I stress a simple but essential prerequisite (for adult formation) … without which all the formal education in the faith will remain merely on the surface of the person.
In a recent article in HPR, I stressed the need in the Church for adult formation. 1 Of course, the leadership of the Church knows the need very well! But, the inconvenient truth is that there is widespread neglect in following through on the well-documented magisterial recognition of that need. The many wonderful documents that teach the rightful priority of adult formation don’t seem to make it down to the pews. That, however, was the subject of the first article: we need adult formation in the faith!
In this article, I hope to stress a simple but essential prerequisite to that needed formation. Without this one thing, all the formal education in the faith will remain merely on the surface of the person. Is that so bad? Yes, it is. God sees the heart, and wants to pour his life and his love and his truth into human minds and hearts. God seeks to gather human persons—mind, will, body—into blessed communion with him.
Yes, God sees the heart. In this world, humans cannot see into the heart of another, but they can often sense, or intuit, whether the Christian witness of a Catholic is authentic or not. In this world, humanity, who are still of this world, recognize a “salesman.” They know intuitively about the “hired man;” they understand the duplicity that is so common in the “City of Man.” If imitated in the Church, such duplicity does not generate the radical transformation that Christ was sent to effect by the cross. Worldly humanity can sense the presence, or absence, of authentic, supernatural love—indeed, it is by such love that “all men will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:35). Humans in this world can hide, as Adam and Eve hid from God in their sin. They can hide from the Gospel behind a cynicism begotten by duplicity! But their hiding places are penetrated by the supernatural love that gives without limit—that gives whatever is necessary—the love that imitates God’s love.
There is “one thing” that is necessary (i.e., Lk 10:38-42). What is necessary is good ground in the heart—a heart receptive to the truth of God—a soul glad to receive him, and glad always for more from him. I want to stress that what is needed before formation is an interior life. This must be a reality, or else all the education and classes, and presentations to Catholic adults, will be like seeds cast upon a well-worn and hard-packed pathway: fruitless (Mt 13:19). An interior life, of course, is intended to develop, to grow, to mature. But an interior life has a beginning. It includes a personal desire for God, and the empowering gift of his supernatural grace. With the ignition of these two, an interior life begins, and can then grow. Without an interior life, any later sacraments cannot be received with proper disposition. Any later graces find no reception in the soul. Any later gifts of transforming, healing, and ennobling grace of God do not penetrate to the core of the person. The point of this follow-up article, the matter of our need for continuing life-long adult formation, is that without the fertile ground of an interior life, “adult formation” remains merely formal, superficial, academic, and non-transformative. True renewal remains incomplete, and the mission of the Church remains unfulfilled.
The seed of eternal life—and thus an interior life—begins for many Catholics with baptism in infancy. For the many whose interior life has not been well-nurtured in a solid Catholic home, however, that life, if not lost entirely through unrepented and unforgiven mortal sin, is carried into an adulthood which is deeply scarred and gravely weakened. Such wounded souls need either to recover, to again receive saving faith, or, at least, to resurrect and revitalize what remains of true and saving faith.
The Potency of Holy Scripture
How, for an adult, is faith at first found, or later recovered, and restored? The key is affirmed in Scripture: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). And, again we hear: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). This is the power and potency of Scripture: to pierce the souls of men, inserting the living and active truth of God, converting souls and enkindling life-receiving faith. A sincere listening to the word of God is crucial for the new evangelization, to enable that encounter with the Word of God, the Son, through his written words of God, Holy Scripture.
An ancient method of listening so as to hear, and hearing so as to believe the truth of God continues to offer itself to the Church. Lectio Divina 2 is now strongly recommended to the Church as an integral dynamic to the call for renewal. This is well-presented (for one example) in the document from the recent Synod of Bishops at the Vatican 3:
Lectio Divina is a reading of the Bible which goes back to the beginnings of Christianity and has been a part of the Church throughout her history. Monasteries kept the practice alive. Today, however, the Spirit, through the Magisterium, proposes Lectio Divina as an effective pastoral instrument and a valuable tool in the Church in the education and spiritual formation of priests, in the everyday lives of consecrated women and men, in parish communities, in families, associations and movements and in the ordinary believer—both young and old—who can find in this form of reading a practical, accessible means, for individuals or entire communities, to come in contact with the Word of God.
According to Pope John Paul II: “It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of Lectio Divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.”
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI specifies that this comes “through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times.” In particular, the Holy Father recalls for youth that “it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God; but, at the same time, it is also important to read it in the company of people with whom one can advance….” He urges them “to become familiar with the Bible, and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow.”
In a message addressed to various persons, especially young people, the Holy Father expresses his heartfelt desire that the practice of Lectio Divina spread as an important element in renewing faith today. He states: “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. DV 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church—I am convinced of it—a new spiritual springtime.
In the “intimate dialogue” with the living God, in the “life-giving encounter” with him, a human person can begin, be strengthened in, and advance in, the interior life, which is that one thing necessary to our vocation in Christ. This same document (# 25) offers to us the sublime example of Mary as “Every Believer’s Model for Receiving the Word”:
… the Virgin Mary assumes a central role as one who lived, in singular fashion, the encounter with the Word of God, who is Jesus himself. She is then a model of every aspect of hearing and proclaiming. Already possessing a familiarity with the Word of God in her intense experience of the Scriptures of the Chosen People, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation to her presence at the foot of the Cross, and even to her participation at Pentecost, receives the Word in faith, meditates upon it, interiorizes it and intensely lives it.
The Need for Prayer; the Beatitude of Prayer
Because Lectio Divina, (or “divine reading,” a way of reading the Scriptures) is ordered toward a life-giving encounter with Christ in Scripture, and invites intimate dialogue with him, Lectio Divina is in itself a way of prayer. The Catechism describes prayer as “the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit” (CCC #2565). Thus, such divine reading places us in his word where we may encounter him; as a methodology, it enables and facilitates an authentic dialogue that develops an authentic intimacy with him. Lectio Divina helps us establish that necessary relationship with God, which is the interior life. Lectio Divina is prayer.
We need to pray because we need to be in continuing, growing relationship with God. The communion with God that is prayer is beatitude for us. Yet, it is also a process that calls for our cooperation, our personal participation. As a discipline, such divine reading can lead us more and more deeply into such communion, becoming, through practice, a habit of listening, developing into the habit of being in his presence. The Catechism speaks of the life of prayer in this way: “the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God, and in communion with him” (CCC #2565). We are most blessed to come into such habitual Presence! Jesus wants us to do this, to remain in him. He taught us:
Jn 15:4: Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
Jn 15:5: I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
Jn 15:6: Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.
Jn 15:7: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
Jn 15: 8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Jn 15:9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
His invitation (indeed, his imperative teaching) is to remain in him. He does not suggest merely a visit now and then. He does not invite us to “drop by” for a chat, or a few moments of casual social banter, of the kind that can consume so much conversation even among believers. He calls us to remain in him, and he in us, in a communion where authentic life flows much as the flowing life of a vine through its fruitful branches. He calls us to intimacy, to knowing and being known. He calls us to the place of holiness, of divine love: “Remain in my love.”
This continuing exchange of love, of divine vitality and fecundity, is the life of prayer. It brings much fruit because it is of God, and it is his will for us; his call to us into his life. For these reasons, prayer, and the life of prayer, are not optional but essential; the foundational relationship with God that is life itself for us. God made us for this communion! Prayer satisfies a great and deep longing in us because God made us this way; he made us for personal intimacy with him. As St. Augustine said: “You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you.” 4
The life of prayer, therefore, can be thought of as a journey into knowing, and into being known. The life of prayer is one of relationship, just as loving communion is relational. Love, and prayer, are the dynamic of knowing, and of being known. For example, intimate conjugal fruitful love in Scripture is spoken of as knowing: “Now Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived…” (Gen 4:1) Jesus says of those who are his own: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me…” (Jn 10:14). In stark opposition to those in the living love-relationship of “knowing” Jesus, are those outside of relationship with him, outside of communion in him: those who are not known by him:
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Mt 7:22-23).
Thus, we can say that prayer is love. Prayer is covenant relationship with God; estrangement from God is the antithesis—it is man in isolation from his very nature, a man without foundation, without roots, without meaning. This perspective can help us understand how prayer is the essential foundation of catechesis: what good are mere facts separated from the living truth of the God who is love? In the relationship with God that is the life of prayer, knowledge is one with love: a person knows him, and is known by him. The fruitfulness of such love brings glory to God. Such a person, who is in loving communion with God, is formed in the truth of God, as he was first made in the image of God, and he bears much fruit for him.
How important is prayer? We have the traditional four “Pillars of the Faith:” First, there is the creed, the truths which we believe; second, there are the sacraments, the means of grace that enable a life in truth; third, there is the moral life, our human living of divine truth; and fourth, there is prayer. All four “Pillars of the Faith” are important, crucially so. Yet, prayer, among the Pillars, has a unique importance in several ways. Consider each of the other “Pillars of the Faith,” and how each is negatively affected, if one’s prayer life is deficient or lacking:
Creed—Without the living communion with him, who is truth, knowing only about “truths” reduces such “truths” to sterile information and dead facts. (Of course, such knowledge can stir a person to desire the Source of such truth.)
Morals—Without the vital love-relationship of prayer with him, who is goodness itself, Catholic morality can become a mere system of ethical laws, and not the human expression of God’s life and love. (Of course, such information can stir a person to yearn for the empowering Source of such life and love.)
Sacraments—Without the life of prayer-communion with him, who is life itself, sacraments (which do give the grace they signify) can be received wrongly, and merely outwardly. They can fail to become fruitful in people who do not, and cannot, hold the required interior disposition that allows efficacious sacramental grace to bear fruit. 5 Holy sacraments themselves can then be barren in the hardened souls of persons estranged from Christ, to whom he must say: “I do not know you.”
Prayer—Without an authentic interior life, a life of prayer within, the outward acts of praying can themselves be mere activities, but without supernatural vitality. The Catechism describes prayer as gift, as covenant, and as communion. Without that “living relationship” with God, the Holy Trinity (CCC #2565), prayers and praying can be woefully solitary, being both formal and fruitless.
Thus, a growing, developing personal life of prayer is necessary to enable a full, four-fold vitality in the faith of the Church, enabling a dynamic embrace of the truths of the faith, a potent personal expression of the living of the faith, a fertile reception of holy grace in the sacraments. The Catholic must strive for, and seek, that personal communion with God in Christ that is prayer.
All the Pillars of the Faith, and thus all catechesis, are weakened and diminished by a neglect of prayer and the interior life; they all become limited and shallow by a counterfeited life of prayer. But, they all are deepened, strengthened, nourished, and brought to fruitfulness by an authentic life of prayer. An authentic life of prayer is a life of companionship with the Lord, a communion in his truth and life. How the Church needs persons of prayer, among both laity and clergy! To develop a life of prayer—a habit of remaining in his holy Presence—calls for a process of intention and grace. Such a life of prayer, an interior life, is the one thing necessary before catechesis can be received as a living and fruitful knowing of God.
- “A Plea for Really Committing to Adult Formation” – http://www.hprweb.com/2012/07/a-plea-for-really-committing-to-adult-faith-formation-2 ↩
- A short, but it is hoped helpful, discussion of the method of Lectio Divina – Encountering Christ in Holy Scripture with Lectio Divina, by R. Thomas Richard, is available in digital format for the Nook (Barnes and Noble) and the Kindle (Amazon). Other resources for lectio are also offered at those sites. ↩
- Synod of Bishops, XII Ordinary General Assembly, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” Vatican City 2008, # 38. ↩
- St. Augustine, Confessions I, I, (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110101.htm) ↩
- CCC #1131 – The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. ↩