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In an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (of which Dutch Bishop Jan Liesen is a member), Pope Francis shone a light on the Catholic understanding of the Bible. This is an ever-necessary effort, as there is still much confusion and misunderstanding on exactly how the Bible fits in our faith and tradition.
In his address, the Holy Father explained:
“As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God “(n. 12).”
What we may gather from this is that the Bible does not exist in isolation: it is not a book that came into being as we know it today. Instead, it grew, developed and exists not for its own purpose, but to communicate the Word of God. And a second important point is the role of Tradition, the magisterium, and – not least – the Holy Spirit, which act as interpreters of this Word.
We are a Religion of the Book, but our religion is not about the book. It is about what - who - the book is about. And that gives us a hint about how we should relate to the Bible. As Pope Francis explains later:
“The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity.”
The nature of the Bible tells us how it relates to us and the greater body of faith. We should receive it as it was given: the testimony of the Word of God for the community of faithful.
The cardinals have wrapped up their final General Congregation and we are now only one day away from the big event. And to think that only one month ago Pope Benedict surprised us all with his announcement that he would abdicate. It’s been quite the ride.
Now to look forward to the coming days. In his blog - a companion piece to that great resource GCatholic.com – Gabriel Chow presents the main events of the conclave. Apart from tomorrow, a typical conclave day will consist of four voting rounds – the “scrutinies” or ballots.
Tomorrow, the first day of the conclave, is taken up by several preparatory events. In the early morning the cardinals will move from their current lodgings all over Rome to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where they will live throughout the conclave. Rooms were assigned by lot. At left a view of the simple suites available to the cardinals.
At 10am tomorrow, the cardinals, electors and non-electors alike, will offer a Mass “Pro eligendo Romano Pontifice”, or for the election of the Roman Pontiff. The Dean of the College, Angelo Cardinal Sodano will give the homily and the Mass will be chiefly in Italian. The booklet for the celebration is available here.
Tomorrow afternoon, the cardinals will head to the Pauline chapel in the Apostolic palace. At 4:30pm, they will walk to the Sistine Chapel, where they will all take the oath and the first round of voting will take place. The cardinals will be seated according to precedence, as they have during the General Congregations, but they will enter the Sistine Chapel in reverse order. This means that James Cardinal Harvey, the junior Cardinal Deacon will be first, and Giovanni Cardinal Re will close the line. Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk will be fairly forward in the line, after the 30 Cardinal-Deacons and 8 Cardinal-Priests that come after him in precedence. Immediately preceding and following him are Cardinals Betori and Duka. At right, a photo of workmen readying the Sistine Chapel for the conclave.
The long form of the oath, as presented below, will be recited by all cardinals together. Each cardinal will then come forward and, with his hand on the Gospels, confirm the oath.
“We, the Cardinal electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise, pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, published on 22 February 1996. We likewise promise, pledge and swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the liberty of the Holy See. In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support or favour to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
“And I, N. Cardinal N., do so promise, pledge and swear. So help me God and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand.”
Unlike I mentioned before, the “extra omnes!” will then be called by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, and the doors be closed. Only then, will Cardinal Grech address the cardinals “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church”.
The first vote can then take place, although this is optional. The first ballot may be postponed to Wednesday. It is expected that the cardinal will pray Vespers together at 7 and return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae half an hour later.
We will most likely see the first puff of smoke – if there has been a vote – from the chimney at 8pm, and no one expects it to be anything else than black.
Part of the events, such as the Mass, the walk to the Sistine Chapel and the chimney smoke can be viewed live via the Vatican player. I will share any other means of watching the proceedings via Twitter as they become available.
Photo credit:  Fr. Tim Finigan,  Vatican Radio
Pope Benedict this morning ended his Lenten retreat. In a short address, he thanked Cardinal Ravasi for leading the retreat, as well as the other participants for being a “community of prayerful listening”. Below an excerpt of the address:
“The art of believing, the art of praying” was the theme. I was reminded of the fact that the medieval theologians translated the word “Logos” not only as “Verbum”, but also as “ars”: “Verbum” and “ars” are interchangeable. For the medieval theologians, it was only with the two words together that the whole meaning of the word “Logos” appeared. The “Logos” is not just a mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is also love. The truth is beautiful and the true and beautiful go together: beauty is the seal of truth.
And yet, starting from the Psalms and from our everyday experience, you have also strongly emphasized that the “very good” of the sixth day – expressed by the Creator – is permanently contradicted by the evil of this world, by suffering, by corruption. It’s almost as if wickedness wills permanently to spoil creation, to contradict God and make its truth and its beauty unrecognizable. In a world so marked even by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal beauty and the eternal “art”, must appear as a “caput cruentatum.” The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos” is crowned with a crown of thorns and nevertheless is just that: in this suffering figure of the Son of God we begin to see the deepest beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; in the silence of the “dark night” we can, nevertheless, hear the Word. And believing is nothing other than, in the darkness of the world, touching the hand of God, and in this way, in silence, hearing the Word, seeing love.
The Holy Father also thanked Cardinal Ravasi personally, in a letter. Among other things, he wrote that the theme chosen by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture was particularly helpful in this time of silence and prayer: “We have been able to tap into the source of plenty and pure water that is God’s Word … from the Book of Psalms, the place par excellence where the Word of the Bible becomes prayer.” In closing, Pope Benedict XVI told Cardinal Ravasi that “the Lord will know to reward you for this effort”, a wish that gains special significance in the light of the coming conclave, in which Cardinal Ravasi will vote. Many outside the conclave consider him papabile, a likely successor of Pope Benedict XVI on the Chair of St. Peter.
But luckily that choice ultimately lies in the hands of 116 electors and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for a fruitful final six days of this papacy, blessing and guidance or the cardinals in the conclave, and also for the new Pope, whoever he may be.
Every year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).
What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.
These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”
Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.
“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”
“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”
“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”
“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”
“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”
“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”
Despite my impression that the length of Pope Benedict’s messages is getting shorter, his latest one, for the coming season of Lent, is still an elegant theological discourse on the two virtues of faith and charity.
Starting from a raft of Biblical quotations and references, the Holy Father demonstrates how these two are “intimately linked,” how the love of God is the source of our faith, and how our faith enables us to love God and the neighbour.
“Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.”
An excellent read, and a text we can all study and reflect upon as we enter Lent.
My Dutch translation is available here.
Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano
And just like that, Advent is upon once more. And just like that other great penitential season, Lent, Advent equally aims to prevent us for one of the Church’s great times: the Incarnation of our Lord, the birth of the most fragile and treasured of human beings, a tiny baby boy named Jesus, the Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 524) teaches us that Advent not only prepares us for the memorial of Christ’s first coming, but also renews in us the desire for His eventual second coming. And with that we have hit upon one of the most difficult precepts of our faith. We may accept the idea that Christ will return someday, but very often we take solace in the knowledge that that event may be very far away indeed. And, besides that, we have no clear way of knowing what it will be like, even though the Bible’s last book, the Revelation of John, offers us images and prophesies regarding it.
And we are an imaginative people. Truths of the faith become easier to grasp if we can understand what they were, are or will be like. But somehow we also know that the second coming may not be something in the line of Hollywood’s disaster flicks.
Still, it will happen. Our Lord has said so, after all (Matt. 24: 30-31). And it is good to prepare for this event, even though we know “neither day nor hour” (Matt. 25:13). Should we then be despondent and fearful? Not in the least, but we should take it seriously. How? For starters, we can take a good look at our faith and its expressions. Are they the foundations of our lives, or an aside reserved for the Sunday? How do we pray, how do we attend Mass? Are we attentive and charitable? Do we try to accept teachings without our egos getting in the way? And are we always willing to better ourselves?
Plenty of food for thought for Advent. But let’s not let it get us down. For we know what is coming. As the heartwrenching hymn Rorate Caeli, which we will hear once more this Advent, goes in its last verse:
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
my salvation shall not tarry:
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why hath sorrow seized thee?
Fear not, for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.
The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.
On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God
From the Father we now move to the Son. This line from the Creed tells us a few things about Him. First of all, it tells us who He is: Jesus Christ, and He is our one Lord. This statement identifies the Son – He is the one we can read about in the Gospels – and also grounds Him in our historical reality, for the person of Jesus Christ is also a historical figure. He lived among us at a specific time and place. God, in the person of the Son, came to us in a way that we can verify and understand; He lived among us , shared our lives and reality.
He is our one Lord, indicating that there is a relationship of authority and responsibility between us and Him. Christ has authority, but the responsibility goes both ways. Subsequent lines in the Creed will further explore the reasons for both His authority and our and His responsibility.
Christ is also the “only begotten Son of God”. In the first place, this tells us that He is unique. There is none like Him, not other sons or daughters of God. The word ‘begotten’ tells us that He came forth from the Father without some female involvement: this was not procreation in the human sense. The Son, Jesus Christ, came from God the Father as His only and unique Son.
Art credit: ‘Portrait of Christ’ by Jan van Eyck (1440)