Now that the year 2020 has started with it have started also the challenges and opportunities that it will, sooner or later, certainly present to us. Irrespective of the sugar coating phrases we wish to each other at the beginning of 2020 it is an undeniable fact that difficult and thorny moments will impose themselves on us. The thing is that these much-dreaded circumstances can be just around the corner!
It is obvious that such situations can stir in us confusion and lack of vision. Hence, in order not to succumb to the temptation of being taken away by anxiety and fear we direly need guidance. The latter is urgently required so as not to let our feelings, (and sometimes they can really be dreadful), drain us and lead us nowhere other than to our complete destruction. A sure guide for this new year, 2020, is the Word of God.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us in his apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, Verbum Domini, “throughout its history, the People of God has always found strength in the word of God” (no.3). Psalm 119 powerfully proclaims: Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Ps 119:105). According to the Benson Commentary: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet — To direct me in all my doubts and difficulties, and to comfort me in all my fears and distresses”. For the Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, “the Word of God directs us in our work and way, and a dark place indeed the world would be without it”. In Barnes’ Notes on the Bible commentary, “the idea is, that the Word of God is like a torch or lamp ton man in a dark night. It shows him the way; it prevents his stumbling over obstacles, or failing down precipices, or wandering off into paths which would lead into danger, or would turn him away altogether from the path to life”. That is why, in Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible commentary’s view, “not only does the Word of God inform us of His will, but, as a light on a path in darkness, it shows us how to follow the right and avoid the wrong way”.
What all these wise comments on God’s Word personally tell me is that, as the Geneva Study Bible commentary put it, “of ourselves we are but darkness and cannot see unless we are lightened with God’s Word”. Hence, it is highly important that, as Matthew Poole’s Commentary explains, during 2020 I let God’s Word “direct me in all my doubts and difficulties, to preserve from sin and misery, both which oft come under the name of darkness, and to comfort me in all my fears and distresses”.
The apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini greatly encourages us to read the Holy Bible. It squarely tell us that “the most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the Word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation” (no.48). When we read the Word of God daily and with open heart we immediately begin to realise that not only our personal spiritual life is changing but also we feel the need to belong to the mystical body of Christ, the Church. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us in Verbum Domini: “The reading of the Word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God. As Saint Ambrose puts it, ‘When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden’” (no.87).
From the above reflections, we can easily deduce, at least, five reasons why we are to read the Bible. As starting of course from this year 2020. First, the Bible is the living Word of God. This very fact sets the Bible apart from any fine piece of world literature. The Bible has no equal. As the prologue of St. John states in its very first line, the Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself, God made man! In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Hence, whenever we meet the Bible we meet Christ himself. In this perspective, St Jerome’s timely observation makes a lot of sense: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Second, we cannot read God’s Word only on a Sunday at Church. It is too little for our spiritual nourishment! Like a loving father, Our Heavenly Father does not love us by talking to us only on a Sunday during the Eucharist. He does so on a daily basis. Thus, in his apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” on instituting Sunday of the Word of God, Aperuit Illis, Pope Francis says: “Jesus himself clearly stated this at the beginning of his ministry: ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21). Those who draw daily nourishment from God’s Word become, like Jesus, a contemporary of all those whom they encounter: they are not tempted to fall into sterile nostalgia for the past, or to dream of ethereal utopias yet to come” (no.12). The daily reading of God’s Word rightly updates our way of living each and every moment of our passing days!
Third, God’s Word keeps us grounded in everyday life. When reading the Holy Bible we get insights as to how we are to behave in all situations, especially in those that are difficult for us to contend with. The Holy Scripture gives us the necessary impetus to keep listening to God’s voice in our daily situations and endows us with the courage to venture for Godly solutions.
Fourth, the Bible reminds us that we are covenanted people. From the times of our brothers in faith, the Jews, God has struck a covenant with us. The prophet Ezekiel expresses this covenant with the following powerful words: And they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God (Ezek 34:30). A covenant is unbreakable since it is essentially God’s truth. With Christ’s coming we received the new covenant: Take, eat; this is my body. … Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:26-28). What a story of God’s unbreakable promise to us!
Fifth, by reading the Bible we start praying better. The thing is that, the more we let the Spirit lead us into the prayerful reading of Scripture the more we tend to see ourselves in the life experiences the Bible presents to us. For instance, Job’s sorrow, pain and faithfulness will attract us to let the Lord lead us in our times of sorrow and pain in order to be faithful to Him. Like the psalmist, we too rejoice, cry and challenge God until we realise that He is, in fact, carrying us on His wings! Most of all, in the person of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we become aware of how Our Father in Heaven really loves and cares for us and of our well-being!
As Aperuit Illis rightly instructs us, the appropriate way to listen to the Bible is the subsequent: “To listen to sacred Scripture and then to practise mercy: this is the great challenge before us in life. God’s Word has the power to open our eyes and to enable us to renounce a stifling and barren individualism and instead to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity” (no.13).
May the Holy Bible be our sure guide for 2020 and the remaining years that we shall spend living in this world by taking us from our isolated selves and help us open our hearts to Christ as present in the neediest ones of our brethren!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap