DO871 - Word of the Lord

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The Word of the Lord Discovering Verbum Domini

Department of Evangelisation and Catechesis Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

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First published in 2013 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London, SE11 5AY. Copyright Š 2013 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. www.ctsbooks.org All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued by the Publishers Licencing Society Ltd, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 9HE.

ISBN 978 1 86082 851 5

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Foreword by Bishop Kieran Conry It gives me great pleasure to introduce this Study Guide on the Synod Document Verbum Domini, prepared by the Scripture Working Group of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The recent world-wide Synod on ‘the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church’ considered how knowledge and love of the Bible have grown since the Second Vatican Council. This Study Guide will help promote a deeper appreciation of the place of the Bible in our faith, and assist us in the new evangelisation which is being taken up with such enthusiasm. As we celebrate the Year of Faith marking fifty years since the Second Vatican Council, the teaching of Pope Benedict in Verbum Domini will increase our confidence in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s word to the world of today. I am very grateful to Bible Society for supporting this initiative, and to the Catholic Truth Society for their collaboration in producing it. I recommend this Guide to all those who yearn for a deeper understanding and love of Christ as they read the pages of Sacred Scripture. Bishop Kieran Conry, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and Chairman of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

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Contents Introduction The Synod on the word of God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 PART ONE: Verbum Dei The word of God Section 1: God’s word and our response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Section 2: Understanding God’s word . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 PART TWO: Verbum in Ecclesia The word in the Church Section 1: The word in the Liturgy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Section 2: The word in the life of the Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 PART THREE: Verbum Mundo The word for the world Section 1: The mission to proclaim the word . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Section 2: Outreach to cultures and religions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Conclusion The word and joy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83

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Introduction

The Synod on the word of God (paragraphs 1-5)

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Introduction: The Synod on the word of God (Paragraphs 1-5) Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Church has held no fewer than twelve ‘Ordinary Synods’ and several ‘Extraordinary Synods’. These are gatherings of Bishops and other Catholic delegates, as well as ecumenical representatives, who come together from all parts of the world to discuss specific issues in the life of the Church. In October 2008, two-hundred and fifty bishops and many others gathered in Rome to consider the topic ‘The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church’. The Synod document, Verbum Domini (‘The Word of the Lord’), is officially described as a ‘post-synodal apostolic exhortation’. In it Pope Benedict gathers together the work of the Synod, and examines it more fully. The Word of the Lord provides a summary of the document of the Synod. It was prepared by a working group established by the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It was written by Fr Adrian Graffy, with the assistance of Dannie Firth, Geoffrey Poulter, Molly Styant, Matthew van Duyvenbode and Clare Ward. We gratefully acknowledge the support of Bible Society in taking this work forward, and of the Catholic Truth Society, who agreed to publish and promote The Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord presents the Synod document in six sections, two sections for each of the three major parts of Verbum Domini. Each of these three parts has a Latin title: Verbum Dei (‘the Word of God’), Verbum in Ecclesia (‘the 6

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Word in the Church’), and Verbum Mundo (‘the Word for the World’). As well as summarising the Synod document, each section of The Word of the Lord offers material for group reflection. Biblical readings are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, and numbers in brackets refer to specific sections of Verbum Domini. For further assistance in getting to know the Synod document please go to our website www.thewordofthelord.co.uk In reflecting on the word of God, the participants of the Synod were ‘conscious of dealing in a certain sense with the very heart of the Christian life’ (3). In particular, they were building on the document of the Second Vatican Council on Divine Revelation, commonly known by its Latin title Dei Verbum (‘the Word of God’), which is acknowledged as ‘a milestone’ in the Church’s history (3). The Synod took place during the ‘Year of St Paul’, which commemorated two thousand years since the birth of the Apostle of the Nations. Pope Benedict writes: How can I fail to mention that throughout the Synod we were accompanied by the testimony of the Apostle Paul! It was providential that the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly took place during the year dedicated to the great Apostle of the Nations on the two thousandth anniversary of his birth. Whenever we reflect on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, we cannot but think of Saint Paul and his life spent in spreading the message of salvation in Christ to all peoples. (4)

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Part One Verbum Dei the word of God Section 1

God’s word and our response (Paragraphs 6 to 28) This section explores: • what ‘the word of God’ means • the word of God as the foundation for life today • Jesus the word of God • the Holy Spirit and the tradition of the Church • the inspiration and the truth of Scripture

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God seeks a dialogue, a relationship with us. This is clear throughout the Bible. The Prologue of the Gospel according to John teaches us that it is through the word of God that all things were made and that, in the fulness of time, this word was made flesh in Jesus. In sending Jesus to us, God reaches out in an act of love. Only by realising this can we recognise the truth of our human situation. Every act of God is an act of love: we are created by God out of love and called by God to respond in love (6). How is the life of Jesus a word of God for you? Has the encounter with the person of Jesus changed your life?

Pope Benedict explores the different ways in which the phrase ‘Word of God’ is used. The Bishops at the Synod referred to ‘a symphony of the word’. This means that the word of God is expressed in many different ways. It is spoken by God at creation and throughout biblical history, what is known as the history of salvation. The word reaches its fullest expression in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. (Note the capital ‘W’ whenever Jesus is described as ‘the Word’.) The word of God is preached by the disciples of Jesus, and it is handed on to new generations in Scripture and in the teaching of the Church (7).

What do you think the Synod means by describing the word of God as a word of freedom, and a solid foundation?

All things were made through the word of God, which is ‘the foundation of all reality’ (8). The proclamation of the word of God brings freedom, inviting us to acknowledge God as our origin. Things do not exist by chance but are willed by God. The word thus provides the ‘solid foundation’ we need (10).

How widespread is the idea that God reaches out only in dogmas and rules? Why do you think people perceive God in this way?

In the word of God we experience God’s reaching out to us, what the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries of Christian faith called God’s ‘condescension’. This term is not used to stress God’s superiority to human beings, but God’s willingness to stand alongside us in the joys and sorrows of life. This is shown above all in the Incarnation of the Word,

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in the fact that the Son of God became a human being. The word of God finds expression therefore not in lengthy discourses, concepts or rules, but in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word God speaks to the world (11).

A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini The realist is the one who recognises in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail. (10) What does Jesus the Word say to us? His mission is ultimately fulfilled in ‘the word of the cross’, and in the extraordinary mystery of the resurrection (12). The mystery of Easter is the deepest fulfilment of the sacred Scriptures. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is God’s greatest word of love to the world (13).

How are the life, death and resurrection of Jesus God’s most important word to the world?

The assistance of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the authors of the sacred Scriptures, is essential for a proper understanding of the Christian faith (15). The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in Jesus’ name, leads the Church to deeper understanding. This gives rise to the Tradition of the Church, the continuing growth in understanding, which is a living and dynamic reality in the Church, and develops through study and prayer, through experience and preaching (17).

What can we do to increase our openness to the Holy Spirit? Do we recognise that the Spirit guides the Church in reaching new insights in changing circumstances?

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The Scriptures are inspired by God, set down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We acknowledge the importance of the human authors who wrote the inspired texts, and of God as their ultimate author (19). We are reminded of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the books of Scripture ‘firmly, faithfully and without error teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures’ (Dei Verbum 11). Does God really speak through silence? Do I cherish silence in my life?

God, who speaks by the word, also speaks by silence. Jesus himself experiences the distance of the Father on the cross. This silence has also been the experience of saints throughout the centuries. In God’s mysterious ways, silence appears as ‘an important expression of the word of God’ (21). God hears us and responds to our questions. The word of God points the way for us, and God waits for our response to the word. The proper response to God who speaks to us is faith, which arises from an encounter with Christ, and is experienced both personally and in the Christian community (25).

What does Mary the mother of Jesus teach us about openness to the word of God? In what ways is she truly ‘Mother of the Word’?

Sin is ‘a refusal to hear the word of God’ (26). Our God-given freedom brings with it this tragic possibility. The Scriptures constantly stress that sin is disobedience and a refusal to listen, but Jesus offers us the possibility of forgiveness and new life. It is important to understand that the root of all sin lies in refusal to hear the word of the Lord. The Synod puts before us the example of Mary, who was completely open to the word and responded to it in generosity (27).

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A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini The word of God does not stifle our authentic desires, but rather illuminates them, purifies them and brings them to fulfilment. Sad to say, in our days, and in the West, there is a widespread notion that God is extraneous to people’s lives and problems, and that his very presence can be a threat to human autonomy. We need to make every effort to share the word of God as an openness to our problems, a response to our questions, a broadening of our values and the fulfilment of our aspirations. (23) What struck you most about this section? What action might you now take? In addition to reading paragraphs 6-28 of Verbum Domini, you are invited to read from The Gift of Scripture, the document of the Bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, paragraphs 8-16.

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Group Session One

God’s word and our response

This session explores the word of God as the foundation for life today.

Opening Prayer Father, send your Holy Spirit to turn our words into prayers and our seeking into finding. (Liturgy of the Hours)

Period of silence

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A reading from the Gospel of John In the beginning was the Word In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (1:1-5, 9-14)

Pause to reflect The word of God is expressed in many different ways. It is spoken by God at creation and throughout biblical history, what is known as the history of salvation. The word reaches its fullest expression in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. (Note the capital ‘W’ whenever Jesus is described as ‘the Word’.) In what ways can we encounter Jesus in our daily lives? How might an encounter with Jesus, the Word of God, enrich your life?

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A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini The realist is the one who recognises in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail. (10) All things were made through the word of God, which is ‘the foundation of all reality’. The proclamation of the word of God brings freedom, inviting us to acknowledge God as our origin. Things do not exist by chance but are willed by God. The word thus provides the ‘solid foundation’ we need. In the word of God we experience God’s reaching out to us and God’s willingness to stand alongside us in the joys and sorrows of life. This is shown above all in the Incarnation of the Word, in the fact that the Son of God became a human being. The word of God finds expression therefore not in lengthy discourses, concepts or rules, but in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word God speaks to the world. What do you think the Synod Bishops mean when they speak of the word of God as a solid foundation for everyday life? Does the word of God form an important part of your life?

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A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini The word of God does not stifle our authentic desires, but rather illuminates them, purifies them and brings them to fulfilment. Sad to say, in our days, and in the West, there is a widespread notion that God is extraneous to people’s lives and problems, and that his very presence can be a threat to human autonomy. We need to make every effort to share the word of God as an openness to our problems, a response to our questions, a broadening of our values and the fulfilment of our aspirations. (23) God hears us and responds to our questions. The word of God points the way for us, and God waits for our response to the word. The proper response to God who speaks to us is faith, which arises from an encounter with Christ, and is experienced both personally and in the Christian community.

Has the word of God spoken to you in specific circumstances? If so, how? How do you respond to God’s word in your life? What has struck you most about this session?

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A Prayer of St Bede I pray you, good Jesus, that as you have graciously granted me to take in with delight the words that give knowledge of you, so you will grant me in your kindness to come at last to you, the source of all wisdom, and to stand for ever before your face. Amen.

This week: • At mealtimes consider how God’s word nourishes you. • Read the text from John’s gospel in your Bible and reflect on it.

• Read the full text of Part One, Section 1.

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Part One Verbum Dei the word of God Section 2

Understanding God’s word (Paragraphs 29 to 49) This section explores: • how to read the word of God • difficult passages in the Bible • the danger of fundamentalism • Christians reading the Bible together • the example of the saints

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The Bible is best understood in the Church and by people of faith, for the simple reason that it was written by people of faith. The Ethiopian eunuch in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles given later says: ‘How can I understand unless someone guides me?’ If we interpret the Bible without guidance we may fail to understand its message. ‘The Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God.’ (30) Why is scholarly study of the Bible so important? Does it not distract us from the message of God’s love?

The Bishops at the Synod express their gratitude to scholars who dedicate their lives to the study of the sacred text. The study of the word of God is ‘the soul of theology’, for it provides the foundation for the understanding of Christian faith (31). Our understanding of the Bible must begin with the written word. To grasp the text correctly has been the constant concern of Christians, as is seen particularly in the ancient monastic tradition. God speaks to us in human language. By careful attention to the written words of Scripture we reach ‘the meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today’ (33).

What can we do to ensure that we read the Scriptures in the context of the whole Bible and of the Tradition of the Church?

Pope Benedict recalls the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, that, having explored the meaning of a particular passage, we should then see it within the whole Bible and within the developing Tradition of the Church (Dei Verbum 12). The word is to be understood in the completeness of Catholic faith, by what is described as ‘the analogy of faith’, which is the way the various truths of faith relate to each other (34). If the reading of the words of Scripture is separated from faith, the Bible will simply be a book of the past and its message for the present will be lost. We need both faith and reason in approaching the Bible. Reason protects faith from what is mistaken and untrue, while faith leads reason

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to a new openness beyond the limits of what is immediately apparent (36). To understand the Bible is to unleash the transforming power of the word of God in our lives. From engagement with the literal sense we move on to the discovery of the spiritual sense of Scripture and its richness as word of God for today (38).

A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini In the passage from letter to spirit, we also learn, within the Church’s great tradition, to see the unity of all Scripture, grounded in the unity of God’s word, which challenges our life and constantly calls us to conversion. Here the words of Hugh of Saint Victor remain a sure guide: ‘All divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfilment in Christ.’ (39) If the Bible is one book, how does the New Testament relate to the Jewish Scriptures which we call the ‘Old Testament’? The Old Testament finds its fulfilment in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Fulfilment shows that what was longed for and foreseen from a distance is realised, but it also reveals things new and unexpected (40). At the same time the Synod document reminds us that the Old Testament ‘retains its own inherent value as revelation’, which must be respected (41).

How can you increase your familiarity with the Old Testament, so that you can appreciate its inherent value as well as seeing its fulfilment in the New Testament?

Reading the Bible can present serious difficulties. The Synod document acknowledges the presence in the Bible of ‘dark passages’, which reflect earlier stages of history and the different understandings of different times. These texts might seem to approve acts of violence and immorality. Such texts do not go unchallenged by other biblical passages and can never be a model for human behaviour. Their presence

Would it be better to disregard the difficult passages of the Bible, described here as ‘dark’ passages?

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in the Bible shows that we need time to discover the truth, and that God is patient in preparing people to receive the Gospel (42). The correct interpretation of difficult passages requires a certain expertise, and they are finally understood only ‘in the light of the mystery of Christ’ (42). What do you think the Jewish people can teach us about reading the Bible? How can dialogue with them be promoted?

As people of the Bible, Christians and Jews have a special bond. Blessed John Paul II referred to the Jewish people as ‘our beloved brothers and sisters’. They were the first to receive the word, and so they have much to teach us about love for God’s word (43).

How would you assist a person who is struggling with a fundamentalist way of reading the Bible?

A major difficulty in reading the Bible is fundamentalism, which may be understood as a refusal to acknowledge the word of God as God’s word in human language. The fundamentalist is reluctant to enter into the depths of the text, and resorts to ‘subjective and arbitrary’ interpretations (44). Texts can even be manipulated in such a way that they seem to stand in opposition to the truths of faith, and even encourage discrimination and violence. The fundamentalist approach disregards the place of the passage within the whole Bible, and the development of understanding in the sacred text. ‘The true response to a fundamentalist approach is the faith-filled interpretation of sacred Scripture.’ (44)

How can we foster the reading of the Bible with other Christians? What should be done to encourage this experience of communion?

The Synod gives strong encouragement to reading the Bible together with other Christians, which offers a real experience of communion as we listen to the word of God together. Biblical studies have a crucial place in ecumenical dialogue, and celebrations of the word of God among Christians advance the cause of ecumenism and build unity. The work of producing common translations is an important part of ecumenical collaboration (46).

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As this first part of Verbum Domini draws to a close, Pope Benedict recalls how faithful listening to the word of God has given rise to holiness throughout Christian history. St Anthony of Egypt, Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and many other saints are remembered (48). Saint Therese, for example, ‘discovered that love was her personal vocation by poring over the Scriptures’ (48). The saints of modern times too bear witness to the transforming power of the word of God. ‘Every saint is like a ray of light streaming forth from the word of God.’ (48) Holiness inspired by God’s word becomes a prophetic witness. ‘Holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked.’ (49)

How can we allow the power of the word of God to be unlocked in our lives, as it was in the lives of the saints?

A reading from the Synod Document Verbum Domini Listening together to the word of God, engaging in biblical lectio divina, letting ourselves be struck by the inexhaustible freshness of God’s word which never grows old, overcoming our deafness to those words that do not fit our own opinions or prejudices, listening and studying within the communion of the believers of every age: all these things represent a way of coming to unity in faith as a response to hearing the word of God. (46) What struck you most about this session? What action might you now take? In addition to reading paragraphs 29-49 of Verbum Domini, you are invited to read from The Gift of Scripture, the document of the Bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, paragraphs 17-23 and 41. 25

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