The lamp that guides our steps on the road to communion is the Word of God. St. Augustine considered it his inseparable companion and his own joy. All text of the Word of God invites us to be able to say like St. Augustine and with St. Augustine: Vox tua gaudium meum! Your voice is my joy! (conf. 11, 3).
I PREPARE MY HEART
The principal objective of this day of recollection is dialogue with God. It does me much good to listen to the messages of God, allow myself to be touched by them and respond to them. There are noises that make my dialogue with God difficult. Therefore, it is indispensable that I put aside these noises. I make sure that I find myself in a place where there are no external noises that hinder my interior silence. I prepare my heart by eliminating the interior noises. For that purpose I take five deep breaths being conscious of how I inhale and exhale. At the same time, I am conscious of the noises that are found in my interior, and I let go of them and let them pass away. I become conscious of the images and fantasies inside me, of the thoughts, of the tensions … and with serene attitude I let them pass away and release them. Once I find myself serene and disposed for an encounter with God, I ask the gift of prayer:
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul who believes in Christ is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128, 4).
I OPEN MY HEART
With heart well disposed and with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them:
Your word is a lamp for my steps
And a light for my path.
I have sworn and have made up my mind
To obey your decrees.
Lord, I am deeply afflicted:
By your word give me life.
Accept, Lord, the homage of my lips
And teach me you decrees.
Though I carry my life in my hands,
I remember your law.
Though the wicked try to ensnare me
I do not stray from your precepts.
I RETURN TO THE HEART
In these verses the Word (Dabar) is mentioned two times, it is lamp to my steps (v.105) and fount of life: “give me life –revive me- according to your word” (v.107). In the center (v.106) the reference to the Covenant: “I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees” (literally: “to obey the judgments of your justice”). Here the psalmist uses two words that describe the kind of justice: sadok which means to make oneself just, and sapat which refers to pronouncing a just law, and practicing it to make oneself just.
In the obscurity of life, every traveler needs a lamp to find his path and that lamp is the Word. On the other hand, to keep or comply with the precepts and the judgments of God is to allow oneself to be guided and illumined by the Word that is identified with the very judgments of God.
In other words, the Word of God in the lamp that illumines the roads that lead to the life promised by the Lord. That is why it is necessary to allow oneself to be docilely led by the Word, saying it aloud and following its instructions. In pronouncing it, it is kept, it is memorized, it is practiced.
Some words ahead of the text read v.108b, we find some supplication of synthesis in a way, whose action comes from God: “Let me see your will.” Literally: “O Lord God, teach me your judgments,” that your law may make me just. The Word of God becomes law for the whole community that grows in the communion of the brothers.
St. Augustine, commenting on Psalm 119, says that whoever observes the Law of the Lord obtains the fruit of joy:
“This great Psalm, my brothers, from the beginning exhorts us to the Beatitude, let no one despise it. Who can, could or will be able ever to find someone who does want to be happy? If he who exhorts does nothing more than move the will of him whom he persuades to seek after what he suggests, what need is there to exhort a human soul to happiness who naturally yearns for it? Then, why incite us to love what we cannot not like if not because, with everyone desiring happiness, many are ignorant of how to arrive at it? It is as though he were saying: ‘I know what you want: you seek happiness. If you want to be happy, be sinless. All want happiness, but few are those who want to be sinless, without which one cannot obtain what everyone wants (en. Ps.118:1, 1).
The Word of God was always the guide and the light house in the life of St. Augustine. Even though his first encounter with the Bible was not good at all, very soon he discovered, especially in the hands of St. Ambrose, the treasures and the riches enshrined in its pages.
Already in Casiciaco we can see the preponderant place of the Psalms, and in the first written work that were preserved of St. Augustine, the Contra Academicos, he promised not to stay away from the authority of Christ as he confessed: “for me it is certain that I must not separate myself from the authority of Christ, because I find no other more firm” (Acad. 3, 43).
The Word of God read in the Church and with the Church
In many occasions we imagine that St. Augustine’s biblical experience was of a spontaneous way, like a self-study, that he immediately picked up the Pauline Letters in the garden at Milan, obeying the voice that said “Tolle, lege”, and that after this experience he himself followed up deepening in its message and its content. In reality it was not so. The first biblical “catechesis” of St. Augustine took place with the Manichaeans, who rejected the Old Testament and those parts of the New Testament that referred back to the Old Testament, and they retained particularly a Pauline Corpus purged and badly interpreted. Later St. Augustine will approach the Scriptures at the hand of St. Ambrose and St. Simplicianus of Milan, learning that there exists not only a literal sense, but also a spiritual and allegorical sense, just as there is a tradition and doctrine of the Church that illumine the whole exegetical and interpretative process. That is why St. Augustine arrived at affirming that his faith in the Gospels is based precisely in the faith and the authority of the Catholic Church.
I, in truth, would not believe in the Gospel, if the authority of the Catholic Church did not impel me towards it (c. ep. Man. 5).
The Word of God read in community to build the communion
The Word of God for St. Augustine was not only an instrument for study or individual meditation, but also a means for constructing the communitarian communion. We know that after receiving baptism, he visited diverse monasteries in Milan and Rome, and in them he discovered the value and the importance that the word of God had for monastic life. Thus, he instituted in his own monastery the practice of the community reading and the commentary on the Word of God. We can cite the testimony of two Augustinian works, so as not to cite too much, in which there remain tracks of this communitarian moment of sharing the Word of God.
One of these is an explanation of the Letter to the Galatians (Expositio epistolae ad Galatas) and another on the Letter to the Romans. It deals with an exposition of some passages of said Pauline Letter (Expositio quarundam propositionum ex Epistola ad Romanos). St. Augustine reminds us in the Retractationes how the work had arisen from the communitarian reading of the Letter to the Romans in the monastery of Carthage, and how the monks had asked him to explain some of the passages. He recalls it in the Retractationes in this way:
Being as yet a presbyter, it happened that the Letter to the Romans was being read among us who lived in the community of Carthage; and the brothers were asking me some questions, to which I answered as much as I could, and they wanted that what I was saying be written down, before they would be lost without writing them. As I wanted to please them, I added one book more to my former opusculi (retr. 1, 23, 1).
Augustinian Lectio Divina
This biblical practice makes us see that in the Augustinian monasteries there existed an incipient exercise of lectio divina, or at least a collatio (collecting ideas) or sharing the Word of God. Thus, even though St. Augustine did not structure the lectio divina in the steps as we know it today (lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio), its practice was a reality that was lived in the Augustinian monasteries.
Today we know that the one who structured the lectio divina in the four classical steps was Guigo the Carthusian, in his work Scala Paradisi (Stairway of Paradise). Nevertheless, it is interesting to make clear that the whole medieval tradition saw in St. Augustine the Teacher and Doctor of the lectio divina, because said tradition attributed this work to St. Augustine.
Lectio Divina in a spurious work
In fact, in the first printed edition of the Complete Works of St. Augustine edited by Johannes Amerbach in Basilea in 1506, among the Augustinian works was included the work, Scala Paradisi. Some twenty years later, in 1529, Erasmus of Rotterdam in his edition of the Complete Works of St. Augustine will exclude this work, and will place it in the last volume of said edition in the volume dedicated to spurious works, or of doubtful Augustinian origin. Modern studies attribute this work no longer to St. Augustine but to Guigo the Carthusian (+ 1188).
From all this history, what we must make clear is the importance that the Word of God had for St. Augustine, as was the practice of communitarian reading of the Bible, to such an extent that the whole medieval tradition believed that truly the work as it appears in the actual configuration of the lectio divina proceeded from the pen of the Doctor of Hipona.
St. Augustine, example of lectio divina
St. Augustine himself, in the De Opere monachorum, at the moment of inviting the “lazy” monks of Carthage to work and to live an ordered monastic life, presents himself as an example, not only of work, but also an example of recollection and prayer. In fact, he affirms that he has to work as judge in the episcopal tribunal, but that he would prefer to do manual work at certain hours and the remaining time to dedicate it to prayer with the Word of God, that is, to do lectio divina. Thus he comments:
As regards my comfort, I would prefer a thousand times to occupy myself with manual work every day and at determined hours –as it is prescribed in monasteries where discipline reigns- and be able to spend the remaining free hours of the day reading, praying, and writing something about the divine Scriptures, instead of having to suffer the worries and anxieties of other people’s lawsuits over worldly affairs, that I have to dissolve with a sentence or cut with a personal decision (op. mon. 29, 37).
Lectio Divina today
For all that, today Mother Church invites us to the lectio divina within the communities, so that this instrument may help us to build communion within the community; she is not asking the Family of Augustinian Recollects for something alien to our own charism and tradition, but all the contrary. For this reason, it is insisted on today that we reevaluate this practice of deep Augustinian flavor and roots, to build communion from the Word. Oh, that we could everyday take in our hands the Word of God, and that we be capable to share with our brothers what we are discovering from this same Word, as St. Augustine himself was doing according to what St. Posidius narrates, since the Bishop of Hippo shared with his brothers what he went on discovering of the mystery of God:
Having arrived there, he established himself for three years in those properties, that were no longer his private property, and there he lived for God, together with those who had joined him, in fasting, prayers, good works, meditating on the Law of the Lord day and night. Whatever understanding God revealed to him in prayer and meditation, these he taught to those present and absent by his word and by writing (Vita Augustini 3, 2).
Just as the heart of St. Augustine was transfixed by the arrows of the Word of God, let our hearts also be wounded by this Word, by these good darts that invite us to conversion, that make us ablaze with the love of God, and move us to build communion in the community, as St. Augustine himself comments:
Because he also has good arrows, good words with which he shoots the heart of the faithful to move him to love (en. Ps. 56, 12).
Questions for communitarian dialogue
- The Word of God was a lamp to the life of St. Augustine. What importance has the Word of God in your life?
- The life of St. Augustine was marked by different biblical texts that brought him to conversion. What are the biblical texts that now are moving and giving breath to your life?
- The Word of God confronts us and invites us to conversion. What effects does the Word of God produce in your life?
- St. Augustine shared with his brothers the reading and meditation on the Word of God. What importance does the community lectio divina have in your life?
I LIFT UP MY HEART
Let us give thanks to God for the gifts, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us on this day of recollection. For this, the following words of St. Augustine can serve us:
“For this reason, then, Mary was also blessed: because she listened to the Word of God and she kept it: she kept the Truth in her mind more than the Flesh in her womb. The Truth is Christ, the Flesh is Christ; Christ the Truth was in the mind of Mary, Christ the Flesh was in the womb of Mary: of greater category is what is in the mind than what is carried in the womb” (s. 72A, 7).
“When tranquility reigns, it is then that man, like an ant of God, must provide for himself the Word of God and keep it in the intimacy of his heart” (en. Ps. 36, 2, 12). +