Divine Word Missionaries
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XII Coetus Generalis Ordinarius Synodi Episcoporum 5-26
Synod of Bishops 2008 - The SVD Contributions:
ANTONIO M. PERNIA, SVD
Intervention at the Synod of Bishops
October 10, 2008
Your Holiness, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My intervention refers to Part III of the Instrumentum Laboris which deals with “The Word of God in the mission of the Church”. I wish to endorse the point that is being made in this section, namely, the centrality of the Word of God in the mission of the Church. And I wish to do so by offering a re-formulation of the title of this section and say not just “the Word of God IN the mission of the Church” (as if, the Word of God is one element among others in mission), but “the Word of God IS the mission of the Church” (implying that the Word of God is everything that mission is about).
Posted on Oct 11, 2008 04:50am CST.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
It’s long been an established conviction among synod-watchers that the most interesting speeches during these gatherings, more often than not, come from the heads of religious orders.
Perhaps that’s because the speeches are less solo performances than a reflection of the wisdom of an entire community, or perhaps it’s because most superiors are elected to fixed terms and are conscious they may not have this opportunity again. It may even be because serving as a superior these days requires continual travel around the world, so they’ve got long hours to fill on airplanes polishing their texts.
Whatever the explanation, this Synod of Bishops on the Bible has been no exception. A speech earlier in the week by Fr. Glen Lewandowski, a Minnesotan who serves as Master General of the Crosier order, on the link between scripture and liturgy was widely hailed for its nifty turns of phrase, such as a warning that too often the “Great Amen” at Mass seems tacked on as a “drowsy afterthought.”
Yesterday, Fr. Tony Pernia, a Filipino who serves as Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word, offered what may be one of the few images heard on the synod floor destined to outlive the synod itself: Religious orders as the “hearing aid” of the Catholic church.
Pernia argued that the title of the Synod of Bishops, “The Word of God in the Mission and Life of the Church,” can be rephrased as “The Word of God IS the Mission of the Church.”
That mission, Pernia said, is rooted in “God’s on-going dialogue with the world and humanity.” In that light, he suggested, “the mission of the church needs to be understood as dialogue.”
As such, Pernia said, evangelization is never a one-way street, in which the church speaks and the world listens. To be true to its mission, he said, the church must also listen to “the searching of faith-seekers, the cultural and religious traditions of people of other faiths, the aspirations of the poor and marginalized.”
In this effort to listen to the world, he suggested, religious orders can play the role of the church’s “hearing aid.”
“Consecrated men and women, especially the missionaries who are engaged in mission at the frontiers of faith and the margins of society, can be the ‘hearing aid’ of the church,” Pernia said, “as they endeavor to listen to the Word of God revealed particularly in the lives of people.”
Quoting the document of the Second Vatican Council on divine revelation, Dei Verbum, Pernia closed by suggesting that consecrated life “can contribute to making the church a community that not only proclaims but also listens.”
On the other hand, Pernia’s memorable speech seems a convincing indication that religious orders can also do the reverse – not only listen, but speak, and do it well.
Source: National Catholic Reporter
This idea is based on Vatican II’s assertion regarding the Trinitarian origin of mission (AG 1-2, 9). The vision here is of the Triune God as communion and dialogue between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This inner communion or dialogue overflows into – or better, embraces – creation and history. Mission, then, is the Triune God’s ongoing dialogue with the world and with humanity, a dialogue that invites and draws humanity into full communion with the Divine community.
The primary agent of God’s ongoing dialogue with the world is the Word of God himself. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is God’s Word to humanity. He is God’s dialogue with the world. The Divine Logos is God’s dia-logus with the world.
The Church exists in order to collaborate with God’s ongoing dialogue with the world. Thus, before it is an activity of the Church, mission is, in the first place, an attribute of God. As theologians today say, there is Church because there is mission, and not vice-versa. The Church exists for mission. The Church exists in order to be the instrument of God’s dialogue with the world. The Church is at the service of the Word of God. It is the reason of its being, the sustenance of its life, the heart of its activity.
It follows from all of this that, seen under the lens of the Word of God, the mission of the Church must be understood in terms of dialogue. For the Gospel we proclaim is God’s invitation to dialogue. As Pope John Paul II used to say, the Good News we proclaim can only be proposed and never imposed. It is important, then, that we regard the different groups of people with whom we seek to share the Gospel (IL 42) as “dialogue partners” – whether they be faith-seekers or people who do not claim any religious affiliation, people of other cultures, followers of other religious traditions, or the poor and marginalized.
Dialogue, however, implies that evangelization is not a one-way activity where everything is done by the missionary for the people. It underlines the fact that mission is a two-way exchange of gifts between the missionary and the people. Consequently, the missionary must be ready to evangelize and be evangelized, to speak and to listen, to give and to receive. He or she must be prepared to change and be changed, to form and be formed, to invite to conversion and be converted himself or herself.
Vatican II’s document, Dei Verbum, puts this nicely by saying “Dei Verbum audiens et proclamans”: listening to the Word of God and proclaiming it (DV 1). The missionary Church proclaims the Word of God, but also listens to it – as it is revealed in Sacred Scriptures, but also, to use the words of Gaudium et Spes, in “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men [and women] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted” (GS 1).
It is my hope that, through this Synod on the Word of God, the Church may become not just a proclaiming Church but also a listening Church. Consecrated men and women, especially the missionaries who are engaged in mission at the frontiers of our faith and the margins of society, can be the “hearing aid” of the Church, as they endeavor to listen to the Word of God revealed particularly in the lives of people, in the searching of faith-seekers, in the cultural and religious traditions of peoples of other faiths, in the aspirations of the poor and marginalized. As such, the consecrated life can contribute to making the Church a community that not only proclaims but also listens – “Ecclesia audiens et proclamans”.
Intervention for the XII Ordinary
General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops:
the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church
Douglas W. Young, SVD
Archbishop of Mount Hagen - Papua New Guinea
October 11, 2008
Missionaries in PNGSI first proclaimed the gospel in an environment that contained many practices inimical to the Christian faith: polygamy, vengeance, tribal warfare, sorcery, fear of the spirits of the dead and of places. In this context many people found the gospel message liberating, and embraced the Christian faith in great numbers. I have also experienced, as a young bush missionary, the joy of preaching Gospel messages that had not yet become familiar or routine. I observed the faces of people who had never heard the story of the Prodigal Son before. As the message dawned on them, they would first appear stunned and then amazed. They would say about forgiveness "'That is not our way" and struggle to discover how it could be done.
After 150 years of proclaiming and living the gospel (or as little as 40 years in some places), these practices remain, and are supplemented by political corruption, political violence and intimidation, widespread promiscuity, pornography, the rapid spread of HIV AIDS, high rates of crime, including violent crime such as rape and murder, growing secularism and widespread greed. People now experiment with non Christian religions such as Baha'i, Islam, and Mormonism. They are open prey to New Age ideas. People are very interested in the spiritual dimensions of the scriptures but do not always apply this to personal and social life. For example, a recent study indicated that in making moral choices, young people, including of course Christians, are not influenced by religion (or custom/tradition). The major factors appear to be peer pressure, a pornographic environment, and lack of alternative activities. The Pauline dilemma of doing what one does not want to do (Rom 8:21-23) is there but not widely experienced as a state of wretchedness.
This reality poses the question: how is it that a vibrant faith life and love for the scriptures can coincide with so much unbiblical, unchristian behaviour? As the Instrumenturn Laboris puts it, how can we explain "this separation of the truths of the faith and everyday life (IL 7a)? How can we bridge this gap? How can we ensure that love of the scriptures and "'using" the scriptures can result in following the scriptures, or more specifically following the Word who is Jesus, so that the Scriptures lead people to Jesus, who is "a person's source of liberation from degrading conditions and ... a real consolation to the poor and suffering (IL 7c)", "putting the Word of God into practice" (IL).
The Instrumentum Laboris article 4 calls for a strengthening of "the practice of encountering the Word of God as the source of life in various areas of experience," so that people might "thereby be able to hear God and speak with him in a real and proper manner." Lectio Divina, or bible sharing processes, as pioneered by Lumko and others, are important in bridging this gap, although in PNGSI they appear to have declined from their peak. I also notice that in many places people prefer to listen to a preacher expound the scriptures rather than engage with the scriptures in a gospel sharing process. This appears to be preaching as moralising entertainment rather than that "vibrant preaching" integrated with catechesis, liturgy and charitable action (IL 10) (to which me might add prayerful reading that enables interiorising of the message) that engages people in a transformative gospel encounter that leads to authentic conversion (IL 43). In my experience, even those who practise bible sharing in PNGSI often avoid the concrete commitments to joint action to improve livelihood or overcome injustice that was envisaged by the founders of these methods (seven steps and others) of bible sharing.
When faced with tribal fighting among Catholics sweeping through our mission station and threatening to destroy decades of development, one veteran missionary, seeing my despair, remarked, "Remember that they love Jesus as much as they love fighting." Our task is to ensure that people not only love Jesus but allow him to be truly the centre of their lives and allow him ot lead them towards love of others. Hearing the Word of God "must lead to eliminating every form of violence, because his Word becomes active in the heart through the promotion of justice and peace (IL 107)."
How can Scripture speak to this situation (love of the Word which does not include obedience to the Word)? This is an issue of how to turn good intentions into action, decision into willingness. It involves a strengthening of willpower through traditional and modern forms of ascesis. It requires living Christian communities and a Christ-centered pastoral plan to light the way forward and provide manageable steps. Pastoral Planning, as in our National Pastoral Plan for PNG, enables all proposed action to be evaluated according to key themes such as ecumenism and impact on the poor. It is possible to ensure a biblical dimension to all pastoral action.
In PNGSI The Scriptures are used in many problem solving processes, especially in reconciliation processes, where biblical appeals for love and peace are often cited (e.g. Mt 22:37, Rom 15:33, 2 Cor 13:11, Mt 5:9).
Other organised communal responses can include: role plays, early education in self discipline, guided charitable action for youth, close linkage between the warm feelings of piety associated with good liturgy and the action that must follow from it, dialogue or “community conversations" to deal creatively with problems such as HIV and AIDS. In the PNGSI context it also calls for addressing the challenges of certain types of Pentecostalism and fundamentalism (without and within the Catholic Church) that emphasise feelings to the detriment of action.
The church of PNGSI heartily endorses the sentiments of ILI 2: A keen awareness of belonging to the Church, the Body of Christ, will be effective only to the extent that these different relations to the Word of God are coherently followed, that is, the Word proclaimed, the Word meditated upon and studied, the Word prayed and celebrated and the Word lived and propagated.
Most Reverend Arturo M. Bastes,
Bishop of Sorsogon, Philippines
An Interview With Bp A.M.
The Holy Father has echoed a truth revealed in Sacred Scripture: that God’s Word, which is efficacious, is the principle of all beings and history. It is the radical basis of reality. Many biblical texts witness to the majestic and absolute power of the Word of God acting both in creation and in history. (Cf. Gen 1:3; Ps 33:6.9.; Ez 37:14; John 1:3; 2 Tim 3, 16).
As the ontological principle of all reality, God’s Word is “eternal”, transcending the temporal dimension subject to the groaning, vicissitudes, and corruption present in nature and time. Being eternal, the Word of God shares the supreme quality of God’s life which is essentially love, causing the divinity to be diffusive outside of itself, engaging in dialogue with the created world. God speaks because He is LOVE!
Listening to God’s Word should lead us to a profound understanding of the basis of all being and our own existence. The intuition of the ontological foundation of all reality should cause the listeners to God’s Word a deep joy coming from the recognition that human existence has a firmness and solidity which no situation in this world can ever destroy. We retain our personal and communal equanimity in the face of the changes of the world and time. “God’s Word lasts for ever!” As long as God speaks the whole universe continues to be and to have sense; and living a meaningful life is the greatest gift any creature can receive. This is what the Pope means by becoming radical realists.
The world may crumble as we have seen the fall of great monetary institutions. Wealth and riches can suddenly disappear because they are not grounded on the solid foundation of reality. Perhaps these earthly goods were even acquired by dishonesty and greed, motivated by SELF-LOVE, which is the exact opposite of God, whose love means sharing with the other, looking after the good of the other, serving the other and dialogging with the other.
Listening to the Word of God, the basis of all reality, should make us comprehend the raison d’être of our existence which is being oriented to others by wishing for their good, helping them to achieve their goal. If human beings are truly in love as God loves us, all will be rich, all will be “fulfilled” because each one thinks and cares for the other.
God decreed that His only Son, His Word, must become a human being to teach us by word, deed and example the true meaning of our existence. Modeled after the Incarnate Word of God, who gave himself up to give us life, we were born to serve others even unto the death of self. Let the self die, the world will live and enjoy life in abundance.
I deal with some concerns discussed here and there in nos. 48-53 of the Instrumentum laboris regarding the biblical formation of the ministers of the Word or the agents of evangelization. I speak from my experience in doing biblical pastoral ministry in the Philippines and Asia and in other parts of the world on account of our involvement with the Catholic Biblical Federation.
Indeed one of the great effects of the Vatican II's DEI VERBUM is to arouse among the faithful a great hunger for the Word of God; now they long to be satisfied with the heavenly food. But they complain that they feel a deep dissatisfaction. Why? The reason is because their pastors are not capable of feeding them the food that they need due to the lack of a wholesome and holistic biblical formation.
1) Biblical courses in the seminary are heavily intellectual and academic, using the western method of exegesis. As a result seminarians get bored and even fall asleep during lectures, which may make biblical study hateful or at least uninteresting to the students. This could be one of the causes why most homilies lack a biblical foundation.
2) Although we acknowledge the necessity and value of the historico-critical method, there is a need to complement it with methods that make the biblical message resonate with the culture and situation in life of the contemporary hearers so that they can savor the message of God as the food of their spiritual life.
3) Fortunately in the last 43 years ever since the promulgation of DEI VERBUM, many approaches and techniques of how to make the bible understood, appreciated, loved and lived by people have been discovered and tested by biblical groups and institutions, particularly the members, both full and associate, of the Catholic Biblical Federation. We suggest that these creative methodologies and skills in doing the biblical pastoral ministry must be part of formation programs in theological faculties and houses of formation to make our future pastors capable of communicating the biblical message in a way suited to their audience.
4) A concrete example is the BIBLIODRAMA, which appeals to modem men and women. This way of doing biblical apostolate has a special attraction to contemporary people because of the element of DRAMA, a word that connotes action and playful involvement with the Word of God, touching not only the intellect but the whole person, meaning the body with various movements and the sense of hearing by listening to music. The effect is that the person's heart is touched to its very depth. This is Lectio Divina in stage. The purpose is for the person to interiorize the Word of God and not to entertain other people.
5) Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit we Asians feel the need of developing an Asian way of reading the bible because this continent offers a tremendous challenge and a potential harvest for the Church on account of millions of people who feel hungry for the Word of God. Asians long to hear God's voice. Our task is to make it audible to them. There are now successful attempts to develop a biblical hermeneutics that take into account the rich culture and history of Asian peoples. The attempt proves to be promising because many symbols in the bible such as water, light, bread etc. and many literary devices in the bible such as the parable, simile and narrative forms etc. reverberate in the Asian culture transmitted by folklore, tradition and even in sacred books. No wonder because the bible itself is a product of Asia.
6) We have been dreaming of producing an Asian Biblical Commentary, which will make use of the historico critical method of the West as the basic tool to get into the literal sense of the original writer and to employ a comparative cultural hermeneutics to render the profound spiritual sense of the biblical text accessible to the Asian soul. During the recent Seventh Plenary Assembly of the CBF held in Tanzania four months ago, the Asian delegates decided to establish an Asian Biblical Institute, which will hopefully give pastors and evangelizers the desired wholesome and holistic biblical formation program.
7) This is also our way of contributing to the MISSIO AD EXTRA in Asia, the majority of whose people have not yet heard of Christ, although this continent comprises more than one half of the world's population. Through a gradual process of evangelization presenting Jesus of the Gospels as a Teacher, Story Teller, Healer, Miracle Worker, Consoler, Friend, Model of good behavior etc. images that are pleasing to Asians our brothers and sisters in Asia may eventually be led by the Spirit to accept Christ, believing in Him as Lord and the Son of God.
8) These reflections, mutatis mutandis, could apply to other parts of the world, especially Africa and Latin America where similar situations obtain and even to people in Europe and North America who live in the culture of the post modem world. What is to be emphasized is that proclamation of the Word of God cannot succeed without taking into account the culture, the mentality and life situation of the contemporary men and women.
9) It is to be stressed that we in no way minimize the importance of the classical method of doing exegesis in the West. On the other hand we insist that using this method exclusively is non productive for the ministry of the Word especially in Asia and several non European countries. It must therefore be complemented with innovative and creative techniques and approaches, such as a comparative cultural biblical hermeneutics in view of inculcating a deeper scriptural proficiency of the evangelizers and ultimately for the good of the listeners to the Word of God.
Monseigneur Jean-Gaspard MUDISO
Evêque de Kenge / RDC
14 Octobre 2008
1) L'Instrumentum laboris affirme : «La raison d'être de l'Eglise et de sa mission est sans aucun doute d'annoncer l'Evangile» (Cfr ICo 9,16 , Instrumentum n.43). La Constitution dogmatique sur la Révélation du Concile Vatican Il (Dei Verbum) demandait déjà que « la prédication ecclésiastique tout entière, tout comme la religion chrétienne elle même... soit nourrie et guidée par la Sainte Ecriture » (DV, n.21).
2) Mon intervention concerne l'Apostolat biblique, précisément la préparation ou formation des futurs prêtres à l'Apostolat Biblique comme discipline académique dans les séminaires et maisons de formation religieuse. Je me réfère à l'Instrumentum Laboris, n. 49, § 4 ; Sacramentum caritatis, n.46. Pour mieux comprendre son objet, il convient de distinguer les deux dimensions de l'Apostolat Biblique:
3. Si la Parole de Dieu doit inspirer toute la pastorale de l'Eglise , si elle doit être à la base, comme l'âme de la pastorale et conduire ainsi les fidèles à rencontrer le Christ, source vivante (Cfr InsIrumenium Laboris, n.48 , DV, n.24), il nous faut repenser ou revoir la formation aux grands séminaires et dans les maisons religieuses. Il faut revenir à la pratique des Pères de l'Eglise, ces maîtres incomparables de la lecture spirituelle des Ecritures (Instrumentum Laboris, n. 28). Car la Parole de Dieu n'est pas et ne peut pas être une matière d'enseignement comme une autre, au même titre que les autres.
4. Notre Eglise particulière de la RD Congo s'est assigné comme objectif l'inculturation de l'Evangile de Jésus Christ. Et le défi que nous avons à relever en Afrique, c'est précisément la qualité de notre foi et la profondeur de l'enracinement de la Bonne Nouvelle de Jésus Christ dans nos cultures. Comment y parvenir sinon grâce a une compréhension profonde des Ecritures, Parole de Dieu, particulièrement de la part de ceux qui ont mission de l'annoncer aux autres. Il y a donc nécessité d'une préparation très sérieuse, tant académique, scientifique que spirituelle des futurs prêtres , une préparation donc qui prenne en compte les deux dimensions mentionnées ci haut de l'Apostolat Biblique. L'exégèse scientifique pourra alors mieux aider les Pasteurs à approfondir le message évangélique et à le transmettre fidèlement aux fidèles (Instrumentum Laboris, n. 49 ; DV, n. 25 ; PO, n.4 ; L'interprétation de la Bible dans l'Eglise, 3.C.3.)
5. Cependant, nous déplorons une certaine insuffisance à ce sujet dans la formation donnée aux séminaires. L'étude de la Bible tend à privilégier la lectio scholastica, la lecture académique de la Bible qui transmet principalement des connaissances intellectuelles, lesquelles sont, certes, nécessaires, mais laissent un vide quant à la lecture spirituelle, c'est à dire à la dimension pastorale de la Parole de Dieu. L'homélie, par exemple, devait expliquer et actualiser la parole qui a été proclamée. Mais nous constatons que beaucoup d'homélies restent superficielles, abstraites ou simplement académiques, sans lien et sans impact sur la vie des fidèles (Cfr Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 46; Instrumentum Laboris, n.27, p.39, § 2 ; n.49, p.66, § 3).
Justement l'Apostolat Biblique comme discipline académique veut combler ce vide. Il veut aider le croyant à rencontrer son Seigneur qui s'adresse à lui et l'interpelle dans le concret de sa vie. Ce cours pourrait avoir cette double finalité:
Cette double finalité peut être atteinte e.a par les objectifs suivants:
Ce synode pourrait ainsi nous aider à comprendre la Parole de Dieu en profondeur et la vivre comme individu et comme communauté.
Je vous remercie
USG-UISG / SEDOS
“In Communion with the Synod on the Word”
4, 11, 17 October 2008
Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
The Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod on the Word of God speaks about the “Word of God as a Hymn with many voices” (IL 9). Through this expression, the Instrumentum Laboris refers to the fact that there are several levels of meaning to the phrase “the Word of God” (e.g. the Word of God as the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God as the created world, or the Word of God as the Incarnate Word, etc.). The Lineamenta for the Synod had spoken earlier of a “symphony of meanings” of the Word of God.
Although not in exactly the same sense, I think we can use this same imagery for the series of reflection days that have been organized by USG-UISG and SEDOS on the occasion of the ongoing Synod on the Word of God. During these three reflection days, we wish to examine the various dimensions of the Word of God – namely, the Word of God as creative, prophetic and liberative. Last week, we reflected on the consecrated life and the creative dimension of the Word of God. Today, we wish to reflect on the consecrated life and the prophetic dimension of the Word of God.
In responding to the request to offer a reflection on the consecrated life and the prophetic dimension of the Word of God, I thought I would ask myself three questions – namely: (1) In what sense is the Word of God prophetic? (2) In what way does the Word of God enhance the prophetic character of the consecrated life? (3) What has been the experience of my own congregation in this regard? These three questions form the three parts of this short reflection.
The first question, then, is in what sense is the Word of God prophetic? I believe three elements need to be considered.
The first element is the character of the Word of God as a call to action. As we know, the Word of God is not an idle word. It is a dynamic and active word. It brings about what it says. In Genesis, we hear God saying: “Let there be light”, and there was light. In chapter 55 of Isaiah, we read:
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it (Is 55:10-11).
As we know, prophetic literature in the bible is replete with examples of how individual prophets or the whole nation of Israel is stimulated to action by hearing the Word of God or reading the Torah. The Word of God is dynamic and active. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is “performative”. Although not exactly in reference to the Word of God, we read the following in his encyclical Spe Salvi:
So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news” – the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing (SS 2).
The second element is the character of the Word of God as a call to conversion. Once again, prophetic literature in the bible contains many examples of the Word of God as a call to conversion. In chapter 8 of the book of the prophet Nehemiah, we hear about the reading of the Book of the Law “from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, women and those children old enough to understand” which provoked the people to repent from their sins and seek God (cf. Neh 8:3ff). Perhaps the most dramatic example is the book of the prophet Hosea. The book opens with these words: “In the beginning of the LORD’S speaking ... the LORD said to Hosea: ‘Go, take a harlot wife and harlot’s children, for the land gives itself to harlotry, turning away from the LORD’” (Hos 1:2). In chapter 6, the prophet says:
In their affliction, they shall look for me: “Come, let us return to the LORD, For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence” (Hos 6: 1-2).
In other words, the Word of God is not only “performative” (bringing about what it says), it is also “transformative”. As the Holy Father says in Spe Salvi, the Word of God is “life-changing” (ibid.). It calls for a transformation – transformation not only of the individual person but also of the larger society or of the entire nation, as we see in the book of the prophet Hosea. Often, in order to bring about this transformation, God calls on the prophet to go, as it were, “against the current”. He asks the prophet to challenge the complacency of his contemporaries. A courage like that of Hosea is often what is required in prophets sent to a world in need of transformation.
The third element is the character of the Word of God as a response to the cry of the poor. Prophetic literature abounds with descriptions of the oppression and mistreatment of the poor and voiceless by the rich and powerful. Prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos describe the situation of the poor and what God intends to do on their behalf. For example, Amos records the thoughts of the powerful plotting against the poor in the following words:
When will New Moon be over so that we can sell our corn, and Sabbath, so that we can market our wheat? Then, we can make the bushel-measure smaller and the shekel-weight bigger, by fraudulently tampering with the scales. We can buy up the weak for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals, and even get a price for the sweepings of the wheat” (Amos 8:5-6).
In many instances the poor cry to the Lord because they see him as their only refuge. Those who should protect them have become their persecutors (Is 3:15). The poor find in the Word of God a response to their cry. They are consoled and reaffirmed by passages like Psalm 10:17-18: “God, you listen to the laments of the poor, you give them courage, you grant them a hearing, to give judgment for the orphaned and exploited, so that earthborn humans may strike terror no more”.
On the other hand, the oppressors who turn to God to prove their innocence receive words like those of Isaiah 58:6-11:
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me: to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes? Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin?
Indeed, for the poor, the conversion of the oppressor is the most certain sign that God has heard their cry. In the story of the prophet Elijah, God’s response to the cry of the poor is mediated by the prophet’s defense of the poor against the powerful of this world (1 Kg 18-19).
To sum up, then, the Word of God is prophetic insofar as it is experienced as a call to action (the Word of God as performative), a call to conversion (the Word of God as transformative), and a response to the cry of the poor (the Word of God as liberative).
The second question is in what way does the Word of God enhance the prophetic character of the consecrated life? Let me begin by quoting the post-synodal document, Vita Consecrata:
The prophetic character of the consecrated life .... takes the shape of a special form of sharing in Christ’s prophetic office .... There is a prophetic dimension which belongs to the consecrated life as such, resulting from the radical nature of the following of Christ and of the subsequent dedication to the mission characteristic of the consecrated life. The sign value, which the Second Vatican Council acknowledges in the consecrated life, is expressed in prophetic witness to the primacy which God and the truths of the Gospel have in the Christian life. Because of this pre-eminence nothing can come before personal love of Christ and of the poor in whom he lives (VC 84).
In other words, there are two elements which give the consecrated life its prophetic character – the radical following of Christ and dedication to mission, or personal love of Christ and love of the poor. Today, this prophetic character of the consecrated life is being enhanced in the attempt of religious congregations to rediscover the centrality of the Word of God in their life and mission.
First, the Word of God in Scriptures. Renewal of the religious life today generally comes in the form of putting the Word of God at the center of their spirituality and community life. Such practices as the daily reading of Scriptures and a regular Bible sharing are becoming more and more common in religious communities. The Lectio Divina, recommended by several recent documents of the Church, is being re-learned and practiced by religious communities. Indeed, familiarity with Sacred Scriptures is a powerful and indispensable way of nourishing the following of Jesus and love for the Lord. Listening to the Word of God in Scriptures fosters a personal relationship with Christ, and thus enhances the first element of the prophetic character of the consecrated life, namely, a personal love of Christ.
Second, the Word of God in frontier situations. As we know, the Word of God is not “locked up in writing”. Many Synod fathers have referred to this statement in the Instrumentum Laboris. As mentioned earlier, the Instrumentum Laboris speaks of the Word of God as “a hymn with many voices”. The Word of God is not limited to the biblical word. In his intervention at the Synod, Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, the superior general of the OMI, emphasized the Word of God as found in the “extra-biblical word” – in creation, in history, in the cultures of nations, in the lives of people, especially those in frontier situations. Listening to the Word of God in the Bible is like a schoolroom task which allows us to learn the grammar of God’s Word so that we may recognize the Word of God revealed outside and beyond the Bible. Knowing Christ in the Bible is like getting to know him face to face so that we may recognize him as he passes by among the people in frontier situations.
Vatican II’s document, Dei Verbum, begins with the phrase “Dei Verbum audiens et proclamans”. The Church proclaims the Word of God but also listens to it – listens to it as it is revealed in Sacred Scriptures, but also, to use the words of Gaudium et Spes, in “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men [and women] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted” (GS 1). It is particularly through consecrated men and women that the Church does this, especially those consecrated men and women who are engaged in mission at the frontiers of our faith and the margins of society. In frontier situations, they endeavor to listen to the Word of God revealed in the lives of ordinary people, in the aspirations of the poor and marginalized, in the searching of faith-seekers, in the cultural and religious traditons of people of other faiths. This enhances the second element of the prophetic character of consecrated life, namely, dedication to mission or love of the poor.
In both ways, then – that is, listening to God’s Word in Scriptures and listening to God’s Word in frontier situations, the Word of God enhances the prophetic character of consecrated life.
And now to the third question, namely, what has been the experience of my own congregation in this regard? Let me begin by saying that Vatican II, through its decree, Perfectae Caritatis, called for the renewal of religious congregations in the light of three principles – namely, the Gospel, the charism of the founder and the changed conditions of our time (PC 2). In our case, we tried to respond to this call for aggiornamento by going back to our founder’s charism, as expressed in the very name of our congregation – “Society of the Divine Word”. In several general chapters, we sought concrete ways of making the Word of God the center of our life and mission. In one general chapter, we made the biblical pastoral ministry a priority for our congregation. More recently, we have begun to consider the bible a “characteristic dimension” of our life and mission. This means that we seek to imbue any and all of our activities (whether parishes, schools, or frontier mission) with the biblical dimension. To bring this about, coordinators of the biblical pastoral ministry are appointed at all levels of our congregation – generalate level, continental, province, and local levels.
I believe I can speak of two moments in this effort to instill a biblical dimension to our life and mission.
The first moment was the enthusiasm in carrying out all kinds of biblical initiatives in our missionary activities – creating bible centers, forming bible study groups, giving basic bible seminars, undertaking correspondence courses on the bible, etc. All of this effort was directed to the people, ad extra, in our missionary activities. This was the moment of emphasizing the “Word for Others.” In general, our confreres were very good at this – addressing the Word to others. Here, the Word of God was something we do, a work we needed to accomplish. There was very little about the “Word to us”, the Word addressed to ourselves, making the Word of God the center of our lives. Here, many confreres were rather timid or hesitant, or even uninterested.
This situation has, however, gradually changed. We have gradually realized that the Word we proclaim to others will sound empty if it is not a Word that is listened to by us. Thus, in 2005, we declared a “Bible Year” for the whole congregation. We called it “A Year of Divine Word Missionaries Reading the Bible”. Everyone was encouraged to read the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles throughout the year. In addition, 13 passages from Luke and Acts were chosen to be the subject of a monthly lectio divina in all of our communities throughout the whole congregation. A special booklet was produced as an aid to this effort, containing the reflections on the 13 passages contributed by selected confreres from all over the world. The possibility of reading the whole bible throughout the year was also offered and a scheme was developed for doing so.
The response to this initiative was extremely good. About 95% of all confreres and all local communities faithfully carried out the program laid out in the booklet. And more importantly, as a result of this exercise, confreres now continue to read the bible regularly, communities continue to gather for lectio divina, even provincial councils begin their meetings with a form of bible sharing. In a particular community, regular lectio divina has led to members going out and initiating a new apostolate among the beggars, street vendors, and cart-pushers in the city. In other words, the effort to pay particular attention to the “Word for Us” is giving confreres renewed zeal and creativity in continuing their various activities, or starting new ones, in the biblical pastoral ministry – a renewed commitment, in other words, in the mission of bring the “Word to Others”.
It is now time to conclude, and I wish to do so by referring to Jer 20:7-9. Here, the prophet Jeremiah complains about God seducing him into becoming a prophet.
You seduced me, O LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out; violence and outrage is my message; The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
A similar imagery appears in Luke’s story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. As the risen Lord disappeared from their sight, the disciples said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).
The real prophet is the one in whom the Word of God burns as a fire within him or her. It is my hope that the ongoing Synod on the Word of God will bring about consecrated men and women – indeed, an entire Church – whose hearts burn with the Word of God.