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Extract of Homily given at Mass with the Institution of Lector at Allen Hall Seminary on Saturday 26th March

There are so many different way of praying! Doesn’t the Catechism of the Catholic Church say there are as many different ways of praying as there are people who pray?! Dear Sean and Francisco, by this stage of your formation, you will have tried already many different ways of praying – of that I’m sure.  

St John Paul II famously said seminary formation is, at heart, a self-formation. I think we experience this in the spiritual sphere more than in any other. Because we come to realize that no one can take responsibility for our prayer-life, other than ourselves. If you want to leave seminary a man of prayer, it’s down to you, and the Holy Spirit, of course.  

You realize the Holy Spirit is forming you when it suddenly occurs to you, “Maybe I should try praying in this way or that”. When you pause to ask, “Now, where did that idea come from?”, you realize this is perhaps a little sign of God’s closeness to you. For years you may have prayed in one particular way when suddenly it occurs to you that you might like to pray many more phrases of Scripture. Institution as a Reader is an invitation to do just that.

This ministry comes relatively early on in a seminarian’s formation. Coming early, it acts to remind us that every seminarian should have sought to mine the rich seam of the Scriptures for prayer. Pope St Paul VI says to those who are to be instituted to this ministry, “Let them meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.” “Let the Reader employ suitable means,” he continues, “to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.”  

Pope Paul’s words should serve as an encouragement to every one of us, whatever our stage and state of life, to try and meet the Lord in the praying of Scripture, to “set ourselves to know the Lord,” as Hosea puts it in our 1st reading today; “set yourselves close to him,” as Peter says elsewhere. Going to meet the Lord in sacred Scripture is a time-honoured way of doing just that, setting ourselves close to the Living God. Each in his or her own way.

We are charged, as Readers, to “be faithful in handing on the Word of God so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.” We are charged to enthuse them with this Word which is Life. It is by inhabiting God’s Word ourselves that we discover joy in opening up the Scriptures; it is by inhabiting the Word that it takes root in our hearts. And we find the words of Paul begin to echo within us, those words we hear on Maundy Thursday night: “This is what I received and in turn pass on to you.” Those words of the Lord which we’ve heard so often spoken on the lips of Isaiah begin to be realized in us: “the Word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty without succeeding in what it was sent to do.”

Bernanos, in his Diary of a Country Priest, says that, at the end of life, God will say to us, “Give me back my Word”. Praying the Scriptures is a way of anticipating just that; giving back to God here and now in this life the Word which we shall contemplate, please God, all together for eternity.

Photo: Lorcan Keller