In the Gospel for Thursday's Mass (John 5: 31-47) Jesus had some strong words for those who purported to know the Scriptures but did not even recognize Him: "You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life." As we move toward the end of the forty days of Lent, where are we in our relationship with Jesus and the Scriptures which speak of Him. When we hear the scriptures read at Mass, or read them in our prayer and devotion, do we experience the living Word of God being communicated through them?
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In the Gospel for Thursday's Mass (John 5: 31-47) Jesus had some strong words for those who purported to know the Scriptures but did not even recognize Him: "You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life."
As we move toward the end of the forty days of Lent, where are we in our relationship with Jesus and the Scriptures which speak of Him. When we hear the scriptures read at Mass, or read them in our prayer and devotion, do we experience the living Word of God being communicated through them?
In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation we read these beautiful words, "(I)n the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life." (Paragraph 21)
The insight offered here is the key to fruitfully reading the Bible. The Living Word, Jesus, speaks to us through the written word. Understanding the Bible depends upon having a living relationship with the Risen Lord. Everyone one of us can have that relationship through prayer.
St Paul told Timothy who led the struggling Church of Ephesus, "from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
Timothy had a fruitful relationship with the Scriptures because He had an intimate loving relationship with the Lord whom they reveal. If we want to understand the Bible - and have it really change us - we need to grow in the kind of faith Timothy had. That kind of faith will also grow in us as we study the words of Scripture - with faith. The two are connected.
Years ago a gathering of scripture scholars was held in Rome at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The group encouraged what they called a "kneeling exegesis". Exegesis is a word which refers to the study of the bible. I loved the phrase kneeling exegesis because it speaks to what should be obvious, but sadly is not; only through prayer can we encounter the living Word of God in the written words of the Bible.
The Bible is at the heart of the Church's worship, faith and life. It is the "Book of the Church." Christianity is not about "me and Jesus" but me in Jesus. Through Baptism we come to live in His Body, the Church. We are incorporated into living, Risen Christ when we are baptized into His Church. We become members of His mystical body and we enter into that new Creation, beginning right now.
When God chose to reveal Himself He did not throw a book out of heaven. Rather, the Word was made Flesh. He became one of us. Through the Incarnation - which includes the entirety of the life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ- a new creation began.
The Church is not an organizational afterthought put together after the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the plan of God for the salvation of the entire human race. The Church is the Body of the Risen Christ and the seed of the kingdom to come. Through baptism into His death and resurrection all men and women can become sons (and daughters) in the Son.
The Church is the new family into which we are reborn through the womb of that Baptismal font. This is why we call the Church "Mother". In the Church we live our lives in Him, with one another, for the sake of the world. She is meant to be the home of the whole human race.
God has entrusted the Bible to this Church. It was first received by the early Church in the form of the Old Testament books, the Gospels and the letters of the apostles that were "circulated" (that is what the word "encyclical" means) among the early Christian communities.
Later, the Canon (which means measuring stick), was finalized within the Church. It is intended to govern her life and worship. It is the guide for her in carrying forward the redemptive work of Jesus on earth until He comes again.
The Bible is an invitation into an encounter with the Risen Lord. Its words are not a formula to obtain success in life, but an invitation into a communion of Love with the Living Word. The Bible is not some-thing, but reveals Some-One. In the words of St. Paul to Timothy, "all Scripture is inspired by God. (2 Tim. 3:16), the Greek word translated inspired means "God-breathed".
The early Christians received the scriptures as a gift. They knew that the sacred words were to lead to a deeper communion of love with their source, the Living Word of God. Early theologians were mystics. My favorite definition of a theologian is from the early Christian Monk Evagrius of Pontus.
He said a theologian is one who "rests his head on the chest of Christ." The image calls to mind the beloved disciple, John, depicted as doing just that in early Christian art. It speaks of the indispensable prerequisite for any fruitful study of the Bible, a relationship with the Lord in the intimacy of prayer.
Early Christians viewed the reading of Scripture as a way of encountering the Living Word, who gives Himself as bread to those who feed on this written Word. This practice is kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, particularly among Benedictines in the West.
It is embedded in the Eastern Christian tradition and is especially evident in the writings of the early Church fathers. They wrote in a sort of stream of scriptural consciousness, moving from inspired thoughts to actual biblical quotes and back; most often without any reference to the specific "chapter and verse". The text was living within them. To use a phrase from my childhood they "knew it by heart."
This way of encountering the Lord in His Word is cultivated in our lives. It involves meeting the Lord in His word and being changed in that encounter. It can inform a rhythmic way of life steeped in the practice of the presence of God throughout the day. Participation in the rich and beautiful pattern of the Liturgical life of the Church, filled as it is with the Biblical texts that are arranged for the faithful daily, helps to develop this rhythm.
In the prologue to his Rule or way of life, t Benedict of Nursia offered to help monks hear God's words with the "ear of our heart." This relational approach is referred to in Western writings as Lectio Divina, "What, dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life. Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide - that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom." (1 Thess 2:12).
The steps of Lectio Divina are listening, contemplating, praying and then resting in the Word.
Mother Teresa wrote: "God is the friend of silence, in that silence he will listen to us; there he will speak to our soul, and there we will hear his voice. The fruit of silence is faith. The fruit of faith is prayer, the fruit of prayer is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is silence. In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.. God is the friend of silence. His language is silence. 'Be still and know that I am God'."
The first step of Lectio Divina is to hear. This is done through lectio or reading the biblical text and listening. This kind of reading is not like what one does with a newspaper or a book. It is done "in the Spirit", in prayerful reverence, in the grace of the encounter, learning to listen in silence. It is done from prayer, in prayer and for prayer. "Lectio" is listening for that whisper of God for us this day, that daily bread on the trail of our life.
Once we read and hear the text, we meditate on that word or passage, realizing that the breath of God is in that wonderful Bread of Life. The same breath through which God breathed His life into Adam, that same breath that was breathed by Jesus Christ, after His Resurrection, upon His disciples, is present in this wonderful treasure of His written word. When we meditate upon the word we can breathe in the very life of God.
Now, in relationship with the word we have read and meditated upon, we pray. We converse with the Lord. We offer ourselves to God, pouring ourselves out, with absolute honesty, holding nothing back. We consecrate ourselves, setting ourselves aside and telling the Lord that He is our all in all, our love, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. We make ourselves transparent and honest, offering our pain, our brokenness, our failings; we give ourselves to the One who has given Himself to us. We enter into a holy exchange. Then contemplation begins.
In love with God, filled with His word, we now rest in His presence, like the beloved disciple John did at the table, placing our heads on the Lords chest, overjoyed to be with Jesus. Our intimacy with the Lord is a relationship where words are no longer even necessary. Nothing needs to be said because we are now in the loving embrace of the Living God. In Him we are changed, converted, transformed by love, instructed and awakened.
This is how we read the Bible - by falling in Love with Jesus the Lord who is the Living Word.
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