Monday, November 22, 2010

Verbum Domini: A Summary


Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini
A Summary by Kevin Cotter

On November 11th, Pope Benedict released a document entitled Verbum Domini. Verbum Domini addresses the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It has been called the most important document on the Word of God since Vatican II’s Dei Verbum. I find this document to be of particular importance to the vision and mission of FOCUS and I wanted to take some time to summarize the document and pull out some valuable quotes that apply to the work of FOCUS. I expected the document to focus on the Word of God. While it certainly does this, I was happily surprised to see how much the document focused on the work of evangelization.

If you want to read the document yourself, you can find it here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini_en.pdf  (The link here is a great because it provides you with a book-like pdf that you can print out. This is much more reader friendly than most documents found on the Vatican website). I will also cite section numbers (rather than page numbers) so you can go to the document and read specific areas that might interest you.

Before I dive into the document, I want to give a little background. This document was created after the Bishop’s Synod in 2008 on the Word of God. A synod is a think-tank of sorts where Bishops from around the world gather to discuss an important issue in the life of the Church. (Note: The next synod in 2012 will take up the topic of the New Evangelization). After the synod, a document is created to properly communicate the results of the meeting. In this case, it took about two years. While the Bishops obviously contributed to much of the document, it is apparent that Pope Benedict had a great deal to do with it.

The document is broken up into three main sections (plus an introduction and conclusion):
  1. Verbum Dei--a more academic analysis of the Word of God found in Scripture and Tradition
  2. Verbum in Ecclesia--a look at how the Word of God influences the life of the Church
  3. Verbum Mundo--an examination of how the Word of God can be used to preach the Gospel to the world
I will break down the document by starting with the introduction and then by going through the three different sections followed by a conclusion.

Introduction
The introduction begins with some reflections on the overall theme of the document and some notes on the Synod itself.

Some quotes worth mentioning:

“I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible and to become his heralds” (no. 2).

“There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God” (no. 2).

The bishops placed the text of the Bible at the centre of the assembly, “in order to stress anew something we risk taking for granted in everyday life: the fact that God speaks and responds to our questions” (no. 4). 

Finally, the introduction ends with by announcing that the Prologue of John’s Gospel will be a constant reference throughout the document. The Word, in this Prologue, was with God from the beginning and comes to dwell among us. In a sense, this Prologue is a Scriptural meditation as you read through the document. 

Section One--Verbum Dei (The Word of God)
To begin this section, the Holy Father looks at the Word of God throughout Salvation History. The practice of Salvation History, looking at God’s plan of salvation throughout history, is mentioned seven times in the document. I always enjoy it when authors practice what they recommend. This won’t be the first time.

A few excerpts that stood out to me in this section:

“The Christian is not a ‘religion of the book’: Christianity is the religion of the word of God”, not of ‘a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word” (no. 7).

My favorite quote of the entire document. It gives Jesus’ role in Salvation History a whole new meaning for me. This has Biblical scholar/musical genesis written all over it:

“Calling to mind these essential elements of our faith, we can contemplate the profound unity in Christ between creation, the new creation and all salvation history. The word of an author who expresses himself through the ‘symphony’ of creation. In this symphony one finds, at a certain point, what would be called in musical terms a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This ‘solo’ is Jesus...The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work” (no. 13).

Then, there is a beautiful quote on Mary's relationship to Scripture: “Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. Mary also symbolizes openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life (no. 27).


Several quotes in this section seem to echo Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The Word of God is not dead, but is alive and powerful. This will set up the other two sections as they will focus on how to live out the Word of God.

There are many more gems on Scripture in this section, but in an effort to not overwhelm, let’s continue through the rest of the document.

Section Two--Verbum in Ecclesia (The Word in the Church)
This section focuses on the role of Scripture in the life of the Church. In particular, it looks at Scripture's relationship to the liturgy. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the liturgy. But, for some reason, this section seems to address some very practical and specific areas that I did not find as engaging as the other two sections. This does not mean you might not enjoy it more. Here are a couple of sections I found notable for the Church in America.

There was a call to forgo giving generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s Word (no. 59). When we fail to preach the Word of God, we either intentional avoid its message or do not proper use the power of God’s Word. Rather, the document stresses presenting Christ at the center of homilies.

The document also addresses Scripture and its relation to music. “Preference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s word. We would do well to make the most of those songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition which respect this criterion. I think in particular of the importance of Gregorian chant” (no. 70). 

A common problem with music currently played in Church around the US is not only out of date modern music (70s and 80s), but also music that strays from Scripture and often addresses nature instead. Here is a call to move back to a tradition of Scripture-based music which gives the faithful another opportunity to encounter the Word of God during the liturgy. 

The document also added some practical notes for marriages and families. The Synod suggested that every family have a Bible and that it be kept in a worth place for reading and prayer (no. 85). It also stresses forming small communities of families, where common prayer and meditation on passages of Scripture can be cultivated.

Finally, of note, there is a great section on lectio divina (no. 87).

Section Three--Verbum Mundo (The Word in the World)
In terms of FOCUS, section three is by far the most important. The Word of God and the new evangelization take center stage in this section as the very mission of the Church. The title of this section is: “The Church’s Mission: To Proclaim the Word of God to the World.” Notice the proclamation of the Word of God is not one element of the mission or one piece of the mission but the mission of the Church. In a sense, this section appears to sum up many of the missionary documents we have seen in the past (Evangelii Nuntiandi and Redemptoris Missio) while taking them to a new level.

A quick note: It is easy to confuse what is meant by the new evangelization or mission ad gentes. The term new evangelization is often thrown around so much, we fail to grasp exactly what it means. The new evangelization and mission ad gentes both have specific audiences or situations in which evangelization occurs. The new evangelization is the situation where baptized Catholics "have lost a living sense of the faith." The mission ad gentes is where the Gospel is not known or mature Christian communities have not been formed. Here is a straightforward excerpt from John Paul II’s of Redemptoris Missio if you want to read more on this. Specifically read number 33.

Here are some notable excerpts from the third section of Verbum Domini:
“This is why the Church is missionary by her very nature. We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman” (no. 91).

“The Synod of Bishops forcefully reaffirmed the need within the Church for a revival of the missionary consciousness present in the People of God from the beginning” (no. 92).

“The Synod reaffirmed that ‘the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism’...A consciousness of this must be revived in every family, parish, community, association, and ecclesial movement. The Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ” (no. 94).

“At the dawn of the third millennium not only are there still many peoples who have not come to know the Good News (mission ad gentes), but also a great many Christians who need to have the word of God once more persuasively proclaimed to them, so that they can concretely experience the power of the Gospel. Many of our brothers and sisters are ‘baptized, but insufficiently evangelized (new evangelization)’ ” (no. 96) (remarks in parentheses are mine).

Four paragraphs that very specifically apply to FOCUS missionaries:
“The Synod paid particular attention to the proclamation of God’s word to the younger generation. Young people are already active members of the Church and they represent its future. Often we encounter in them a spontaneous openness to hearing the word of God and a sincere desire to know Jesus. Youth is a time when genuine and irrepresible questions arise about the meaning of life and the direction our own lives should take. Only God can give the true answer to these questions” (no. 104).


Evangelization on campus: “It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers” (no. 93).

Bible Studies: “In a particular way, young people need to be introduced to the word of God ‘through encounter and authentic witness by adults, through the positive influence of friends and the great company of the ecclesial community” (no. 97). 

Discipleship: “Young people need witnesses and teachers who can walk with them, teaching them to love the Gospel and to share it, especially with their peers, and thus to become authentic and credible messengers” (no. 104).

If you are out of college and would like to live out this document, you can apply to be a FOCUS missionary here.

Conclusion
The conclusion continues the theme of the Word of God and the new evangelization:
“Our own time, then, must be increasingly marked by new hearing of God’s word and a new evangelization. Recovering the centrality of the divine word in the Christian life leads us to appreciate anew the deepest meaning of the forceful appeal of Pope John Paul II: to pursue the missio ad gentes and vigorously to embark upon the new evangelization, especially in those nations where the Gospel has been forgotten or meets with indifference as a result of widespread secularism” (no. 122).

The document closes in a very compelling and fitting way. Pope Benedict practices what he preaches by using the Word of God to take part in the mission ad gentes and the new evangelization:

“Finally, I turn to every man and woman, including those who have fallen away from the Church, who have left the faith or who have never heard the proclamation of salvation. To everyone the Lord says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the doors, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ ” (Rev. 3:20) (no. 124). 


I will continue to read over the document and I am sure there is much more to discover. I highly recommend picking up the document yourself and reading it, especially the third section.  Feel free to post on what stood out to you.

2 comments:

  1. “The Christian is not a ‘religion of the book’: Christianity is the religion of the word of God”, not of ‘a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”

    This really jumped out of the page and caused a tremor in the soul. It is very moving, especially if one has encountered the unclenching, intimate, laboring, gentle love of this living Incarnate Word. Thanks for the summary, Kev. - Gerard

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow... I'm going to have to read through this a second time. So much to learn from here!! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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