Questions and Answers
What is the Edict of Benedict?
Pope Benedict’s seminal exhortation and vision on lectio divina shared with the Catholic Biblical Federation.
Why could it matter to me?
Because the pope encouraged innovation, enthusiasm, discipline, discernment, and diligence in practicing and proliferating lectio divina, and foresaw that it would evoke a renewal within the Church:
“…I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina… If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church - I am convinced of it - a new spiritual springtime. As a strong point of biblical ministry, Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times.”
“Among the many fruits of this biblical springtime I would like to mention the spread of the ancient practice of Lectio divina or "spiritual reading" of Sacred Scripture. It consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, "ruminating" on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its "juice", so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself. “
So, what’s the problem? Where are the dynamics and fruits of his vision?
Continuing a trend first recognized two decades after the Council, both Benedict and Francis have undertaken initiatives and promulgated documents on the Bible that have not been properly disseminated at the grass roots level. Those charged with promoting biblical ministry have largely failed to do so for a variety of reasons. Because for a half millennium the Bible had been subordinated in Catholic culture and spirituality, there has been little fallout (accountability) from the ambivalence and laxness that has affected the Church at a variety of levels, with the notable exception of the papacy and pockets of faithfulness, such as the Catholic Biblical Federation and its membership. As Pope Francis and Benedict have observed, the Roman and local curias (bureaucracy) and many pastoral workers have fallen prey to acedia, incompetence, insularity, and intransigence with respect to biblical ministry. In a nutshell, not only they, but we, have much to do. God help us, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph pray for us.
Why Montini and Martini? What do they offer and signify?
Montini was Pope St. Paul VI, the primary facilitator and implementer of the Council. His example, initiatives, and teachings measured against the conciliar rollbacks and impediments that have subsequently occurred remind us of the reforms that we need to revisit and rededicate ourselves to. The clergy abuse crisis along with the secularization of the Church and cultural persecutions and opposition have combined with natural human resistance to change and reform to thwart the efforts of subsequent popes to continue the implementation of conciliar reforms. Reflection on St. Paul VI and his legacy can inspire in us the change of heart and direction necessary for the fulfillment of the new spiritual springtime envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI.
Martini spearheaded the second wave of the post-Conciliar biblical renewal that unfortunately has stalled or even regressed due to factors similar to the obstruction of the conciliar reform along with the rise of ideologically-driven, celebrity converts who unconsciously inject Protestant strains into their triumphalistic Catholic rhetoric. Their hyped conversion stories and attempts at emotionalistic and entertaining condensations of the biblical message and ministry belie a dumbing down and levelling that obscures the work of great scholars whose formational efforts are more substantive and balanced as well as orthodox. Martini’s books and methods are the finest single source for fulfilling the edict of Benedict and re-igniting the biblical renewal.
The Church has been badly damaged by the rollback of the conciliar and biblical renewals. Discovering Montini and Martini as masters and mentors is an accessible, inspiring, and instructive way of getting us back on track.
If they are so conducive to personal and Church welfare, why haven’t they been embraced and promoted?
Actually, they have been, by the pope and a number of other Church leaders, teachers, and facilitators. However, they don’t fit the ideological and cultural molds characteristic of more visible personas in the Church today, and they require an intellectual interest that many in our mass society resist. It is not a matter of intelligence, but rather desire, discipline, and commitment. Society’s proclivity to passivity and conformism has affected the Church also.
As we see particularly among the young today, anesthetized by contemporary consumerist, financial, and technological pressures, many have become distracted and superficial in their lifestyles. Many clergy and pastoral workers do not make a concerted effort to grow in their biblical and conciliar assimilation, and thus they do not actively keep up with magisterial teaching and accessible scholarly distillations of biblical research and applications. As pointed out by Pope Francis, career curial bureaucrats at all levels of the Church go on cruise control and worry more about protecting their job, status, turf, and free time than in practicing a competent and contagious ministry. They obstruct rather than open doors, and prioritize comfort / convenience and expedience over conversion and empowerment. Were those in positions of leadership, formation, and administration whole-heartedly and competently doing their jobs, they would be heeding magisterial teachings and disseminating and promoting the teachings, initiatives, and examples of Montini and Martini, among others. The fruits speak loudly.
So, how can we participate in this ministry? Can we do it privately, in our own space and way?
Perhaps you already are, in your own way and according to God’s plan. What does the Spirit and your gut tell you?
First, age quod agis, Latin for do what you are doing, persevere, keep trying, don’t get too discouraged when you encounter obstacles, setbacks, and failures. It goes with the vocation. If you have read this far you are likely already on the right path, which only you and the Lord can ultimately determine, with the help of course, of fellow committed Christians. If you seek out, respect, and try to actualize the teachings of the popes in a non-ideological manner (that is, without injecting too much of personal agenda), then you are technically an implicit participant in the ministry. If you are earnestly trying to read the Bible in a consistent fashion, and your approach is working for you, keep it up. Perhaps exposure to Montini and Martini can help you fine-tune a little. I often find that those most interested in learning are the ones already on that path, or for whom a dramatic life event or series of decisions have helped you achieve a turnabout (metanoia, change of mind/heart, behavior, and direction). If you are faithfully praying the Liturgy of the Hours or assiduously reading the Bible perhaps you can consider a leadership or formational role in this ministry because your example and experience can inspire and guide others.
My role is to promote and provide resources, teachings, models, and examples not only of the Milan Masters, but others with whom they share a passion for the Church, the Bible, and the Lord. Pope Benedict’s 2010 Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible, Verbum Domini, should be required reading at some point for those called to some level, however basic, of Bible study, but the document is so encyclopedia and intense that it is best digested in small bites. My intention is to follow the Mother Teresa model of formation and care-giving: share the faith and truth, and then get out of the way. I am available to speak on the Milan masters and the movements of the Spirit they gave so much of their lives to, and I can suggest or provide resources for tapping into their wisdom and inspiration.
Ultimately, these are men of dialogue, like Francis, who opened doors and empowered and encouraged others. These dynamics underlie all our intentions and efforts. Thank you for your interest and consideration. May the doors you open for yourself and others console you amid the closed doors you circumvent through grace. Amen.