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Ramiro Pellitero Iglesias, Professor of Theology, University of Navarra, Spain School

On the Word of God in Christian life and evangelisation

Sat, 12 Oct 2019 13:52:00 +0000 Posted in Church and new evengelization

The Apostolic Letter "Aperuit illis" (30-IX-2019), with which Pope Francis establishes "Word of God Sunday," is an important text for educators of the faith. It constitutes a small treatise on the importance of the Word of God in Christian life and evangelization.

The first reference letter is the paschal mystery, that is, the death and resurrection of Christ for our salvation. There is such a close relationship between Christ and the Sacred Scriptures that they cannot be understood without Him and vice versa.

In dedicating a Sunday of the Liturgical Year to the Word of God, the Pope wishes, above all, "that the Church may relive the gesture of the Risen Lord who opens for us too the treasure of his Word so that we can proclaim this inexhaustible richness throughout the world" (n. 2).

With this letter he wants to contribute to the appreciation of the fact that "in the different local Churches there are many initiatives that make Sacred Scripture more and more accessible to believers, so that they may feel grateful for such a great gift, with the commitment to live it every day and the responsibility to witness to it with coherence" (Ibid.).

Effectiveness of the Word of God

The Second Vatican Council dedicated its Constitution "Dei Verbum" to the Word of God. In 2008, Benedict XVI presided over the synod on the Word of God, which concluded with the publication of the exhortation Verbum Domini (2010). "In this document," notes the current pope with reference letter to that exhortation, "in particular the performative character of the Word of God is deepened, especially when its specifically sacramental character emerges in liturgical action" (Ibid.). Performative character means that the word of God, especially during the liturgical celebration, does not merely say something, but does it. This is how the document cited above explains it:

"Indeed, in the history of salvation there is no separation between what God says and what he does; his Word itself manifests itself as living and effective (cf. Heb 4:12), as is indicated, moreover, by the very meaning of the Hebrew expression dabar".

In the same way," the explanation continues, "in liturgical action we are before his Word, which accomplishes what it says. financial aid When the People of God are educated to discover the performative character of the Word of God in the liturgy, they are also educated to perceive the action of God in the history of salvation and in the life staff of each member".

Thus it is said, at the same time, that God continues to act, through the liturgy, in the history of salvation, as well as in the life of Christians. Indeed, hence the importance of both the biblical training and the liturgicaltraining .

The letter of Francis takes up at the bottom of the page a paragraph of that document of Benedict XVI(Verbum Domini) that refers to the "sacramentality" of the Word of God. This is explained there "in analogy", that is, in comparison with the Eucharist, in which under the appearances of bread and wine we commune the body and blood of Christ. In fact, the term sacramentality evokes that way of being of the sacraments, visible signs of an invisible grace.

In a similar way to what happens with the Eucharist, says the text, "the proclamation of the Word of God in the celebration entails recognizing that it is Christ himself who is present and addresses himself to us to be received" (Exhort. Ap. Verbum Domini, 56).

This presence of Christ through the Sacred Scriptures, especially when they are read and proclaimed in the liturgy, is what Francis wishes to highlight by establishing the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time as Word Sunday. It will be "dedicated to the celebration, reflection and knowledge dissemination of the Word of God" (n. 3).

In addition, the intention is to contribute to "strengthening ties with the Jews and to pray for the unity of Christians" (Ibid.). The two references have as their background the fact that the Jews were the first depositaries of the Sacred Scripture (Old Testament) and that all Christians (also, therefore, non-Catholics) are invited to put ourselves "in an attitude of listening to the path to follow in order to arrive at an authentic and solid unity" among us (Ibid.).

In the following, some indications are given so that on that day the Word of God may be duly highlighted in the liturgical celebrations so that all the faithful may value it more and more each day, know it and deepen it, and also meditate on it so that it may serve as the soul of their prayer ("lectio divina").

It is beautiful how the Bible recounts the first time that the People of God - in the Old Testament - returned to read the Sacred Scripture, on their return from the Babylonian exile, during the Feast of the Tents.

The people gathered in Jerusalem, at one of the gates of the temple (the "Water Gate", located to the east), "as one man" (Ne 8:1). There they explained to them the meaning of all that they had experienced. Their reaction was emotion and tears of joy:

"This day is consecrated to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep," the governor and the scribe told them (for all the people wept when they heard the words of the law). [...] "Do not grieve; the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh 8:8-10).

The table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist

The following explanation of the Pope for us is also beautiful. First of all, the Bible is not the patrimony of a few - chosen or experts - but belongs to all Christians, to the people of God, summoned to listen to it and to recognize themselves in that Word. "The Bible is the book of the Lord's people who, listening to it, pass from dispersion and division to unity. The Word of God unites believers and makes them one people" (n. 4).

In this unity generated by listening to the Word of God, pastors have a special responsibility to explain the Holy Scriptures and make them accessible to the Christian community. This is made concrete above all in the homily. It has as goal "to help to deepen the Word of God, using simple language suitable for the listener" (n. 5), as well as to show the "beauty of the images which the Lord used to stimulate the internship of good"(Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, 142.

In fact," Francis adds, "for many of our faithful this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of the Word of God and to see it in relation to their daily lives". Therefore, pastors are asked to make the effort to prepare it starting from prayer staff, brevity and concreteness so that this Word may reach the hearts of those who listen and bear fruit. This is also asked, in a different way, for the task of catechists.

As Jesus himself explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35), all Scripture speaks of Christ. And Francis points out: "Since the Scriptures speak of Christ, they help us to believe that his death and resurrection do not belong to mythology, but to history and are at the heart of the faith of his disciples".

In fact, there is a deep bond between faith and the Sacred Scriptures: "Because faith comes from listening and listening is centered on the word of Christ (cf. Rom 10:17), the invitation that arises is the urgency and importance that believers must give to listening to the Word of the Lord both in liturgical action and in prayer and reflection staff" (n. 7).

The Sacred Scriptures are also inseparable from the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council recalls that they are like "two tables" which together nourish believers: the table of the Word of God and the table of the Body of Christ (cf. Const. Dei Verbum, 21).

It is the Risen Christ," the Pope observes, "who daily breaks the Word and Bread in the community of believers: "For this we need to engage in a constant attention of familiarity with the Sacred Scripture, otherwise the heart remains cold and the eyes remain closed, affected as we are by innumerable forms of blindness" (n. 8).

The Sacred Scripture and the sacraments are therefore inseparable. As the book of Revelation points out (3:20), in the words of Francis, "Jesus Christ knocks at our door through the Sacred Scripture; if we listen and open the door of mind and heart, then he enters our life and stays with us" (Ibid.).

Word of God and salvation in Christ

The Pope dwells on three aspects of the Sacred Scripture, inspired by the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy: the salvific purpose of Scripture, its spiritual meaning and its foundation in the Incarnation of the Son of God.

a) Although the books of the Bible have an undeniable historical foundation, "the Bible is not a collection of history books, nor of chronicles, but is totally directed to the integral salvation -salvation from evil and death- of the person" (n. 9).

b) In order to achieve this salvific purpose, the Holy Spirit, under the guide of the Church, opens us to the spiritual meaning of the text. In this way he frees us from the risk of remaining enclosed in the mere written text without passing to its meaning, falling into a fundamentalist inspiration. The Holy Spirit transforms Scripture into the living Word of God, which has an inspired, dynamic and spiritual character (cf. n. 7).

This continues to happen today. "Therefore," says Francis, "it is necessary to have faith in the action of the Holy Spirit who continues to perform a peculiar form of inspiration when the Church teaches the Sacred Scripture, when the Magisterium interprets it authentically (cf. Dei Verbum, 10) and when each believer makes of it his own spiritual rule " (n. 10 of the pope's text).

c) The Council further explains that the Word of God has taken on our human language by becoming flesh in Jesus Christ (what we call the Incarnation of the Son of God), in a given historical and cultural context and with consequences for all times and places.

Even before Christ, the Word of God was transmitted by tradition among the People of Israel, and with the coming of Christ the Word of God is transmitted by the living Tradition of the Church. For this reason we say that biblical faith is based on the living Word, not on a mere book (cf. n. 11).

The Word bears fruit by the action of the Holy Spirit

Finally, Francis points out the principal fruits of the Sacred Scriptures in the Christian life and, therefore, in the evangelizing mission statement of the Church.

Above all, the Old Testament never becomes "old": it continues to "beat" in the New Testament, transformed by the one Holy Spirit who inspired both. The Sacred Scripture becomes effective in those who listen to it, try to share it with others and make it come alive-even if this sometimes proves demanding-in order to live in depth our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters (cf. n. 12).

Scripture challenges us above all to know how to receive God's love and to respond to it through our love for God and for others, that is, through charity, responding to the material and spiritual needs of those around us (cf. Lk. 16:29).

This is why the Pope points out: "To listen to Sacred Scripture in order to practice mercy: this is a great challenge for our lives. The Word of God is capable of opening our eyes to allow us to leave behind the individualism that leads to asphyxia and sterility, while at the same time showing us the path of sharing and solidarity" (n. 13).

The scene of the transfiguration of the Lord (cf. Lk 9:33) takes place during the Feast of the Tents, when, as we saw at the beginning, the sacred text was read to the people after their return from exile. At the same time, the transfiguration anticipates the glory of Jesus, to encourage the apostles before the passion of the Lord.

Here too, Francis observes, the comparison between what happens to the body of Christ-which is transfigured, becoming white and shining-and the life of Christians is useful. With the nourishment of the Sacred Scripture the Holy Spirit makes Christians identify themselves with the glorious Christ. For this, as the Council says, it is necessary to "pass from the letter to the spirit" (cf. n. 14 and Dei Verbum, 38).

These fruits that the Word of God bears when it comes to life in Christians are seen in an excellent way in Mary. Jesus calls his Mother blessed because she believed in the fulfillment of what the Lord had said to her (cf. Lk 1:45). When certain people in the crowd exclaimed in admiration: "Blessed is the womb that bore you," Jesus replied: "Blessed rather are those who hear and keep the word of God" (Lk 11:27-28).

"This," observes St. Augustine, "is equivalent to saying: my mother too, whom you have described as happy, is happy precisely because she guards the Word of God; not because in her the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but because she guards the very Word of God through whom she was made and who in her became flesh" (Treatise on the Gospel of John, 10:3).

The Pope concludes by expressing his wish "that this Sunday dedicated to the Word of God may foster in the people of God a religious and assiduous familiarity with Sacred Scripture, as the sacred author taught already in ancient times: this Word 'is very near to you, in your heart and in your mouth, that you may do it' (Dt 30:14)".