Dr. Brant Pitre holds
a workshop examining
the Song of Songs.
STEUBENVILLE, OH—"So often we treat the Bible as a book of fables where God does extraordinary things but he no longer does those things now for us," Jeff Cavins said at the July 23-25 Applied Biblical Studies Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
"Do we believe that God today still moves in a powerful way in the lives of his people when they respond to him? The answer is an overwhelming yes. Otherwise we're reading about a God who moved in someone else's life and is only giving us some nice pithy principles to put into practice to soothe our discomfort. Is that what you want or do you want God to move in your life?"
Almost 500 participants came from across the United States, Canada, and even from as far away as Australia to learn more about what the Bible says about prayer.
"Prayer is not just something on your 'to-do' list. Prayer is the breath of your soul. We want to establish a rhythm of prayer," said Kimberly Hahn, author of the Life-Nurturing Love series based on Proverbs 31, in her talk "Praying for the Hearth."
Her husband, Dr. Scott Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University, used the story of Jesus with the woman at the well to illustrate that God's desire for prayer is not born out of selfishness or personal need.
"God does not gain anything from us. How can there be thirst or hunger in God if we don't add anything to him? Because he created us out of nothing, out of love. We associate thirst with something we lack, but what God longs to do is make up for all that we lack. Jesus wanted to give the woman much more than what he was asking from her. This is the wonder of prayer."
One popular topic of discussion was what the Church calls Lectio Divina, the act of "praying the Scriptures," which was examined in "Lectio Divina and Your Spiritual Life" by Dr. Brant Pitre, professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
"One of the great aspects of prayer is the ability to monologue," he said, causing many participants to laugh. "When I'm done talking, the prayer is over. Don't you just love to be with people who talk and talk and never listen to what you have to say? The same thing's true of our prayer life as well. Lectio Divina opens the line of communication through prayer and helps us avoid the temptation to monologue."
He used experiences from New Orleans as an analogy for how Lectio Divina enhances reading the Bible. "If you're eating a fine meal, you savor it. In Louisiana, when we eat crawfish we treat it like a feast. That's what Scripture is, and prayer is drawing out the juices from the word of God, to savor the taste. You want it to last. You ask God for the good things you find in the sacred text to become part of you. You draw out the honey, the sweetness of the word."
Lectio Divina proved a favorite with participants, including Eugene Honigford from St. John the Evangelist Church in Delphos, Ohio.
"I really focused on the workshops on the Rosary and Lectio Divina, embracing the Scripture in prayer. I'd never really understood that. The Bible is a letter of love from God. I'd never heard that before. That's very eye-opening and challenging at the same time."
Cavins, author of The Great Adventure Bible Study, offered some practical tips on how to successfully complete the steps of Lectio Divina, using the first Psalm as a sample.
"There was this sense back in the 60s that to meditate was to empty your mind," he said while describing how to meditate after reading a biblical passage. "That has nothing to do with biblical mediation. It's actually the opposite. It is a filling of your mind with God's word, with entering into the story and seeing yourself in there. I see myself as the man in the psalm, walking in the way of the Lord."
Dr. Michael Barber explains
how prayer and liturgy relate
to spiritual warfare.
Dr. Michael Barber, professor of theology, Scripture, and Catholic thought at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, looked at Old Testament and New Testament passages dealing with demonic forces, in his talk "Prayer and Liturgy as Spiritual Warfare in Scripture."
"We can talk about spiritual warfare in the abstract, but let's talk concrete. It's about the devil trying to get us to choose our will over God's will. It's a stupid thing to do. God's will is the one thing keeping us in existence right now. When we sin, we go against our own life support system. The devil wants us to act contrary to reason. What we need to learn is humility. Prayer is an expression of humility and a remedy of pride."
Bruce Clifford, who came from St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, New York, for his fifth Applied Biblical Studies Conference, appreciated Barber's workshop on the Psalms. "He likened it to modern music. I knew a lot of Beatles songs. I know a lot of the words. Back in Jesus' times they knew the Psalms. The Psalms were their music and their prayer life."
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottawa, Canada, led eucharistic adoration and presided at Mass. "We disciples become missionaries when we go out into the public sphere and share the Gospel," he said in his homily. "A lot of people say to keep your prayer in your church or mosque or synagogue, not in public. We Catholic Christians beg to differ. The joy that we have in proclaiming our faith comes from knowing Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way. We naturally want to share that joy with our loved ones and anyone who crosses our path."
Sherry Monte said she hopes to put what she's learned into a Bible study at St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, Vermont. She decided to come for her first Steubenville conference after reading Hahn's biblical commentary in the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology's Breaking the Bread newsletter. "There were a lot of new things but it also affirmed things I've known. Sometimes it's just the historical point, or its relationship to the Israelites or Hebrews. I'm really understanding Scripture now on an incredible level."
The Applied Biblical Studies Conference is one of five adult conferences held each summer at Franciscan University of Steubenville. This year there were also 20 youth conferences held around the country and in Canada, as well as 2 new young adult conferences. More information can be found at the Steubenville conference website.