Synod seeks to help Catholics read Bible

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • October 7, 2008
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - As children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, Christians must learn how to listen to what God is saying to them today in the Scriptures, said Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec.

The cardinal, recording secretary of the Oct. 5-26 world Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” outlined the main themes for the synod’s debate during an Oct. 6 speech in Latin.
Ouellet, primate of Canada, proposed that the 253 synod members consider Mary as the role model for how Christians should respond to the word of God in the Scriptures and, especially, to the Word of God who took on flesh and became human in Jesus Christ. The Gospels recount not just the fact that the angel Gabriel revealed God’s plan to Mary, but also show her reaction, “her fear, her perplexity and her asking for an explanation” before embracing God’s plan for her life, he said.

The key, Ouellet said, is that Mary enters into a dialogue with God and gives herself to God in response to God revealing Himself to her.

“In the measure that the church, in her members, perceives herself as a beloved spouse, the object of a chosen love, it becomes natural to turn lovingly to the holy Scriptures” in order to hear the voice of the God who reaches out to humanity and asks for a response of faith, he said.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington said Ouellet’s introduction emphasized how important it is “to listen to what God is saying and to respond with that same (kind of) love that motivated God to speak to us in the first place. The love of God that envelops us — that’s why God speaks to us — is supposed to be manifested in us.”

The cardinal had emphasized the fact that the Bible is not so much a list of instructions or doctrines as it is the story God is telling people about Himself. Wuerl said the word of God “is God revealing Himself, inviting us to know Him, inviting us into a relationship with Him. This is the wonder of revelation, that we are actually capable of a relationship with God.”

The most important thing, Ouellet told the synod, is to help Catholics understand that the Bible is not so much a textbook to study, but a communication from God to be contemplated.

He said there are still areas of scholarly concern that will be raised by the synod: tensions between theologians and biblicists and between the church authorities and some schools of Scripture scholarship that treat the text almost exclusively as a piece of historical literature rather than as still-valid communication from God.

Ouellet said the synod members might want to ask Pope Benedict XVI to write an encyclical “on the interpretation of Scriptures in the church.” However, the cardinal told the synod, “the goal of the synod is primarily a pastoral and missionary one.”

He said the synod members will be called upon to find ways to help the church and its members “respond to the gift of the Word made flesh through the love of the holy Scriptures and the proclamation of the kingdom of God to all humanity.”

After reading his report to the synod, Ouellet told reporters at a press conference that the synod was not designed to resolve doctrinal disputes, but to come up with concrete suggestions for helping Catholics learn to read the Bible, to pray with it and to share its message with the world. The cardinal urged the synod members to look for ways to improve catechesis about the Bible, increase people’s awareness that Jesus is present at Mass in both the Scriptures and the bread broken and shared, and, especially, to improve homilies.

Despite the fact that the Second Vatican Council emphasized the need to improve homilies and insisted that they be based on the day’s Scripture readings, “we still feel great lack of satisfaction on the part of many faithful with regard to the ministry of preaching.”

Ouellet said homilies must “avoid the tendency toward moralism” but challenge Catholics to commit themselves to a deeper relationship with Christ, acting on what God is calling them to through the Scriptures.

“The today that is of interest to the preacher is the today of faith, the faith experience of abandoning oneself to Christ and to obeying Him” in following “the moral demands of the Gospel,” the cardinal said.

Australian Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville said he felt Ouellet “opened up all the questions” that the synod would need to discuss, including ongoing questions about the relationship between Scripture and tradition, a point that separates Catholics from some evangelical Christians.

Putney, who co-chairs the international Catholic-Methodist dialogue, said “more evangelical Christians are excited that we are looking at the word of God because they wrongly think it is not at the centre of our Catholic faith.”

Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and one of the synod delegate presidents, told the gathering, “Only the living ecclesial tradition allows sacred Scripture to be understood as the authentic word of God that acts as guide, rule and law for the life of the church and the spiritual growth of believers.”

The magisterium, the church’s teaching authority, is essential as “the authentic interpreter of this same word of God at the service of the whole Christian people and for the salvation of the whole world,” he said.

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