Bring Back Scripture Print
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 01 July 2012

If like me you had avoidance of the scriptures drummed into you growing up, then here is another gem from Benedict XVI. The pope issued Verbum Domini after the Synod of Bishops gathered to study the word of God in October of 2008. (You may ask why the U. S. Church is set up so that papal documents have little effect in America – but that is for another time.)

To start with, Benedict says: “There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).”

The uniqueness of Catholicism is that it is God speaking to us. Catholicism is not a make-it-up-as-you-go-along religion. So “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 definitive direction.” That person is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. He is the Lord.

This is where the scriptures come in. Their words are a privileged place for us to meet the Divine Word because “through all the words of sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single word, his one utterance, in whom he expresses himself completely (cf. Heb 1:1-3).”

In fact: “Saint Augustine had already made the point clearly: ‘Remember that one alone is the discourse of God which unfolds in all Sacred Scripture, and one alone is the word which resounds on the lips of all the holy writers.’” With the scriptures, we can get into a kind of dialog with God that is much deeper than a chat over the back fence.

Now watch this next step: because God is so different from us, his words are more pregnant with meaning than anything that we can utter. The Holy Father explains, using the psalms as an example:

The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord: the God who speaks teaches us how to speak to him. Here we naturally think of the Book of Psalms, where God gives us words to speak to him, to place our lives before him, and thus to make life itself a path to God. In the psalms we find expressed every possible human feeling set masterfully in the sight of God; joy and pain, distress and hope, fear and trepidation: here all find expression. Along with the psalms we think too of the many other passages of Sacred Scripture which express our turning to God in intercessory prayer (cf. Ex 33:12-16), in exultant songs of victory (cf. Ex 15) or in sorrow at the difficulties experienced in carrying out our mission (cf. Jer 20:7-18).

The Book of Psalms is really the best place for us to start learning to use scripture.

But since we are Catholics using scripture, another wrinkle must be kept in mind. Vatican II taught that God’s word is more involved than our words, so his revelation was never simply words on a page. The words witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ or we can call it the “Gospel” as the Council did.

They explained: “This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips.” But then they went on: “This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

The council of course described this part of revelation, using the standard terms, as the tradition of the Church. Now here is the wrinkle: to get the accurate meaning of the scriptures we have to read them within the tradition of the Church. Otherwise we are just treating them like objects floating in outer space. We can make them mean anything.

Now back to Benedict: So the Church, the Body of Christ, is the “home of the word.” Then Church worship and the proclamation of the scriptures there is “the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives; he speaks today to his people, who hear and respond.”

Furthermore, as we discover the scriptures, they can become “a great code for cultures,” even for our materialistic and solipsistic culture. For Benedict “code” means that: “Sacred Scripture contains anthropological and philosophical values that have had a positive influence on humanity as a whole.”

But they have to be identified by those in the cultures. This all turns on the humanity in Christ being the perfect realization of what humanity can be. It’s out of that scriptural understanding that we can understand the poor, the sick, the young, and all the other forms of humanity. The scriptures can speak to universities and in art, but most of all they can speak to our hearts.

Let’s read the scriptures!

Bevil Bramwell
, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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