Tuesday, March 03, 2020 - Updated: 1:18 pm
On Jan. 26, the universal church celebrated the Sunday of the Word of God for the first time. This celebration was instituted by Pope Francis last September through a special document titled “Aperuit Illis.” The Latin words come from the opening lines of St. Luke’s Gospel: “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
According to Pope Francis, this new celebration is to be devoted to “the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” The importance of the Bible is to be emphasized and reflected on as a most essential aspect of our Christian identity. The Holy Father, wishing to underscore the importance of refocusing on the word of God for Catholics, also declared 2020 as the Year of the Word of God.
For some reason, American Catholics are generally viewed as not knowing the Bible. Over time, it seems some people wear this label like a badge of honor. If it is true that American Catholics are not familiar with the Bible, it casts a shadow on our parish and school programs for ongoing faith formation. We encounter the word of God at the sacred liturgy of the Eucharist and in all of our sacraments. However, a personal encounter with the word of God is a necessity for growing in faith.
The church was the first to establish what is now regarded as the Bible. How then can we explain not being “people of the book” as we ought to be? Perhaps the dwindling numbers in our pews is also a reflection on a religious people who did not grow in faith. This happens when we go through the motions of religious traditions without a personal experience of the divine. One of the ways to experience the divine is to engage and live the word of God fully.
Calling attention to the word of God has increased in the church through many ministries, theologians and even the creation of online sites and apps to help us get closer to sacred Scripture. Such resources include Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire, Dr. Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the Formed Daily community and many more that are available to everyone.
In “Aperuit Illis,” Pope Francis urgently called every Catholic to a renewal, a new encounter and engagement with Jesus in sacred Scripture. Among other things, the Holy Father stated, “The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth.”
“Regular reading of sacred Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist make it possible for us to see ourselves as part of one another,” he said. “For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, struck as we are by so many forms of blindness … the Scriptures teach with a view to salvation through faith in Christ, the truths contained therein are profitable for our salvation. Everything is directed to this purpose and essential to the very nature of the Bible, which takes shape as a history of salvation in which God speaks and acts in order to encounter all men and women and to save them from evil and death.”
Lent offers each of us an opportunity to explore the sacred book to learn its structure and how God continues to act in the unfolding drama of the eternal redemption of all creatures. It may be worthwhile to find a good Bible study group for the season of Lent, making it part of your Lenten journey. I encourage families to read and pray with the Bible daily, especially through the practice of lectio divina, a method of meditative reflection on Scripture.
There are various Catholic study Bibles and programs designed to guide biblical study. As you engage the Bible, you come across different issues that will prompt questions. Always seek out qualified people among clergy and lay leaders in your faith community to get clarification.
The celebration of the Year of the Word of God is a gift from Pope Francis to help us jumpstart an incredible journey of faith by immersing ourselves in the word of God. A wise elderly priest told me a long time ago: “John, sometimes life will ask you very difficult questions. The only place the answer is already provided before the question is ever asked is in the word of God!”
I join the Holy Father and ask you to enter into a relationship with Jesus in his words. Own a Bible, read the Bible, pray with the Bible and get to know the Bible. As you begin to grow in the word, become an apostle of the Bible. Be one of those who will help reignite and reinsert the Bible into the heart of our beautiful Catholic faith, where it has always been.
Father Odeyemi is a parochial vicar in the Pittsburgh parish grouping in Greenfield/Hazelwood/Oakland.