Listening and Looking Towards Heaven

Author: Vincenzo Paglia

Listening and Looking Towards Heaven

Vincenzo Paglia
Bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, President of the Catholic Biblical Federation

From the President of the Catholic Biblical Foundation

Just over 40 years after the Second Vatican Council it can be said that the hope to make the Sacred Scriptures the heart and soul of the spiritual and pastoral life of the ecclesial communities has not been disappointed.

Indeed, since then an extraordinary process to regain possession of the Scriptures by the entire ecclesial community has begun and its profound effects on the life of the Christian People are visible.

The ecumenical movement itself finds in the renewed attention to the Bible a favourable terrain for dialogue — see the reference "Word of God and ecumenism".

In the Catholic Church we can say that a true and proper "biblical movement" has developed which, unlike that which preceded the Second Vatican Council, has involved every context of the Church's life. Even just a quick glance at the magisterial texts on Sacred Scripture reveals the extraordinary headway made in comparison with the previous centuries.

Twenty years after Dei Verbum, in presenting the Pontifical Biblical Commission's document on the interpretation of the Bible, John Paul II said: "It is a cause of joy to see the Bible taken up by the lowly and the poor who can give its interpretation and actualization a more penetrating light, from the spiritual and existential viewpoint, than that which stems from a science that is sure of itself".

The Synod of Bishops on the Word of God turned out to be a chairòs in this context, a true moment of grace. The 54 Propositiones voted by the Synod Fathers, that the Pope wished to have published straight away, record both the enriching journey made in these post-conciliar decades, and testify to the lively Synodal discussion from which noteworthy theological and pastoral perspectives emerged.

Obviously, we are all awaiting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation in order to enthusiastically welcome what the Holy Father wishes to tell the Church.

However, it should be noted that in recent months there have already been many initiatives in various parts of the world concerned with presenting the Synod's work in particular through the beautiful concluding message. Expectation is growing as to what the Holy Father will tell us, so that the Word of God may more deeply inspire the life and mission of the Church on the various continents.

In this regard it seems to me that it is important to emphasize one observation that could affect the quality of a new phase in acquiring a fuller knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures by the People of God.

To tell the truth, Benedict XVI has been pointing out for some time that the Word of God must be received as the "source" of spiritual and pastoral life. In his Homilies in particular, the Pope makes the Word of God the source and heart of the message he wishes to transmit. This perspective should reverse the often widespread attitude whereby a person does not focus on the Word of God and what it suggests but rather concentrates on his/her own thoughts and outlook, for which in any case he/she may well be seeking "confirmation" in the Bible.

The Scriptures are not a cudgel with which to beleaguer our ideas. Rather they are the inspiring source of our own life, thoughts and pastoral action.

I recall a small and significant episode of this tendency that gives us food for thought. Having finished composing a pastoral letter, a Bishop forwarded the typescript to an exegete, asking him: "be kind enough to add some beautiful biblical sentence".

The Sacred Scriptures are not a prop for our spiritual and pastoral life, they must be its inspiration.

The Bishops showed this very clearly during the discussions at the Synod. And this is also the experience that stems from the Catholic Biblical Federation — which is commemorating its 40th anniversary this year — which has generously and effectively promoted "the biblical pastoral apostolate" in the different countries of the world. The results have been truly extraordinary. However this fruitful work is an incentive to start out with determination towards a new goal, in other words, to move on from what we call the "biblical pastoral apostolate" to the "biblical inspiration of all pastoral action".

This was in fact what the Second Vatican Council hoped. That the Sacred Scriptures might be the "soul" of the Church's life and mission, their source; their origin and inspiration.

This can be deduced, among other things, from the incipit of Dei Verbum itself: "Hearing the Word of God with reverence, and proclaiming it with faith" (n. 1).

In commenting on these words, Joseph Ratzinger, then a young theologian, said that the essence of the Church could not be expressed better: a community entirely open, "towards Heaven...", whose "full essence is summed up in the act of listening, the only act from which its proclamation can derive".

At the beginning of this millennium the Synod of Bishops has returned to recalling this ancient and ever new truth, listening to Scripture as a source of the wisdom and the power of the Church. In the first millennium of Christian history this centrality was exemplary: Bishops and monks, pastors and the faithful felt that Scripture was, as it were, the pulsating heart of their entire existence, their spiritual, theological, pastoral, family and ecclesial life.

Well, what the Synod of Bishops has decided to do is to impel everyone to consider the Sacred Scriptures as the source that nourishes life.

The Fathers of the Church often presented the Word of God as a fountain from which all could draw water. St Ephrem the Syrian, to give just one example, compared the Bible to a fountain to which each one could go to draw water without it ever running dry. And the water left in the fountain is always more than anyone is able to carry away. In fact, the Bible continues to be a fountain of wisdom for those who do not believe, but enough water remains for the life of all the peoples.

The ineffable circularity that binds the Word of God, the Church and the Liturgy, remains the prerequisite for approaching this source. It is a great responsibility for the Church at the beginning of this millennium.

Benedict XVI, in his Homily for the conclusion of the Synod said: "the privileged place where the Word of God resounds, which edifies the Church... is undoubtedly the Liturgy. This is where it appears that the Bible is a book of the people and for the people: a heritage, a testament consigned to readers so that the salvation history witnessed in the text becomes concrete in their own lives... the Bible remains a living Book with the people — its subject — who read it. The people cannot exist without the Book, because in it they find their reason for being, their vocation and their identity" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 29 October 2008, p. 4).

The renewed encounter with the Word of God will empower our communities to communicate the way of salvation to men and women at the beginning of this millennium.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
9 September 2009, page 9

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069