By Katie Ascough - 24 January, 2020
Bishop Dermot Farrell, Bishop of Ossory, has published his pastoral letter Opening the Way to the Scriptures for “Sunday of the Word of God” which takes place on 26 January. Pope Francis established this day in his Apostolic Letter Aperuit illis on 30 September 2019. It is a day devoted to the celebration, study and spreading of the Word of God.
The pastoral letter recalls that at the Second Vatican Council bishops discussed how the faithful receive the Body of Christ “both at the table of the Eucharist and at the table of the Word (see Dei Verbum, 21)”, but how for a long time only one of these tables had been given sufficient attention. It has been a long journey over the past 60 years, Bishop Farrell reflects, as we have been making our way back to the “table of the Word”.
“It was Saint Jerome – the 1600th anniversary of whose death we celebrate this year – who famously said that ‘ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ His words resonate every bit as much today,” the bishop writes.
In his letter, Bishop Farrell opens up the relationship between Jesus and the Old and New Testaments. He explores how imbued Jesus’ life was with the Bible, which at his time was only what we now call the Old Testament. He then links Jesus’ own words and deeds, which form the New Testament, with the Old Testament, saying, “Together the two parts of our Bible form a unity around the figure of Christ. Together they help us to understand the person and the mission of Christ. Together they challenge us to live lives worthy of our calling as followers of Jesus.”
The bishop discusses how necessary it is for us to “listen to the Word of God” and let it influence how we live our lives. He also points readers to a resource on the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference website. He encourages readers to pray the psalms, the exact words that Jesus would have used for his daily prayer; to pray with the Scriptures in lectio divina (sacred reading), which is done by choosing a few lines to pray with, usually in the format: read (slowly); ponder any word or phrase that strikes you most; and pray using words, ideas, images or all three and give to God what you have experienced in pondering His Word. Bishop Farrell goes into more detail using the Benedictine monk Father Luke Dysinger’s guidelines.
The letter concludes with some brief maxims or sententiae of Bernardo Olivera OCSO, encouraging us to realise the power of God in the Gospel, but also remembering that it is more important to follow Christ than merely read about him and take no further action. As Fr Olivera says, “The Bible is not intended only to inform us about God, but to transform us according to the form of Christ.”
“In a time where some speak of a ‘post-truth’ society, one in which ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ are the order of the day,” Bishop Farrell concludes, “we know that ‘the word of God is alive’ (Heb 4:12): it does not die nor does it age; it abides forever. It stays young in the presence of all that passes away (see Matt 24:35), and protects from interior ageing those who put it into practice. It is alive and it is life-giving’” (Pope Francis, Address to the Catholic Biblical Federation, April 2019).