From the Synod to the Exhortation, Part 1

Interview With Father Rosica on “Verbum Domini”

TORONTO, NOV. 22, 2010 ( Those who study the Bible can never master it, says Basilian Father Thomas Rosica. Rather, the Word comes to master those who study it, making them its humble servants.

This is one of the reflections offered by Father Rosica when ZENIT spoke to him about Benedict XVI’s postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini,” released earlier this month.

Father Rosica was at the 2008 synod of bishops that the exhortation presents: He was named the English-language press attaché and offered ZENIT readers a daily “Synod Diary.” (They can be read in ZENIT’s archives at the Web site, by accessing the dispatches from Oct. 5-26, 2008).

Father Rosica is the chief executive officer of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network. He is a Scripture scholar, author, retreat preacher and lecturer. In February 2009, Father Rosica was named by Pope Benedict XVI a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He also pens ZENIT’s weekly reflection on the Sunday readings called “Words Made Flesh.”

Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.

ZENIT: The postsynodal exhortation “Verbum Domini” is the most important document on the Bible in 45 years. It helps us to rediscover the truth of the Divine Word of God, as well as reminding us that the source of constant renewal for the Church is the very Word of God. Sacred Scripture must be at the heart of all ecclesial activity. Do you think we have forgotten these truths? Have we forgotten that a biblical renewal was one of the most desired hopes and fruits of the Second Vatican Council?

Father Rosica: A very good question! I don’t think that we have forgotten the biblical renewal that was at the heart of the Second Vatican Council and certainly flowed from Vatican II in those initial years. I agree however with Pope Benedict that over the past 45-50 years, there has been “a slackening” with the consequence of “indefiniteness or vague spiritualism or, on the contrary, of arid technicalities on the part of specialists.”

Rather than leading people into the heart of God’s Word, we have driven some away or elsewhere! We simply need to revive it and rekindle the flame around the Scriptures once again. Perhaps some people who did Bible or Scripture studies felt that they “mastered” the topic and could move on to other things. When we study the Word of God and try to base our lives on it, we never master it. Rather, the Word masters us and we become its humble servants.

One of Pope Benedict’s lines that really struck me in “Verbum Domini” is: “In this way I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity.”

ZENIT: One of the strong messages of the synod on the Word of God was that the Christian faith is not a religion of the book but a religion of the Word of God. This message is underlined by the Holy Father. When you encounter Catholics and Christians who do not understand this difference, how do you help them to understand the reality of the Word of God?

Father Rosica: Our Catholic Christian faith is not about a book or a story of the past. Nor is our faith based in a library or collection of ancient texts. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. God’s word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings. The Word of God is a person and his name is Jesus. He is not a dead letter or a page in a history book. God’s Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. He lived on our earth and shared our human condition. God’s Word continues to save and redeem, forgive and heal us today.

“Verbum Domini” states: “The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book’: Christianity is the ‘religion of the word of God,’ not of a ‘written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word'” (No. 7).
 We also read in this important Vatican document on Scripture: “As the Synod Fathers stated, the expression ‘word of God’ is used analogically, and we should be aware of this. The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. From the theological standpoint too, there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression are interrelated, so that the unity of God’s plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly.”

ZENIT: One of the great debates at the synod was about the role of exegetes: those professionals who study sacred Scriptures and are called to interpret the Bible. Several synod fathers spoke openly about the harm that exegetes had caused for the interpretation of the Scriptures and how they helped people to lose their faith. What does the Pope say about this reality in “Verbum Domini?”

Father Rosica: It is no secret that Catholic biblical scholarship has come to a seeming impasse today because serious scholarly work on the Bible is not being used adequately and sufficiently in theology. This phenomenon is mirrored by exegetes who have little appeal to theological and ecclesiological questions. A mutual appreciation and application of each other’s work is lacking as well as a sense that Scripture studies are part of the living, breathing, dynamic tradition of the Church.

“Verbum Domini” deals with the role and vocation of exegetes and teachers of Scripture in a very thorough manner in over 40 pages dedicated to presenting hermeneutics in a “clear and constructive” way, and his encouragement to biblical scholars, theologians and pastors to engage in a constructive dialogue for the life and mission of the Church.

“Verbum Domini” also clearly states that the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is not to uphold the ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which exegetes must submit, but rather is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. “Faith traditions formed the living context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of exegetes in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time.”

“In their work of interpretation, Catholic exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is the word of God. Their common task is not finished when they have simply determined sources, defined forms or explained literary procedures. They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they have explained the meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today” (No. 33).

ZENIT: Lectio divina, the prayerful reading of the Word of God, is one of the strongest and clearest proposals of the apostolic exhortation. What would you advise to parishes or Christian communities in how to implement this proposal and activity?

Father Rosica: The topic of lectio divina came up many times during the synod on the Word of God. I am very happy that “Verbum Domini” offers lectio divina as a method of approaching, understanding, praying and loving the Word of God. “Verbum Domini” states: “The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to Lectio Divina. The Word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality.”

In “Verbum Domini,” Pope Benedict describes in detail the method of lectio divina: “I would like here to review the basic steps of this procedure. It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is ‘living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.”

I regret very much that the 2008 synod never offered a concrete experience of lectio divina during the three weeks we were together. Instead, someone presented a very theoretical paper on the topic. Several of us gathered in the synod hall in October 2008 had some powerful experiences or memories of lectio divina, thanks to the wonderful way it was used by Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini during his years as archbishop of Milan.

Salt and Light Television Network in Canada has given lectio divina a high priority in our programming and we have been particularly blessed to have Archbishop Thomas Collins in Toronto who continues what Cardinal Martini did in Milan for so many years. Archbishop Collins, a renowned Scripture scholar and teacher, has used lectio divina in a rather remarkable way to bring the Scriptures alive for the people of Toronto and far beyond, thanks to Canada’s Catholic Television network and the use of modern media. Visit these two links to get an idea of how this simple but ancient method can still breathe much life into the Church today:;

[Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.]

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation