On November 11, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI released his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord). This exhortation of the holy Father is his reflection on the 2008 Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which was devoted to “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church.” It was said that the purpose of the document was to communicate the results of the Synod; rediscover the Word of God as a source of constant ecclesial renewal; to promote the Bible among pastors; to help the faithful become witnesses of the Word of God; to support the new evangelization and ecumenical dialogue; and to foster ever greater love for the Word of God. Read the complete text of Verbum Domini.
As it ought, Verbum Domini builds upon Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) of Vatican II, but the emphasis here is not so much on how revelation has been transmitted through the life of the Church, but, rather, is on the most vital question itself; that is, how does the Christian and the Church more fully awaken the Word of God in their lives?
To answer this question Pope Benedict eloquently makes the case from the very beginning of the document that the ‘Word of God’ – the Logos of God, first and always, is not a book or anything written, rather the Word of God is first and always a person named Jesus Christ. Using the prologue of the Gospel of John Benedict animates the historic and ever-present encounter between God and man when the Son of God entered creation and took on flesh. It is at that historic moment that the Word of God had permanently become one with us. It is from that birth of the Logos of God into the world that love had made love possible. That is to say, that it is from that encounter that God had made holiness truly possible for humankind.
There are three points that Verbum Domini makes concerning the manner in which we partner with God in making his Logos fully alive in our own life and in the life of the Church. Below, I will draw from the words of the holy Father and some of what I have written in my books on Cooperating with God to answer the question, ‘How do we Cooperate with God through sacred Scripture’.
On The Three Ways:
We Cooperate with God through sacred Scripture (the Word of God) by experiencing it, receiving it, and proclaiming it. In fact, the total summation of the canon of sacred Scripture points to this tri-unity of cooperation. What I mean by that is that the Bible is full of stories of people who actually took the time to experience life with God; people who failed and got back up with his help. Inasmuch as all faithful Jews devoted themselves to the study of Scripture, they also understood that to Cooperate with God they had to leave the book and go be used by him.
It would boringly great if we could become holy people just by keeping our nose in the book and immersing ourselves in doctrine and the writings of saints, but everything that Scripture tells us is that to become holy we have go and allow God to use us; we have to carry our Cross to our own Mt. Calvary; we have to step out on faith; and none of that comes by the way of reading about other people’s experiences. Indeed, the path to sainthood is mystically tied to actually experiencing God in the Life with the Cross.
Throughout Scripture, from Adam, to Abram, to Moses, to Jesus, God has gone out of His way to lovingly communicate to us the fact that he wants to dwell with us – he wants to tabernacle and church with us – he wants to be with us where we are so that we might come be where he is. Verse after verse in the Old and New Testaments repeatedly emphasizes the fact that God’s definition of a quality relationship begins and ends with our free choice to receive Him into every aspect of our life.
Thirdly, we Cooperate with God through sacred Scripture by proclaiming it. What we proclaim when we evangelize the sacred Scripture is the Word of God, and the Word of God is the person Jesus Christ who himself proclaimed everything that his Father had given him to say. Therefore, the Word of God is complete – nothing needs to be added to it or taken away – it is fully sufficient for its purpose. Included in our proclamation of the Word of God is the story of what God has done in our own life through his Son. Again, one’s testimony is fully sufficient for its purpose – nothing needs to be added to it or taken away – it is simply a matter of actively proclaiming the work of God in your life.
Cooperating with God through Receiving the Word:
“Jesus’ mission is ultimately fulfilled in the paschal mystery: here we find ourselves before the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has “spoken” exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us” (Verbum Domini 12).
After Jesus had come and said all that his Father had given him to say, those who hated him crucified him for the words that he had spoken. Indeed, there are two mystical things about the Word of God in this regard. The first is that it compels us to make an immediate decision about it. That is, there are only two things we can do after hearing the Word proclaimed – either accept it or reject it; for, to even to be agnostic towards it is to reject it. Those who accept the Word as true begin their journey towards it, and those who reject it as false begin their journey towards killing it. The second is that one’s decision to accept the Word as true compels them to fall more and more in love with it, while those who reject it find themselves on the well-charted course of finding more and more reasons to hate it.
It is no coincidence that the Gospel of John, so carefully paralleled with Genesis, contrasts God sharing his breath with first Adam (cf. Gen. 2:7) with Jesus’ (the new Adam) sharing his breath with his apostles (cf. Jn. 20:22). The breath of God allows us more than to just live. On the contrary, the breath of God enables us to share ourselves in creation. That is why after Adam receives the breath of life he goes and shares that breath by using it to give names to the things of creation; likewise the Apostles share their new breath by going and passing on the Word of God at Pentecost and to every generation that followed.
If the Word of God is first the person Jesus Christ, then it follows that we cannot receive or enter into the life of the Word without also receiving and entering into a relationship with the Holy Spirit; for, Christ himself was conceived of the Holy Spirit and it was that same Spirit of God that guided him throughout his mission. The Holy Spirit and Jesus, the Son of God, are uniquely inseparable and always in harmony with each other. It is impossible to have one without the other. They are what St. Irenaeus of Lyons called “the two hands of the Father” (7 Adversus Haereses, IV, 7, 4: PG 7, 992-993; V, 1, 3: PG 7, 1123; V, 6, 1: PG 7, 1137; V, 28, 4: PG 7, 1200).
The Holy Spirit is the breath of God and it is this breath that inspired man to write the sacred Scriptures. It is this breath that has protected them from error, dwelled amongst the community to preserve and hand the word down, tabernacled at the councils of the Catholic Church to canonize them, and is present every time and everywhere they are spoken and read. Therefore, just as we cannot receive or enter into the life of the Word of God (the person) without first receiving and entering into the life of the Holy Spirit, neither can we receive or enter into the life of the written word of God without first receiving or entering into a relationship with the divine inspirer of the written word.
Cooperating with God through Proclaiming the Word:
“While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken” (Verbum Domini 7).
It is true; creation itself proclaims the magnificence and magnanimity of its Creator. Everything that was not given free-choice always obeys the natural order given to it. For example, the earth always obeys its axis and it rotation around the sun, water always heats under prolonged exposure to the sun, and the tides ebb and flow according the proximity of the moon. Whereas in the beginning God looked upon creation and saw that it was good, when things created by God do what they were created to do, in reciprocation, they proclaim his glory and testify that their Creator knew what he was doing and that what he did was good.
When we proclaim the Word of God in every season, we join in with creation in doing what we were created to do. We Cooperate with God when we share all the good things that he has done for us and for others. Telling someone what God has done in your life is the most natural thing for anyone to do, because it is what we were created to do. That is not to say that it is easy for everyone to articulate or communicate their testimony, because that is technical matter. This is only to say that bearing witness to what God has done in your life is something that everyone can do – it is like praying; anyone can do that if they choose to, regardless of their degree of skill or knowledge. Similarly, no matter how young or old a maple tree is, when the late autumn comes it is going to lose its leaves. Things ordered by God for creation are natural to it and are always true.
It is this decision by the children of God to proclaim both the written word of God and what the Word of God has done in their life, accurately and authentically, that has the power to transform society. And it is the absence of the word of God not being proclaimed that leaves the door open to secularism, relativism, humanism, and individualism.
There is nothing more important for us to do in this life than to proclaim the Word of God at all times, even where it has been outlawed or is looked upon as being in bad taste. The Word of God is the only thing that is always true, and, therefore, it is the only thing always worth speaking – in season and out of season.
Cooperating with God through Experiencing the Word:
“We can see, then, why “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” (33 BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 1: AAS 98 (2006), 217-218) (Verbum Domini 11).
Man has had a very long history of creating gods that expect many things from their worshippers – from obedience to commands, to sacrifices, to murder. The Christian difference is that our God not only desires us to be holy, but to holy like he is holy (Cf. Lev. 11:45, 20:7; Mt. 5:48; 1 Jn. 3:3). The vast bodies and pantheons of gods created by men have no interest in their worshippers being just like them or even partners in their work. Yet, the God of Christianity goes even further still – he not only desires his children to be holy like him, but he goes to every means possible to facilitate the means for them to be holy, even to the point of sending his own Son to die so that they might have life through him.
That is where the Christian experience begins; with the blood of Christ shed on the Cross of Mount Calvary. That is the event, and Christ Jesus is the person who gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction. Before then and outside of Christ now we still have burdens and crosses to carry, but even if we are trying to carry them we don’t know how or where to go. What Christ Jesus gave us was an example to follow and the means to get there through the empowering Holy Spirit, his transforming grace, and the sacraments of his Church. It these aids that gives us the strength to pick up our cross and follow Jesus to Calvary.
Moreover, it is our free decision to be obliged to follow Christ to Calvary that makes us Christians, and it is the life experience that comes from following Christ there that transforms us into the image of him who we follow. Whereas the word of God was once something we only read about or heard on Sundays, now becomes something we live every day.
When Christ has truly penetrated every aspect of your life; meaning everything in your life is ordered towards proclaiming the magnificence and magnanimity of him who gives you life, then you can truly say that you are in the Word of God and he is in you. This is the path to sainthood and the meaningful way of Cooperating with God through sacred Scripture.