Kieran Fenn FMS
Called to covenant
The term ‘word of God’ brings up the many ways in which God speaks to, and encounters, people in dialogue. Primacy is given to the word of God addressed to humanity. The whole history of God entering into covenant with us is a call to relationship. God calls and we respond. The old and new covenant is not a meeting between two equal peers, but pure gift on God’s part. It is that loving gift by which God bridges every distance and truly makes us ‘partners’, a mystery that has its parallel in the union between Christ and the Church.
Each of us is called to hear and respond to the word in which we were created and live by. We cannot understand ourselves unless we are open to this dialogue. How important it is for our time to discover that God alone responds to the yearning present in the heart of every man and woman.
Most young people seek God through marriage, says Irish Vincentian priest Pat Collins CM in his Spirituality for the 21st Century , and this brings strongly into focus the theme of covenant and the blessing that mutual love is in the many recent marriages that have been part of my life over the last year.
When we find ourselves loved by another, we can certainly find in that gift the God who is the ultimate lover, for the entire scriptures are the story of God’s love affair with humanity.
This also raises the question of how vital is the witness that God, too, can be found in priesthood and religious life. Joan Chittister is quoted approvingly by the Marist Brothers’ superior general, Br Emili Turu, ‘Where there is no passion, there is no life any longer, only death’.
Today in the West, there is a widespread notion that God is outside our lives and problems and a threat to human freedom. Yet the message of history and scripture shows a God who acts for our good and our salvation.
This is so decisive pastorally and its urgency calls for pastoral presentation of the word of God as entering into dialogue with everyday problems which people face. Jesus came that we might have life in abundance (Jn 10:10). The Church needs to bring out clearly how God listens to our need and our plea for help, is open to our problems, responds to our questions, broadens our values and fulfils our aspirations.
Dialogue with God
The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord who teaches us how to speak in prayer. The Book of Psalms places our lives before God. They express every possible human feeling, joy and pain, distress and hope, fear and trepidation. Our word becomes God’s word, and our entire life comes under the divine call – the focus of ministry and preaching.
Having taught the psalms to young religious over several years, I respond strongly to the truth enshrined here. ‘Most of the scriptures speak to us; the psalms speak for us’ (Athanasius). In the liturgy, the psalm is chosen for its relationship to the first reading, which in turn is related to the gospel. Yet so rarely does this rich resource of prayer enter into the homily.
The great Carmelite scholar on the psalms, Roland Murphy, sounds a pertinent note with his comment, ‘One cannot pray what one does not understand’, yet the beauty of the psalms is caught in the article above. There is a psalm for everything from birth when we were placed in our mother’s arms (Ps 131:2) to sleep (Ps 63:5-8).
The Word of God and faith
The proper human response to the God who speaks is faith; this is the work of the Holy Spirit opening our minds and hearts enabling an understanding of the word of God present in sacred scripture. The preaching of the divine word gives rise to faith. The whole history of salvation progressively demonstrates the profound bond between the word of God and the faith which rises from an encounter with Christ. This encounter is with a person to whom we entrust our whole life.
On a personal level
To return to a psalm, 34:8 says ‘taste and see’ not ‘think and see’. ‘All real living is meeting’ (Buber). Human faith and religious faith have much in common except for their goal or object. The wrong paths of division when they arose as they so often did, occurred when we make the object of religious faith ideas or doctrines instead of a person.
Our faith is not one governed by the veracity of dogmas or moral opinions, but a faith that makes accessible the ultimate reality/God/Jesus, who, we know, loves us unconditionally, forgives us completely, and has promised us that we do not have to fear because God is with us (Emmanuel). Ongoing conversion is a lifetime of work rather than a presumption on easy-going forgiveness.
Therefore when we give the right priority to the person of Jesus, Christ Jesus remains present today in our history, in his body which is the Church; so our act of faith is both personal and ecclesial.
How true it is that the only reason for leaving a church is that we cannot find Jesus in it; the converse is also true – the only reason for staying with a church is that we find Jesus Christ in its scriptures, sacraments, people, doctrines, dogmas, etc. In the realm of faith we have so often told people what to believe without helping them come to terms with the why and how of belief.
‘Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from Christ’ (Rom 10:17). The tragedy of sin in the scriptures is a refusal to hear the word, a breaking of the covenant and thus being closed to God who calls us into communion. The root of sin lies in a refusal to hear the word of the Lord and accept the forgiveness that opens us to salvation.