Hey everyone! Sorry it has been so long between posts. I wanted to share with you some of my experiences as of late. In the past few months, I’ve pulled back significantly from Facebook and it has done me a lot of good. I have been finding more time to read and to focus on my business. It’s also amazing how much less time you spend on a computer when you do that.
One of the things that I have done recently is to challenge myself to memorize a book of the Bible. It may sound Protestant, but in fact it’s quite Catholic. Monks throughout the centuries worked to memorize scripture, especially the psalms, since several of their hours in the Divine Office were prayed in the dark. When I was a monk I came to have memorized (in chant) at least Saturday night prayer because we sang it at a holy hour. In his bio in the Divine Office, St. Dominic was said to have the Gospel of Matthew almost memorized word for word because he drew from it so much in his preaching. So I thought, “Why shouldn’t I do something similar?”
Moreover, memorizing scripture and the words of Jesus is a distinctly Marian prayer. Luke reports at least twice that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” Mary seemed to be better equipped with understanding what was happening at the moment than any one else around her. Think of the fact that she sensed that the time was ripe for Jesus’ first sign at the marriage at Cana. She seemed to just be there at the Crucifixion, though none of the Apostles seemed to have been able to know that Jesus was going to be crucified (despite him repeatedly telling them so), and small indications in the resurrection narrative that show that she helped to ready the disciples for the Resurrection.
The book I chose was the Gospel of John, my absolute favorite Gospel, because of how deeply spiritual it is in its portrayal of Jesus, how detailed it is about the events of the Crucifixion, how lovingly he portrays the Blessed Mother and John the Baptist (my confirmation patron), and how beautiful his accounts of the Resurrected Jesus are.
So I started. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1) The process of memorization is not difficult. You simply read a line again and again until you can repeat it word for word without looking. Then you go on to the next line: “He was in the beginning with God.” (Jn 1:2). When you have that line memorized, you repeat everything back again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Then you add your next line, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn 1:3) Again, you repeat the process. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” So far, I have made it halfway through chapter 3. My goal is to get through the rest of the Gospel by the time I get married next June.
I wanted to share a few things that I have discovered so far about this practice. First, it aids in understanding the scriptures. When you have to memorize something word for word, you actually have to pay attention to what words are being used and how it is said. This helps you to better understand small things in the scriptures that you would normally overlook on a fast reading. One thing I have noticed is that in the Gospel of John, any time anything simply earthly or a misunderstanding is stated, John simply writes a variation of “says, said.” However, when something extremely important is said, when it connects with the Divine, when John really wants you to know that this is what you should most take away from the passage, he uses a variation of the word “answer, answered.” For instance: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold! An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Phillip answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” (Jn 1:47-50)
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I now have the scriptures with me, and can pray them whenever I choose, without having a Bible with me. This is excellent, especially as I work, I can also do lectio and pray. It’s also an opportunity for me to repeat what I have memorized so as to keep it there in my mind. I can also bring it out when I am struggling with anger or with a temptation and it helps calm me.
What’s more, I find myself to be more confident in my witness and more ready to share my faith with others when I have some memorized scripture to draw from.
It’s also helping my faith life and helping me keep focused. When you devote a serious amount of time every day or two to memorizing several verses, you tend to stay on track with other parts of your faith too.
It’s also an excellent pre-Mass meditation. I like to go to Mass several minutes early to sit and reflect in the silence before Mass begins so that I can get my head and heart where it should be so that I can best receive what Jesus is offering me. What I have found is that when I recite these scriptures to myself, the Mass comes more alive, especially the scriptural readings and the Consecration. My mind hones in on the mysteries much more deeply than I did before.
So I want to recommend this practice to you. Pick a book (it doesn’t have to be a Gospel!) and try to memorize it. Maybe you can do the letter to the Galatians, or (if you want to go small to start) the Letter to Philemon. A strong recommendation that I give is the Letter to the Hebrews. Your faith life won’t be the same. I can guarantee it!