Sacred Scripture: October 2008 Archives

The concluding homily of Pope Benedict for the Synod of Bishops on the Word of Benedict XVI arms3.jpgGod on Sunday, 26 October 2008, Rome.



Brothers in the Episcopacy and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Word of the Lord, which echoed in the Gospel earlier, reminded us that all of Divine Law is summarized in love. Matthew the Evangelist tells that the Pharisees, after God answered the Sadduceans closing their mouths, met to put Him to test (cf. 22:34-35). One of them, a doctor of law, asked Him: "Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?" (22:36). The question allows one to see the worry, present in ancient Hebrew tradition, of finding a unifying principle for the various formulations of the Will of God. This was not an easy question, considering that in the Law of Moses, 613 precepts and prohibitions are contemplated. How to find which is the most important one among these? But Jesus has no hesitation, and answers promptly: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment" (22:37-38). Jesus quotes the Shemà in His answer, the prayer the pious Israelite recites several times a day, especially in the morning and in the evening (cf. Dt 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Nb 15:37-41): the proclamation of whole and total love due to God, as the only Lord. Emphasis is put on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul and mind. The word mind, diánoia, contains the rational element. God is not only the object of love, commitment, will and feelings, but also the intellect, which should not be excluded from this. Our thinking must conform to God's thinking. Then, however, Jesus adds something which, in truth, had not been asked by the doctor of law: "The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself" (22:39). The surprising aspect of Jesus' answer consists in the fact that He establishes a similarity between the first and the second commandments, defined this time with a Biblical formula drawn from the Levitic code of holiness (cf. Lv 19:18) as well. And therefore, the two commandments are associated in the role of main axis upon which all of Biblical Revelation rests: "On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too" (22:40).

The Evangelical page we are focusing on sheds light on the meaning of being disciples of Christ which is practicing His teachings, that can be summarized in the first and greatest commandment of Divine Law, the commandment of love. Even the First Reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, insists on the duty of love; a love witnessed concretely in relationships between persons: they must be relationships of respect, collaboration, generous help. The next to be loved is the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the indigent, that is to say those citizens that are without a "defender". The holy author goes into details, as in the case of the object pawned by one of these poor persons (cf. Ex 22:25-26). In this case, God Himself is the guarantor for the person's situation.

St Paul apostle.jpgIn the Second Reading, we can find a concrete application of the supreme commandment of love in one of the first Christian communities. Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians, leading them to understand that, while having known them for such a short time, he appreciated them and bore affection in his heart for them. Because of this, he points to them as "an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia" (1 Th 1:6-7). There is no lack of weaknesses or problems in this recently founded community, but love overcomes all, renews all, wins over all: the love of who, knowing their own limits, docilely follows the words of Christ, the Divine Teacher, transmitted through one of His faithful disciples. "You took us and the Lord as your model, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in spite of great hardship", the Apostle wrote. He continued: "since it was from you that the word of the Lord rang out -- and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for your faith in God has spread everywhere" (1 Th 1:6.8). The lesson that we can draw from the experience of the Thessalonians, and experience that is a common factor in every authentic Christian community, is that love for the neighbor is born from the docile listening to the Divine Word and accepts also hardships for the truth of the divine word and thus true love grows and truth shines. It is so important to listen to the Word and incarnate it in personal and community existence!

In this Eucharistic Celebration, which closes the work of the Synod, we feel, in a particular way, the bond that exists between the loving hearing of the word of God and disinterested service towards the brothers. How many times, in the past few days, have we heard about experiences and reflections that underline the need emerging today for a more intimate hearing of God, of a truer knowledge of His Word of Salvation; of a more sincere sharing of faith which is constantly nourished at the table of the Divine Word! Dear and Venerable Brothers, thank you for the contribution each of you offered in discussing the theme of the Synod: "The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church". I greet you all with great affection. A special greeting goes to the Cardinals, the Delegate Presidents of the Synod and the General Secretary, whom I thank for their constant dedication. I greet you, dear brothers and sisters, who came from every continent bringing your enriching experience. In returning home, give everyone an affectionate greeting from the Bishop of Rome. I greet the Fraternal Delegates, the Experts, the Auditors and the Invited Guests: the members of the General Secretariat of the Synod, all those who worked with the press. A special thought goes for the Bishops of Continental China, who could not be represented during this Synodal assembly. I would like to speak on behalf of them and thank God for their love for Christ, their communion with the universal Church and their faithfulness to the Successor of the Apostle Peter. They are present in our prayers, along with all the faithful who are entrusted to their pastoral care. We ask the "Chief Shepherd" (1 Pt 5:4) to give them apostolic joy, strength, and zeal to guide, with wisdom and far-sightedness, the Catholic community of China so dear to all of us.

All of us who have taken part in the work of the Synod will carry with us the renewed knowledge that the Church's principal task, at the start of this new millennium, is above all to nourish ourselves on the Word of God, in order to make more effective new evangelization, the announcement of our times. What is needed now is that this ecclesial experience reach every community; we have to understand the necessity of translating the Word we have heard into gestures of love, because this is the only way to make the Gospel announcement credible, despite the human weaknesses that mark individuals. What this requires first of all is a more intimate knowledge of Christ and an ever-more docile acceptance of his Word.

In this Pauline year, making the words of the Apostle our own: "I should be in trouble if I failed to [preach the Gospel]" (1 Cor 9:16), I hope with all my heart that in every community this yearning of Paul's will be felt with ever more conviction as a vocation in the service of the Gospel for the world. At the start of the Synod, I recalled the appeal of Jesus: "The harvest is rich" (Mt 9:37), an appeal we must never tire of responding to whatever difficulties we might encounter. So many people are searching for, sometimes unwittingly, the meeting with Christ and His Gospel; so many have to find in Him a meaning for their lives. Giving clear and shared testimony to a life according to the Word of God, witnessed by Jesus, therefore becomes an indispensable criterion to verify the mission of Christ.

Emmaus Duccio.jpgThe Readings the liturgy offers us today to meditate on remind us that the fullness of the law, as of all the Divine Scriptures, is love. Therefore anyone who believes they have understood the Scriptures, or at least a part of them, without undertaking to build, by means of their intelligence, the twofold love of God and neighbor, demonstrates that in reality they are still a long way from having grasped its deeper meaning. But how should we put into practice this commandment, how can we live the love of God and our brothers without a living and intense contact with the Holy Scriptures? Vatican Council II asserts it is necessary that "easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful" (Cost. Dei Verbum, 22), so that persons, on meeting the truth, may grow in authentic love. This is a requisite that today is indispensable for evangelization. And since often the encounter with Scriptures is in danger of not being "a fact" of the Church, but informed by subjectivity and arbitrariness, a robust and credible pastoral promotion of the knowledge of Holy Scripture, to announce, celebrate and live the Word in the Christian community, becomes indispensable, dialoguing with the cultures of our time, placing ourselves at the service of truth and not of current ideologies, and increasing the dialogue God wishes to have with all men (cf ibid 21). With this in mind, special care should be paid to the preparation of pastors, ready then to take whatever action is necessary to spread Biblical activity with appropriate means. Ongoing efforts to give life to the Biblical movement among lay people should be encouraged, along with the formation of group animators, with particular attention being paid to the young. We must also support the effort to allow faith to be known through the Word of God to those who are "far away" as well and especially those who are sincerely looking to give a meaning to their lives.

Many other reflections should be added, but I will limit myself to underlining that the privileged place where the Word of God rings out, that builds the Church, as has been said many times during the Synod, is undoubtedly the liturgy. In this is where it appears that the Bible is a book of a people and for a people; an inheritance, a testament handed over to readers so that they can put into practice in their own lives the history of salvation witnessed in the text. There is therefore a reciprocal relationship of vital belonging between the people and the Book: the Bible remains a living Book with the people which is its subject which reads it; the people cannot exist without the Book, because it is in it that they find their reason for living, their vocation and their identity. This mutual belonging between people and Holy Scripture is celebrated in every liturgical ceremony, which, thanks to the Holy Spirit, listens to Christ since it is He who speaks when the Scripture is read in the Church and welcomes the Covenant that God renews with his people. Scripture and liturgy converge, therefore, with the single aim of bringing the people to dialogue with the Lord and to the obedience of the Lord's Will. The Word that leaves the mouth of God, witnessed in the Scriptures, returns to Him in the shape of prayerful response, of a living answer, of an answer of love (cf Is 55:10-11).

Virgin of the Annunciation Angelico.jpgDear brothers and sisters, let us pray that from this renewed listening to the Word of God, guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, an authentic renewal of the universal Church may spring forth, as well as of every Christian community. We entrust the fruits of this Synodal Assembly to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary. I also entrust to Her the II Special Assembly of the Synod for Africa, that will take place in Rome in October of next year. Next March I intend to go to Cameroon to deliver the Instrumentum laboris of that Synodal Assembly to the representatives of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa. From there, God willing, I will go on to Angola to celebrate solemnly the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of that country. Most Holy Mary, who offered your life up as the "servant of the Lord", so that everything would happen in accordance with the divine will (cf Lk 1:38) and who told us to do whatever Jesus tells us to do (cf Jn 2:5), teach us to recognize in our lives the primacy of the Word that alone can grant us salvation. Amen!

The Ecumenical Patriarch spoke not just of words imprinted on the hearts and minds of the holy ones, but also of the gift of the fire of God's Word that must be alive and burning within the hearts of the saints. (Father Thomas Rosica, CSB)


Your Holiness,
Synodal Fathers,

It is at once humbling and inspiring to be graciously invited by Your Holiness to address the XII Ordinary General Assembly of this auspicious Synod of Bishops, an historical meeting of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church from throughout the world, gathered in one place to meditate on "the Word of God" and deliberate on the experience and expression of this Word "in the Life and Mission of the Church."

Bartholomeos.jpgThis gracious invitation of Your Holiness to our Modesty is a gesture full of meaning and significance -- we dare say an historic event in itself. For it is the first time in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch is offered the opportunity to address a Synod of the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus be part of the life of this sister Church at such a high level. We regard this as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit leading our Churches to a closer and deeper relationship with each other, an important step towards the restoration of our full communion.

It is well known that the Orthodox Church attaches to the Synodical system fundamental ecclesiogical importance. Together with primacy synodality constitutes the backbone of the Church's government and organisation. As our Joint International Commission on the Theological Dialogue between our Churches expressed it in the Ravenna document, this interdependence between synodality and primacy runs through all the levels of the Church's life: local, regional and universal. Therefore, in having today the privilege to address Your Synod our hopes are raised that the day will come when our two Churches will fully converge on the role of primacy and synodality in the Church's life, to which our common Theological Commission is devoting its study at the present time.

The theme to which this episcopal synod devotes its work is of crucial significance not benedict and Patriarch.jpgonly for the Roman Catholic Church but also for all those who are called to witness to Christ in our time. Mission and evangelization remain a permanent duty of the Church at all times and places; indeed they form part of the Church's nature, since she is called "Apostolic" both in the sense of her faithfulness to the original teaching of the Apostles and in that of proclaiming the Word of God in every cultural context every time. The Church needs, therefore, to rediscover the Word of God in every generation and make it head with a renewed vigour and persuation also in our contemporary world, which deep in its heart thirsts for God's message of peace, hope and charity.

This duty of evangelization would have been, of course, greatly enhanced and strengthened, if all Christians were in a position to perform it with one voice and as a fully united Church. In his prayer to the Father little before His passion our Lord has made it clear that the unity of the Church is unbreakably related with her mission "so that the world may believe" (John 17, 21). It is, therefore, most appropriate that this Synod has opened its doors to ecumenical fraternal delegates so that we may all become aware of our common duty of evangelization as well as of the difficulties and problems of its realization in today's world.

This Synod has undoubtedly been studying the subject of the Word of God in depth and in all its aspects, theological as well as practical and pastoral. In our modest address to you we shall limit ourselves to sharing with you some thoughts on the theme of your meeting, drawing from the way the Orthodox tradition has approached it throughout the centuries and in the Greek patristic teaching, in particular. More concretely we should like to concentrate on three aspects of the subject, namely: on hearing and speaking the Word of God through the Holy Scriptures; on seeing God's Word in nature and above all in the beauty of the icons; and finally on touching and sharing God's Word in the communion of saints and the sacramental life of the Church. For all these are, we think, crucial in the life and mission of the Church.

In so doing, we seek to draw on a rich Patristic tradition, dating to the early third century and expounding a doctrine of five spiritual senses. For listening to God's Word, beholding God's Word, and touching God's Word are all spiritual ways of perceiving the unique divine mystery. Based on Proverbs 2.5 about "the divine faculty of perception (α
σθησις)," Origen of Alexandria claims:

This sense unfolds as sight for contemplation of immaterial forms, hearing for discernment of voices, taste for savoring the living bread, smell for sweet spiritual fragrance, and touch for handling the Word of God, which is grasped by every faculty of the soul.

St Basil the Great.jpgThe spiritual senses are variously described as "five senses of the soul," as "divine" or "inner faculties," and even as "faculties of the heart" or "mind." This doctrine inspired the theology of the Cappadocians (especially Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) as much as it did the theology of the Desert Fathers (especially Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius the Great).

1. Hearing and Speaking the Word through Scripture

At each celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the presiding celebrant at the Eucharist entreats "that we may be made worthy to hear the Holy Gospel." For "hearing, beholding and handling the Word of life" (1 Jn 1.1) are not first and foremost our entitlement or birthright as human beings; they are our privilege and gift as children of the living God. The Christian Church is, above all, a scriptural Church. Although methods of interpretation may have varied from Church Father to Church Father, from "school" to "school," and from East to West, nevertheless, Scripture was always received as a living reality and not a dead book.

In the context of a living faith, then, Scripture is the living testimony of a lived history about the relationship of a living God with a living people. The Word, "who spoke through the prophets" (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed), spoke in order to be heard and take effect. It is primarily an oral and direct communication intended for human beneficiaries. The scriptural text is, therefore, derivative and secondary; the scriptural text always serves the spoken word. It is not conveyed mechanically, but communicated from generation to generation as a living word. Through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord vows:

As rain and snow descend from heaven, watering the earth ... so shall my word go from mouth to mouth, accomplishing that which I purpose. (55.10-11)

Moreover, as St. John Chrysostom explains, the divine Word demonstrates profound St John Chrysostom2.jpgconsiderateness (συγκατάβασις) for the personal diversity and cultural contexts of those hearing and receiving. Adaptation of the divine Word to the specific personal readiness and the particular cultural context defines the missionary dimension of the Church, which is called to transform the world through the Word. In silence as in declaration, in prayer as in action, the divine Word addresses the whole world, "preaching to all nations" (Mt 28.19) without either privilege or prejudice to race, culture, gender and class. When we carry out that divine commission, we are assured: "Behold, I am with you always." (Mt 28.20) We are called to speak the divine Word in all languages, "becoming all things to all people, that [we] might by all means save some." (1 Cor. 9.22)

As disciples of God's Word, then, it is today more imperative than ever that we provide a unique perspective -- beyond the social, political, or economic -- on the need to eradicate poverty, to provide balance in a global world, to combat fundamentalism or racism, and to develop religious tolerance in a world of conflict. In responding to the needs of the world's poor, vulnerable and marginalized, the Church can prove a defining marker of the space and character of the global community. While the theological language of religion and spirituality differs from the technical vocabulary of economics and politics, the barriers that at first glance appear to separate religious concerns (such as sin, salvation, and spirituality) from pragmatic interests (such as commerce, trade, and politics) are not impenetrable, crumbling before the manifold challenges of social justice and globalization.

Whether dealing with environment or peace, poverty or hunger, education or healthcare, there is today a heightened sense of common concern and common responsibility, which is felt with particular acuteness by people of faith as well as by those whose outlook is expressly secular. Our engagement with such issues does not of course in any way undermine or abolish differences between various disciplines or disagreements with those who look at the world in different ways. Yet the growing signs of a common commitment for the well-being of humanity and the life of the world are encouraging. It is an encounter of individuals and institutions that bodes well for our world. And it is an involvement that highlights the supreme vocation and mission of the disciples and adherents of God's Word to transcend political or religious differences in order to transform the entire visible world for the glory of the invisible God.

2. Seeing the Word of God -- The Beauty of Icons and Nature

Nowhere is the invisible rendered more visible than in the beauty of iconography and the wonder of creation. In the words of the champion of sacred images, St. John of St John of Damascus.jpgDamascus: "As maker of heaven and earth, God the Word was Himself the first to paint and portray icons." Every stroke of an iconographer's paintbrush - like every word of a theological definition, every musical note chanted in psalmody, and every carved stone of a tiny chapel or magnificent cathedral - articulates the divine Word in creation, which praises God in every living being and every living thing. (cf. Ps. 150.6)

In affirming sacred images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was not concerned with religious art; it was the continuation and confirmation of earlier definitions about the fullness of the humanity of God's Word. Icons are a visible reminder of our heavenly vocation; they are invitations to rise beyond our trivial concerns and menial reductions of the world. They encourage us to seek the extraordinary in the very ordinary, to be filled with the same wonder that characterized the divine marvel in Genesis: "God saw everything that He made; and, indeed, it was very good." (Gn. 1.30-31) The Greek (Septuagint) word for "goodness" is κάλλος, which implies -- etymologically and symbolically -- a sense of "calling." Icons underline the Church's fundamental mission to recognize that all people and all things are created and called to be "good" and "beautiful."

Indeed, icons remind us of another way of seeing things, another way of experiencing realities, another way of resolving conflicts. We are asked to assume what the hymnology of Easter Sunday calls "another way of living." For we have behaved arrogantly and dismissively toward the natural creation. We have refused to behold God's Word in the oceans of our planet, in the trees of our continents, and in the animals of our earth. We have denied our very own nature, which calls us to stoop low enough to hear God's Word in creation if we wish to "become participants of divine nature." (2 Pet 1.4) How could we ignore the wider implications of the divine Word assuming flesh? Why do we fail to perceive created nature as the extended Body of Christ?

St Maximus.jpgEastern Christian theologians always emphasized the cosmic proportions of divine incarnation. The incarnate Word is intrinsic to creation, which came to be through divine utterance. St. Maximus the Confessor insists on the presence of God's Word in all things (cf. Col. 3.11); the divine Logos stands at the center of the world, mysteriously revealing its original principle and ultimate purpose (cf. 1 Pet 1.20). This mystery is described by St. Athanasius of Alexandria:

As the Logos [he writes], he is not contained by anything and yet contains everything; He is in everything and yet outside of everything ... the first-born of the whole world in its every aspect.

The entire world is a prologue to the Gospel of John. And when the Church fails to recognize the broader, cosmic dimensions of God's Word, narrowing its concerns to purely spiritual matters, then it neglects its mission to implore God for the transformation -- always and everywhere, "in all places of His dominion" -- of the whole polluted cosmos. It is no wonder that on Easter Sunday, as the Paschal celebration reaches its climax, Orthodox Christians sing:

Now everything is filled with divine light: heaven and earth, and all things beneath the earth. So let all creation rejoice.

All genuine "deep ecology" is, therefore, inextricably linked with deep theology:

"Even a stone," writes Basil the Great, "bears the mark of God's Word. This is true of an ant, a bee and a mosquito, the smallest of creatures. For He spread the wide heavens and laid the immense seas; and He created the tiny hollow shaft of the bee's sting."

Recalling our minuteness in God's wide and wonderful creation only underlines our central role in God's plan for the salvation of the whole world.

3. Touching and Sharing the Word of God -- The Communion of Saints and the Sacraments of Life

The Word of God persistently "moves outside of Himself in ecstasy" (Dionysius the Areopagite), passionately seeking to "dwell in us" (Jn 1.14), that the world may have life in abundance. (Jn 10.10) God's compassionate mercy is poured and shared "so as to multiply the objects of His beneficence." (Gregory the Theologian) God assumes all that is ours, "in every respect being tested as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4.15), in order to offer us all that is God's and render us gods by grace. "Though rich, He becomes poor that we might become rich," writes the great Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 8.9), to whom this year is so aptly dedicated. This is the Word of God; gratitude and glory are due to Him.

The word of God receives His full embodiment in creation, above all in the Sacrament of icon2.jpgthe Holy Eucharist. It is there that the Word becomes flesh and allows us not simply to hear or see Him but to touch Him with our own hands, as St. John declares (I John 1,1) and make Him part of our own body and blood (σύσσωμοι καί σύναιμοι) in the words of St. John Chrysostom.

In the Holy Eucharist the Word heard is at the same time seen and shared (κοινωνία). It is not accidental that in the early eucharistic documents, such as the book of Revelation and the Didache, the Eucharist was associated with prophesy, and the presiding bishops were regarded as successors of the prophets (e.g. Martyrion Polycarpi). The Eucharist was already by St. Paul (I Cor. 11) described us "proclamation" of Christ's death and Second Coming. As the purpose of Scripture is essentially the proclamation of the Kingdom and the announcement of eschatological realities, the Eucharist is a foretaste of the Kindom, and in this sense the proclamation of the Word par excellence. In the Eucharist Word and Sacrament become one reality. The word ceases to be "words" and becomes a Person, embodying in Himself all human beings and all creation.

Within the life of the Church, the unfathomable self-emptying (κένωσις) and generous sharing (κοινωνία) of the divine Logos is reflected in the lives of the saints as the tangible experience and human expression of God's Word in our community. In this way, the Word of God becomes the Body of Christ, crucified and glorified at the same time. As a result, the saint has an organic relationship with heaven and earth, with God and all of creation. In ascetic struggle, the saint reconciles the Word and the world. Through repentance and purification, the saint is filled -- as Abba Isaac the Syrian insists -- with compassion for all creatures, which is the ultimate humility and perfection.

This is why the saint loves with warmth and spaciousness that are both unconditional and irresistible. In the saints, we know God's very Word, since -- as St. Gregory Palamas claims -- God and His saints share the same glory and splendor." In the gentle presence of a saint, we learn how theology and action coincide. In the compassionate love of the saint, we experience God as "our father" and God's mercy as "steadfastly enduring." (Ps. 135, LXX) The saint is consumed with the fire of God's love. This is why the saint imparts grace and cannot tolerate the slightest manipulation or exploitation in society or in nature. The saint simply does what is "proper and right" (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), always dignifying humanity and honoring creation. "His words have the force of actions and his silence the power of speech" (St. Ignatius of Antioch).

And within the communion of saints, each of us is called to "become like fire" (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), to touch the world with the mystical force of God's Word, so that -- as the extended Body of Christ -- the world, too, might say: "Someone touched me!" (cf. Mt 9.20) Evil is only eradicated by holiness, not by harshness. And holiness introduces into society a seed that heals and transforms. Imbued with the life of the sacraments and the purity of prayer, we are able to enter the innermost mystery of God's Word. It is like the tectonic plates of the earth's crust: the deepest layers need only shift a few millimeters to shatter the world's surface. Yet for this spiritual revolution to occur, we must experience radical metanoia -- a conversion of attitudes, habits and practices -- for ways that we have misused or abused God's Word, God's gifts and God's creation.

Such a conversion is, of course, impossible without divine grace; it is not achieved simply through greater effort or human willpower. "For mortals, it is impossible; but for God all things are possible." (Mt 19.26) Spiritual change occurs when our bodies and souls are grafted onto the living Word of God, when our cells contain the life-giving blood-flow of the sacraments, when we are open to sharing all things with all people. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us, the sacrament of "our neighbor" cannot be isolated from the sacrament of "the altar." Sadly, we have ignored the vocation and obligation to share. Social injustice and inequality, global poverty and war, ecological pollution and degradation result from our inability or unwillingness to share. If we claim to retain the sacrament of the altar, we cannot forgo or forget the sacrament of the neighbor -- a fundamental condition for realizing God's Word in the world within the life and mission of the Church.

Beloved Brothers in Christ,

We have explored the patristic teaching of the spiritual senses, discerning the power of icon.jpghearing and speaking God's Word in Scripture, of seeing God's Word in icons and nature, as well as of touching and sharing God's Word in the saints and sacraments. Yet, in order to remain true to the life and mission of the Church, we must personally be changed by this Word. The Church must resemble the mother, who is both sustained by and nourishes through the food she eats. Anything that does not feed and nourish everyone cannot sustain us either. When the world does not share the joy of Christ's Resurrection, this is an indictment of our own integrity and commitment to the living Word of God. Prior to the celebration of each Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians pray that this Word will be "broken and consumed, distributed and shared" in communion. And "we know that we have passed from death to life when we love our brothers" and sisters (1 Jn 3.14).

The challenge before us is the discernment of God's Word in the face of evil, the transfiguration of every last detail and speck of this world in the light of Resurrection. The victory is already present in the depths of the Church, whenever we experience the grace of reconciliation and communion. As we struggle -- in ourselves and in our world -- to recognize the power of the Cross, we begin to appreciate how every act of justice, every spark of beauty, every word of truth can gradually wear away the crust of evil. However, beyond our own frail efforts, we have the assurance of the Spirit, who "helps us in our weakness" (Rom. 8.26) and stands beside us as advocate and "comforter" (Jn 14-6), penetrating all things and "transforming us -- as St. Symeon the New Theologian says -- into everything that the Word of God says about the heavenly kingdom: pearl, grain of mustard seed, leaven, water, fire, bread, life and mystical wedding chamber." Such is the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invoke as we conclude our address, extending to Your Holiness our gratitude and to each of you our blessings:

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Present everywhere and filling all things;
Treasury of goodness and giver of life:
Come, and abide in us.

And cleanse us from every impurity;
And save our souls.

For you are good and love humankind. Amen!

Gospel Commentary for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rome, 19 October 2008
Published on

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

This Sunday's Gospel ends with one of those lapidary phrases of Jesus that have left a deep mark on history and on human language: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Jesus & Caesar.JPGIt is no longer either Caesar or God, but Caesar and God, each on his appropriate level. It is the beginning of the separation of religion and politics, which until then had been inseparable among all peoples and regimes.

The Jews were used to understanding the future reign of God founded by the Messiah as a theocracy, that is, as a government directed by God ruling over the whole earth through his people. But now the words of Christ reveal a kingdom of God that is in this world but that is not of this world, that travels on a different wavelength and that, for this reason, can coexist with every other political regime, whether it be sacral or secular.


Here we see two qualitatively different sovereignties of God over the world: the spiritual sovereignty that constitutes the Kingdom of God and that is exercised directly in Christ, and the temporal and political sovereignty that God exercises indirectly, entrusting it to man's free choice and the play of secondary causes.


Caesar and God, however, are not put on the same level, because Caesar too depends on God and must answer to him. Thus "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" means: "Give to Caesar what God himself wants to be given to Caesar." God is sovereign over all, including Caesar. We are not divided between two loyalties; we are not forced to serve "two masters."

The Christian is free to obey the state, but he is also free to resist the state when it goes against God and his law. In such a case it is not legitimate to invoke the principle about the obedience that is owed to superiors, as war criminals often do when they are on trial. Before obeying men, in fact, you must first obey God and your own conscience. You cannot give your soul, which belongs to God, to Caesar.


St Paul Rigali Center.jpgSt. Paul was the first to draw practical conclusions from this teaching of Christ. He writes: "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God. ... Whoever resists authority opposes the order that God has appointed. ... This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities who are in charge of this are ministers of God" (Romans 13:1 ff.).

Paying appropriately levied taxes is for the Christian (but also for every honest person) a duty of justice and therefore an obligation of conscience. Guaranteeing order, commerce and a whole series of other services, the state gives the citizen something to which it has a right for compensation in return, precisely to be able to continue these same services.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that tax evasion, when it reaches certain proportions, is a mortal sin equal to every other grave act of theft. It is stealing, not from the "state," that is from no one, but from the community, that is, from everyone. Naturally, this supposes that the state is just and equitable in imposing taxes.


Christian cooperation in building a just and peaceful society does not stop at paying taxes; it must also extend itself to the promotion of common values such as the family, the defense of life, solidarity with the poor, peace. There is also another sphere in which Christians must make a contribution to politics. It does not have to do with the content of politics so much as its methods, its style.

Christians must help to remove the poison from the climate of contentiousness in politics, bring back greater respect, composure and dignity to relationships between parties. Respect for one's neighbor, clemency, capacity for self-criticism: These are the traits that a disciple of Christ must have in all things, even in politics.

It is undignified for a Christian to give himself over to insults, sarcasm, brawling with his adversaries. If, as Jesus says, those who call their brother "stupid" are in danger of Gehenna, what then must we say about a lot of politicians?

Raniero Cantalamessa.jpgCapuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for the 29th Sunday are Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21.

Julian Carron2.jpgRev. Father Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation

The Spanish group began by expressing the expectation of the participants relative to this Synod dedicated to the Word of God in the life of the Church. Everyone hopes that this represents an impulse on the evangelizing mission of the Church so that the Word of God reaches everybody, in the various situations that the Church must face, so that men may encounter the living Christ. We propose the following:

It is noted that among Catholics who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament and because of some embarrassment and resistance faced by passages understood with difficulty, these being the controversial questions of divine and human violence, the amorality of certain Biblical figures and a theology which is insufficient concerning the afterworld. Therefore, an adequate Biblical formation should be offered to the faithful, which would help understanding the Old Testament texts in their historical and literary context, but also and especially can facilitate Christian reading as the main hermeneutic key, since these texts acquire and show their full meaning in the New Testament.(cf. DV 16)We propose to move from a "Biblical pastoral" to a Biblical animation of all pastoral actions, that is to say, to place the Word of God as the "rock" that is the foundation, as the living source and as the inspiring breath of all of the life and of all the mission of the Church.(cf. DV 21.24) Between the diverse forms of announcing and transmitting the Word of God particular importance must be given to kerygma.

The task to announce Christ is the responsibility of each baptized person. In addition to the homily, to the actual preaching of the liturgical celebrations, it is necessary to recall the value of the preaching by all Christians in light of Baptism and of Confirmation.

Regarding the celebrations of the Word, many ecclesial communities, particularly those in the urban outskirts and in the rural areas, without Sunday Eucharistic celebrations, find the nourishment for their faith and to give a Christian witness, in the celebration of the Word of God.


In the formation of candidates to priesthood, the Word of God is essential to form the heart of a good pastor, future minister of the Word.

As pertains to the consecrated life, the academic Institutions of Sacred Scriptures, especially those in Rome and in Jerusalem, should be thanked for the great contribution they have made to the formation of exegetes and Biblicists, also the institutions of consecrated life should continue contributing to the study of the Holy Scripture, through these and other institutions, committed to spreading the knowledge of the Bible. Giving worth and careful attention in a particular way to the contemplative life is also indispensable. (cf. Benedict XVI, Angelus Address 18 November 2007). In contemplative life, the Word is welcomed, prayed and celebrated.

We feel a deep concern because of the influence of sects and new religious groups on the Catholic faithful, which sometimes bring them to even abandon the Church. This phenomenon harms our way of living the faith inside the Church and must be perceived as a call to witness it, so that the new life that Christ has brought us may shine on the face of our communities. Greater studies on the sects and the new examples of this phenomenon would be of great help, to face them suitably. In relationships with Islam and in dialogue with its representatives, its concept of the socio-political and judicial order -not always duly differentiated from religious order- should be kept in mind and its concept of marriage and the family where the role and the rights of the women are not dealt with as is foreseen in the doctrine of fundamental human rights and of the family institution and as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Most. Rev. Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University

Fisichella.jpgWe have reflected, in a special way on the first four questions raised by the Relatio post disceptationem and arrived at formulating indications for a number of Propositiones which I will sum up as follows.

It is necessary to clarify the sense of the dialogic dimension of Revelation, since the term refers to different dimensions such as "inter-religious dialogue", "ecumenical dialogue", "dialogue with cultures" ... When it is referring to Revelation, it takes on a meaning all of its own: this involves the primacy of the action of God who in freedom comes towards man; this implies that there can never be a parity between the two subjects.

It is vital for the expression Word of God be made unambiguous. This is not easy, but it is necessary. One of the most important considerations of the Synod shows that the Word of God cannot only be identified with the Bible. The Word of God is Christ, the Word of the Father. His preaching, like his acts, have been given to the Church which remains the primary subject that under the action of the Holy Spirit transmits Christ uninterruptedly as the announcement of salvation (DV).

The announcement of the Word of God is the first duty of the Church. An explicit announcement, always and everywhere, that is accompanied by a coherent testimony of living that renders evident the content and reinforces it. What Dei Verbum affirms for the revelation that takes place gestis verbisque intrinsice inter se connexis (DV 2), by analogy is applied to the Church that carries out its evangelizing mission with the announcement of Christ and the testimony of a coherent lifestyle.

It was felt necessary to observe that in a generalized context of secularization - that goes way beyond the Western countries --particular attention be paid, above all, to creating forms of listening so that whoever places themselves in front of the Sacred Scripture knows they are in front of God who is speaking. This demands, furthermore, a formation that allows the discovery of how the reading of the Word converts the heart, opens up to penance and sets out on a path of new life. In this context, the importance of a permanent education is underlined, above all of catechists, that allows the overcoming of the major obstacle of a lack of knowledge of the basic contents of faith, which should cause great alarm to our pastoral action.

The liturgy remains as the privileged place in which the Word of God expresses itself fully. It is necessary to overcome the gap between Bible and Liturgy, Word and Sacrament. This happens to the extent to which it reinforces the idea that the Word of God is Christ Himself in His differentiated presence in the life of His Church; above all in the real presence of the Eucharistic sacrifice; also when the sacraments are celebrated; therefore, when "the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks present in his own word" (SC 7). What has to grow, therefore, is the knowledge of a profound unity that reaches its high point in the Holy Eucharist.

The different ways in which Lectio Divina is celebrated pose the question of whether we shouldn't clarify, above all, what is really meant by this action, so as not to leave the wealth of the tradition of the Church Fathers and Medieval teachers in the dark. The growing value that is placed on the Lectio forces us to remember that this is not the only way to meet the Word of God.


Most. Rev. Gerald Frederick Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson, Vice President of Episcopal Conference

G Kicanas.jpgThe group suggested that the tone of the exhortation should be hope filled, needs to energize the Church around the Word of God and should be pastoral and missionary.

The group identified critical areas about which propositions should be developed. A wide range of areas surfaced. First the need to give greater recognition to lay catechists, Catholic School teachers, youth ministers, and lay biblical animators. They need to be better formed and prepared. Second, the need to understand what is attracting people to the Sects and learn from them. Third, [to work on] how preaching might be improved and made more vibrant. Fourth, the need to emphasize and highlight the contemplative dimension. Fifth, [there needs to be a way of] finding structures to bring together exegetes, liturgists, theologians, and bishops. Sixth, the need to give greater emphasis to consecrated life, pneumatology, healing and the Sacrament of Penance, and the use of media.

The dialogic nature of the Word of God needs greater emphasis. There are few opportunities in parishes to teach the necessary theology. Even more important than teaching is modeling a dialogic manner. The group discussed the need to enhance the way we read the Word. There is a need to better form people in the Word through Lectio Divina, dramatization, working with parents who are the primary educators of their children,

There was a mixed reaction to a compendium on preaching. We need to do something but group did not agree that this would be helpful. Suggestion was made for a compendium on helping people read the Word of God.

There was not a strong feeling that there needs to be a revision of the Lectionary. While some Old Testament texts are difficult, they should not be dropped. Perhaps alternatives could be available. There was concern that the question about the relation between exegetes and theologians implies a rift between them. Rather we should encourage cooperation. Scholars should have an opportunity to work in pastoral settings.

Finally the group explored relations with other Christians and with Jews. Concern was raised that Jews sometimes feel that Catholics downplay their positions for dialogue. They do not want that. Bringing the experience of the Synod to other Christian churches might foster communion


During the Fourteenth General Congregation, Tuesday morning 14 October 2008, after B16.jpgthe pause, the Holy Father Benedict XVI intervened with a reflection on the Synodal theme.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the work for my book on Jesus offers ample occasion to see all the good that can come from modern exegesis, but also to recognize the problems and risks in it. Dei Verbum 12 offers two methodological indications for suitable exegetic work. In the first place, it confirms the need to use the historical-critical method, briefly describing the essential elements. This need is the consequence of the Christian principle formulated in Jn 1:14 Verbum caro factum est. The historical fact is a constitutive dimension of Christian faith. The history of salvation is not a myth, but a true story and therefore to be studied with the same methods as serious historical research.

However, this history has another dimension, that of divine action. Because of this Dei Verbum mentions a second methodological level necessary for the correct interpretation of the words, which are at the same time human words and divine Word. The Council says, following a fundamental rule for any interpretation of a literary text, that Scripture must be interpreted in the same spirit in which it was written and thereby indicates three Holy Spirit2.jpgfundamental methodological elements to bear in mind the divine dimension, the pneumatology of the Bible: one must, that is 1) interpret the text bearing in mind the unity of the entire Scripture; today this is called canonical exegesis; at the time of the Council this term had not been created, but the Council says the same thing: one must bear in mind the unity of all of Scripture; 2) one must then bear in mind the living tradition of the whole Church, and finally 3) observe the analogy of faith. Only where the two methodological levels, the historical-critical and the theological one, are observed, can one speak about theological exegesis - of an exegesis suitable for this Book. While the first level today's academic exegesis works on a very high level and truly gives us help, the same cannot be said about the other level. Often this second level, the level constituted of the three theological elements indicated by Dei Verbum seems to be almost absent. And this has rather serious consequences.

The first consequence of the absence of this second methodological level is that the Bible becomes a book only about the past. Moral consequences can be drawn from it, one can learn about history, but the Book only speaks about the past and its exegesis is no longer truly theological, becoming historiography, the history of literature. This is the first consequence: the Bible remains in the past, speaks only of the past. There is also a second even more serious consequence: where the hermeneutics of faith, indicated by Dei Verbum, disappear, another type of hermeneutics appears of necessity, a secularized, positivistic hermeneutics, whose fundamental key is the certitude that the Divine does not appear in human history. According to this hermeneutic, when there seems to be a divine element, one must explain where it came from and bring it to the human element Resurrection.jpgcompletely. Because of this, interpretations that deny the historicity of divine elements emerge. Today, the so-called mainstream of exegesis in Germany denies, for example, that the Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist and says that Jesus' corpse stayed in the tomb. The Resurrection would not be an historical event, but a theological vision. This occurs because the hermeneutic of faith is missing: therefore a profane philosophical hermeneutic is stated, which denies the possibility of entering and of the real presence of the Divine in history. The consequence of the absence of the second methodological level is that a deep chasm was created between scientific exegesis and lectio divina. This, at times, gives rise to a form of perplexity even in the preparation of homilies. Where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology and, vice versa, when theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Scripture in the Church, this theology has no foundation anymore.

Therefore for the life and the mission of the Church, for the future of faith, this dualism between exegesis and theology must be overcome. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of the one reality, what we call Theology. Due to this, I would hope that in one of the propositions the need to bear in mind the two methodological levels indicated in Dei Verbum 12 be mentioned, where the need to develop an exegesis not only on the historical level, but also on the theological level is needed. Therefore, widening the formation of future exegetes in this sense is necessary, to truly open the treasures of the Scripture to today's world and to all of us.

Card. Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice

Angelo Scola.jpgDei Verbum, 25 exhorts all the faithful "to move voluntarily towards the sacred text through pious reading ("per piam lectionem")", linked to prayer: "so that dialogue between God and man may take place". Pious reading is not merely study, but a personal relationship with the Lord, because "one can read the Bible without faith, but without faith one cannot scrutinize the Word of God" (IL 26a). Sacred Scripture is the inspired and normative testimony of revelation. The source of the testimony of Scripture is Jesus Christ himself, the faithful witness of the Covenant of God with men. The testimony of the work of salvation of Jesus is at the origin of Scripture. Therefore this can only be adequately understood by the witness. So to be pious, the reading of Scripture has to pass from Witness to witness. The category of witness places the Church in the front line as the subject of pious reading. This is the road of realism that avoids every fundamentalist and intellectual drift, obstacles in reading that exclude the witness of the Church, where the Word is heard in faith. This understanding of Scripture guarantees the primacy of the personal meeting with Christ, against every reduction of the Word of God to a book.


Rev. Father Adolfo Nicolás, S.I., Superior General of the Society of Jesus

In these days of the Synod we have heard a good number of those aspects that make the Adolfo Nicolás.jpgHoly Scriptures such a precious gift from God.

And yet we continue to feel that there will always be new or unanswered. The questions that reach us most often are of a pastoral character. The people of God continue to ask the pastoral question: How can we read the Scriptures so that they produce in us, in our hearts, in our families and in our communities all the good effects that Christian Tradition has proclaimed through the Centuries?

Allow me to address just one concrete aspect within the wider pastoral breadth of the question. This aspect is the so-called "Medicinal" or "Transforming" power of the Word of God. It is my conviction that the Word of God can claim in a high degree a ''therapeutic'' role in the life of the Christian community.

Every time we "enter" the World of the Bible, we are exposed to a New World: God's World; God's action; God's teaching of his people. The encounter, if real, can be shocking, surprising, enlightening, soothing or consoling. It can also be misunderstood and lost.

Thus the conditions of the encounter are all important. Pastors and Ministers of the Word have to become good helpers for good and fruitful encounters. We need to know where people really are (diagnosis); we need the skills for presenting the Word (teaching, preaching, biblical catechesis); we are expected to be good company in the search for depth (contemplation); and we are ordained or commissioned for good Christian leadership (service of love for community and Christian living).

Which means that Pastors and Ministers of the Word need training for good diagnosis, for wise application of forms of reading, for deeper prayer and interiorization of the Word of God, and for a meaningful accompaniment that helps the faithful discern the action of the Spirit in and through the reading of the Bible.

Since this is a fine skill that requires deep spiritual sense, adequate training and discerned commissioning, it seems highly needed that this training be included in the preparation for pastoral minis1ry and in programs of ongoing formation for all Priests. Moreover all Parishes and/or Dioceses should have access to Centers or Trained persons that can offer this service to individuals or communities and who can train catechists and other lay ministers in this important service.


Card. Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches

1. I thank the Lord and the Church for the powerful return to the Word of God, thanks to Crdl Leonardo Sandri.jpgthe impulse of Vatican Council II. That was a Biblical renewal according to the Life-Giving Tradition of the Church. That renewal is still ongoing, and it may receive helpful stimuli from the Synod. I thank the Holy Father for this convocation that involves us in a collegial discipleship dealing with the Divine Word. Making ourselves listeners to and disciples of Christ, who speaks in the Church (Ipse loquitur duro sacrae Scripturae in Ecclesia leguntur ... SC 7), we offer the highest example of our being "Christian shepherds": the Word of God is the evangelical gate by which we enter the fold. Whoever does not enter by this gate is a hired man not a shepherd (cf Jn 10:2).



2. Constant personal and community commitment in favor of all Biblical initiatives in the academic field, such as in ordinary Catholic education and making the daily pastoral an act of obedience to the Word, are to be encouraged in attachment to the Word. The Word of God will always lead us to the Sacrament, especially the Holy Eucharist, from which springs forth ecclesial communion. From the perspective of daily obedience, I would like to highlight the importance of the further study and personal appropriation of the Word of God after the liturgical proclamation.

3. The priority of Biblical formation in all the categories of the people of God should be reaffirmed. The criterio princeps, though, in the approach to the Biblical sciences should be that they do not negate, through their sometimes exaggerated criticism, the sense of an existential meeting with Christ. What is indispensable, therefore, is the zeal of the shepherds, above all in the homily, and in order not to extinguish the prophetic charge of the Word of God, we have to insist that it never transforms itself into an opportunity for secular or even personal argumentation, and that it be the moment of highest obedience to the Word in a true sense for the preachers of the Word. Formation in the seminaries and ordinary updating of the clergy and of us bishops remain a priority and should be accompanied by the "prayerful" Biblical spirituality, in which we decide ever more each day to look for and find Christ and with Him the brothers we should lead with us on a daily basis in obedience to the faith.



5. The Eastern Churches were able to evangelize cultures that were very far from the thinking of Christ and generate admirable liturgical, theological and spiritual traditions, lived by disciples who were faithful to the point of martyrdom. I render homage to those who remain faithful to the Word of Christ, especially in the East, in the darkest adversities of the present, and I unhesitatingly invite the Synodal Fathers to pray as brothers and as shepherds for the present and future of the Christian East. Thank you.


Rev. Father Carlos Alfonso Azpiroz Costa, O.P., Master of the Order of Preachers

The "primacy" of the Holy Scripture has its basis precisely in Trinitarian life.

Carlos Costa.jpgThe great Medieval Doctors (Saint Albert the Great, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Thomas Aquinas) fully understood this; for them, the procession of people, within the unity of the divine essence is "the cause and the explicit reason of the procession of the same creatures." The Word, genitus creator, has from the Father the will to make itself flesh and to suffer for us ab aeterno.

God wished to reveal Himself to mankind in human form, through human culture, people and languages and through the very life of Jesus. While this form is for us a guarantee of the value of our nature , of history and of human cultures - with their different languages - it also poses complex problems of interpretation.

As the reality of the creation is not rationally understandable without an adequate grounding in metaphysics - l'analogia entis - so knowledge of the Holy Scripture requires profound knowledge of the cultures and literary genres in which it was expressed; thus making possible a less inadequate perception of its literal sense and also the recognition of the analogical quality of the terms used.


Christian faith, for all the fact that it is "religion", must first of all be considered as "religion of the Spirit", because the New Testament is principally the same Holy Spirit which in us produces charity and only secondarily, being "letter" may be considered "religion of the Book".

This process of revelation and of salvation is also the unveiling of the veritas iustitiae of our life, of the justice of God which is the foundation of the truth of our being and which is, for us, above all "justifying justice" that is to say based on its mercy which is the permanent precondition of divine justice, because it is the first root and also its crowning.


Card. Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon

In the Bible, all must be read! At the heart of the Word of God, Scripture is a source that Philippe Barbarin.jpgirrigates the path of the Church. The liturgy of the Word must be surrounded by a beautiful solemnity, this is a requirement, because this is the usual meeting place between God and His people. The liturgical readings should be chosen with one essential criteria in mind: unity of the message offered by the Word. Even if the cutouts pose various questions, certain absences pose greater and more questions. This is due to the rooted fears that one must give up.


An eyewitness of the Transfiguration, he recalls that Scriptures allow us to learn about the Presence of Our Lord. Its objective is to not lose the memory, or contact with Scriptures, the accomplishment of Jesus' life. This word contains, so as to say in the Bible, the value of a spiritual testament given to the entire Church: Beware of pride that will lead you to thinking that the ancient words are no longer of any interest. On the contrary we must hold "more firmly to the prophetic word". This exhortation is not displaced only for the Jews, Does this not welcome the prophetic word especially as a renewed invitation in obeying the Torah? In truth, the prophets remind us that God can freely burst in on the life of His people. Let us therefore hold on to their word more firmly, after Jesus showed us its meaning and depth.

It is always up to the son of the centuries, we have seen this sad tendency to "forget" the Holy Scriptures in the Christians, to look at them like "sophisticated fables". On the contrary, we need "through the Holy Spirit, that men continue to speak to us on behalf of God". The Scriptures remain "a shining lamp" in our present shadows. She keeps us in humility, "waiting for the day to shine and the morning star to rise in our hearts".

This is why, until the coming of the Lord, we must continue reading all Scriptures.


Most Rev. Paolo Pezzi, F.S.C.B., Archbishop of Mother of God in Moscow

Paolo Pezzi.jpgIn this historical moment, the Word of God cannot be separated from the event of Jesus Christ. He is the Logos (Word), the Father's communication, His face (cf. Col 1,15). At the same time, we cannot forget that the words and deeds of Jesus were handed down through the work and suggestion (inspiration) of the Holy Spirit Himself. His life was transmitted and such transmission continues until our days. In this sense the words of Benedict XVI, at the beginning of his encyclical letter on charity are decisive: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction".

In present relativism, which leans to level off any differences, so that all words are valid and none is more valid than the other, where all is reduced to a game of opinions, the Biblical word must incarnate itself in the beauty of its witnesses, if it wants to draw the world towards the truth. In Instrumentum Laboris (48), it is cleverly pointed out that "Making the Word of God and the Sacred Scriptures the soul of his pastoral activity, the bishop is capable of bringing the faithful to encounter Christ" [...] "so that, through their own experience, the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. Jn 6:63) [...]".

The announcement of the Word of God, should therefore have as its scope making persons, so to speak, that they are in the presence of the living Person: be witnesses of the Person of Jesus Christ, the Logos became flesh. Or according to Saint Paul's splendid words: it should be "a clear picture of Jesus Christ crucified, right in front of your eyes". The Word of God is a source of an evermore deep and authentic knowledge of Christ, of "the knowledge of God's glory, the glory on the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Such glory of Christ kindles a fire in us, becomes a desire to witness Him. It is said in Instrumentum Laboris (54) that "listening to the Word of God is a priority for our ecumenical commitment". It is necessary to renew among Christians the tension towards the person of Christ Himself, the desire to understand and know more deeply His mystery. Through the encounter with the Word made flesh, made possible by the Spirit, we rediscover communion with Him: it is the force of the Spirit of the Risen Christ that attracts the scattered people towards His only body.


Most Rev. Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University

S Fischella.jpgThe Dei Verbum had still not been discovered and developed in its great intuition that constituted an authentic dogmatic progress; the Council fathers in fact had recovered the Biblical concept of the uniqueness of the source. This allowed Sacred Scripture to be understood within the life of the Church which does not just live by it but is responsible for its being alive, complete and fruitful. Many believers when asked what they mean by "Word of God" reply: the Bible. This is not a wrong answer, but it is incomplete or at least it shows an incomplete perception of the richness present in the expression and leads, as a consequence, to identifying Christianity as the "religion of the book". It is necessary that in our language we do not fall into the uncertain expression "the three religions of the book". Christianity is the religion of the "word". It is important to strive for the construction of a culture that sees sacred Scripture as a living word, dynamically open to the truth of the revelation it contains. If we do not present this teaching in its totality in the various instruments we possess for the training of our people, we risk humiliating the Word of God because we reduce it exclusively to a written text without the provocative force to bring meaning to life any longer. As the Apostle reminds us: "God's message cannot be chained up" (2 Tm 2:9).

What we are always faced with is the inexhaustibility of the Word of God; it is like the bush that burns without going out. We are called to exercise a ministry that permits this Word of Life to spread so that everyone in every part of the world can grasp its profound meaning in such a way as to obtain salvation. In a time like ours filled with attempts to marginalize the sacred texts as bearers of meaning only insofar as they are myths, with no historical character and destined only for the naïve, it is important that they find the necessary forms to restore historical value and provocativeness about the sense of existence. We really are faced with a teaching emergency that brings back to the center of our life of faith the theme of salvation. Again Dei Verbum reminds us how much has been transmitted and written on the "salvation announcement" (DV 7). The various cultural tendencies present in the modern world have not only perverted the meaning of salvation but they have marginalized it as useless and illusionary. Representing the Word of God in its totality means pointing the scope of its teaching towards the theme of our salvation.


Rev. Father Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation


The Instrumentum Laboris and the General Report have pointed out that the interpretation of the Bible is one of the most pressing concerns in the Church today (Instrumentum laboris 19-31). The essence of the challenge raised by the question of modern interpretation of Holy Scripture was identified some years ago by the then Cardinal Ratzinger: "How can I reach an understanding that is not based on the judgment of my own presuppositions, a comprehension that permits me truly to understand the message of the text, giving me something that comes not from myself?" («L'interpretazione biblica in conflitto. Problemi del fondamento ed orientamento dell'esegesi contemporanea», in AA.VV., L'Esegesi cristiana oggi, Casale Monteferrato 1991, pp. 93-125).

The Church's recent Magisterium offers us some elements for avoiding any possible reduction regarding this difficulty.

It was the Second Vatican Council's merit to have recuperated a concept of revelation as the event of God in history. In fact, Dei Verbum allows us to understand revelation as the event of the self-communication of the Trinity in the Son, both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation," in whom "the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out," (DV2) through the Holy Spirit in human history. It is Christ who "perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth." (DV 4).

The encyclical Deus Caritas Est quite rightly recalls that "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. (DCE 1¸cf. FR 7)

This event does not belong only to the past, to one moment of time and space, but remains present in history, communicating itself through the whole life of the Church that welcomes it. For "Christ's relevance for people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church. (VS 25 cf. FR 11). As the Apostles transmitted "what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did" (DV 7), so the Church "in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes" (DV 8). Precisely because of this character of event proper to revelation and to its transmission, the Conciliar Constitution stresses that though "expressed in a special way in the inspired books" (cf. DV 8), the event of revelation does not coincide with Holy Scripture. The word of the Bible witnesses Revelation, but does not contain it in such a way as to be able to exhaust it in itself. For this reason, "it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed" (DV 9).

If revelation has the character of an historical event, when it comes into contact with man it cannot fail to strike him, provoking his reason and his freedom. The Gospel narratives in their simplicity show this, witnessing to the wonder that Jesus' person aroused in those who met Him (Cf. Mk 1:27; 2:12; Lk 5:9) Jesus' presence widens our vision so we can see and recognize what is before us (Cf. Lk 24, Emmaus). The encyclical Fides et Ratio insists on this when it affirms that men "can make no claim upon this truth [of revelation], which comes to them as gift and which, set within the context of interpersonal communication, urges reason to be open to it and to embrace its profound meaning" (FR 13).

So the encyclical characterizes the impact that revealed truth provokes in man who encounters it with a twofold impulse: a) it widens reason so as to make it adequate to the object; b) it facilitates the acceptance of its deep meaning. Instead of mortifying man's reason and freedom, revelation enables both to grow to the fullness of their original condition.

Relationship with the tradition living in the Church's body enables each and every man to share in the experience of those who encountered Jesus. Astounded by His unique exceptionality, these began a journey that enabled them to reach certainty about his absolute claim, that of being God. Those who make this journey do not accept naively the tradition they meet, but on the contrary put it to the proof, thus enabling their reason to grasp its truth.

The experience of encounter with Christ present in the Church's living tradition is an event and becomes, therefore, the determining factor in the interpretation of the biblical text. It is the only way to enter into harmony with the experience witnessed by the text of Scripture, for "correct knowledge of the biblical text is accessible only to those who have a lived affinity with what the text speaks of" (PCB 70). I was able to document this hermeneutical principle in a simple but meaningful episode that occurred some years ago in Madrid. There was a young man who had had no contact with Christianity; when he met a living Christian community he began to participate and to attend Holy Mass. After the first occasions of hearing the Gospel, he commented: "What happened to us happened to them!" It was the ecclesial present that disclosed the meaning of the Gospel account.

In synthesis, "[The apostles'] capacity to believe was completely sustained and activated by the revealing person of Jesus," according to the fine expression of [Cardinal] Hans Urs von Balthasar, enabled them to grasp the mystery of His person and adhere to Him. Analogically, today our reason needs the Event present in the tradition of living witnesses so as to open up to the Mystery of Christ, who comes towards us in them. But we will be able to recognize the unmistakable features of Jesus Christ only if we are familiar with the unique, canonical witness of His absolutely original features offered by the Sacred Scriptures. St. Augustine summarized it well: "In manibus nostris sunt codices, in oculis nostris facta."


Card. Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston

Crdl DiNardo.jpgThe Eternal Word emptied himself for our salvation. In an analogous way the Holy Spirit has also given and "humbled" himself in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. With great courtesy he has adapted the divine "language" with thought towards our human nature (Dei Verbum, 9 and 11). The record of even small, seemingly trivial events in Sacred Scripture, are·taken up into the very economy of our salvation and deification.

I speak in behalf of Catholics who live in the famous Bible Belt of the Southern United States. It is a genuine location, but it is also a frame of mind, diffused through many places in the world. There are surely issues and problems with this mind set, but it has kept alive a Biblical imagination and vocabulary and a sense of divine agency in the world that is important for us. In the Instrumentum Laboris, #18 a-g and 22 c-d, the Word of God is spoken about in a deeply rich christological way. The pneumatology, however, is more discrete. Catholics in the Bible Belt need a pneumatology that can help them in reading Scripture.

I would recommend the publication of a Compendium, similar to other such documents, that would be directed to the faithful. It would be a clear and direct guide that would highlight the rich and useful methods of the Church for reading and sharing the Sacred Scriptures. Such a Compendium would be an immeasurable help for personal bible reading, for Bible Study groups etc. Totally ecclesial and Catholic, it would also be of great help in ecumenical bible studies in which many of our people are enrolled. It would help retrieve a vivid and excellent sense of the Catholic understanding of the Holy Spirit's inspiration in the Sacred Scriptures.


Right Rev. Nicholas Thomas Wright, Bishop of Durham, Anglican Church

NT Wright.jpg1. We face the same challenges as you: not only secularism and relativism, but also postmodernity. Uncertainty here breeds anxiety: (a) the Bible might tell us unwelcome things; (b) its message might be stifled.

2. A fourfold reading of scripture as the love of God: heart (Lectio Divina, liturgical reading); mind (historical/critical study); soul (church life, tradition, teaching) and strength (mission, kingdom of God). These must be balanced.

3. In particular, we need fresh mission-oriented engagement with our own culture. Paragraph 57 of the Instrumentum Laboris implies that Paul's engagement merely purifies and elevates what is there in the culture. But Paul also confronts pagan idolatry, and so must we. In particular, we must engage critically with the tools and methods of historical/critical scholarship themselves.

4. The climax of the Canon is Jesus Christ, especially his cross and resurrection. These events are not only salvific. They provide a hermeneutical principle, related to the Jewish tradition of 'critique from within'.

5. Mary as model: Fiat (mind); Magnificat (strength); Conservabat (heart) - but also Stabat, waiting patiently in the soul, the tradition and expectation of the church, for the new, unexpected and perhaps unwelcome, but yet saving, revelation.

No tiring of the Bible

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Biblical commentaries:

Opening locked gates we didn't know existed!

By Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB
bible reading.jpgTake out your Bible. Look at it. It's not really so big, is it? You could read a bestseller that size during a week at the beach. Yet Jews and Christians have spent centuries studying and pondering the books that make up this one "book," and still they discover new questions, new insights, new information.


God, being tricky, has given us a book full of open doors, mysterious holes and sudden surprises to keep us wondering, searching and asking.


There is no tiring of the Bible -- unless we just skim across the surface.


The most common excuse for empty skimming is, "I don't get it." The Bible is not like the morning paper or your favorite cookbook or the latest tech manual. All those come from today's world, speak today's language and provide information you can grasp quickly.


The Bible comes from faraway places; it was written in Greek and Hebrew, and not even modern Greek and Hebrew; the ink dried centuries ago. Yet, because it is God's word to us, it speaks to us even when we just sit down and read it attentively as part of the conversation with God we call prayer.


However, it says a great deal more to us if we make use of the maps left by other explorers, those who have spent a lifetime studying the intricacies of old manuscripts, the subtleties of the original languages, the literary, religious and cultural world that produced the various books of the Bibles. Their commentaries open up locked gates we didn't even know existed.


Commentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Among the most interesting are commentaries that shed light on the cultures of the Bible.


Did you know, for example, that salt was used as a fire starter in Jesus' day? When Jesus shows concern about salt that has lost its zing, he isn't talking only about flavor but about the failure of old, tired salt to light the fire that makes us the "light of the world" -- because, of course, fire from the sun, lamps or hearths was the only source of light in Jesus' day.


It's no surprise then that Jesus speaks of salt and light in the same Gospel passage (see John A. Pilch's "Cultural Dictionary of the Bible"; Liturgical Press, 1999). Pilch's fascinating books are only one example of the richness students of the history of culture can provide for us.


More demanding commentaries shed light on details of the historical or literal meaning of biblical texts so that we can get a firm grip on what the text actually says and sometimes on what the human author seems to have meant.


Raymond Brown.jpgThe late Sulpician Father Raymond Brown left us a magisterial commentary of this kind in "The Death of the Messiah" (Doubleday, 1994). After reading his account of the many possible meanings of the "cup" Jesus asks the Father to take away (Mark 14:36), you could spend all of Lent thinking about your answer to Jesus' question, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" (Matthew 20:22).


Other commentaries explore what Christian tradition calls the "spiritual" meaning of biblical texts. These books, some as ancient as the first Christian centuries, some as recent as last week, are really extended homilies. They seek to connect the biblical texts with our spiritual growth and decisions in the midst of everyday life.


If you've ever been in love, read the fifth-century Sermon 147 "On the Incarnation" by St. Peter Chrysologus for an eye-opening reflection on Moses' plea (Exodus 33:18) to see God's "glory" (The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 17, 1953).


The word "disciple" means "learner." To be faithful disciples, we must become lifelong learners of the Bible -- and we are rich in teachers!


Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen is a nun at the Abbey of Saint Walburga, Mother Maria Michael  and Sr Genevieve Glen.jpgVirginia Dale, Colorado. She is a frequent contributor and assisting editor of Magnificat. This article appeared 4 February 2008. Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church


"The Word of God", said the Pope, "will thus enter peoples homes to accompany the lives B16a.jpgof families and individuals; a seed that, if welcomed, will not fail to bring abundant fruit".


"Only the Word of God can change the depths of man's heart, and so it is important that with it both individual believers and the community enter into an ever-growing intimacy. The Synodal Assembly will direct its attention to this truth which is fundamental to the life and the mission of the Church. Nourishing herself with the Word of God is for her the first and fundamental responsibility". (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily opening the Synod Bishops on the Word of God, 5 October 2008)


A briefing on the Synod


Introducing the Word of God through dramatic gestures


To enlighten your path with the Word of God, a RAI initiative:


The Italian news agency RAI, will begin the "Bible day and night" initiative, which consists in the complete and uninterrupted reading of the Bible over seven days and nights in the Roman basilica of Sant Croce in Gerusalemme. Around 1,200 readers from 50 countries will participate in the event. Benedict XVI himself will inaugurate the event by reading the first chapter of Genesis.


About the Mass at the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls


The National Catholic Register's coverage of the Synod.


John Allen's press coverage of the Synod.


Pope Benedict's Homily at the Mass for the opening of the Synod of Bishops


A Bible Comeback: An Interview With Cardinal Albert Vanhoye: part 1 and part 2



A Prayer for the 12th Synod of Bishops


Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father has commanded us to listen as his beloved Son, shed your light upon your Church, so that she might have nothing more holy than to listen to your voice and follow you. You are the Supreme Shepherd and Ruler of Souls. Look then upon the Pastors of your Church gathered in these days with the Successor of St. Peter in synod assembly. We implore you to sanctify them in truth and confirm them in faith and love.

Lord Jesus Christ, send forth your Spirit of love and truth on the bishops in synod and on all who assist them in fulfilling their task. Make them more faithful to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches; stir their souls and teach them truth by that same Holy Spirit. Through their work, may the faithful of their Churches be purified and strengthened in spirit, so that they might greater follow the Gospel through which you accomplished salvation and they might make of themselves a living offering to the heavenly Father.

May Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God and Mother of the Church, assist the Bishops in these days, as she assisted the Apostles in the Upper Room, and intercede with motherly affection to foster brotherly communion among them, to allow them to rejoice in prosperity and peace in the calmness of these days, and, in reading the signs of the times, to celebrate the majesty of the merciful God, the Lord of History, to the praise and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As you know, there is a synod happening in Rome. It will be working on themese related Thumbnail image for bible.jpgto the sacred Scriptures. This synod and our study of the Bible is essential to our spiritual life and our life in the Catholic Church, so spend time with materials that will broaden your scriptural horizon. The synod and the Year of Saint Paul are apt for our times.


The 29 September 2008 issue of America Magazine published worthwhile articles on the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. They are worth your consideration.


Abbot John B. Klassen, OSB, "Ever Ancient, Ever New"


Bishop Richard J. Sklba, "Nourished and Ruled By Sacred Scripture"


Father Richard J. Clifford, S.J., "The Original Testament"


Father John R. Donahue, S.J., "A Hymn With Many Voices"


Father Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., "From Council to Synod"


Doctor Pheme Perkins, "Sowing the Word"


AND when you're finished with the above, read John Allen's article here.


Are you praying for the Holy Spirit's holy-spirit.jpgintercession? Will you following the Pope's meeting on the Bible?  Prayer to the Spirit is always key to the work of our Church: the scholars, pastors, students and faithful rely on our intercession on their behalf.


A meeting was called by Pope Benedict XVI to study the role of the Bible in our lives as Catholics. The meeting (October 5-26) is technically called by the Church a "Synod of Bishops" which is a gathering of invited bishops, experts and others to offer input on a particular subject to the Holy Father who will later write a paper as a follow up setting a direction in which he thinks the entire Church should go. It was Pope Paul's intention that "Synod [is] in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the spirit of collegiality engendered by the conciliar experience." The Holy See's own understanding of the role of a synod is:


A Synod is a religious meeting or assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, have opportunity to interact with each other and to share information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application. The Synod, generally speaking, can be defined as an assembly of bishops representing the Catholic episcopate, having the task of helping the Pope in the governing of the universal Church by rendering their counsel. Pope John Paul II has referred to the Synod as "a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops.


Nikola Eterovic.jpgThe commission which coordinates the Synod of Bishops is headed by Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In collaboration with the cardinals, bishops and experts, and of course with the Holy Father himself, a theme and an agenda is set for the Synod participants to work on. Therefore, the coming Synod is thus...


The topic of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" can be understood in its christological sense, namely, Jesus Christ in the Life and Mission of the Church. This christological approach, linked by necessity to the pnuematological one, leads to the discovery of the Trinitarian dimension of revelation. Looking at the subject in this way ensures the unity of revelation. All the words and deeds, recorded in Sacred Bishops.jpgScripture by the inspired authors and faithfully guarded in Tradition, come together in the Person of the Lord Jesus, the Word of God. This is seen in the New Testament, which narrates and proclaims the mystery of his death, resurrection and presence in the midst of the Church, the community of his disciples called to celebrate these sacred mysteries. Because of the grace which leads to the destruction of sin (cf. Romans 6:6), his followers seek to conform themselves to their Master so that each might live Christ (cf. Galatians 2:20). Such is also the case in the Old Testament which, according to Jesus' own words, refers to himself (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24:27). Reading the Scriptures from a christological and pneumatological perspective leads from the letter to the spirit and from the words to the Word of God. Indeed, the words often conceal their true meaning, especially when considered from the literary and cultural point of view of the inspired authors and their way of understanding the world and its laws. Doing so leads to rediscovering the unity the Word of God in the many words of Scripture. After this necessary and ardent process, the Word of God shines with a surprising splendour, more than making up for the labour expended.


Pope Benedict XVI's general prayer intention for October is: "That the Synod of Bishops may help the pastors and theologians, the catechists and promoters who are engaged in the service of the Word of God to courageously transmit the truth of faith in communion with the entire Church."


So, let's remember the Synod members in prayer. Perhaps we should offer a rosary and fast for the Pope's intention.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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