Pope Benedict XVI teaches about God's dialogue with humanity through the Bible
A seminarian reads the Bible near a statue of Christ descending from the cross in a breezeway at the North American College in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
St. Augustine wrote that when Christians read and meditate on the Scriptures, their minds are enlightened, their wills are strengthened and their hearts are set on fire with the love of God. The latest post-synodal exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, helps us to rediscover this truth of the divine word of God, reminding us that this word is the source of constant renewal for the Church.
Have we forgotten that a biblical renewal was one of the most desired hopes and fruits of the Second Vatican Council? Many synod fathers, and Pope Benedict himself, referred to a "slackening" over the past four or five decades, with the consequence of "indefiniteness or vague spiritualism or, on the contrary, of arid technicalities on the part of specialists." Rather than leading people into the heart of God's word, we have driven some away. To rectify this, we must once again rekindle a flame around the Scriptures.
Verbum Domini, which has been published in eight languages, has the potential to set hearts on fire with the love of God and his saving word. It is the most important document on the Bible in 45 years. Dated Sept. 30, 2010, the memorial of St. Jerome, the exhortation is the fruit of the synod of bishops on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," which was held at the Vatican from Oct. 5-26, 2008.
One of the strong messages to emerge from the synod is that the Christian faith is not a religion of "the book," but rather a religion of the word of God (7). "The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression ['word of God'], but also to understand its unitary sense," Pope Benedict writes. "From the theological standpoint too, there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression are interrelated, so that the unity of God's plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly."
Our faith is not about a book or a story of the past. It is not based in a library or collection of ancient texts. Rather, the Word of God is a person, and his name is Jesus. God's Word became flesh (cf. Jn 1:14). He lived on our earth and shared our human condition. God's Word continues today to save and redeem, to forgive and heal.
In this light, let us examine four points that Verbum Domini makes about the Bible:
THE INTERPRETATION OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
One of the great debates at the synod was about the role of exegetes — professionals who study sacred Scriptures and are called to interpret the Bible. Verbum Domini deals with the vocation of exegetes and teachers of Scripture in a very thorough manner with more than 40 pages dedicated to presenting hermeneutics (the practice of interpretation) in a "clear and constructive" way.
The pope writes that the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is not to uphold the ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which biblical scholars must submit. Rather, it is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. "In their work of interpretation, Catholic exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is the word of God. Their common task is not finished when they have simply determined sources, defined forms or explained literary procedures. They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they have explained the meaning of the biblical text as God's word for today."
A prayerful reading of the word of God, known as lectio divina, is one of the strongest, clearest and most concrete proposals of the exhortation. "The synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina. The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality" (86). In Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict describes in detail the step-by-step method of lectio divina, which includes reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, leading to action.
Salt + Light Television in Canada has given lectio divina a high priority in its programming. The network has been particularly blessed to have Archbishop Thomas C. Collins of Toronto, a renowned Scripture scholar and teacher, use lectio divina as a powerful instrument to bring the Scriptures alive for the people of Toronto and far beyond.
THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
Verbum Domini vigorously promotes the new evangelization. To evangelize means to preach the Good News proclaimed to us more than 2,000 years ago. That news is the same yesterday, today and forever. It truly is the greatest story ever told, and we must constantly seek new ways to tell it. The evangelization of today's world — so often spoken about by Venerable John Paul II and repeated by Pope Benedict XVI — is a task in which the Church places great hope. Yet, we are fully aware of the innumerable obstacles we face in this work due to the extraordinary changes happening at a personal and social level to a postmodern culture in serious crisis.
SOURCE OF PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
In light of so many conflicts taking place in the world, Pope Benedict's words in Verbum Domini about reconciliation between peoples are particularly striking. "In the present context it is more necessary than ever to rediscover the word of God as a source of reconciliation and peace, since in that word God is reconciling to himself all things (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 1:10): Christ 'is our peace' (Eph 2:14), the one who breaks down the walls of division." Citing hostilities that "take on the appearance of interreligious conflict," the pope added: "Here I wish to affirm once more that religion can never justify intolerance or war. We cannot kill in God's name! Each religion must encourage the right use of reason and promote ethical values that consolidate civil coexistence."
THE SYNOD ON THE WORD of God was an invitation to students, teachers and lovers of sacred Scripture, and to the entire Church, to look carefully at its relationship with the word of God. How can Scripture once again become the "soul of theology" and bridge this growing divide between those who study Scripture, those who teach theology and those who are preparing for ministry in the Catholic Church? How can the hearts of students, pastoral ministers and the faithful be set on fire by the risen Lord, who begs people to touch the text of his words?
Pope Benedict writes, "In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has 'the words of eternal life' (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10)."
Both Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who was appointed by Pope Benedict as an official observer, and I took part in all sessions of the synod. It was for us a retreat steeped in the word of God and in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and a tremendous experience of the universal Church. I have no doubt that Verbum Domini will be a major impetus in the ongoing renewal and life of the Church, universally, and in all of the countries where Knights of Columbus give witness to the Gospel with their lives.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, a member of Toronto Council 1388, is a Scripture scholar and the C.E.O. of Canada's Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. He served as the English-language press attaché for the synod on the word of God in October 2008.
The complete text of Verbum Domini is available at Catholic bookstores, or free online at the Vatican's Web site, vatican.va.