by Carol Glatz CNS – Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register
To help the Church grow in love and faithful witness to God, Pope Francis has declared the third Sunday in Ordinary Time to be dedicated to the word of God. This year, that Sunday falls on Jan. 26.
Salvation, faith, unity and mercy all depend on knowing Christ and sacred Scripture, Pope Francis said in a document released last fall.
Devoting a special day “to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God” will help the Church “experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world,” he said.
“The Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words,” Pope Francis wrote.
“The Bible was written for us, the people in the pews,” agreed Joan Watson, director of faith formation for the Diocese of Nashville. “You don’t need a doctorate in theology to read and understand it. It’s your book.”
That said, Watson realizes that it can be daunting to just pick up a Bible off the shelf and start reading. That’s why she has written three Bible study guides for people to use in parish small faith groups or on their own. Centered around the themes of discipleship, the parables, and mercy, the guides “are designed for the average person to pick up anytime” and assist them on a deeper dive into Scripture.
“The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division toward unity” as well as come to understand God’s love and become inspired to share it with others, Pope Francis wrote in the apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis,” which was released Sept. 30, 2019.
“The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians,” he wrote.
Without the Lord who opens people’s minds to his word, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth, yet “without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible,” Pope Francis wrote.
While Catholics are often stereotyped as not being familiar with Scripture, Watson says Catholics may know more than they think.
“We may not be able to quote chapter and verse, but if we go to Mass every week we hear so many Scripture readings – Old Testament, Psalms and New Testament – that we tend to know the context and the big picture.”
Still, there is room to read, study and pray along with the Bible beyond just listening to the readings at Sunday Mass.
“Today we have so many amazing resources at our fingertips,” Watson said.
Watson’s Bible study guides can be downloaded for free at www.dioceseofnashville.com/bible-study, and a number of other online resources are also available online for free or a low cost.
Watson encourages people to read the Sunday Mass reading ahead of time and to read daily Mass readings on their own.
The Psalms are also a good place to start, she said. “They are beautiful, and they can be consoling in difficult times.” They can be an accessible way to start praying with the Bible, to use “as the backbone of prayer,” she added.
Watson also suggests people use the ancient practice of “lectio divina,” which involves careful reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation of a chosen Scripture passage. “That can help us in our conversation with God,” and “see what God wants to say to us,” she said.
‘Hear his voice’
With his recent apostolic letter on engaging with the Word of God, the pope “invites us to hold the word of God in our hands every day as much as possible so that it becomes our prayer” and a greater part of one’s lived experience, he said.
Pope Francis said in the letter, “A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a yearlong event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers.”
“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,” he wrote.
Sacred Scripture and the sacraments are inseparable, he wrote. Jesus speaks to everyone with his word in sacred Scripture, and if people “hear his voice and open the doors of our minds and hearts, then he will enter our lives and remain ever with us,” he said.
Pope Francis urged priests to be extra attentive to creating a homily throughout the year that “speaks from the heart” and really helps people understand Scripture “through simple and suitable” language.
The homily “is a pastoral opportunity that should not be wasted. For many of our faithful, in fact, this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of God’s word and to see it applied to their daily lives,” he wrote.
The third Sunday in Ordinary Time falls during that part of the year when the Church is encouraged to strengthen its bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity. That means the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God “has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.”