December 23, 2010

Verbum Domini: Introduction

The Holy Father's "supreme and fundamental priority", as Dr. Michael Barber highlighted in a recent article, is "(l)eading men and women to...the God who speaks in the Bible." On September 30, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave us the "post-synodal apostolic exhortation" titled "Verbum Domini" (or "The Word of the Lord").

This is an important new document on Scripture, and, so, in the new year, I invite you to read through it with me, chapter by chapter. Let's whet our appetites by reviewing the introduction.

What is it?

Verbum Domini, or "The Word of the Lord", is a "post-synodal" document. This means it follows a synod - a council of bishops that discusses an issue and advises the Pope and, through him, the whole Church. Verbum Domini comes after the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that met from October 5-26, 2008. Their theme - the topic they met to discuss - was "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church".

This document is an "apostolic exhortation". The Pope in his role as successor to St. Peter, the visible head of the Church, is exhorting us to do something. What? We'll spend the first weeks of the new year exploring that in detail; in brief, he wants to "make know to the whole People of God the rich fruits which emerged from the synodal sessions" and "point out certain fundamental approaches to the rediscovery of God's word in the life of the Church".

Difficult Passages

I encourage you to read the whole document along with me. I'll try to pick out any particularly technical passages or those with terms you may not have encountered, and explain the meaning.

For example, in the introduction, the Holy Father writes: "From this kerygmatic standpoint, the synodal assembly was a testimony, before the Church and before the world, to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God in the communion of the Church." Let's break that down:
  • The previous sentence sheds some light; the pope writes: "Called to communion with God and among ourselves, we must proclaim this gift" (the word of eternal life)."Kerygma" means "preaching" or "proclamation", so "From this kerygmatic standpoint" refers to the call to proclaim the gift of life; we might say, instead, "From the standpoint of preaching (rather than teaching)".
  • We know that the "synodal assembly" is the assembly of bishops called to discuss "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church". 
  • "We are called to communion with God and among ourselves," so the "communion of the Church" refers to the faithful joined as one body (Romans 12:5) by the sacraments [790-791].
We might rephrase that sentence - albeit imperfectly - as: "From the standpoint of preaching, this assembly of bishops was a testimony before the word to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God as a united Church." When we come together at Mass, we hear the written Word of God preached and receive the incarnate Word of God in the Eucharist. The Christian faith is not something to be practiced alone; "just me and my Bible" was never the plan.

Christ's Revelation

In this introduction, the Holy Father reminds us that everything Christ did was ordered to revealing God more fully to us. "(H)is words and works, signs and miracles, but above all his death and resurrection from the dead, and finally his sending of the Spirit of truth" were involved in achieving the perfect revelation of God.

Near the end of the introduction, Pope Benedict XVI writes that he "would like the work of the Synod to have a real effect on the life of the Church; on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures..." Christ perfectly revealed the infinite God to us. We can study God's revelation for our whole lives and never fully explore and understand it. We can continue to bring the Word of God more and more into our lives. That well will never run dry (John 4:13-14). That's exciting! If we continue to study the Word of God, we will never be bored; there will always be something new to learn.

The Greatest Priority

What does the Pope say is the greatest priority? It is "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." How do we encounter God? One way is through the written Word of God - sacred Scripture. I suspect this will be a main focus of Verbum Domini, as we read through it together.

If you want to make a great new year's resolution, why not prioritize with the Holy Father? Make a resolution to "encounter..the God who speaks to us and shares his love". You can encounter Him in prayer, at Mass, especially in the Eucharist - and in Scripture, as we explore the gift Pope Benedict XVI gave us in this exhortation.

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