Praying with St. Luke

I just finished reading To Be Like Jesus: Inspiration From the Gospel of Luke, sent to me by The Catholic Company. The book offers a series of the reflections on the Gospel passages for Cycle C of the Sundays in Ordinary Time that are taken from Luke’s Gospel. The author’s intent is that one will read one reflection each week in preparation for Sunday Mass during Cycle C.

I am always interested in books like this both because my own prayer frequently involves praying with Scripture and because I am always looking for prayer resources to recommend to those for whom I provide spritiual direction or who attend retreats I give. There is much that I liked about this book.

First, the book starts with an important reminder that the purpose of engaging with Scripture is to “draw closer and closer” to Jesus, not to get information. I find myself making this point over and over when talking to people about praying with Scripture. Our aim is not to learn factual truths, but to experience Jesus. To use the words of the grace of Week Two of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, we seek when we read the Gospels to grow to know, love and follow Jesus more closely by gaining an interior knowledge of Him.

Second, scattered throughout the book is much good advice about reading, praying with and listening to scripture. Among the many important points made is the reminder to not read or listen to a piece of scripture with the attitude, “Oh, I know that one,” which causes us to miss what God might be trying to convey to us. Another is the importance of looking at the context to help understand a passage better, including the incident or teaching that precedes the passage in question. Another simple point is the recommendation to read a passage out loud.

Third, the book emphasizes in different places the importance of getting in touch with God’s love for us. The author conveys the important truth that we can not “begin to love others as God would wish” unless we “walk in confidence of God’s love.”

Finally, I found a number of the reflections on individual passages to be quite good. In some cases they brought me to different places than when I have prayed with the passages before, something that I always appreciate.

I’m glad to have read this book and think others will find it a good aid during the cycle in which we hear Luke’s Gospels proclaimed.


The Magnificat

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we hear Mary proclaim the words we refer to as the Magnificat, a joyful message that sings of a future of justice and peace brought about through the mercy of God.  Mary expresses in this hymn her confidence that God is at work in the midst of a world of struggle and pain.

Speaking of the Magnificat, Father Robert Maloney, C.M., said, “The historical Mary experienced poverty, oppression, violence and execution of her son. Her faith is deeply rooted in that context. Before the omnipotent God, she recognizes her own ‘lowly estate.’ She is not among the world’s powerful. She is simply God’s ‘maidservant.’ But she believes that nothing is impossible for God. In the Magnificat she sings confidently that God rescues life from death, joy from sorrow, light from darkness.”

In a similar vein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian-martyr executed by the Nazis, spoke these words in a sermon during Advent 1933: “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

Mary’s Magnificat offerse a message of hope. It is a message we need to hear in our world today: the message that God is still at work, even in the midst of poverty, war, suffering and heartache. The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation; a song that promises that changes can and will happen through the grace of God.

St. Luke

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Luke, Gospel writer and author of the Acts of the Apostles. I love Luke’s Gospel both for its beginning and its end. Only Luke’s Gospel contains the episodes of the Annunciation and the Visitation, both of which have been powerful passages in my prayer experience. And only Luke has the resurrected Jesus meeting the two disiples on the road to Emmaus, a passage that has always been close to my heart. (The middle of the Gospel is not shabby either; it is in Luke that we find the story of the prodigal son.)

The other reason I love Luke so much is his emphasis on the poor and the marginalized. More so than the other evangelists, Luke portrays Jesus’ openness toward everyone that needed his attention, regardless of who they were, regardless of how they were despised by others. He emphasizes Jesus concern for the poor, for widows, for lepers, for victims of prejudice. His Gospel carries a twofold message. First, that all are welcomed by Jesus, regardless of who they are and how little they have. Second, that we have an obligation to be sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalized, to act toward them as Jesus did – to love them and to be generous in providing for their needs. Good lessons in the world in which we live today.