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Growing in Faith: Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer

By Fr. James Farfaglia
10/22/2012 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (

When the gift of contemplative prayer does arrive, you will know it. Contemplative prayer is an awesome experience.

Lectio divina works well with centering prayer.  When we are tired and afflicted with problems, lectio divina can launch us into centering prayer, and when necessary, we can go back and forth from lectio divina to centering prayer. 


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Last week we considered centering prayer as one method that prepares the soul for the reception of the gift of contemplative prayer.  Another proven method of prayer is lectio divina.  Lectio divina are two Latin words that mean divine or sacred reading. 

As we journey through this Year of Faith and we reflect upon the importance of contemplative prayer, let us always keep in mind that the protagonist in our prayer life is the Holy Spirit.  Yes, it is true that we participate in prayer with our human actions by actually setting aside time for daily prayer, but the one who calls us to pray and the one who prays within us, is the Holy Spirit. 

"The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer.  He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer.  To be sure, there are many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all.  It is the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2672). 

Most people will use the Sacred Scriptures for lectio divina.  The method consists of simply taking up the Word of God and reading it slowly and cherishing its meaning and application for our daily lives.

Lectio divina serves as a method to prepare the soul to receive the gift of contemplative prayer because it allows us to focus our attention on the Word of God. 

Centering prayer uses a sacred word as an expression or focal point of our intention, whereas lectio divina provides a text that helps us to focus our attention. 

We live in a very hyperactive world.  It is hard to find silence.  Many people struggle with issues related to a lack of order and discipline.  Most people have been brought up on television, computers, cell phones and video games.  The mind wanders and distractions are plentiful.  Lectio divina is a proven method that helps discipline the mind so that the heart can be receptive to the Holy Spirit. 

"Another problem with our hyperactive world is that few people believe you can be praying without doing something.  Most people feel it is necessary to be saying prayers or meditating on something.  The idea that just being in the presence of God is more powerful is quite foreign" (Murchadh O' Madagain, Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious, p. 119).

In reality, lectio divina works well with centering prayer.  When we are tired and afflicted with problems, lectio divina can launch us into centering prayer, and when necessary, we can go back and forth from lectio divina to centering prayer. 

I would argue that the goal should be to get to the point where we use only centering prayer as our launching pad into the amazing inner world of contemplative prayer.  But, even if we are profoundly spiritual people with a habitual life of prayer, there will be moments when lectio divina will be necessary, even if it is for a short period of time during our daily time set aside for prayer.  Tiredness, dryness and distractions are a part of anyone's spiritual life.  We are human. 

The Bible is the preferred source for lectio divina, but we can also use the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the saints, and wonderful works such as The Imitation of Christ, My Daily Bread and In Conversation with God.  The Liturgy of the Hours can be prayed slowly, pausing when one is moved by the Holy Spirit to do so.  Rather than simply reading the Office of Readings, it can be used as our material for lectio divina. 

So, how do we do lectio divina?  Take the Scriptures from the liturgy of the day or focus on a favorite part of the Bible.  Read a word or few lines and then stop reading.  Close your eyes.  Don't do any thinking.  Get out of the head and go into the heart.  Just be in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Remain in the silence or go back from the text to the silence.   Lectio divina is like soaking in a warm bath. 

No matter what method we use, prayer is not an easy endeavor.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us prayer is a battle.  There are days when we are bombarded with distractions and there are days of spiritual dryness.  When these two things occur, lectio divina will be an excellent help.

When we use either centering prayer, lectio divina or even both methods, it is important not to continually repeat a word or phrase.  Be patient.  Do no measure your success by immediate results.  Be consistent in your practice of mental prayer. 

When the gift of contemplative prayer does arrive, you will know it.  Contemplative prayer is an awesome experience.

Next week we will consider the gift of contemplative prayer and the need to be totally open to God.


Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.  You can visit him on the web at


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