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: Transforming quarantine into retreat

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This bruising Lent, in which “fasting” has assumed unprecedented new forms, seems likely to be followed by an Eastertide of further spiritual disruption. What is God’s purpose in all this? I would be reluctant to speculate. But at the very least, the dislocations we experience – whether aggravating inconvenience, grave illness, economic and financial loss, or Eucharistic deprivation – call us to a more profound realization of our dependence on the divine life given us in Baptism: the grace that enables us to live in solidarity with others and to make sense of the seemingly senseless.

If we cooperate with that grace rather than “kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14), it can enable us to transform quarantine, lockdown, and the interruption of normal life into an extended retreat, a time to deepen our appreciation of the riches of Catholic faith. Dioceses, Catholic centers, and parishes are offering many online opportunities for prayer, thereby maintaining the public worship of the Church. Here are other resources that can help redeem the rest of Lent and the upcoming Easter season.

* Shortly before the Wuhan virus sent America and much of the world reeling, I began watching Anthony Esolen’s Catholic Courses video-lectures on the Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve long admired Tony Esolen’s Dante translation and his lucid explanation of the medieval Christian worldview from which Dante wrote; and there was something fitting about watching Esolen accompany Dante and Virgil through hell during a hellish Lent. Professor Esolen’s explication of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise (also available from Catholic Courses) are just as appropriate these days, however. For the entire Comedy is a journey of conversion that leads to the vision of God; and that is precisely the itinerary the Church invites us to travel during Lent, as the Forty days prepare us to meet the Risen Lord at Easter and experience the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

* Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was arguably the greatest papal homilist since Pope St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The March and April sermons in Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year (Cluny Media), help put the trials of this Lent and Eastertide into proper Christian focus.

* I’ve often recommended the work of Anglican biblical scholar N.T. Wright. Two chapters (“The Crucified Messiah” and “Jesus and God”) in The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (InterVarsity Press) make apt Lenten reading in plague time. The fifth chapter of that small book, “The Challenge of Easter,” neatly summarizes Dr. Wright’s far longer and more complex argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press) and makes a powerful case for the historical reality of the Easter events. Like Wright, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s reflections on the empty tomb and the impact of meeting the Risen One in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (Ignatius Press) underscore the bottom of the bottom line of Christianity: no Resurrection, no Church.

* Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series is the greatest audio-visual presentation of the faith ever created. If you’ve never watched it, why not now?  If you have, this may be the time to continue with Bishop Barron’s Catholicism: The New Evangelization (an exploration of how to put Catholic faith into action) and Catholicism: The Pivotal Players (portraits of seminal figures in Catholic history who did just that – St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, and Michelangelo).

* Pope St. John Paul II’s centenary is the Monday following the Fifth Sunday of Easter: an anniversary worth celebrating, whatever the circumstances. The first 75 years of this life of extraordinary consequence for the Church and the world are relived in the documentary film, Witness to Hope – The Life of John Paul II. Liberating a Continent, produced by the Knights of Columbus, is a stirring video evocation of John Paul’s role in the collapse of European communism – and a reminder, in this difficult moment, of the history-bending power of courage and solidarity.

* The Dominican House of Studies in Washington and its Thomistic Institute are intellectually energizing centers of the New Evangelization. The good friars are not downing tools because of a pandemic; rather, they’re ramping up. Go to thomisticinstitute.org to register for a series of online “Quarantine Lectures” and an online Holy Week retreat. At the same home page, you’ll find Aquinas 101, 52 brief videos that make one of Catholicism’s greatest thinkers accessible to everyone, free and online, through brilliant teaching and striking animation.

And may the divine assistance remain with us, always.