I was pleased that the final propositions of the recently concluded Synod on the New Evangelization included something about Scripture. The first mention is in Proposition 9 where the Synod fathers recommend the composition of an instructional book for training evangelists. They propose that this book contain, “Systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic Church.” The “kerygma” is a favorite word of the synod and it refers to the core message of the Gospel, the essential truth about the life of Jesus that ought to be proclaimed whenever the Gospel is proclaimed.
The synod’s Proposition 11 is all about Scripture:
Proposition 11 : NEW EVANGELIZATION AND THE PRAYERFUL READING OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
God has communicated himself to us in his Word made flesh. This divine Word, heard and celebrated in the Liturgy of the Church, particularly in the Eucharist, strengthens interiorly the faithful and renders them capable of authentic evangelical witness in daily life. The Synod Fathers desire that the divine word “be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity” (Verbum Domini, 1). The gate to Sacred Scripture should be open to all believers. In the context of the New Evangelization every opportunity for the study of Sacred Scripture should be made available. The Scripture should permeate homilies, catechesis and every effort to pass on the faith.
In consideration of the necessity of familiarity with the Word of God for the New Evangelization and for the spiritual growth of the faithful, the Synod encourages dioceses, parishes, small Christian communities to continue serious study of the Bible and Lectio Divina, the — the prayerful reading of the Scriptures (cf. Dei Verbum, 21-22).
These guidelines from the synod fathers are not necessarily surprising. Rather, they re-emphasize themes from recent magisterial documents on the Bible, explicitly citing Dei Verbum (of Vatican II fame) and Verbum Domini (the most recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation penned by Benedict XVI). The proposition highlights the connection between the “Word made flesh” and the Bible itself, emphasizing their identity and difference. The “divine Word” is the Scripture, yes, more so it is Jesus himself. In the context of the New Evangelization, the synod teaches here that Scripture strengthens the faithful and is an essential component in spiritual growth. Also, they emphasize the centrality of Scripture to the teaching and preaching that goes on in the life of the Church. And, just as if they were intending to warm a CatholicBibleStudent’s heart, they insist twice that study, and even serious study of Sacred Scripture should be part and parcel of what the Church does in her daily life and in promotion of the New Evangelization. The mention of “small Christian communities” is interesting. The phrase shows up here and in Proposition 42. I think it refers to any kind of small group that meets within a parish or movement, but I wonder if it is inspired by the kinds of ideas in a book by Stephen Clark called Building Christian Communities. There’s a bit more about Catholic Small Chrisitian Communities on CatholicCulture.org. Lastly, the synod fathers recommend the prayerful reading of Scripture, Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina has been a consistent theme over the past few years in magisterial documents, most notably in in Verbum Domini. I hope that Catholics are able to take it to heart. I think though that since there is not an agreed upon structure for it apart from monastic traditions that it will be hard for most lay Catholics to practice. Some clear instructions on how to do it would be helpful. All in all, I’m happy the synod took time to talk about Scripture in its final propositions. We’ll see how much of this makes it into Benedict’s next post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
Dr. Ralph Martin, a Catholic theologian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, just gave an interview to Catholic News Service about the New Evangelization. He is serving as an expert at the synod in Rome right now. Very interesting stuff…here’s the video:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'” Zech 8:23 ESV
As I read this passage, I was struck by the image. I mean, can you imagine ten men of the nations clinging to the robe of every Christian saying “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you”? And yet, this is how evangelization is supposed to work. Our lives should so resemble the life of Christ, be so filled with the Holy Spirit and the existential reality of faith that everyone around us should have same phrase on their lips because they notice that “God is with us.” So often, our experience fails to measure up to what Watchman Nee liked to call the Normal Christian Life. But I do think that if we truly walk in the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of the Gospel, our lives will be noticeably different. And the difference won’t only be that we don’t accept society’s hedonistic mores or don’t use contraception–the difference will be shown by our comportment, our joy, our hope, our Christ-like-ness. Then people will notice that God is with us and they will ask to “go with us” to his kingdom.