This column appeared in the October 21, 2014, edition of The Boston Pilot, and received a 2015 Catholic Press Award (second-place) from the Catholic Press Association, in the category of “Best Regular Column: Scripture.”
Many orthodox Catholics have been unsettled by the recently concluded extraordinary synod on the family. Until the relatio synodi appears in official translation, I don’t want to venture thoughts on the substance of the controversy. What needs to be said is this: trust the Holy Spirit to guide Holy Mother Church by means of the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. This conversation is necessary for the breakthrough of the Gospel.
Be not afraid! The Father never ceases to speak His Word, Jesus, in the ebullience of the Spirit of divine love. Jesus makes Himself available for our consumption in two modes: Eucharist and Scripture. Our yearning for Him should drive us towards both.
The Bible is the Word of God in human words, in the perfect book. Having been raised a Baptist, I have always felt a particular urgency to share the joy of reading the Bible with fellow Catholics.
Vatican II gave a decisive push to the project of biblicizing Catholic life. Let’s recall a crucial advancement of that project, Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation The Word of the Lord (Verbum Domini), which will give us confidence in this time between the synods on the family.
Above all, Benedict reminds us that the Word of God is first a Person, not a book. And the Father speaks this Word in analogous prismation, in the intelligibilities of nature and through all history. All that the good Father in His providence is doing in cosmos and history constitutes the apostolic tradition, of which the Bible is the plenary crystallization.
Pope Francis recently reminded us, “These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus: hear the Word of God and put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more. … The Lord is always sowing His word, just asking an open heart to listen and be willing to put it into practice.”
Do you want the Father to talk to you? Pray with the Bible.
The Father is shaping your life and every life, all of nature and history, into the Body of His Son. It is this Christification of all things that nature and history are for, and it is this that the Bible epitomizes and advances. Saint Paul calls it recapitulation, bringing all things under the headship of Christ. When Paul speaks of our knowing the Father’s plan of loving goodness, he is first speaking of the faith given in baptism, but do not doubt that that faith needs Scripture if it is to know what it knows: “For [God the Father] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to bring all things to a head in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10)
Saint Augustine speaks of the totus Christus, the total Christ, as the goal of the Incarnation: the point is for the Word to take flesh in you, in your existence. Christification, this mystery of recapitulation, is what is happening in your life, in all its joy and sorrow. This is the coming of the Kingdom. We need the Bible to give us the optics to see what’s happening, and to advance the process, for we don’t submit readily to the King of all hearts. We don’t understand ourselves, and we don’t understand the Father’s good purposes. The light of faith is fueled by Scripture, and that light alone pierces the darkness that shipwrecks life.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of Pope Benedict’s closest theological companions, says it so beautifully in his book Prayer: “The Word which God addresses to us is a Word of love: …a word whispered in the night, [which] breathes right through everything that exists in the world, all intramundane values; and, without depriving the things of this world of their meaning and value, it lends them a bottomless dimension, exploding whatever is closed, relativizing whatever seems ultimate, revealing hidden depths in what seems simple, sweetening pain, and bringing reconciliation to what is tragic.”
What the Bible makes possible is the transvaluation of everything: “Now, renunciation can mean boundless enrichment; death can mean plunging into eternal life; admitting that we are lost and guilty can be the act by which we throw ourselves into the arms of the Eternal Mercy and know ourselves saved. A whole world of love-mysteries opens up to us…”
The Psalms in particular epitomize the epitome of history that Scripture is. Pray them; they will give you consolation beyond all imagining. Pray the liturgy of the hours (there are apps!) It will change your life.
Make sure you have Magnificat or the missal to meditate upon the Mass readings. As far as Bibles to own: I recommend the Bible put out by Ignatius Press to start.
And pursue the liberal arts as much as you can. The monks preserved pagan classics because they knew that reading the Book meant diving down deep into life. High culture submerges you in the beauty and the agony of human existence, and it’s only in that depth that Scripture can be appropriated. Read the Great Books, listen to Mozart and Monteverdi and Mahler, marvel at Sargent and Fra Angelico and Matisse.
If you pray with Scripture, you will be consoled. I promise you that. Perhaps the troubles in life are there precisely to force us into the refuge of the Word, so that we may turn to Him more readily, and be absorbed: straitened…to be liberated! We find all our life is now inseparable from this Book; we find ourselves living more and more from this relationship with Jesus, this Word that is bread. And one day, we find we have overcome the world. Somehow.
The Father speaks Jesus into every moment of your tempest-filled life. It is a whisper, but it can calm the dark seas. If you listen when your lover speaks, the world starts to come clear.