Benedict with JPII before and Francis after

By Mike James

Editorial Catholic Standard Guyana 6 January 2023

Analysts of the life of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have tended to contrast his intellectual and theological brilliance with the charism of John Paul II on the one hand and the unwavering commitment to justice and the poor of Francis on the other.

But there is one major aspect of Catholic faith and practice in which these three Popes coincide, and with which the focus of Pope Benedict is the most profound and striking: the Vital Centrality of Jesus Christ, the Word of God in the Life of the Church.

Here are a few quotations from the POPE ST JOHN PAUL II on the Word of God:

“True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.” – 9 November 1996, Vatican 50th Anniversary of his Priestly Ordination

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the whole world more human and more fraternal.”

“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not now bear with us.

 In Sacred Scripture creation is also often linked to the divine Word which breaks in and acts:  «By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth…. He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth…. He sends forth his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly» (Ps 33: 6, 9; 147: 15). In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament it is divine Wisdom personified that brings forth the universe, conducting the plan God has in mind (cf. Prv 8: 22-31). It has been said that in God’s Word and Wisdom John and Paul saw the foretelling of the action of Christ «from whom are all things and for whom we exist» (1 Cor 8: 6), because it is «through [Christ] also [that God] created the world» (Heb 1: 2). JP II, GENERAL AUDIENCE Vatican 26 January 2000

POPE FRANCIS in his practical, down to earth style established the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 22 January this year as the Sunday of the Word of God to be “devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God” in every Catholic church in the world.

He invites local communities to find ways to “mark this Sunday with a certain solemnity.” He suggests that the sacred text be enthroned during the Mass “in order to focus the attention of the assembly on the normative value of God’s Word.” In highlighting the proclamation of the Word of the Lord, it would be appropriate “to emphasize in the homily the honour that it is due,” writes the Pope.

“Pastors can also find ways of giving a Bible, or one of its books, to the entire assembly as a way of showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with Sacred Scripture.”

The Bible is not meant for a privileged few, continues Pope Francis. It belongs “to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words.” The Bible cannot be monopolized or restricted to select groups either, he writes, because it is “the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity.”

“Pastors are primarily responsible for explaining Sacred Scripture and helping everyone to understand it,” writes Pope Francis. Which is why the homily possesses “a quasi-sacramental character.”  The Pope warns against improvising or giving “long, pedantic homilies or wandering off into unrelated topics.”

The timing of the document is significant: 30 September is the Feast of Saint Jerome, the man who translated most of the Bible into Latin, and who famously said: «Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ». 

Recalling the importance given by the Second Vatican Council to rediscovering Sacred Scripture for the life of the Church, Pope Francis says he wrote this Apostolic Letter in response to requests from the faithful around the world to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God.

 POPE BENEDICT XVI in 2008 called a Synod of the Church’s bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. He published his post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Letter on the theme on 30 September 2010, Feast of St Jerome 

Here is a selection of quotes from his “Verbum Domini

Let the Bible inspire all pastoral activity 

Along these lines the Synod called for a particular pastoral commitment to emphasizing the centrality of the word of God in the Church’s life, and recommended a greater “biblical apostolate”, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work” This does not mean adding a meeting here or there in parishes or dioceses, but rather of examining the ordinary activities of Christian communities, in parishes, associations and movements, to see if they are truly concerned with fostering a personal encounter with Christ, who gives himself to us in his word. Since “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (St Jerome), making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach will lead to a greater awareness of the person of Christ, who reveals the Father and is the fullness of divine revelation. (No 73)

Sacred liturgy: “I encourage the Church’s pastors and all engaged in pastoral work to see that all the faithful learn to savor the deep meaning of the word of God which unfolds each year in the liturgy, revealing the fundamental mysteries of our faith” (No. 52).

The homily: “The homily is part of the liturgical action and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. […] For this reason, preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion” (No. 59).

Celebrations of the Word of God: “The synod fathers encouraged all pastors to promote times devoted to the celebration of the word in the communities entrusted to their care. These celebrations are privileged occasions for an encounter with the Lord. This practice will certainly benefit the faithful and should be considered an important element of liturgical formation” (No. 65).

Lectio Divina: “The documents produced before and during the Synod mentioned a number of methods for a faith-filled and fruitful approach to sacred Scripture. Yet the greatest attention was paid to Lectio Divina, which is truly capable of opening to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God” (No. 87).

Our three most recent popes all, and especially Pope Benedict XVI put great emphasis 0n the role of the Word of God in the life of our Church. In that they echo and maintain the tradition of the Church highlighted in the key document of the II Vatican Council Dei Verbum Constitution in 1965 in which the following were reaffirmed and highlighted:

“This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2)” (7).

“Therefore, both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (9).

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