11/12/2010, 00.00
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"Verbum Domini" welcoming the Word of God to proclaim to those who do not believe

by Bernardo Cervellera
An extensive post-synodal exhortation on the Word of God A tool to renew the life of the faithful and of the community to help rediscover a commitment to mission to non-Christians and the secular post-Christian world. The most important document of the Church on the Holy Scriptures, after of Vatican II’s Dei Verbum. A link to the full text.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - With one eye on people who do not yet know the Gospel (mission ad gentes) and another on those belonging to a secularized post-Christian world, Benedict XVI yesterday published his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord) , two years after the synod of bishops dedicated to "The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church."

According to some analysts, the massive volume (almost 200 pages) is the most important Church document on the Holy Scriptures, since the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum. In it the steady hand of the simple yet profound theologian, Ratzinger is clearly visible.  He has not produced a bureaucratic document, but a real book for meditation, a tool capable of renewing the life of Christians starting from a greater familiarity, knowledge, reading and praying, of the Bible. In some places there are even suggestions on how to implement this meditation (lectio divina, n.. 86-87), how to prepare a homily (No. 59), how to foster silence (n. 66).

Although published on November 11, the document is dated September 30, Memorial of St. Jerome, scholar and translator of the Bible into Latin (Vulgate), quoted abundantly by the pope for his faith in the close bond between the written Word of God and the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

Benedict XVI, taking as his reference the Prologue of John's Gospel ("The Word was made flesh"), divides Verbum Domini into three sections.

The first, entitled "Verbum Dei ", highlights the Trinitarian dimension of Christian revelation, stressing that the Christian God used "human words" to communicate to men; that the Word of God is not "a written and mute word" but that of God made man. There are also sublime passages on the Word of God who communicates himself in the created universe, that unites the deep beauty and dignity of all that exists and the great thirst for the absolute that exists in the hearts of all men (see n.8-10) .

The text then moves on to the " unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty " of the Word of God made man, Jesus Christ, who communicates with his life the very life of God, until the "silence of the cross” and resurrection.

Against all mythical reduction, the Pope states that the word of God is a "person" and against all private reduction he states the word of God can only be understood within the Church's living tradition. For this reason, he warns against two dangers in reading the Scriptures, that of secularism, which sees in the Bible only historical records of the past, without any present relevance and that of fundamentalist spiritualisation of the meaning of scriptures- practiced by various Protestant sects - which threatens literalism without the use of reason (see nos. 34-36). As a model for a fruitful reading of the Word of God (and a sound interpretation), the pope lists several saints, including Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Calcutta, the martyrs of Nazism and communism (see paragraph 48).

The second section, "in Ecclesia Verbum" explains the vitality of the Word of God in the life of the Church, stressing the importance of the liturgy of the word, the Eucharist, the Psalms, meditation, silence as a means of encounter between what God says to man and what man says to God. Benedict XVI does not fail to give suggestions for hymns (by retrieving the Gregorian chant), on church architecture, the structure of the altar and and apse, on ways in which homilies must be prepared. Honour for the Word of God is also obtained by making it known to and studied and loved by the faithful and of all vocations in the Church, consecrated and married.

Benedict XVI suggests prayers like the rosary, the Angelus, Eastern prayers such as the Akathist Paraklesis, which help to ponder the mysteries of Christ's life (No. 88) and gives ample space to the value of pilgrimages to the Holy Land the places where Jesus lived. Together with the Synod Fathers, he thanks the Christians of that land, subject to enormous difficulties and defines the Holy Land, "the fifth Gospel" (n. 89).

The third section, "Verbum Mundo", highlights the wide range of Christian’s mission, "recipients" but also "messengers" of the Word of God: by taking part in the salvation and the hope offered by Christ, they spread through word and witness the "Logos of Hope": " We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. Everyone today, whether he or she knows it or not, needs this message"(see No. 91).

The Pope emphasizes that the Word of God is "disruptive" and not just "comforting" (No. 93), which implies an explicit proclamation of the mission, not just a "suggesting shared values to the world" (n. 98).

Benedict XVI thanks " Christians who have not yielded in the face of obstacles and even persecutions for the sake of the Gospel", especially in Asia and Africa, and asks everyone to raise their voice so " the governments of nations guarantee everyone freedom of conscience and religion "(n. 98). He also calls for increased efforts to witness of the faithful in those nations, "a once rich in faith" that "are losing their identity under the influence of a secularized culture" (No. 96-97).

Closley linked to the theme of announcing the Gospel, are pages devoted to dialogue with various religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and traditional religions. In the first part of the pontiff had already stressed the importance of reading the Old Hebrew Testament and recognizing "the authority of the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people" (No. 40), even here, the pope emphasizes the close relationship between Christianity and Judaism (No. 117). Contrary to what some media reports have claimed, Pope Benedict XVI does not condemn the relationship with Islam, but it evaluates it asking members of all religions to work to ensure " authentic respect for each person and the ability of all freely to practise their religion"(No. 120).

The final paragraphs are a call to Christians to embark on a mission ad gentes and a "new evangelization", in those places where the Gospel "suffers from indifference” and an invitation to those who are not Christian, or have drifted away from the church or faith, 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) (No 124).


For the full text of the Apostolic Exhortation, click here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini_en.pdf

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