“Rumination” on the Word of God in the Life and Ministry of Priests


         Every single day we must digest, in our memory, something of the reading of that day; we must assimilate it into our beings and then, recalling it, set about redigesting it with even more care.  This is something appropriate to our way of life, which brings us closer to God, and harnesses the soul to keep it from wasting itself on irrelevant thoughts.” (William of Saint-Thierry, Letter to the Brothers of Mont-Dieu, 122)


         The fathers of monastic spirituality were fond invoking the image of rumination when describing the work of interior meditation on the Word of God; a process to which every consecrated person should apply himself for the daily nourishment of his vocation.  Every Christian vocation is a life-long response to the Word which God addresses to us, calling us to follow Him, to serve Him, to love Him.  [capital He who in his lifetime perceives even one single Word that God speaks to him, personally, as vocation, will forever continue to seek its echo and its amplification, throughattention to and meditation on the Holy Scriptures.  A vital meditation, as essential to life as food, because “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4; Dt 8.3).


         But rumination is not merely a matter of digestion; to ruminate is to taste and to taste again, and to ensure more complete assimilation.  That which is ruminated is more readily assimilated into the body, to sustain our life and work.  To nourish the life of our faith, of our Christian vocation.  Our priestly vocation is a living body and it is the Word of God which feeds it, makes it grow, stimulates it with energy, with grace.  But if this nourishment is not done properly, if it is hurried or superficial, the entire “metabolism” of the vocation suffers from it, and the ministry drags itself

along, without energy, without feeling, without interest.


         The first part of rumination is repose; a living repose, but tranquil.   After having grazed his way through the pasture, or munched some hay from the stacks, the ruminant stops walking, lies down, and rests.  There he stays, chewing over what he has taken in.  Time becomes relative; that which he is ruminating is what determines the amount of time it takes to make it assimilable.  And all the while, he tastes and enjoys what he is chewing.


         The life of the priest is a ministry, a mission, consisting of one essential task: announcement and evangelisation.  This is why rumination of the Word is particularly necessary to it.  Even though there are times when it seems that the ministry itself is an obstacle to the rumination of the Word of God which is there for its nourishment.  It is not easy to just stop, in silence, and meditate --right in the middle of a dynamic of concern and pastoral care that is always demanding and draining one’s strength.  And yet every shepherd realises that it makes no sense to steer the flock to a pasture where they will not find the nourishment they require.  The mother cow lies peacefully ruminating even when her calf is urging her to rise and let him suckle.  Nature knows that one cannot give that which one has not yet gotten.


         In today’s world the great temptation is to hurry, but God does not follow fashion when he speaks to us. He pronounces his Words in a measured way, even if we are impatient to hear the end of the sentence and move on to something else.  Martha too, wanted to move on to something else, while Mary “wasted” her time sitting and listening to Jesus.  But even Martha began to realise that all her busy activity was like building a castle of sand, which disintegrated with every movement of her hands.  He who does not stop to listen fully to the Word which created the universe will find himself building on sand, and his work will crumble away.


         But the Word of God is the Word of life, Jesus Christ.  Stopping to listen to it means taking on his presence, assimilating it, through the Eucharist.  His disciples were aware of this, even when they did not fully understand his words, and perhaps even because they did not fully understand his words: “Lord, to whom would we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).


         For it is precisely there --there where the Word of God coincides with the mystery of the Eucharist of Christ-- that we should stop, ruminate in silence, meditate with the heart of the Virgin Mary the Word which becomes the Bread of eternal life.  At that point our stopping becomes the act of Christ; our silence becomes the word of Christ; and that which we receive becomes the greatest Gift that we can offer to the world.


Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori OCist

General Abbot