06 April 2008

Approaching Scripture

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Preacher to the Papal Household in 1980, which capacity he still serves. As part of the Charismatic Renewal he has written many books including "Sober intoxication of the Spirit". This sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Easter captures the Catholic approach to Scripture:

There are two ways to approach the Bible. The first is that of considering it an old book, full of religious wisdom, of moral values, and of poetry too. From this point of view it is absolutely the most important book for understanding our Western culture and the Judeo-Christian religion. It is also the most printed and read book in the world.

But there is another, much more demanding way to approach the Bible, and it is that of believing that it contains the living word of God for us, that it is an “inspired” book, that is, written, indeed, by human authors, with all of their limitations, but with God’s direct intervention. A very human book and, at the same time, divine, that speaks to men of all times and reveals to them the meaning of life and death.

Above all it reveals to them God’s love. If all the Bibles in the world, St. Augustine said, on account of some disaster, would be destroyed and there remained only one copy and, of this copy, all of the pages were illegible save for one, and on this page only one line were legible; if this line were that of the first letter of John that reads “God is love,” the whole Bible would be saved because it is summed up in this statement. This explains how it is that so many people approach the Bible without culture, without great education, with simplicity, believing that it is the Holy Spirit that speaks in it and find in it answers to their problems, light, encouragement, in a word, life.

The two ways of approaching the Bible -- the way of erudition and the way of faith -- do not exclude each other, on the contrary, they must be united. It is necessary to study the Bible, the way in which it should be interpreted (or to pay attention to the findings of those study it in this way), so as not to fall into fundamentalism. Fundamentalism consists in taking a verse from the Bible, just as it sounds, and applying it to today’s situations, without taking into account the difference of culture, of time, and of the different genres of the Bible.It is believed, for example, that the universe is little more that 4,000 years old since this would seem to be what we can calculate from the information that the Bible provides, while we know that the universe is some billions of years old. The Bible was not written as a textbook of natural science, but for salvation. God, in the Bible, adapted himself to the way of speaking of the men of the time so that they could understand; he did not write only for the men of the age of technology.

On the other hand, to reduce the Bible to an object of study and erudition, remaining neutral to its message, is to kill it. It would be as if a man, receiving a letter from the woman he loves, were to examine it with a dictionary, from the point of view of grammar and syntax, and stops at these things, without grasping the love that is in it.Reading the Bible without faith is like trying to read a book at night: nothing can be read, or at least one does not read what is essential. Reading Scripture with faith means reading it in reference to Christ, grasping what refers to him on every page, just as he did with the disciples of Emmaus.

Jesus remains with us in two ways: in the Eucharist and in his word. He is present in both: in the Eucharist under the form of food, in the Word under the form of light and truth. The word has a great advantage over the Eucharist. Only those who already believe and are in a state of grace can receive communion; but everyone, believers and nonbelievers, married people and divorced people, can approach the word of God. Indeed, to become a believer, the most normal route is that of listening to God’s word.

1 comment:

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