+JMJ+ Welcome to part 20 of our current Catholic Book of the Month (okay, season). I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre, as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together! Tonight we’re going to learn about, as Dr. Pitre says, the second key to making progress in our spiritual life: the regular (ack! That’s the part I have problems with!) practice of meditation on Scripture. Do I ever need this!
First thing we learn in this chapter is that “praying with Scripture is essential for making spiritual progress.” (See Intro., p. 388, ebook.)
Meditation is the basis for acquiring all the virtues, and to undertake it is a matter of life and death for all Christians.Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection, 16.3, Collected Works, Vol. 2, ICS edition.
And then there’s the image of Jacob’s Ladder.
Jacob’s ladder was a figure of…the ascent through virtue, little by little…by the emending and correcting of one’s habits.John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 83.5. See more complete citation at the end of this post.
And of course we arrive almost immediately at Saint John Climacus, Saint John of the Ladder. (Read online for free. Or get a copy: From the reviews, this one looks to be a beautiful edition. Amazon affiliate link.) “Jesus’ own interpretation of Jacob’s ladder will lay the foundation for the Christian practice of meditation on Scripture and provide us with a helpful illustration of the steps involved in learning how to practice lectio divina.” (See Intro., p. 390.)
So these Scripture passages (Jacob’s Ladder in the OT, and the interpretation given by Jesus in the NT) will help us learn how to meditate on Scripture.
But Jacob being departed from Bersabee, went on to Haran. And when he was come to a certain place, and would rest in it after sunset, he took of the stones that lay there, and putting under his head, slept in the same place. And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it; And the Lord leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and IN THEE and thy seed all the tribes of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED. And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said. And when Jacob awaked out of sleep, he said: Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And trembling he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.Genesis 28:10–17, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain. Quoted in Intro., p. 391. Dr. Pitre quotes the RSV. I’m quoting the DRB because it’s in the public domain.
Jacob names the place House of God, a standard name for the Temple. And Jacob sees the Lord Himself standing at the top. Jacob has more than a vision of heaven, he has “a vision of God.” (See Intro., p. 393.) And Jesus has something stunning to say about Jacob’s Ladder. Turns out that Jesus says that He Himself IS the “true stairway to heaven.” (I will never hear that song the same way again.) It’s in the words Jesus says to Nathanael when he says He saw him under the fig tree.
“And he saith to him: Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”John 1: 51, DRB, verse quoted in Intro., 394.
Now about Nathanael sitting under that fig tree. I had completely forgotten about these other passages: In Micah 4:1-8 and Zechariah 3:8-10 sitting beneath a fig tree or vine was associated with the coming of the Messiah. So was Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, meditating on Scripture? Interesting. So after Nathanael makes his confession of faith, Jesus tells him that he will see the true Jacob’s Ladder and that Ladder is Jesus, the place where God tabernacles with us on earth. This stuff is so rich! I hope you’re reading along in the book and in the Bible, too. I can’t put everything in these posts but I want to, it’s so good!
Now Dr. Pitre gives us the Four Steps of Lectio Divina as given in the Ladder of Paradise:
- Reading (careful study of the Scriptures)
- Meditation (application of the mind, using reason for knowledge of hidden truth)
- Prayer (the heart’s devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good) and
- Contemplation (the mind is lifted up to God and tastes the joy of everlasting sweetness).
Reading without meditation is sterile, meditation without reading is liable to error, prayer without meditation is lukewarm, and meditation “without prayer is unfruitful, prayer when it is fervent wins contemplation, but to obtain it without prayer would be rare, even miraculous.Guigo II, The Ladder of Paradise, 14.
Dr. Pitre makes an interesting point here that our liturgical worship parallels the four steps of lection divina. We have the reading of Scripture, an explanation in a homily, the Eucharistic prayer, and Communion. So the “supreme act of lectio divina is that which takes place in the liturgy.”
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page and scroll down for this series of posts.
Next time, the battle of prayer.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Easter season, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
- Homilies on the Gospel of John, 83.5. In Saint John Chrysostom, Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 48–88, trans. Thomas Aquinas Goggin, S.C.H., Fathers of the Church 41 CUA Press, 1959, 416. Read this passage online at archive.org. Get the free PDF of the entire volume at archive.org.
- The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by John Climacus: several different versions on a search page at Amazon using my affiliate link. (See Full Disclosure below for more info.)
- Ladder of Paradise, Guigo II: Kindle.
- Lectio Divina: From the Spiritual Theology course at Catholic Productions.
Images: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Jacob’s Ladder, by Wenceslas Hollar, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. The Mass, from an old poster, an image found online.
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