Friday, November 12, 2010

Verbum Domini, Introduction

You may have noticed that the Post-Synodal Exhortation, “Verbum Domini,” on the Word of God, was published yesterday. You should all find time to read it in the coming weeks. I keep harping on the deacon as “herald of the Gospel,” (believe what you read, preach what you believe, and practice what you preach; or, in the Extraordinary Form, Receive the power of reading the Gospels in the Church, as much for the living as for the dead) and therefore on our service as being shaped in a special way by the proclamation of the Good News. Pope Benedict is giving the same message to the whole Church in this document. It needs to shape our study of Scripture, of theology, of pastoral care, of liturgy, and of preaching.

This is a quick look at the document, with my first impressions. I'll go section by section, to make it manageable. Pope Benedict starts with the basics. The Church has received the Good News from Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, and an unchanging mission to proclaim it:

…we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word. This word, which abides forever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word “ became flesh ” (Jn 1:14). This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today. (Verbum Domini, 1)

So the Word is at the heart of everything the Church does (“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”), like a “wellspring”:

In this way I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity. (1)

I don’t think this point can be stressed enough.

Pope Benedict goes on to remind us that this Word is not just an object of faith, but a gift, a person, and a communion of us with Him:

Called to communion with God and among ourselves, we must proclaim this gift. From this kerygmatic standpoint, the synodal assembly was a testimony, before the Church and before the world, to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God in the communion of the Church. For this reason I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. (2)

If we meet and know Jesus by receiving the kerygma in the Gospel, our reception of Him as gift brings “complete joy,” and a burning desire to share that complete union with others. Our love for Him needs to be infectious, the more so since it is precisely the absence of Christ which makes modern life seem so difficult to bear:

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). (2)

(These are still the basics.) Growing in union with Christ is our purpose as human creatures. This is why God made each of us. We can’t fulfill that end without a personal encounter with the Word.

This next move is totally characteristic of Benedict’s ministry as Holy Father. As the Church has grappled more and more concretely with the modern world over the last 125 years or so, the necessary mode of the centrality of this personal encounter with Christ the Word has become more and more clear. (In the past, the encounter was often through poverty and asceticism, for example; but only in certain contexts through the Word in Scripture directly.) The foundation of his idea of a “hermeneutic of continuity” is the unchanging nature of this encounter, now being deployed by the Church in ways both old and new, to make it more available to people in this age:

Beginning with the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, we can say that there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church, culminating in the Second Vatican Council and specifically in the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. The latter represented a milestone in the Church’s history… Everyone is aware of the great impulse which the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum gave to the revival of interest in the word of God in the life of the Church… By celebrating this Synod, the Church, conscious of her continuing journey under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, felt called to further reflection on the theme of God’s word, in order to review the implementation of the Council’s directives, and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers. (3)

This 2008 Synod, then, and this document which is its fruit (guided by the Holy Spirit), is part of that trajectory of continuity of living faith, and of the same goal of bringing the personal encounter with Christ the Word to the front of the Church’s activities in the world, for evangelization and the salvation of souls.

This last point in the Introduction I’d like to note connects with my talk on St. Hilarius from a couple of weeks ago, at our Fall Day of Reflection. St. Hilarius used the Prologue of the Gospel of John as the foundation for his development of a Trinitarian theology, and for his spirituality as I described. Pope Benedict does the same thing here, and draws the same conclusion St. Hilary did: our whole spiritual life needs to “lean on the bosom of Christ, like St. John:”

I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word… May John, who “ saw and believed ” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments.(5)

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