ONE SUNDAY OF THE YEAR FOR GOD’s WORD – Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio “Aperuit Illis” (2019)

– Fr Fausto Gomez, OP

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter in the form of Motu Proprio begins thus: “He opened [“aperuit”] their minds to understand the Scriptures (Lk 24:45)… Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth” (Aperuit Illis, AI, no.1). To remind us of the inexhaustible richness of the Word of God and its daily influence in our Christian lives, the pontiff declares a Sunday dedicated to the Word of God.

The recent Apostolic Letter (issued September 30, 2019) is a short, meaty and yet simple and attractive papal text addressed to all Christians and believers. Hereafter, we present a summary of the principal teachings. As much as possible, we quote the words of Pope Francis.

We wish to underline four main points in Aperuit Illis: First: the Sunday of the Word. Second: the significance of the Bible. Third, the practice of reading the Bible and witnessing its teachings in our life. And fourth: those responsible for sharing the word of God with others.

THE SUNDAY OF THE WORD

In no. 3 of AI, Pope Francis declares that “the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” This Sunday of the Word of God, the Pope continues, “will thus be a fitting part of that time of the year when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity. This is more than a temporal coincidence: the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.” 

Later on in no. 8 we read:  “A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers.”

In the last number, no. 15, and in its last paragraph our current Pope encourages us thus: “May the Sunday of the Word of God help his people to grow in religious and intimate familiarity with the sacred Scriptures.”

THE FUNDAMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BIBLE

The Holy Bible is focused on the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We know well the emblematic words of Saint Jerome: Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (AI, 1). The Pope underlines: “The Bible, as Sacred Scripture, speaks of Christ and proclaims him as the one who had to endure suffering and then enter into his glory (cf Lk 24:26). Not simply a part, but the whole of Scripture speaks of Christ. Apart from the Scriptures, his death and resurrection cannot be rightly understood… Since the Scriptures everywhere speak of Christ, they enable us to believe that his death and resurrection are not myth but history, and are central to the faith of his disciples” (AI, 7).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit: “The role of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures is primordial. Without the work of the Spirit, there would always be a risk of remaining limited to the written text alone. This would open the way to a fundamentalist reading, which needs to be avoided, lest we betray the inspired, dynamic and spiritual character of the sacred text” (AI, 9).

There is a necessary link of Sacred Scriptures with Tradition: “We frequently risk separating Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, without understanding that together they are the one source of Revelation. The written character of the former takes nothing away from its being fully a living word; in the same way, the Church’s living Tradition, which continually hands that word down over the centuries from one generation to the next, possesses that sacred book as the ‘supreme rule of her faith’ (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 21). Moreover, before becoming a written text, sacred Scripture was handed down orally and kept alive by the faith of a people who, in the midst of many others, acknowledged it as their own history and the source of their identity. Biblical faith, then, is based on the living word, not on a book” (AI, 11). It is to be noted, moreover, that the sacred Scripture is “aimed entirely at the integral salvation of the person” (AI, 9).

Commenting on the scene of the Risen Christ walking to Emmaus with two disciples, Pope Francis affirms: “The journey that the Risen Lord makes with the disciples of Emmaus ended with a meal. The mysterious wayfarer accepts their insistent request: ‘Stay with us, for it is almost evening and the day is now far spent’ (Lk 24:29). They sit down at table, and Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and offers it to them. At that moment, their eyes are opened, and they recognize him (cf. v. 31)…” We underline the Pope’s words: Regular reading of sacred Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist make it possible for us to see ourselves as part of one another. As Christians, we are a single people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us” (AI, 8).

READING THE HOLY BIBLE AND PRACTICING ITS TEACHINGS

A popular prayer method that may help us much in reading (lectio) the Bible is, Pope Francis tells us, the practice of lectio divina (its first step is sacred reading). Among other methods, the practice of lectio divina in particular is “a way of showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with sacred Scriptures” (AI, 3).

Reading the Bible devotedly will urge us to share the Word of God with others: “The sweetness of God’s word leads us to share it with all those whom we encounter in this life and to proclaim the sure hope that it contains” (cf 1 Pet 3:15-16)” (AI, 12).

Who are the blessed ones for Jesus? When a woman praised the mother of Jesus and called her “blessed,” the Lord commented: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word and keep it.” And Mary, the disciple of disciples, kept the word, witnessed it in her life – humbly, faithfully, hopefully and lovingly. Pope Francis writes: “Along our path of welcoming God’s word into our hearts, the Mother of the Lord accompanies us. She is the one who was called blessed because she believed in the fulfilment of what the Lord had spoken to her (cf Lk 1:45)” (AI, 15).

Practicing the teachings of the Bible entails above all loving God and all neighbors, principally the needy and poor. Writes Pope Francis: “Yet another challenge raised by sacred Scripture has to do with love…, [which means] to listen to sacred Scripture and then to practice 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” (AI, 13).

THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR EXPLAINING SACRED SCRIPTURES

Every Christian is personally responsible for reading the Bible often. Among the members of the Church, some are more responsible, including in particular, pastors, preachers, and catechists (cf AI, 5).

The preachers of homilies have a special responsibility to read, know and explain the liturgy of the word. Words of Pope Francis: “Those of us who are preachers should not give long, pedantic homilies or wander off into unrelated topics. When we take time to pray and meditate on the sacred text, we can speak from the heart and thus reach the hearts of those who hear us, conveying what is essential and capable of bearing fruit” (AI, 5).

May we invite you, dear readers, to read the wonderful Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Aperuit Illis of Pope Francis! It is only 9 pages, and 15 numbers! You will not regret it. I do not, but rejoice. Remember that we often pray with the Psalmist: “Your word, O Lord, is lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Ps 119:105).

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