Kieran Fenn FMS
In 2008 the 12th Assembly of the Synod of Bishops met in the Vatican with the theme ‘The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.’
An attempt was made to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the church as a source of constant renewal.
Expressing hope that the scriptures would be more fully at the heart of church activity, Pope Benedict XVI wrote towards the end of last year the apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini. He addresses this to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful.
This was in response to the request of the Synod Fathers to make known to the whole People of God the rich fruits which emerged from the sessions and their recommendations.
‘Hearing, seeing, touching, and looking upon Jesus’ (1 John 1:2-3) is the encounter with Christ to be experienced at personal and communal levels.
It is then our duty to communicate the joy born of that meeting with him who ‘alone has the words of eternal life’ (John 6:6). There is no greater priority than this, for with the Word of God we are dealing with the very heart of Christian life.
It is the church’s gift and duty to communicate the joy, born of that encounter with the person of Christ. There is no greater priority than this − to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (John 10:10).
The Introduction goes on to stress the continuity with the previous synod, ‘The Eucharist as Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission.’
The church is built on the word of God; it is born from and lives that word. The Word of God is in a sense the very heart of the Christian life and in continuity with the previous synod on the Eucharist. Today the community grows by hearing, celebrating and studying this word, something we have grown far more sensitive to following Vatican II.
My personal response
There is a real need for our often divided community to ponder anew the question of why the church exists. It has been wisely said that ‘the church is not the moon − it is the finger pointing to the moon!’
The finger in the last two synods points us in the direction of the two central aspects of our Catholic Christian identity −
First, to tell the Jesus story found in the scriptures that tell of his life and impact that we call the New Testament and what were the scriptures for Jesus himself the Old (or Hebrew) Testament.
Second, we celebrate the presence of Jesus in the sacraments, primarily in the Eucharist. How quickly a community falls apart when it forgets what is its heart and centre − what unites it as a body. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19) is a statement that operates at both the sacramental and scriptural levels.
When the synod gathered, the text of the bible was placed at the centre of the assembly to stress the fact that God speaks and responds to our questions. We deepen our relationship within the ‘we’ of the church, in mutual listening and acceptance.
Among the participants were the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople who offered a deeply appreciated meditation and a rabbi who witnessed to how precious the Hebrew Scriptures are as part of our own scriptures.
The bishops came from throughout the world − a Pentecost experience, a wealth of languages and cultures, but also a visible reminder of the various peoples still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own culture. High commendation is given to the work of the groups who labour to share the bible particularly the various bible societies.
Their zeal for the spread of the word sets itself alongside that of St Paul who the Synod Fathers remembered as accompanying the year and the assembly.
As a member of the Board of the Bible Society of New Zealand I have the highest regard for the dedicated work of this group and endorse their E100 programme as ecumenical and communal.
The synod itself was a model of both values. The bible is a product of the community and is best studied and reflected on in community remembering that the Holy Spirit is not confined to one denomination and the church is indebted to scholars from other denominations.
A living and timely word
The introductory section of the apostolic exhortation ends with a prayer that we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God, to allow the work of the synod to have a real effect on the life of the church − on our personal relationship with the scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis and in scientific research, so that the bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word.
Next month, Part One: The God who speaks.