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The Spiritual Senses of Scriptures and the BEC

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I think it was Carlos Mesters (was it from the book “Fiori senza difesa”?) who made me realize that the BEC is the place where the Spiritual senses of the Scriptures unlocked, discovered and lived.  But in the schema he describes, the spiritual sense of Scriptures result from the faithful’s discussing what they have learned about the text of Scriptures (the exegetical part of a BEC meeting) and applying it to their lives.  Mesters who is a biblical expert gives us a simple description of the way the Scriptures is read in grassroots communities:  first, the Scriptures is read, then someone explains the text “objectively” — that is, as an exegete would — and finally, the faithful — the grassroots community — talk about the text learned.  Surely, this kind of “meeting” gives no space to questions like “What in the text moved you?”.  On the contrary, it goes beyond the emotional “faith-sharings” we normally observe in Bible prayer groups and asks the question:  “What is the Spirit saying to you, the Community of Faith, today?”  The answer to this question, an answer drawn from the members of a community that has grown familiar with the Word of God as they live it in their concrete reality, would be the “spiritual sense” of the text. 

In 1990, I delivered a talk to students and teachers of the University of San Agustin-ILO on the theme “Reading the TEXT in its PRE-TEXT and CON-TEXT: Hearing the Word of God Today”.  It was a lecture based on the books of Carlos Mesters mostly and from the liberation theologians that I read while preparing a paper on “The Militant Reading of the Scriptures” for my STB requirement.  The lecture was intended to be an update on questions of Fundamental Theology:  after all, it touched on the question of the Church as a “locus theologicus” which the theologians of liberation underlined as Church praxis in the context of liberation.   But Iloilo was not the place for such a lecture then (if the talk was delivered in Bacolod, the reaction would have been different).  In fact, a member of the panel of reactors, a distinguished member of the academe in the Visayas, noted the indifference of the audience to the topic before making her observations on the point that interested her:  my translation of a portion of Dei Verbum 12, namely, reading Scriptures “in the same Spirit in which they were written.”  Her understanding was that since a Christian has received the Holy Spirit in baptism, then any Christian could interpret the Scriptures.  She however understood the reception of the Holy Spirit in a very individualistic sense, as non-Catholics would understand it, namely,  as a license to interpret the Scriptures according to one’s understanding.  It was for that reason that another panel member, a bible professor from the diocesan seminary, responded by reasserting the principle already found in 2 Peter 1:20–21.  She missed the idea that when the Lord said he would give the Spirit who would lead to all truth, he was speaking to his disciples, not to an individual (John 16:13).  The whole point of Dei Verbum 12 actually is to highlight the importance of understanding Scriptures according to the mind of the Church.

My remembrance of that talk in Iloilo and the discussion that followed it was one of the things that drew me to an aspect of the interpretation of Scriptures.  Carlos Mesters described it in a very vivid way:  the lay people understand the Scriptures differently from the clergy in the same way as a car mechanic regards a car differently from its owner.  The mechanic you see would look up from beneath the car and see some things that the owner would not see: the car’s underside.  Mester’s point is clear:  if your hands are calloused and dirty from work and your life is engaged in a constant battle to provide food for your family, you would read “Blessed are you poor for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20) differently from one who has all the conveniences of life readily at hand.  But Mesters of course was talking of lay people who have learned to live their faith in the Church, albeit a “militant” Church struggling against structures of oppression (“sinful structures” as John Paul II would put it).  The aspect of the interpretation of Scriptures I am referring to is one that is seldom paid attention to by scholars:  the understanding of a particular group of lay faithful who live their faith, hope and love from within a particular experience of being Church.  In the Latin America of the 1980’s, this was identified as “liberation theologies”.  How would it be in Laguna, Philippines of the 2000’s?

Originally posted 2009-03-20 02:07:45. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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