The latest Church document on Scripture entitled Verbum Domini (DV) (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, September 30, 2010) has outlined the role of the Church in the study, reflection and proclamation of the Word of God “…so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely Word.” Verbum Domini is “a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the Word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church…” This is not saying that the word of God has not been given importance in previous years. In fact, several encyclicals on the importance of the Sacred Scriptures are with us in the Church. We have Providentissimus Deus (1893) by Leo XIII; Spiritus Paraclitus (1920) by Benedict XV; Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) by Pius XII: and Dei Verbum (1965) in Vatican II.
But this particular Synod focused on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It called for a particular pastoral commitment emphasizing the centrality of the word of God in the Church’s life. It called for a renewal in the Church’s faith in the word of God. With this renewal is the repetition and reminder of the Church’s mission: to proclaim the Word of God to the world (VD nos. 90-124). “In order to achieve the goal set by the Synod, namely, an increased emphasis on the Bible’s pastoral activity, all Christians and catechists in particular, need to receive suitable training. Attention needs to be paid to the biblical apostolate, which is a very valuable means to that end, as the Church’s experience has shown” (VD 75). The synod recommends a greater “biblical apostolate”, not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work” (VD 73). All pastoral programs & activities including catechesis should be based on the Word of God and inspired by it. The end is not just to hear the Word of God but to live it, to put it into practice—as individuals, as families, as ecclesial communities.
The bishops in the Philippines have long recognized the importance of the biblical apostolate. This is why the Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate exists with the following CBCP Statutes:
1) It shall animate, coordinate, supervise and promote the Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines;
2) It shall prepare for the celebration of the annual Bible Week and Bible festivals, and shall determine the theme for such celebrations;
3) It shall promote and undertake seminars and institutes on Sacred Scriptures;
4) It shall help organize regional and diocesan centers for the Biblical Apostolate;
5) It shall help prepare biblical formation programs for priests, religious, seminarians, and lay people;
6) It shall undertake the ten (10) years’ program known as “A Bible for Every Family” directed towards the distribution and enthronement of the Bible;
7) It shall act as liaison with the World Catholic Federation for the Biblical Apostolate (WCFBA) and the Philippine Bible Society (PBS) and such other agencies dedicated to the Bible apostolate;
8) It shall launch activities via the mass media aimed at making the faithful Bible conscious and Bible oriented. All these efforts of course are ways and means to effect an encounter of every man and woman with the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ!
“The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him.” (VD 72) “It is the preaching of the divine word, in fact, which gives rise to faith, whereby we give our heartfelt assent to the truth which has been revealed to us and we commit ourselves entirely to Christ: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). The whole history of salvation progressively demonstrates this profound bond between the word of God and the faith which arises from an encounter with Christ. Faith thus takes shape as an encounter with a person to whom we entrust our whole life. Christ Jesus remains present today in history, in his body which is the Church; for this reason our act of faith is at once both personal and ecclesial.” (VD 25)
But the Bible Apostolate is not the monopoly of the commission. It is the responsibility of every baptized Christian. The Laity need to be made aware that they are not “passive subjects” in relation to the Word of God. They too are called to be evangelizers/proclaimers as mentioned in the homily of Cardinal Tagle at the opening of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization at the University of Santo Tomas. [Ed. Note: This historic event, the first of its kind in our part of the world if not in Asia, was held on October 16-18, 2013. More information can be found on its website: www.pcne.com.] “.. the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism. No believer in Christ can feel dispensed from this responsibility which comes from the fact of our sacramentally belonging to the Body of Christ. A consciousness of this missionary task must be revived in every family, parish, community, association and ecclesial movement. “ “Since the entire People of God is a people which has been “sent”, the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism….….
Everyone according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ. The laity are called to exercise their own prophetic role, which derives directly from their Baptism, and to bear witness to the Gospel in daily life, wherever they find themselves. .. The Synod Fathers expressed the greatest esteem, gratitude and encouragement for the service to evangelization which so many of the lay faithful, and women in particular, provide with generosity and commitment in their communities throughout the world, following the example of Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the joy of Easter (DV 94).
The third part of Verbum Domini (Verbum Mundo) is specifically on the Church’s mission: to proclaim the Word of God to the world. (VD 90-120). Here are some of its salient challenges:
The mission is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word that disrupts, which call[s] to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers. (VD 93)
In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the “ordinary maintenance” of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community. (VD 95)
Every form of proclamation keeps in mind, first of all, the intrinsic relationship between the communication of God’s word and Christian witness. (VD 97)
There is a close relationship between the testimony of Scripture and the witness of the lives given by believer. Christian witness communicates the word attested in the Scriptures. The Scriptures explain the witness which Christians are called to give by their lives. (VD 97)
Nowadays we tend to halt in a superficial way before the importance of the passing moment, as if it had nothing to do with the future. The Gospel reminds us that every moment of our life is important and must be lived intensely, in the knowledge that everyone will have to give an account of his or her life. (VD 99)
The word of God itself emphasizes the need for our engagement in the world and our responsibility before Christ, the Lord of History. (VD 99)
God’s word inspires men and women to build relationships based on rectitude and justice, and testifies to the great value in God’s eyes of every effort to create a more just and more livable world. (VD 100)
Commitment to justice and to changing our world is an essential element of evangelization. We must reach and, as it were, overturn with the force of the Gospel the standards of judgment, the interests, the thought patterns, the sources of inspiration and life-styles of humanity that are in contrast to the word of God and with his plan of salvation. (VD 100)
It is the primary task of the lay faithful, formed in the school of the Gospel, to be directly involved in political and social activity. Hence they need suitable formation in the principles of the Church’s social teaching. (VD 100)
The spread of the word of God cannot fail to strengthen the recognition of, and respect for, the human rights of every person. There is a need to proclaim God’s word to all those who are suffering, whether physically, psychologically or spiritually. It is in times of pain that the ultimate questions about the meaning of one’s life make themselves acutely felt… Faith born out of an encounter with God’s word helps us to realize that human life deserves to be lived fully even when weakened by illness and pain. (VD 106)
The poor are the first ones entitled to hear the proclamation of the Gospel; they need not only bread but also words of life.We need to recognize and appreciate the fact that the poor are themselves agents of evangelization. (VD 107)
In her proclamation of God’s word, the Church knows that a “virtuous circle” must be promoted between the poverty that is to be chosen and the poverty that is to be combated. (VD 107)
As men and women who believe in and proclaim the Gospel, we have a responsibility towards creation. Revelation makes known God’s plan for the cosmos, yet it also leads us to denounce that mistaken attitude which refuses to view all created realities as a reflection of their Creator, but instead as mere raw materials, to be exploited without scruple. (VD 108)
Discovering new methods of transmitting the Gospel message is part of the continuing evangelizing outreach of those who believe….We need to recognize the increased role of the internet…. We make use of the virtual world but we should still be able to offer the personal contact which remains indispensable. (VD 113)
The Church considers an essential part of the proclamation of the word to consist in encounter, dialogue and cooperation with all people of good will, particularly with the followers of the different religious traditions of humanity. ( VD 117)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s wish is to encourage all the People of God, pastors, consecrated persons and laity, to become increasingly familiar with the sacred Scripture. We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church. (VD 121)
Of course the proclamation of Scripture goes with living the gospel values. It goes with a lifestyle in sync with Jesus’ way of life and Jesus’ way of relating to people. It goes with love and compassion for the stranger, the widow, the orphan; images used in Scripture for the helpless, the poor, the disadvantaged, all who suffer because no one is there to liberate them from their sufferings. The great challenge for the laity in this year of the laity is “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).