Pope Benedict asked for greater Church efforts to teach Catholics about the Bible, to help them learn to read it and pray with it

VATICAN CITY – God constantly tries to enter into dialogue with the people he created – speaking through creation and even through silence, but mainly in the Church through the Bible and through His son Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said.

In his apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord), the pope encouraged Catholics to embrace and value each of the ways God tries to speak to humanity.

The document, billed as the most significant Church document on Scripture since the Second Vatican Council by some analysts, is a papal reflection on the conclusions of the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God.

It was released at the Vatican last month and emphasised the need to improve Catholics’ familiarity with the Bible and the need to read and understand it in harmony with the Church.

Pope Benedict asked for greater Church efforts to teach Catholics about the Bible, to help them learn to read it and pray with it, to treat it with great dignity during the liturgy and emphasise its importance by making sure homilies are based on the day’s readings.

For centuries, Catholic laity actually were discouraged from reading the Bible themselves. Though that began changing 100 years ago, Bible reading often is seen as a Protestant activity.

In fact, some evangelical Christians use passages from the Bible to preach against the Catholic Church, which the pope said is truly ironic since “the Bible is the Church’s book”.

It was the Church that decided which of the ancient Christian writings were inspired and were to be considered the New Testament, the pope said. And it was the Church that interpreted it for hundreds of years.

“The primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church,” he said, because the Scriptures can be understood fully only when one understands “the way they gradually came into being.”

Obviously, he said, the key message of the Bible – the story of God’s love for His creatures and the history of His attempts to save them – can be grasped only if people recognise that the fullness of God’s word is Jesus.

Jesus “is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity”, the pope wrote.

The Scriptures themselves teach that God created human beings with a special dignity, giving them intelligence and free will. In approaching the Scriptures, he said, people must use that intelligence to understand what is written.

Pope Benedict, a theologian who served for more than 20 years as president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, said academic approaches to Scripture studies were essential for helping people to understand the Bible, as long as those studies recognise that the Bible is not simply a piece of literature.

For example, he said, a lot of Catholics – including priests giving homilies – are completely at a loss when dealing with “those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult”.

Those passages, he said, demonstrate that “God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them”.

God’s education of His people continues today, for example, by helping people understand the importance of safeguarding creation and working for more justice in social and political systems, he said. - CNS

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