The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has dubbed this week “National Bible Week” in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. I’m generally skeptical as to what positive outcomes actually result from attempting to raise awareness by declaring a themed day or week. And in this case, it seems almost a little sad. Like an admission as to how much we still need to renew ourselves and our ministries to live into Jesus’ mission for the Church.
In his reflections following the 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote:
The Synod called for a particular pastoral commitment to emphasizing the centrality of the word of God in the Church’s life, and recommended a greater “biblical apostolate,” not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work.
This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes or dioceses, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities…to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ…making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach. (Verbum Domini, §73).
What a challenge!
The Bible isn’t something we’re supposed to sprinkle on top of catechesis, sacramental formation, works of mercy, parish life, or evangelization, no–it’s supposed to inspire all of it.
As we build up programs and policies, it’s easy to view Scripture as just-another-category we need to deal with. Another “ingredient” in what it means to form Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ.
But, there’s a radical simplicity to Benedict’s call, a radical reliance on the Word of God not simply as a book, but as the dynamic, living, breathing creative force that it truly is. “The word of God precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture, nonetheless Scripture, as inspired by God, contains the divine word (cf. 2 Tim 3:16) ‘in an altogether singular way’” (Verbum Domini, §17).
Lives will be changed when people encounter the words of the Bible. History has shown this to be the case. The present examples of Christians across the world continue to show the mighty power of these sacred words.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of viewing the Bible as a “handicap” to evangelization. Thinking, people don’t like the Bible. But this is not the case. In an ever more religiously illiterate world, the Bible is an intriguing mystery. Secular media companies offer programs claiming to unlock the Bible’s secrets. Thousands around the world take free Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from major universities to learn something about the Bible. There is a hunger for the transcendent. People want to experience the Word of God alive and changing-lives.
But here’s the catch–this can’t just be “theology.” While our faith teaches these wonderful, dynamic truths about the Word of God–truths that make it a powerful, life-changing force, truths that free us from Biblical fundamentalism or literalist interpretations–it makes no difference to a hungry world if we as Catholic Christians are afraid to experience it. Too uncertain to read the Bible. Too busy to take the Bible to prayer, so God can speak a new word to us. Too focused on finding the perfect programs, textbooks, or small group materials as substitute for actually encountering Christ through the divine word.
We can’t share what we haven’t experienced. So take up Benedict’s challenge: let the Bible inspire all your pastoral work. This can change our lives and change our witness, all for the evangelization of a world hungry to experience the truth of the divine word, this week and every week.
This post originally appeared at newevangelizers.com