LECTIO DIVINA: XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A


Translated by Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Mt. 23:1-12

A. Invoking the Holy Spirit.

We invoke the Holy Spirit using the words of St. Augustine.

Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God. (s. 128,4). Amen.

B. Lectio.

With heart well disposed, with serenity, read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing yourself to be touched by them.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in market places, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called “Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

C. Meditatio.

Let us now meditate with the commentary of St. Augustine on these words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

“Of the wicked, on the other hand, something else is said: The Scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses; do what they tell you, but do not imitate their works. You see how on the chair of Moses, to which the chair of Christ succeeded, the wicked also are seated; they harm their hearers by not saying good things. Why did you abandon this chair because of the wicked? Return to the peace, return to the harmony, that nothing may molest you. If I speak good things and I do the good, imitate me; but if what I speak I do not put into practice, you have the advice of the Lord: do what I say, but do not imitate what I do; but do not depart from the Catholic chair. This is the first thing I learnt in the Catholic Church: not to put my trust in man. Rightly do you reprove the men because you have put your hope in man. Thus whenever they reprove me, do not mind them. Well do I know what place I have in your heart, because I also know the place you occupy in mine. Do not fight for me against them. Whatever they may say about me, forget it immediately, lest by being preoccupied about my defense, you abandon your own (en. Ps. 36:3, 20).

St. Augustine also comments: “Do what they tell you, but do not do what they are doing. The fact that they say good things, and what they say the people would hear and usefully put into practice, it was not their work, because the Lord says: They are seated on the chair of Moses. By divine providence, preaching the Law of God, they can be useful for the hearers, though not for themselves. Regarding such persons, the prophet said in another place: You sow wheat and you harvest thorns, because they teach good things but do evil. Those who heard them and did what they said, were not harvesting grapes from thorns, rather they were harvesting grapes from the vine despite the thorns. It is like putting out one’s hand through a fence and harvest a bunch from the vine surrounded by a fence; this bunch is not fruit of the thorns but of the vine (s. dom. m. 2, 79).

D. Oratio.

With the text, let us now pray from the depths of our heart. I suggest the following phrases and questions that can awaken in you dialogue with God, and at the same time can give rise to affections and sentiments in your dialogue with God. Do not move to the next phrase or question if you can still continue dialoguing with God in one of them. It is not a matter of exhausting the list, but of helping you to pray with some points that better fit your personal experience.

a. “They do everything in order to be seen by the people” (Mt. 23:5).

  • With what intention do you perform your works of mercy and piety?
  • For you, how important is what people are saying about you?

b. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself  shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12).

  • What does this statement mean for you?
  • Why is humility important in your life?

c. Pray with this sentence: “Give me coherence between my life and my  works.

E. Contemplatio.

I propose to you some points for affective interior contemplation. Once again you need not follow all of it, rather you can choose what fits your personal experience.

a. Contemplate Christ humiliated in his Passion and Death on the Cross. On contemplating the Cross of Christ, learn humility, remembering the words of the Gospel: “he who exalts himself shall be humbled.”  Contemplate Christ on the Cross, be thankful for his love, learn of his humility and meekness. Contemplate and learn.

b. Contemplate your own heart and ask it for what motive it does the works of piety and charity. Contemplate the moments of prayer and ask your heart what is its intention. Contemplate the moments when you do works of charity, or you give help to some person, ask your heart for what do you do it. Ask God to purify your intentions and contemplate how the love that Christ puts into your heart should fill your works and your life. Contemplate and be thankful.

F. Communicatio.

Think of everything that you can share with those around you about the experience you had with God, especially about the coherence between your words and actions and of being humble. The following points can help you to share with your community the experience of the lectio divina on this text.

  • What have I discovered about God and about myself in this moment of prayer?
  • How can I apply this text of Scripture at this moment of my life? What light does it give me? What challenges does it put before me?
  • What concrete commitment does this text of Scripture ask of me in my spiritual life, in my community life?
  • What has been my predominant sentiment during this moment of prayer?

Final prayer of St. Augustine.

Turning towards the Lord:

Lord God, Father Almighty, with pure heart, as far as our littleness permits, allow us to give you our most devoted and sincere thanks, begging with all our strength from your particular goodness, that you deign to hear our petitions according to your goodwill, that by your power you may drive away the enemy from all our thoughts and actions; that you increase our faith, govern our mind and give us spiritual thoughts and bring us to your happiness, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who with you lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (en. Ps. 150:8).

“Where there is charity there is peace, and where there is humility there is charity” (ep. Io. tr. prol.).

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.