me feeling a degree of despair.

A recent gospel reading is a good example of that. Matthew 22:1-14, starts with Jesus speaking in parables. The story is of a king that prepares a wedding feast. It starts out a lovely invitation to the wedding feast. Invitations are sent via the servants, but many people are not interested in going. Then the king extends another invitation to many more people. These people are much too busy and some are hurting the king’s servants. The king is so angry and destroys some of these people. Finally the king sent out for everyone to be invited. Good and bad, whoever will come to fill the room. I always like this part of the story. Everyone is welcome no matter what. Finally the king arrives to find a man without a wedding garment. The king throws this person out, and more than that he is “cast … out into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

I’ve always felt so bad for that man without a garment. What if he couldn’t afford one? What if he let someone borrow his? What if it was stolen? I’ve always questioned how the king could be so angry.

But during his homily, my priest, cleared this mystery up for me. The wedding garment had been provided! The wedding garment was free of charge. The wedding garment was paid for by the blood of Jesus. We only need to have a repentant heart. We only need to let the grace of Jesus shine on us. We only need to allow this grace to flow from us.

The first invited people were not at all interested, the next set of invitations went to those who were too busy or sometimes actively working against the king. It is a strong reminder to acknowledge our own invitation and make sure we are responding. Along with making sure we aren’t working against our Lord.

Grace isn’t taken away because we lack fancy clothes. How beautiful to see we are all called to the feast (the mass, Heaven). We need only accept what has been provided. We need only put on the wedding garment. The wedding garment wasn’t without cost, but the price was paid by our loving Jesus. We can’t earn it, we can only accept it.

I think it’s important to not always trust our own judgment on understanding scripture. It is important to read scripture in its entirety. It’s one of the reasons I love being Catholic. With technology we can easily find what the church teaches, it’s loaded with information helping us to understand. The design of the church with our leaders and Magisterium helps us all learn and understand. We are so blessed!

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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Struggling

Struggling            I have been struggling to write this post.  Starting and stopping over the course of a few weeks.  Many apologies to my editor!! I’m not sure what the block is.  Sunday morning I decided to go swim laps at our city pool.  My oldest son was serving a late mass, so I had time in the morning, and it’s free (always a big plus!!).

            I have always enjoyed swimming, from the feeling of weightlessness to the cool water as I cut through the water.  I am in no way a competitive swimmer though. Quietly swimming my laps alongside the other (mostly daily) swimmers and water-walkers helped to let my mind run free and not even to compose a to-do list or reflect too much while I swam.

            It’s been a summer of slower schedules but mixed with unexpected things, which is typical.  Praying, reflecting, asking for direction and healing mixed with grace and forgiveness – these have been my constants.  However, I haven’t been seeing or feeling any progress.  Why?

            Recently, I read that when we are putting others down or wishing we are better at something, we are actually questioning God’s plan for our lives; we are, in effect, saying that how God made us isn’t good enough.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  That I feel inadequate as a mom of teenagers (or adolescents or preschoolers or toddlers…) is a reflection on how I am looking at myself.  Trusting in God’s plan and purpose for my life needs to be my focus.  If I work from a place of hoping in God, trusting that He made me exactly like He wanted, joy is easier to come by, and I can find peace in my daily activities, even when they don’t go as planned.  

            However, when I try to do it on my own, I’m not letting Jesus lead, and I’m not taking His yoke upon myself.  He tells us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light.  That is because He is with us.  I don’t have the strength to do this life on my own.  I will be weary, worn out, and beaten down.  Taking Jesus’ yoke, letting Him lead me, gives me His strength.  Only then can I do His will and find peace.

           When I read a book, I am terrible about flipping to the end to see how it turns out. This habit has ruined more than one mystery for me. Reading ebooks helps some (it’s much harder to flip quickly to the end!).

            Unless I let go of the questions I have about how life will turn out or how to do, God can’t get into my heart.    “God does not fit into an occupied heart.” (St. John of the Cross)

           I am praying for guidance while my mind is still plotting a course on its own.  I want to know how the situation will play out.  If we do this, then they will do that and so on.  It doesn’t work that way.  While on the surface, I’m asking God for help, I’m not truly giving Him the reigns.  It’s time to let go of the questions and truly give God my heart and my life.

            How many times in the bible do we hear people asking for healing?  Or we hear that Jesus healed someone even before they ask.  Sometimes, the person has been suffering for years, as was the case with the woman hemorrhaging for 12 years. (Matthew 9:20)  Other times, it is a fever as was the case with Peter’s mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:14)  Jesus would be preaching or walking along and someone would call out to him for healing. (Luke 7:11-19)  

            Jesus’ healing took on many forms.  He healed the woman at the well by his knowledge and forgiveness of her sins.  He healed the woman brought to him by the elders by his forgiveness and refusal to cast stones at her or her accusers.

            Our need for healing can take many forms: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental.  There are times we aren’t even aware of our need for healing.  A small thing that doesn’t seem significant chips away at our well-being.  After time, we look, and God seems far away.  

            It happens in our relationships with other people too.  We take for granted that our close relationships, family or friends, will always be there.  Without work and awareness, though, that isn’t the case.  A day slips by, maybe two, which grows into a week or a month.  Suddenly, we look around and that relationship that was always there is gone.  

            When we let bitterness invade our thoughts, we turn our back on forgiveness.  Even the smallest of grudges can turn into bigger issues.  

            Letting go of control and letting go of the “need to know” releases these issues from our minds and our hearts and lets God come back in, where He belongs.

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Bible Communion Confession Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

Guarding our Hearts and Minds: We Become What We Think About

Since the time my children were little I have always told them that they will become the people they surround themselves with. This means that if they surround themselves with racists, they will begin to accept that ideology. If they surround themselves with people who think drug use is ok, they will begin to think this too. If they surround themselves with people who think God is not important, well, God will soon cease to be important in their lives as well. On the flip side, if they surround themselves with those who wish to serve God and others, they will see the good in doing so and will lead that life as well. If they surround themselves with people who see Christ’s face in the faces of all those they encounter, they too will see Christ clearly in those around them.

Of course, it’s not just our children who are vulnerable to this metamorphosis. If you are like me you may have been more likely to gossip, to swear, or to do any number of other undesirable {read sinful} activities when you are hanging out with people who engage in these activities. It’s easy to get sucked into behaviors we know are contrary to what our faith tells us is right and good.

But it’s not just surrounding ourselves with the wrong people that can change who we are and what we do. Sometimes it takes no one but ourselves to bring about a negative change in our lives; sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

What we allow to enter our minds can have a tremendous effect on our lives. Our thoughts shape our beliefs and our attitudes.

Have you ever had a day that was going good and then something went wrong and your mood immediately soured? As negative thoughts flooded your mind, what did that do to the rest of your day? Did you continue to focus on the bad and ignore the good that had happened to you? Did the negative thoughts fill your mind and push out any positive thoughts that might be trying to form? How did it affect the way you interacted with others? Were you more likely to engage in sinful behavior because of it?

What about other thoughts that might take over our minds? Christ taught that it wasn’t what we put into our bodies that defiles us but what comes out of us from our hearts which corrupts us… “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).

We become what we think about.

When our minds are focused on God and on holiness, we become holy. But when our minds are preoccupied with the very things that can corrupt us- anger, fornication, deceit, gossip, envy, slander, pride- we become those things. We may not even see it happening to us; but it always will.

It is these sins which we allow to occupy our hearts and minds that ultimately lead us away from God. We absolutely become whom we surround ourselves with but only because we have allowed our hearts and minds to dwell on things that are not holy nor righteous and good.

How do we fight the battle that is being waged for our hearts and minds? First we must recognize sinful activity when we encounter it. Then we must separate ourselves from it even when separating means losing out on friends or things we otherwise enjoy. If we can look objectively at the issue and realize that the people we are encountering or the thoughts we are having or the activities we are engaging in are leading us further into negative thoughts and away from God, then we have made the first step in being able to conquer the problem.

I know that it is probably easier for someone like me who has an “I can see the silver lining in just about anything” kind of attitude to be able to turn my back on negative thoughts and to search out the good in all situations; however, it is a skill that is imperative for all of us to learn if we wish to be able to conquer our sinful thoughts. If we wish to become holy we must allow our thoughts to be holy.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Is it a tall order to think we can protect our minds and thus protect our hearts and ultimately our souls? In our sinful, broken world it can seem next to impossible. But whereas the world is broken and sinful, Christ is not. He gives us the strength and the wisdom to be able to live up to this calling. When we cling to Him and to His teachings the struggle gains purpose and we become strengthened. It’s not to say it will be easy to purge sinful thoughts and desires from our minds, but it is to say that Christ will always be there to help us.

When we are struggling to do what is right or if we begin to slip back into old, sinful habits, Christ asks us to call on Him. He has given us His Spirit to guide us and help us through; He has given us His body and blood in the Eucharist as true food to nourish us; He has given us the Sacrament of Penance for when we fail to live up to His calling; and He has given us His sacred Word to follow. He has given us all we need to change our hearts and minds.

We are what we think about.

What will you allow to occupy your heart and your mind? Who will you become?

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil 4:8

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Ink Slingers

Five Reasons Why I Love the Catechism


In the twelve years we’ve been Catholic, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has remained dear to our entire family. Here are five reasons why:

1. It was instrumental in my husband’s conversion. Very early on in our studying of Catholicism, he bought a copy of the catechism, figuring that since he was interested in what the Church taught, he might as well go right to the official catechism. He read it cover to cover and checked every Biblical reference. He still reads it for personal encouragement and education and appreciates it more every time (He tells me!).

2. It is beautiful to read – poetic, solid, and satisfying, with footnotes from Scripture, history, and other Church documents. A random opening of my copy while writing this fell to paragraph #2842 on Christian Prayer: “When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world. Along with deliverance from the evils that overwhelm humanity, she implores the precious gift of peace and the grace of perseverance in expectation of Christ’s return. By praying in this way, she anticipates in humility of faith the gathering together of everyone and everything in him who has ‘the keys of death and Hades’ who ‘is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’.”  Magnificent. There is a footnote directing the reader to three passages in Revelation. What a devotional!

3. It covers everything, from difficult, contentious issues to heartbreaking, suffering issues to mystical, spiritual issues. Topics are neither shied-away from nor sugar-coated. We can read about sex, social justice, national laws, union with Christ, and the problem of pain (the section that brought me to my knees; see paragraphs 1499-1532.) It is something I direct my children to time and time again. 

4. It can be relied upon for instruction in our Holy Faith, for it is a “Full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life (From the prologue by Pope John Paul II).” There are no worries about whether or not an author is faithful to the Magisterium. Jesus told the apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13)” and Paul told young Timothy how to behave within “the ousehold of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth (I Timothy 3:15).” A bulwark is a defensive wall; I wonder if Paul had the formidable walls of Jerusalem in mind as he pictured the Church keeping Christians safe from false doctrines. The Catechism is the continuing of the Holy Spirit’s leading of the Church as it guards the precious deposit of faith and instructs the faithful. Jesus never left a book; he left men filled with Holy Spirit, guided into truth, forgiving sins (John 20:23), and going out to teach and baptize (Matthew 28:19-20). They did write, however, and our Church in her wisdom, gathered and compiled their stories and letters into a New Testament. The Catechism is another example of her wisdom in leading Christians here on earth.

5. Jesus is central. Again, from the prologue: “In reading the CCC, we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, sent by the Father, made man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior. Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct, and the teacher of our prayer.” How powerful and peaceful.

I encourage you, dear Sistas, if there’s not a copy on your bed stand; put one there and dig into it. I bet you’ll love it!