Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Noah Lett on the Liturgy of the Hours

On February 2, former Lutheran Minister Noah Lett was the guest on Marcus Grodi's show, The Journey Home (mp3 audio available here). Noah has been on the show before and is now employed by EWTN as a theological consultant. His conversion is a bit more mystical than most: an encounter with St. Bernadette Soubirous (the Lourdes visionary) in a dream features prominently.

At about 34 minutes into the broadcast, Marcus notes that he has discovered that sometimes, after a person has been Catholic for a while, the things that become most important to them about the Catholic Church might be different from the things that originally brought them in. He then asks Noah whether, in the ten years since he originally appeared on the program, that has happened to him, whether he has made any new discoveries that have become important to him as a Catholic.

I just loved Noah's response.

Well, I can talk about something very recent that has been a new discovery. When I came into the Church, I was trained at two seminaries in biblical studies with New Testament emphasis, and so I was inclined to think of everything in terms of exegetical work. I didn’t read anything that I didn’t think exegetically about it. Well, one of the things that my friends before I became Catholic and afterward tried to interest me in were the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, and you read like the morning office – I’m used to things highly woven together like any gospel story like, say, the wedding at Cana. It’s all highly woven together and tightly done so that it rewards a certain kind of looking for those things. Well, the Morning Prayer is anything but highly woven together. It’s got a lot of little pieces that are sort of collaged together. I was not prepared to read that and do the Liturgy of the Hours when I came into the Church because I was still looking for it to be like the Bible.

Here recently about four months ago I received the gift of the Liturgy of the Hours. I realized that I had changed, and that the Church, besides giving me the Bible, has also given me the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours make me aware – it’s sort of like this. When you read the Bible, you can read it, and there can be a difference between doing it and thinking about it. But the Liturgy of the Hours, you’re either doing it, or you’re not, you know, because you say those things. Yeah, you can be studying them academically, but everybody sees that you’re not saying the Liturgy of the Hours, all you’re doing is studying the Psalms or something. But what you realize is that the Liturgy of the Hours, I do them. I say these Psalms. When you do exegesis you think, “Do I have an adequate theory that combines together the two testaments so that I can answer all of the problems that are between the two testaments so you might avoid some of those passages that make it difficult to join the two testaments.” The Liturgy of the Hours don’t ask you that. They put the Old Testament and the New Testament together like a Psalm or something and say “Read this.” You don’t have to understand how they go together to
experience the goodness it brings you.

I finally, after twenty years, I realized this! Finally, I realized this! I realized that when you do exegesis you go, “Yeah, Dei Verbum says that I should always make sure that I read the passage in its historical environment at the time.” And you think, yeah, that’s a lot of hard work. The Liturgy of the Hours takes Psalm 22 and doesn’t say, “Do you have adequate historical knowledge of the exegetical and linguistic historical background of this?” It just says, “Read it!” And it says, “You don’t have to know all that to do this, because the words will become yours, and there’ll be a meeting between you and the Psalm 23 person.” Everyone knows Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” How many people stop and think, “Oh, I can’t read this, because I have no idea what the shepherd was like, you know, back when they wrote this.” You just do it, and you experience the goodness of it. This is a great gift.

I love saying Morning and Evening Prayer, and I try to do the ones in between. Not because somebody says, “OK, you better do this.” It’s because it expresses my heart.

Sometimes people wonder, “How is it the case that you can do all those Catholic, liturgical, external things?” Well, let me ask you this: if your wife is a good wife, does your good wife say, “I don’t want any of the externals of love, I only want you to internally feel love for me?” No. Try do get by with that on Valentine’s Day, you know, and see where you sleep. My wife wants me to be internally in love with her and externally show it. What if I were to say, “Wife, we’ve been doing things, we’ve been doing Valentine’s Day here for thirty years (we’ve been married for thirty years, me and my wife), so uh, maybe this is too external a form thing, we don’t want to do this, we want to do it another way.” My wife would go, “Are you nuts? I want my candy! I want my other stuff on Valentine’s Day! Give it to me!” Your good wife will say to you. What about on her birthday? Can you say, “We’ve been doing your birthday, and you say to your wife maybe lowly that we’ve been doing this for so long, maybe this is external ritual, we shouldn’t do it anymore.”

Our Lord is no less a person than my wife. The Liturgy of the Hours give me a way of expressing my love. I do not always know what to say! But I find these words. When I realize that Jesus said all the Psalms – He said the Psalms, they were his words. He found that he could say these Psalms. I’m saying the words that Jesus said, and I’m experiencing the goodness that comes. This is wonderful. I mean this is a new gift to me, after twenty years.

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