God never tires of speaking to you

Archbishop Aquila

It is truly a wonder that we have the gift of the Bible, through which God speaks to us, convicts us, heals us and nourishes us on our journey. In recognition of the importance of the Scriptures, on Jan. 26 the Church will celebrate the first “Sunday of the Word of God.”

The Word of God is essential to our identity as Christian. It gives us strength, healing and nourishment. The Catechism speaks about the Scriptures as the place where “the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God’” (CCC, 104). It’s easy to lose sight of how blessed we are to have this powerful gift, this spiritual food.

How many of us can say that in the last day or even week we have read these holy and transformative words? Do we love the Word of God and allow it to be written on our minds and hearts by prayerfully and frequently reading it? Is God’s Word part of the fabric of our lives?

The great preacher St. John Chrysostom gave a homily on Matthew 2 in which he asked the people assembled in the church: ‘Who can repeat one Psalm, or any other portion of the Scriptures?’ He looked around and observed that “there is not one” person who could claim this. The reason he most frequently heard was, “I am not …  one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.”

St. John Chrysostom replied that their belief that the Bible was only for monks is what had led to their downfall, since those who are in the world “each day receive wounds” and have the greatest need for the medicine of God’s Word. As we know, those who have wounds and don’t treat them get infected, and if left untreated, they can die.

Aware of the vital importance of the Scriptures, Pope Francis recently announced in his Apostolic Letter, Aperuit Illis, that Jan. 26, 2020 — the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time — will be the first day the entire Church observes the “Sunday of the Word of God.” This day, he wrote, is to be marked by the “celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God,” (Aperuit Illis, 3).
However, the Pope cautions that a day devoted to the Bible “should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a yearlong event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord” (AI, 8), so that our hearts become purified by its truth and our eyes opened to our sins.

Among the practices I frequently recommend to people for promoting a life of ongoing conversion are regular participation in the sacraments and daily prayer with the Scriptures. Specifically, I encourage the practice of Lectio Divina, which involves meditating on the Scriptures by engaging your thoughts, imagination, emotions and desires as you read. The goal of Lectio Divina is primarily to experience an intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Through this encounter, our whole being is conformed more closely to God, increasingly receiving and believing in the love of the Father for us in a personal and particular way, thus increasing our love and knowledge of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

This experience of hearing God’s voice and becoming familiar with his movements within us changes how we see the world around us. Soon, we become much more attentive to his presence in our relationships, in creation, and especially within the Mass. “In this sense, the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture acts as the gateway to a new Eden, where man once again lives in the conscious presence of his Maker and Savior” (Sacraments Through Scripture: A Still Small Voice, p.4).

I know that the more I read and pray with the Scriptures, and most especially the Gospels, the more they become a living word that penetrates my heart, so that I become more convinced of the Father’s personal love for me.

As you read this column, I encourage you to think about how you can use the Sunday of the Word of God as a chance to ask God for a deeper love for his Word and to increase your desire to know him through the Scriptures. St. Jerome taught that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” When we know Jesus through the Bible, we truly become transformed and experience joy, even in times of trial or suffering. May each of us experience a renewed love for the Bible so that we become true disciples who bring Christ to the ends of the earth.

Featured image by Josh Applegate | Unsplash

COMING UP: St. Benedict’s wisdom for our times 

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“Let us get up then, at last, for the Scriptures rouse us,” the Rule of St. Benedict urges us. “Let us open our eyes to the light … and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out. … ‘If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts’” (Ps 95:8). On July 11 the Church observes the memorial of St. Benedict, and his words from 1,500 years ago seem perfectly fitting for our challenging and changing times.

The Rule of St. Benedict was written some time around 530, a time when the Roman Empire had collapsed and Christianity’s existence in Europe was threatened. Given our current cultural situation and its parallels with his time, I believe we can find fruit in St. Benedict’s teachings.

Saint Benedict grew up surrounded by a culture that was morally corrupt but with the grace of God lived a virtuous life. After spending some time in Rome for studies, he fled its moral decadence to pursue a more solitary life. St. Benedict lived the life of a hermit for several years before he eventually founded several monasteries, which became centers of prayer, manual labor and learning.

St. Benedict begins his rule by urging the monks to “Listen carefully to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (Rule, Prologue 1). For us, this means establishing a daily time to listen to the Lord, both in reading the Scriptures and in conversational prayer and meditation.

Our sure foundation during these trying times should be God’s will for each of us, not the constantly changing messages that bombard us in the news or on social media. For some, every online trend has become a form of gospel that must be adhered to with religious conviction. But the faith handed down to us from the Apostles is the only true Gospel, and only it can save souls. Although the times and technology were different, St. Benedict understood the importance of listening to “the master’s instructions.”

In his book, The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus, the preacher of the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, addresses the need for priests to arm themselves for battle “with the world rulers of this present darkness” (cf. Jn 10:12). At the heart of his reflection is the insight that “Jesus freed himself from Satan by an act of total obedience to the Father’s will, once and for all handing over his free will to him, so that he could truly say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’” (Jn 4:34, The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus, p. 36).

The question we must ask ourselves is, “Do I put the Father’s will first in my life in every decision I make and in all that I say and do?” If we place the Father’s will at the center of our lives and truly listen to him with “the ears of our hearts” as St. Benedict taught, we will be prepared for whatever happens and always give witness to the love of God and others. We live in a world that has removed God from culture. History, both salvation history and world history, shows clearly what happens when this occurs. When God is removed, something else becomes “god.” Societies decline and eventually fall and disappear unless they return to the true God and become cultures that promote a life of holiness and virtue.

There is at least one additional lesson from St. Benedict’s rule that is applicable in these times of societal disunity and division. The monks and sisters of the Benedictine spiritual family are known for their hospitality. The Rule teaches this virtue in this way: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims” (Rule, #53).

Let us make it our prayer to be able to see others as Christ himself coming to us, even if they are clothed in what St. Mother Teresa called, “the distressing disguise of the poor.” If we continually seek the will of the Father and ask in prayer for our hearts and will to be conformed to his, then we will be able to weather any challenge.