Word Association

Christmas came early for me in 2010. My biggest present arrived, date-stamped from the Vatican, in my email in mid-November. It was Pope Benedict’s new missive, the apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (“The Word of the Lord”) — the most important magisterial document on Sacred Scripture in nearly half a century.

The Word of God is Pope Benedict’s highest priority, as he recently set it out for the world’s bishops: “Leading men and women to…the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time.”

And you can see that commitment in Verbum Domini. The text is huge — over 200 pages! — but I devoured it at once. And the more I read, the more excited I was to read more. It seems that on every page the Holy Father was affirming the work that you and I have been doing through the St. Paul Center. He noted that the Bible’s proper “home” is in the Church, and particularly in the liturgy. Haven’t we, for almost a decade, been urging people to “read the Bible from the heart of the Church” — meaning the Eucharistic heart?

He spoke of the unity of the whole Bible, Old Testament and New, and how that unity manifests itself through “typology” — the Old foreshadowing the New, and the New fulfilling the Old, according to God’s pattern for history? He spoke of the importance of the Bible’s historical truth. We’ve been saying all along that “critical” scholarship, properly used, does not invalidate the interpretations of the Fathers or the great doctors of the Middle Ages. It enhances them. He spoke also of consistency and development in the Church’s major statements on Sacred Scripture — especially the papal encyclicals. This, too, is what we’ve been emphasizing, against those who say that later popes contradict the earlier popes. If we follow the lead of the Vicar of Christ, we stay on a course “prudent and balanced” with our biblical studies.

By the time I got to article 75, I felt as if I’d been reading the St. Paul Center’s mission statement. But all that was ribbons and wrapping compared to what came next. The Holy Father dreamed aloud about “specialized institutes for biblical studies” that would provide formation for clergy and laity alike, passing on a completely biblical and completely Catholic way “to understand, live and proclaim the word of God.” Such formation, he said, is what “all Christians, and catechists in particular, need.” Reading Verbum Domini, I felt, on every page, as if His Holiness and I were singing from the same hymnal. But that’s not it. We were reading from the same Bible — the book where we find Jesus speaking through the New Testament writers to the whole Church — in the first century and the twenty-first.

What is it that we do at the St. Paul Center? Our mission is simple: Reading the Bible from the heart of the Church. You and I work together to promote “biblical literacy for all lay Catholics, and biblical fluency for clergy and teachers.” When I met with Pope Benedict last summer, he affirmed our work in person. Verbum Domini confirms that the methods we promote are indeed the Catholic way to read the Bible — always from the heart of the Church.

My prayer is that you and I will always be faithful to the way, and that we’ll heed the pontiff’s commission set forth so beautifully and clearly in Verbum Domini. Let’s make that our New Year’s resolution and our prayer for 2011.