Even though Lent is about to begin, many of us have not given much thought yet to what we’re going to give up for Lent. While fasting remains a pillar of Lenten observance, I would like to suggest that this Lent that you do some feasting as well. I mean feasting on the word of God.
The Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent presents us with Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. Jesus answers: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Although Jesus abstained from food for forty days, he nourished himself on the word of God—in fact his words were a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3.
Catholic are used to talking about receiving nourishment through the Holy Eucharist. We are less accustomed to speaking about feeding on the words of Sacred Scripture, but it’s the faith of our Church: “The force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church,… the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (Dei Verbum 21).
Since he came to office, Pope Benedict has repeatedly urged Catholics to rediscover lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture, most recently in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini. He says if we do, he is confident “it will bring to the Church a new spiritual springtime.”
I recommend that every Catholic adopt the practice of feeding daily on Scripture this Lent. Those who do are likely to make it a year-round and lifelong practice. Why? Because I know of no other discipline that brings as much energy and strength to a person’s spiritual life.
I am a complete glutton for this kind of feasting. I may even double my consumption of this food during Lent!
What Scriptures shall we read during Lent? Of course, the daily Mass readings are great. However, I would like to suggest a Scriptural course for your menu alongside the seasonal readings.
I suggest reading through a Gospel slowly, meditating on the life of Christ and on how Jesus is calling us to follow him. I can think of no better way of deepening our discipleship.
In order to overcome the common problem of over-familiarity with the Gospel stories, I recommend reading them with the help of a commentary that can provide fresh insight into what we’re reading.
I especially recommend the brand new Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri (apt for Year A) or the slightly shorter Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy of the Catholic Commentary. Both provide the biblical text accompanied by very helpful and often inspiring explanation. By reading only six or seven pages a day, perhaps fifteen minutes a day, one can read through an entire volume during Lent and come away with a much deeper understanding of the life of Jesus and of how he is calling us to follow him.
It’s important that people read at the pace they find most helpful for digesting God’s word. For some, that will mean reading faster and for others more slowly. If you “fall behind” in your reading, when Holy Week begins, skip ahead to read the final chapters describing Christ’s Passion. Save the final chapter on the Resurrection for Easter Week. Then go back and read the parts of Christ’s life you missed.
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion about the Catholic Commentary are available online as well as suggestions about using it for lectio divina. For my personal reading of Scripture I personally prefer to ask myself a few simple questions:
- What is this passage saying about God?
- What is it telling me about human beings?
- What is this passage showing me about myself?
- What does the Lord want me to do about it?
As you decide how you are going to observe this holy season, the following words from Holy Father’s message for Lent 2011 may be helpful:
In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord – the most joyous and solemn feast of the entire liturgical year – what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God?
However, the Holy Spirit may leads you to on God’s Word this Lent, I only wish to add this: Bon appétit!