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Tuesday, October 24, 2017
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Led by the Spirit

God's Word to Man

by Fr. Rufus Pereira

"This is the Word of the Lord!" That's how the Lector concludes the reading or proclamation of the Scripture Text at Mass, or, to use a more faithful translation of the Hebrew, "This is God speaking". For God our Father who is in heaven comes down lovingly to meet his children on earth and communicates or talks constantly with them, bring them the light of his revelation and offering them a participation in his own divine life, formerly in various ways (Heb. 1:1,2), but now in and through his own Son, who is God's Word to man, for "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). That is why Peter could cry out to him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" (John 6:68). He in his turn would send the Holy Spirit from the Father, to teach the Church, the Body of Christ, everything and to remind her of all that Jesus had said (John 14:26). What then should be our attitude to God's Word to us?

The Word of God must be heard and read with reverence:

A striking declaration made by The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum of 1965) is: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, ... partaking of the bread of life, ... from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ (DV21). ... Just as from the constant attendance at the Eucharistic Mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God" (DV26). That is why Dei Verbum encourages us to be familiar with the sacred text itself, treasuring it and pondering it in our hearts - as Mary did (Luke 2:19).

We need to listen to its proclamation, for faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). If one is not a hearer of the Word of God in his own heart, he can easily become an empty preacher of the Word of God to others. We need to read it silently, interiorizing it, not just for knowledge and messages but for a new encounter with the Lord and for faith in his promises. We need to read it prayerfully, for we speak to him when we pray just as we listen to him when we read the divine revelations. Frequent reading of the scriptures is necessary for, as St. Jerome has said, "Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

The Word of God must be our home and our daily bread:

It is Peter that reminds his flock, "Your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting Word of the living and eternal God" (1 Peter 1:23). We need to accept it like a seed that is sown, not in hard pathways or shall or week growing soil, but in rich soil that will allow that seed, so tiny and ugly and seemingly dead, to grow into a mighty explosion of spiritual life and bear fruit a hundredfold (Mark 4:14).

Born anew through the Word of God, we should therefore also live by the Word. It was in rebuttal to the temptation of the devil that Jesus replied, "Man does not live by bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4, Deut. 8:3). He obviously referred to the Word of God as our daily food too, when he told his disciples that they should pray like this: "Give us today our daily Bread" (Mt. 5:9,11). Jeremiah had anticipated this prayer when he spoke to God, "When your words come, I devoured them. Your Word was my delight and the joy of my heart" (Jer. 15:16). How admirably then has the Church, mother and teacher, broken and given us this Daily Bread through the skillfully planned Lectionary of the Mass!

Jesus furthermore said to those who believed in him, "You will indeed be my disciples if you make my Word your home, for it is from my Word that you will learn the truth that will make you free" (John 8:31,32). This means that we should immerse ourselves in the Scriptures by constant reading and diligent study. Paul would on the other hand echo and complement this statement when he wrote to the believers, "Let the Word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you (Col. 3:16). In his farewell discourse, Jesus would combine both these two beautiful insights of us dwelling in his Word and of his Word dwelling in us, when he promised his disciples, "If you remain in me (the Word) and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it (John 15:7).

The Word of God must enlighten our minds and penetrate our hearts:

Again, the Word of God is looked upon by the Psalmist as "a lamp to my feet, a light on my path" (Ps. 119:105), necessary to discern God's will in every major life situation and thus receive his guidance. But it is regarded at the same time by Scripture as "living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword; judging our secret thoughts, emotions and attitudes" (Heb. 4:12). Thus the words of Peter on Pentecost Day cut his hearers to the heart prompting them to ask, "Brothers, what must we do?" (Acts 2:37). And 3000 of them accepted his word and were baptized (Acts 2:37,41). Therefore Paul charges us to "take the Word of God to use as a sword given by the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17). In the Old Testament God describes his Word even more strongly than being just a light and a sword. "Does not my Word burn like fire? Is it not like hammer shattering a rock?" (Jer. 23:29; cfr Luke 24:32).

The Word of God is both effective and also needs to become operative:

Already in the Old Testament God had assured his beloved Israel that "the Word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55:11). For example, "He sent forth his Word - and healed them" (Ps. 107:20). And toward the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus assured his chosen ones, the little flock, the New Israel, "Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away" (Mt. 24:35), reminding us what the prophet had said earlier, "The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of God remains forever" (Isaiah 40:8), and what the apostle would say later, "The Word of the Lord, which is nothing else but the Good News that has been brought to you, remains forever" (1 Peter 1:25).

On the other hand, at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mouth, Jesus had this declaration to make, "Everyone who comes to me and listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who has laid the foundations of his house on rock" (Mt. 7:24; Luke 6:47). James will later on echo these words of Jesus by his practical admonition, "But you must do what the word tells you and not merely listen to it and deceive yourselves" (James 1:22).

The Word of God is to be proclaimed with authority, power and love:

Finally, it is the Word of God that is the Tool of Evangelization (EN), for after having read and listened to that Word with prayerful attention and having lived and shared it in joyful fellowship, we should then spread it around by proclamation, action and witness - know it, live it and tell it (Acts 2:42-47). God's Word must be proclaimed always, Paul is convinced (2 Tim. 4:2), with himself being punished if he did not preach the Good News (1 Cor. 9:16). However, he warns his flock that there must be "no offering the Word of God for sale, nor being reticent about it, or watering it down, or ashamed of it or deceitful about it" (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2), but he congratulates them, "You will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the Word of Life" (Phil. 2:15,16).

God's Word needs to be used both with power to rebuke evil and to free the oppressed, as Jesus did in the synagogue with the evil spirit, "Be quiet! Come out of him" (Mark 1:25), as also with compassion to comfort the broken hearted and to assure the sinner, as Jesus did in the house with the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). God's Word is to be attested above all by one's personal witness. When Jesus commanded his apostles to love one another, but in the manner he has loved them (that is why he calls it a new commandment), he at once declares, "By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples" (John 12:35).

Fr. Rufus Pereira

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