Why We Need the Word of God
August 25 will be Bible Sunday. To help us prepare, Br Mike Chalmers CF looks at how Scripture and the Eucharist work together to lead us to Christ.
What better way can we prepare for receiving Christ in the Eucharist than to meet him in prayerful reflection on the Word of God: Scripture?
The Second Vatican Council tells us: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerated the body of the Lord, since from the table of both the Word of God and of the Body Christ she unceasingly receives and offers the faithful the bread of life, especially in the sacred liturgy” (Verbum Dei, 21).
We are called to contemplate Christ with a gaze fixed, more than ever, on the face of the Lord. But where does one concretely contemplate the face of Christ?
Christ is truly present in his Word and in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Recognising him requires a gaze of faith which is acquired through the habitual reading of the Word of God.
St John Paul II reminds us that living spiritually means first of all starting afresh from the person of Christ, true God and true man, present in his Word, “the first source of all spirituality.”
Holiness is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the Word of God. In his 2001 apostolic letter At the Beginning of the New Millennium, John Paul II wrote: “It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter..which draws from the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.”
The link in Mass
There can be no mistaking the essential link between the liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist. How fitting it is that we should be invited to celebrate these two extra-ordinary gifts we have received.
It is Christ himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.
It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in the vernacular, if they are not also proclaimed with care, preparation, devout attention and meditative silence that enable the Word of God to touch people’s minds and hearts.
The disciples recognise Jesus in the sign of breaking of bread. They recognise Jesus in the sign because he first enlightens their minds and enkindles their hearts, through explaining the Scriptures to them.
The Emmaus story shows us how to open up the rich mystery of the Eucharist—the importance of going to the Scriptures in a deeper way.
This year the archdiocese of Johannesburg will hold a synod. At the previous synod, in 2008, it was the youth who clearly asked for:
- To enter into a deeper “personal relationship with Christ”;
- To have a life-giving “encounter with Christ”; through the Word.
Five ways of the Word
In his 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI tells us that the Word of God comes to us in five different ways: Jesus, the Eucharist, Scripture, Creation and the “events of our lives”.
- When we meet Christ in the Word, Pope Benedict wrote, “we spend time with Jesus as with a friend”. Jesus Christ is truly the Word of God.
- When we meet Christ in the Eucharist, “it is primarily in the Eucharist that we celebrate the presence and action of God in our lives.”
Christ himself is present in his Word, since it is he who speaks when Scripture is read in Church.
- When we go to the Scriptures in prayerful reflection, “we need time each day for personal prayer and pondering the Word of God in the Scriptures”.
The Word of God, divinely inspired, is Sacred Scripture. God spoke through the prophets and the Apostles.
- God speaks to us in the events of our lives “in the ebb and flow of human interaction God truly speaks to us through others.”
The Word of God sheds light on our lives. The events of our lives throw light on the Word of God.
- We find the Word of God reflected in Creation.
Let Scripture speak
It is time now to let the scriptures speak to us. Remember that this should be a life-giving encounter with Jesus—the Word.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read: “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, “You shall 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. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (22:34-40).
The Law refers to the first five books of the Bible. We call them the Pentateuch. Jesus would have known them as the Law.
The second part of the Hebrew Scriptures was the books of the prophets.
Many think that Jesus introduced something quite new in this teaching. He is quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures in both instances.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18)
The importance of “you” is emphasised. This is a two-way process. Neighbour and self can be interchanged, just as God and neighbour can be substituted.
In Isaiah 61:1-2 we are taught how to put these commandments into practice.
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the afflicted, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favour from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn.”
You will find Isaiah 61:1-2 is used in Luke 4:18 when Jesus describes his life work.
Matthew sums up the teaching of the Law and the Prophets: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12).
Having spent time with the above mentioned passage, Matthew 22:34-40, read it once more, being aware of the many ways in which it touches you.
Once you become aware of God’s touch remain with that thought. Enter into prayer using the words of Scripture.
Lord, I long to be good news to others. Set me free from the things that imprison me that I, in my turn, will set others free.
Br Mike Chalmers CF is the director of the Catholic Bible Foundation.