Catholic teens study bible

Learning to Hear God’s Voice as a Community of Disciple-Makers

By Brad Bursa

My previous post focused on asking the right question following a youth night, or YDisciple session, etc. Said another way, it was all about helping teams take up a new “lens” by which they observe and review their time with teens. However, shifting the question away from “how did we think the ___ went?” to “What was God doing here?” is a significant one and it comes with serious ramifications. But, it also raises a critical question for a youth minister and his/her team, namely: How can we come to know what God himself was doing? What is the criteria by which we come to know that God was intervening and not just us or someone else? What are the “rules of discernment” a team can adopt in order to gain clarity and key into the movements of the Lord? 

Complete answers to these questions lie far beyond the scope of this little blog post. As a way of scratching the surface, I’d like to make a simple proposal: If you (and your team) want to “clue into” what God is doing now and is prompting you to do in the future, consider starting by exploring together (and personally) what God has done as a way of coming to know who He is and how He acts. Indeed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Scripture study is perhaps one of the most accessible ways to begin “cluing into” the Lord and His movements — past, present, and future. 

For this reason, my team always made lectio divina (i.e. a “holy reading” of Scripture) a priority at any meeting. Pope Benedict XVI describes lectio divina as “Listening together to the word of God…letting ourselves be struck by the inexhaustible freshness of God’s word which never grows old, overcoming our deafness to those words that do not fit our own opinions or prejudices, listening and studying within the communion of the believers of every age: all these things represent a way of coming to unity in faith as a response to hearing the word of God.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini 46). Lectio invites the reader to “search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within” (Ibid, 86). 

Typically, I (or someone else on the team) would choose a fitting (and brief!) passage of Scripture based upon what the team was experiencing at the time, or we would pray with one of the readings of the day from the Lectionary. I would usually lead a brief opening prayer and then walk my team through the steps for lectio. Pope Benedict XVI explains the steps as follows: 

  • It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: What does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. 
  • Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: What does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person individually – but also as a member of the community – must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. 
  • Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: What do we say to the Lord in response to His word?
  • Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of us?
  • The process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.

As time allows, I like to invite team members to share following the oratio step and prior to contemplatio. Nobody was ever forced to speak, but the movement of allowing God to speak, people to respond, and then to share their reflections with the whole team, is tremendously life-giving, insightful, and valuable in cultivating the necessary level of vulnerability that a community needs in order to thrive. Lectio also acted as that stabilizing force for our discernment — it provided a necessary help and criteria for understanding the movements of the Lord.

Brad Bursa, PhD., is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship. Prior to his current post, he was the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati, OH where he helped transition high school ministry to a discipleship approach. He received his doctorate in Theology from the University of Notre Dame Australia and lives in Cincinnati with his wife and five children.

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