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Waiting for the Message of the Synod

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Next Friday, it is hoped that the Message of the Synod will be made known. While we await the final document, Zenit and ScriptureSynod continue to publish updates on the ongoing providing us with the Inside Stuff as it were of matters relevant to the Synod on the Word of God. Here are some of the articles that I found interesting.

Live the Faith

There is a report on a conversation with Bishop Tagle of Imus, Cavite about the Church’s programs for making the Bible known. The good Bishop mentions two: (a)the Bible Quiz and (b) the TV program “The Word Exposed” (aired on Sundays via Channel 5). There is mention of a “growing evangelical movement” and how the Church is addressing it. Unfortunately, Bishop Tagle does not seem to know the real situation behind the “growth” of the so-called “evangelical movement”. Here is an excerpt of the conversaion

He also said the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, is witnessing a growing Christian evangelical movement. The bishop said the church is trying to avoid looking at the growing fundamentalist movement with prejudice, “suspicion or belligerence,” but to humbly ask the questions “what are they doing right, what are they doing well” that attracts such a growing number of people.

“We believe we have a fuller approach to the word, but how come it is not felt?” he asked.

The church has learned it could improve on a number of things such as looking at the way Catholics live and proclaim the word of God, he said.

“Is it really a living word for them because when (evangelicals preach) it, they make it alive. And is this just a question of technique — speaking ability — or is it a question also of interiorizing” the Gospel message, he asked.

He said if Catholics are to “go beyond what the fundamentalist groups are doing,” they must challenge themselves to consistently live the word of God and deepen their sense of spirituality because the best people who can communicate the word are those people who have truly encountered Jesus in the word.

The situation is actually similar to the piranha infested parts of the Amazon river. Imagine hundreds and thousands of small evangelical groups united only by their anti-catholicism biting and nibbling at the membership of the more established Catholic Church in the Philippines (85% of the whole population). Without the membership of the Catholic Church, they won’t live! And these groups choose membership from the urban and slowly developing urban areas, not really from the backwoods (can you imagine Itas in the ADD or Iglesya ni Cristo of Manalo?) . Second there are two ideas that have become embedded in the Filipino mind that favors the growth of these groups: (a) the idea that it does not matter who teaches so long as it is “good”, and (b) all Christian groups are the same since there is only one God, anyway. Add to this the fact that most Filipinos are not inclined to thinking (they seem to use this faculty more for economic purposes than for the metaphysical). They are drawn to “Tito, Vic and Joey-like” presentations (that is why the ADD is so popular) and have embraced the culture of customization to the extent that they have begun to favor the Do-IT-Yourself-Christianity of the various pentecostal and Born-Again groups (this is especially true among the rich and famous, but also verifiable in above middle-class groups who’d rather pay ten percent of their salaries than go to confession or to Sunday mass).

I am not saying that the 85% Catholic population in the Philippines who have not become a leaven to their society should not be blamed for their country’s continuing descent into the morass of violence, corruption and immorality. After all, how many of them are there in our Congress and Senate and key positions of government and industry? I would even suggest that most of those who have left the Catholic Church to join other groups did so because either:

  1. they wanted to try something new (like teenagers do, and many who go to other religions are teenagers) since the religion they know isn’t really taken seriously by their folks
  2. they want to disassociate themselves from a family member or members who are prominent Catholics and are seen as “mayabang” and “pakitang tao”
  3. they have been baptized, wish to be evangelized and found this latter in a non-Catholic group

But the good Bishop should also be looking at other factors too, since the divide between life and faith among Filipinos is a rift that goes deeper than what has been conveniently described as “not living the faith.”

Lectio Divna

In another article, Archibishop John Nienstedt writes about a lectio divina activity he has regularly with high school students. The process of the lectio divina is described as follows

  1. The leader begins with a prayer to focus and calm us down.
  2. The leader reads the Scripture passage through the first time slowly and reverently. Everyone is attentive to any word, phrase or image that strikes him. (St. Benedict says that one listens to the Word with the ears of one’s heart.)
  3. The leader pauses, then reads the passage again.
  4. After the second reading the leader stops and asks if there are any questions with the text, anything that’s not clear or not understood.
  5. The leader reads the passage a third time. Again, each one focuses on the word, phrase or image which stands out.
  6. All go separately to a quiet place to “ruminate” for 20 minutes or so, over his word, phrase or image and its meaning. This “rumination” can lead to meditation (how does this passage speak to my life), or to contemplation (resting with the Lord in that Word) or oratio (expressing a prayer of praise, thanksgiving or petition). Then one writes down his reflections.
  7. The group reassembles and each person has a chance to share his reflections (No one is ever asked to share if he prefers not to do so.)
  8. The leader concludes with a summary prayer of praise and/or thanksgiving.

This could be a good pattern to use for the youth, especially those who have been exposed to youth encounters. When Cardinal Martini was still in Milan he used to have a regular lectio divina session with the youth. The Archbishop recommends that a lectio divina session be started with 8-10 members so that all the participants can have the opportunity to share. In our parish we already have several pockets of these small groups, sometimes numbering to 15 who regularly meet for a “bible session.”

Too Much Scientific Exegesis

Father Raymond de Souza entitles his article “Can the Bible be rescued from Biblical Scholarship?” It is an intriguing title and it made me look. The whole point of the article is not really for the need to abandon the historico-critical approach to exegesis. He writes

The synod has not called for abandoning the historical-critical approach, but rather wishes to balance it with the witness and tradition of the faith. Existing Biblical scholarship peels away layers of faith and tradition to get at a “scientific” reading of the Bible, but succeeds in peeling so much away that there is little left of interest. A recent book about Jesus was entitled A Marginal Jew — which is more or less what historical analysis alone would tell us. But why should anyone be interested in a marginal Jew from a time long ago in a place far away?

The article traces how the approach to Scriptures has been dominated by historico-literary criticism from the 19th century onwards and how the situation to which this led has failed “to nourish the faithful and impoverished the preaching of the clergy.” “The centuries-long drive to make the Bible more accessible to ordinary Christians”, the author writes “resulted in Biblical study being reserved to the scholars’ guild, of which many considered faith itself to be an obstacle to the correct reading of the texts.”

Biblical Oil Crisis, Popular Devotions and Mary

Another eye-catching article is entitled “The Biblical Oil Crisis: Breaking down what the Synod is all About”. The article is actually an explanation of the Parable of the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25:1-14 and illustrates — for the layman — what biblical exegesis is all about.

Finally from the same author, “The Marian Paradigm of Welcoming the Word: Embracing the Word of God Made Flesh in Faith” is about the importance of traditional piety and how devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary deepens our devotion to the Word. The article takes as its launch pad, an address delivered by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson to the Synod.

Anderson touched upon a very important dimension of the Word of God: Its power to touch the lives of ordinary people through solid piety, authentic devotion and attentiveness to the living Word that is not locked in a remote past, enchained by scientific methods, presented in linguistic strangleholds or covered with archaeological inconsistencies. While the biblical stories we read and contemplate come from a past time, their message is current. Though the stories may be historically inaccurate, their writers were not authoring historiographies but living, theological messages that kept communities of faith alive. Given that archaeology has been so helpful in locating places, unearthing artifacts, confirming details in the text, the science of archaeology deals with dead stones and at times lost civilizations. The Word of God deals with the living communities of faith who have handed down the message to us, a message that keeps alive our community of faith.

The author notes that many Catholics may not be able to read the Scriptures but they do drink from the wells of the Word through the devotions they practise. Come to think of it, we Catholic Filipinos have began reading the Bible seriously only from the 1980s (around the time of the Congress on the Scriptures), and the first translated Protestant Bibles trickled into circulation here beginning the 1900s. But this does not mean that the Catholic Filipino was not in contact with the Word of God before those dates. From the time the Philippines was evangelized in 1565 by the Augustinians, Filipinos came into contact with the Word of God not only through the eucharist but also through the different practices of piety introduced by the friars. To this date, the rosary, the reading of the Pasyon, the Way of the Cross and the novenas to the Sto. NiƱo and the Perpetual Help remain to be some of the ways that our common folk approach the Word of God. The author writes:

For many people who do not have the luxury, privilege, money, time or perhaps desire to delve into serious Scripture studies, their only encounter with the Word of God might be through the liturgy or popular piety and devotion. For this reason, it is incumbent on those who teach and preach the Word of God to show respect and act humbly when we speak of piety and devotion.

Not only Scripture scholars, but also priests who — like sophomores — tend to think that the old devotions no longer matter. How many of our faithful, for example, became disoriented in the eighties when old devotions where pushed out of the parish life in favor of Father’s more enlightened approach to spirituality?


This survey of Synod updates should whet our appetites for the Message of the Synod come Friday. I would expect the following from the Message, among others

  1. an emphasis on the reading of the Scriptures in the family that is completed by the hearing and “eating” the Word in the liturgy
  2. the lectio divina encouraged at the parish level, with the parish priest taking an active role in the practice of listening to the Word solemnly proclaimed together with the faithful
  3. an exhortation to the exegetes and biblilcal scholars to connect their study of the Scriptures with the faith of the Church (this was already done in a previous document, but it would help to repeat it)
  4. the recognition of popular devotions as valid ways through which the Word of God (understood first of all as Christ, something that even fundamentalists don’t understand) is encountered
  5. encourage the formation of “pockets” of communities of the Word regularly meeting to reflect on Scriptures whose members make concrete resolutions to live the heard Word in their lives

Update: October 28

I was wrong about the date of the release of the Synod’s Message. In fact, it was on Friday, October 24, not the week after. I have already blogged about the Message at Res Biblica. The accompaning shorter version has been published by Zenit. You can find a copy of it here.

Update, May 29 2011
The document is entitled “Verbum domini” and is found at the Vatican website.

Originally posted 2008-10-24 02:26:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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