Today is the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time and the first official Sunday of the Word of God. Today we’ll take a closer look at the second half of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Aperuit Illis.
We ended last week with Jesus interpreting Scripture for His disciples on the Road to Emmaus. In paragraph 8 of his document, the pope continues with what occurred at the end of the story and what it means with regard to the Word of God. The scene ends with Jesus being invited to stay for a meal (Lk 24-29). When Jesus broke the bread, their “eyes were opened and they recognized Him,” (Lk 24:31). The progression in this story, from the interpretation of Scripture leading to a shared meal and the breaking of bread, illustrates the necessary link between Scripture and the Eucharist.
It is no coincidence that our Mass begins with the Liturgy of the Word and continues on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist every time. It is exactly how Christ Himself taught us to do it and therefore, Scripture and the Eucharist cannot be separated. Pope Francis explains that keeping Scripture and the Eucharist bound together, we can view our unity as Christians in a way that transcends time and space. When we celebrate Mass, we do what all Catholics in history have done and will do in the future, as well as simultaneously participating in the same Mass with those in Purgatory and in Heaven. We are a unified body. The Lord nourishes and sustains that body with both His Word and His flesh. He speaks to us and He feeds us, just as He always has and always will.
The Holy Father makes another point with regard to the inseparability of Scripture and the Sacraments. He says that when joined together, God’s word actually illuminates the saving work He is doing through the Sacraments. The Word of God opens our hearts and minds to His will and plan for us and we are more able to receive the grace that is bestowed upon us in the Sacraments. Without the Word, the richness and depth of the grace contained within the sacraments is limited.
Scripture, or the Bible, is not just a collection of books or a mere recording of history. Rather, Scripture serves a very specific purpose: the salvation of every single individual person in history, which amazingly, includes you and me. The Word of God isn’t just nice to have, we need it. In order to safeguard Scripture’s role in our salvation, the Word of God cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, Scripture would be simply human words. We must read the words through the lens of the Spirit: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” (2 Cor 3:6). Knowing how our humanness would eventually corrupt the truth contained within Scripture, Jesus lets us the Church to ensure Scripture would always be interpreted through the Holy Spirit. The Magisterium, the teaching office of the Church, teaches us the authentic interpretation of Scripture. When we trust that she is teaching us the truth contained in the Word of God, we open ourselves to the work our Church is doing to lead us to heaven.
Pope Francis then explains how the Word of God is also contained in our Tradition and therefore Scripture and Tradition cannot be separated. Jesus took on our likeness in flesh and used human words in the same way we do. Part of the human experience is using language to build up our cultural traditions. Think about traditions in your own family and how language and words accompany those traditions, either in practice or in passing them on to others. The same is true for the Word of God and our living Tradition as the Body of Christ. These two forms of revelation – Scripture and Tradition – complement and support one another, thus enriching our own understanding of our Faith, the person of Jesus Christ, and our personal path to heaven.
The pope acknowledges both the sweetness and the bitterness of life that we encounter in the Scriptures. We can relate to all of the ups we read in the Bible as well as all of the downs. If we immerse ourselves in the Word daily, it will nourish us and give deeper meaning to our own sweetness and bitterness. When we receive that daily nourishment from the Word of God, it empowers us to go out and bring Jesus to others in their own sweet and bitter moments. With a devotion to the Word, we are better equipped to meet our brothers and sisters wherever they are and to help them recognize God’s hand in their lives.
In Scripture, we are reminded of God’s steadfast mercy and love for us. We can open our Bibles to any page and read story after story of God acting with mercy and love toward His people. Pope Francis reminds us of the “great challenge” we have ahead of us – to read about all of the love and mercy God has extended to His people, recognize the experience of it in our own lives, and then go and extend that same love and mercy to others. That is a challenge, indeed! We are not just individuals roaming the earth alone. We are interconnected members of the same Body of Christ and what we do affects the body, so we are called to imitate God in His love and mercy of which we read about in Scripture.
Pope Francis’ letter on the Sunday of the Word of God concludes with the link between the Word of God and Mary. Mary knew Scripture well and had complete faith and trust in God to fulfill His Word. This faith empowered her to give God her fiat, or “yes,” that brought about the Word Incarnate, which was, indeed, the fulfillment of His Word. The pope compares Mary’s faith to our own quest of beatitude saying, “The poor are not blessed because they are poor; they become blessed if, like Mary, they believe in the fulfillment of God’s word,” (#15). In other words, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, if we just trust God like Mary did, he will use our state to bless us for our greater good. In Luke’s gospel, a woman in a crowd calls out to Jesus saying, “Blessed is the womb that carried you…” (Lk 11:27) and Jesus replies to her, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” (Lk 11:28). Jesus is emphasizing that it was His mother’s deep connection to the Word of God that enabled Him to come about as the Word of God in the flesh. In turn, we also will be greatly blessed by remaining deeply connected to the Word of God which will enable us to encounter Jesus as the Word made flesh. Mary is our example of the blessings that await us if we hold fast to the Word of God.
Now that we have unpacked the Sunday of the Word of God, there is, as always, a call to action for us as Christians. It is not enough for us to know our faith, we have to live it. Pope Francis says, “May the Sunday of the Word of God help His people to grow in religious and intimate familiarity with the sacred Scriptures,” (#15). How can you personally and practically do just that? Resolve to deepen your relationship with Scripture in some way, large or small, and open yourself up to hear God speaking directly to you through His Word like Mary did. You will be blessed.BACK TO LIST