Verbum Domini is Masterful, Mystical, and Missionary. What is clear from beginning to end is that the current occupant of the Chair of Peter is a theologian of the highest order. He must have delighted his many students as "Professor Ratzinger". This exhortation gives us all a chance to join them and be taught by this extraordinary Pope. With the skills of an excellent teacher, Pope Benedict XVI takes the reader through one of the finest presentations of the Catholic teaching on the Sacred Scripture I have read.
Pope Benedict XVI carrying the Book of the Gospels
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - "Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 September, the Memorial of St. Jerome, in the year 2010, the sixth of my Pontificate". With these words, Pope Benedict XVI ends his new Apostolic Exhortation "Verbum Domini" (the Word of the Lord). It is addressed to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful and considers "the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church". It was released on Thursday, November 11, 2010.
St. Jerome is the Patron of Scripture scholars. His translation of the Bible into Latin is still one of the greatest resources we have for studying sacred scripture. However, it was the Saint's intimate love for the Living Word, Jesus Christ, which characterized and informed his entire life and ministry. Among the many quotes we often hear from him is that "ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ". Clearly, Pope Benedict XVI agrees.
I spent several hours prayerfully receiving this wonderful exhortation and barely scratched the surface really reading it the way it deserves. I know that I will return to it over and over again. It is not yet released in book form. However, it will be very soon. It has been released by the Vatican and can be read in its entirety here. I printed it out, punched holes in each page, placed it in a three ring notebook and prayed my way through it. I intend to keep it next to my "prayer chair" where I pray the Office and spend time with the Lord every morning. I encourage my readers to do the same. It is a Feast!
Verbum Domini is Masterful, Mystical, and Missionary. I use each of these words to describe this apostolic exhortation not simply for the alliteration but because they accurately reflect the profundity of this instruction. What is clear from beginning to end is that the current occupant of the Chair of Peter is a theologian of the highest order. He must have delighted his many students as "Professor Ratzinger". This exhortation gives us all a chance to join them and be taught by this extraordinary Pope. With the skills of an excellent teacher, Pope Benedict XVI takes the reader through one of the finest presentations of the Catholic teaching on the Sacred Scripture I have ever read.
I write as someone who, through falling in love with the Word of God as a young man, found my way back into the heart of the Church. I have spent years pursuing a formal education in theology and am currently writing my PhD dissertation in Moral Theology. This apostolic exhortation is the finest summary of the Catholic understanding of the Sacred Scripture I have read. It will certainly become a manual for anyone studying theology. It is masterfully written and presented with a depth which only a skilled theologian and seasoned teacher could achieve. It is presented in a language which only a true pastor could achieve; someone who wants, above all else, for the faithful to fall in love with Jesus Christ and grow in their faith. Pope Benedict XVI presents the depth of Catholic teaching on the Word of God in an accessible language which can be read and understood by all to whom it is addressed. It is masterful!
It is also mystical; reflecting the depth of the interior life and relationship with the Lord which Pope Benedict XVI obviously has. Oh, I know he is the Vicar of Christ and it should come as no surprise that he has such a wonderful capacity to communicate the sacred truth of Divine Revelation. However, reading this beautiful exhortation one discovers that this is a man in love with the Living Word, Jesus Christ - and it is clear in how he writes.
He writes in the introduction, "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction." The Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini is his summary of - and response to - the 12th ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Bishops met during October of 2008 to consider the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." He tells the reader his goal and entrusts his inspired work to the patronage of the Beloved Disciple John in these words:
"With this Apostolic Exhortation I would like the work of the Synod to have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word. To accomplish this, I would like to present and develop the labors of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John's Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14). This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith".
"From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), "came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man". May John, who "saw and believed" (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf.Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church's sacraments. Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God."
After having read the exhortation I can say with absolute conviction, Pope Benedict XVI achieved his goal. I know I will return to this beautiful document over and over again in order to deepen my own relationship with Jesus, the Living Word. I will draw from its fountain of wisdom continually in order to more effectively communicate His love in my own work as a Deacon of the Church. As I read this apostolic exhortation I was reminded of my favorite definition of a theologian from Evagrius of Pontus, a monk of the early Church, a "theologian is one who rests his head on the breast of Christ".
The imagery clearly refers to the Apostle John, the author of the fourth Gospel, and the posture he assumed at the Last Supper. However, it also reveals the truth that it is only through a relationship with the Lord, what the Pope calls a "hermeneutic of faith", that we can approach the Word of God and encounter the Living Word. Pope Benedict XVI, like the Bleoved dsiciple John, rests his head on the breast of Christ, close to the heart of the Incarnate Word.
From that place of intimacy, this mystic Pope teaches us all the way to live our lives immersed in and transformed by the Word of God in this exhortation. Drawing repeatedly from John's Gospel, the Fathers of the Church, the best of the medieval masters of the West and the treasury of the Tradition, Pope Benedict XVI gives the finest short course on the Word of God, the Bible, Sacred Scripture, which I have ever encountered. This apostolic exhortation is destined to become one of the mandatory sources for studying Sacred Scripture for decades to come.
Finally, this apostolic exhortation is a missionary resource. It is a manual for the new missionary age and the New Evangelization, both of which are mentioned. The Pope concludes this 194 page mini-course on the Bible with a stirring missionary charge: "I remind all Christians that our personal and communal relationship with God depends on our growing familiarity with the word of God. Finally, I turn to every man and woman, including those who have fallen away from the Church, who have left the faith or who have never heard the proclamation of salvation. To everyone the Lord says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. " (Rev 3:20).
"May every day of our lives thus be shaped by a renewed encounter with Christ, the Word of the Father made flesh: he stands at the beginning and the end, and "in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Let us be silent in order to hear the Lord's word and to meditate upon it, so that by the working of the Holy Spirit it may remain in our hearts and speak to us all the days of our lives. In this way the Church will always be renewed and rejuvenated, thanks to the word of the Lord which remains for ever (cf. 1 Pet 1:25;Is 40:8). Thus we too will enter into the great nuptial dialogue which concludes sacred Scripture: "The Spirit and the bride say: 'Come'. And let everyone who hears say: 'Come!' " The one who testifies to these things, says: 'Surely I am coming soon!'. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! ". (Rev 22:17,20).
As a Deacon of the Church I have the privilege of carrying the Book of the Gospels into the assembly and proclaiming it at Holy Mass, the Divine Liturgy. After the proclamation, if I am using Latin, I say or chant "Verbum Domini" and the faithful respond "Laus tibi Christe" (Praise to you Christ). That is the only fitting response to this spectacular Apostolic Exhortation. "Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ for giving us your living word and the gift of the teaching office of your Church!" Verbum Domini: the Theologian Pope has given us a Masterful Exhortation on the Living Word of God so that we can become living words, spreading the "aroma of Christ" (2 Cor. 2:15) in a world waiting to be born.
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