I had written in an earlier post about how I first came to be touched by the power of the Scriptures, through a seemingly random moment which I had not at all anticipated – a moment whose reverberations continue today and which I now know was anything but random. It was a moment of grace, whose effects will – I suspect – last a lifetime. I certainly hope so.
Christians are blessed in that we have regular access to the Scriptures. Catholics, for example, listen to the Word of God at every Mass – this ‘liturgy of the Word’ occupies as great a prominence within the Mass as the succeeding ‘liturgy of the Eucharist’. We cannot properly be ready to receive Christ in the Sacrament of His presence if we have not first received Him in our hearts in His Word. The Word comes first in this sense.
Sitting at Mass, it is possible that we might not really engage with the Word as well or as deeply as we might do. It is a very personal moment, even in the midst of the community, and one which has the power to touch and to transform us very powerfully indeed, as my own experience all those years ago taught me – words written thousands of years ago can seem as though they were written precisely with us in mind, just waiting for a particular moment in our lives so that they can blossom like a flower and cover everything in their beautiful fragrance. The danger is that we let such moments pass us by and don’t give them the pause they need for this flowering to occur.
I notice these days that many people make use of the liturgy books provided by parishes and which contain the Mass readings as well as the other parts of the Mass; many other people bring along their own Missals, from which they read the Readings even as they listen. I can’t help thinking this is a powerful thing, that it allows us to go just that little but deeper into the Word, so that we are using two senses (listening and vision) – rather than one (simply listening) – by means of which to experience the Word in all it’s power. Most often, that Word is gentle in its power – it asks for our receptivity first of all, and it does not force us to be touched or transformed by it. But sometimes, the sheer power of that Word is revealed to us, for reasons best known to the Lord, whose power it is.
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path
Throughout all of his papacy, Pope Francis has consistently and repeatedly encouraged us to develop a deep love of the Scriptures. That love can only come into being if we actually read the Scriptures, not only by listening at Mass, but through a deliberate intention to read what it contains, outwith the context of the Mass. The Holy Father encourages us in this in a very practical way – he asks us to have “a Bible for every family! …Not to place it on a shelf, but to keep it at hand, to read it often, every day”. And he asks something similar of all of us at the personal level – “Everyone should carry a small Bible or pocket edition of the Gospels and should find at least a few minutes every day to read the word of God.” It is such a simple and easy thing, requiring little real effort and only a few minutes of our time; but we do need to have – to cultivate – the desire to actually do what is being asked of us.
In my younger years, I had a Bible and it just sat there on the shelf, never taken down and never opened. I listened to the Epistles and the Gospel at Mass, but it was that very inactive sort of listening, the kind that we hear and almost instantly forget because even if our ears are open – minimally – the same cannot be said either for our heart or for the will to be transformed by that powerful Word, which comes to us in gentleness for the most part. Thank goodness, that changed to some degree in the moment I wrote about in that earlier post, and the gentle power of that moment has been like a wave caressing a beach, over and over again, ever since. It was, indeed ‘a flame once lit’ and I am so grateful every day for it.
The thing is, it’s one thing when someone else tells you about that gentle power and tries to describe it – you listen courteously to their experience and think how lovely for them that must be – but that is often where our thoughts on the matter end, before we continue our merry way in the busyness of our daily lives. The reality is, this is something we are asked to experience personally, each one of us. Certainly, the offer is made to each one of us at a very personal level – the Lord so desires to speak to us in His Word, and to reveal to us the treasures contained within. But He asks our co-operation in this action – He invites, He does not force.
Ultimately, it is not so much about knowing the names of all the books of the Bible, nor about being able to quote the verse numbers of particular lines; rather, it is about becoming ever-more deeply acquainted with the Scriptures, being touched by them, because we have given to the Lord the desire to be so touched, and offered Him the moments in which we ask Him to do so. In other words, it comes down to a very deliberate desire to come to know Him more intimately, through the Word in which He reveals Himself to us. And that is a very personal desire, even if offered to us in the midst of the believing community where we hear that Word proclaimed.
His Word will indeed be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path – but only if we open ourselves to it, to Him who is that Word. Pray God we do so.