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The Rector writes …

When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight”: That is how Jeremiah reacted on understanding God’s purpose in his own life, and the Prophet’s sentiments are a fitting introduction to this weekend’s “Sunday of the Word of God” (instituted by Pope Francis in 2019). Let us be clear, as Saint John emphasises so powerfully at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, the Word is Christ himself. When the Eternal Father wanted to reveal something of his own mystery within time and space he expressed himself – he “spoke” – through the Incarnation of his Son: “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. God’s self-communication through his perfect icon in Jesus means that every aspect of Christ’s life – his human history, his teaching, preaching and gracious acts, even his silences and those areas he does not address directly – all have a unique significance in our own journey of faith.

By the end of the second century the Church had codified what it believed to be the authentic record of what Jesus said and did – together with the witness and reflection of the first generation of Christians – into what we now know as the New Testament. To the twenty-seven books which make up the New Testament must be added the forty-six of the Old Testament. For the Christian, the history of Israel and its particular role in preparing the way for Christ is indispensable: these writings “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers” (2nd Vatican Council). Although each of the books which make up the Bible has its own context and authorship the Church believes that: “the divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”.

It is important that while committed to the Divine inspiration of Scripture we do not fall into the literalist trap of treating every piece of text as having the same weight – neither should we ever lift phrases out of context to support a particular agenda. Benedict XVI has helped us to see that what we should always be looking for is the “sense” of Scripture – what did the author of a particular passage intend to communicate and what meaning might that same passage have for our present situation?  In Saint Bernard’s phrase, the Bible must always be received: “not as a written and mute word, but as incarnate and living”.  This is what is being emphasised whenever Scripture is read in church and concludes with the phrase “The Word of the Lord” or “The Gospel of the Lord”. Wherever minds and hearts are open the Holy Spirit always has something fresh to share. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s comment on her own biblical reading underlines this truth: “I am always finding fresh lights there: hidden meanings which had meant nothing to me hitherto”.

The Catechism says: “the ministry of the Word – pastoral preaching, catechetics, and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place – is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture”. Saint Jerome, perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of all times, challenges us: “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. We should always try to listen attentively to the readings at Mass and to the homily (which, though the preacher might be limited in his perception and expression is still a vehicle through which the Spirit desires to speak!): “authentic interpretation always carries some reference not only to the source of its texts, what lies within and behind them, but also to the goal, to the final term of what they describe” (Aidan Nichols). For most of us, the engagement with Scripture comes mainly through the Church’s liturgical life, but the Bible should also be part of our own devotional life. There is no substitute for a prayerful reading of the Bible – most particularly the Gospels – in the formation of personal faith: as Saint Ambrose puts it so beautifully: “when we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden”. Perhaps these days of lockdown give each of us a little more time in which our knowledge and love of the Word of the Lord can be extended?

Christopher Colven