To be Formed by the Word to serve the Word
“The ministry of the word, through which we communicate the total mystery of Christ to humanity, is our special calling among the people of God”. (CC 46)
It is through his contact with the Word of God that Claret came to have a deeper awareness of his vocation. It is the word of God that kept him burning with his apostolic zeal. He states:
“But what moved and stimulated me most was reading the Holy Bible, to which I have always been very strongly attracted” (Aut 113). “In many passages of the Bible I felt the voice of God calling me to go forth and preach” (Aut 120).
Claret had a special concern for the formation of seminarians and clergy. He advised them to be proficient in their knowledge of the scriptures:
“We warmly recommend that all seminarians in theology assiduously read Holy Scripture, and we counsel them to adopt the daily practice of reading two chapters in the morning and two in the afternoon” (CI I, 2, 16, 2).
Those who are studying philosophy and theology… will read the Holy Bible …, two chapters in the morning and two in the afternoon, and with this distribution, they will read it all each year (Claret notes: “To this effect an economical Bible has been printed and is available in the Religious Library)” (API 58).
Cultivating the habit of daily reading the Bible with effective methods right from the early period of formation is important for growing in our missionary life. An adapted summary of the practical suggestions presented in the Initiation in the ministry of the Word (Published by General Prefecture of Rome, 1998) is given here for easy access to our formators and.formandi.
I. Fundamental Principles of Formative Reading of Bible
- The Bible, as God’s Word, is the announcement of the Good News of God’s love and saving action for human beings through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A message, then, is to be received with open hearts and minds.
- We go to the Bible to know and love God better, to discern His plans for us and to understand the divine meaning of our life and vocation. In the light of the Word we want to interpret the reality that surrounds us in order to live our vocation more authentically. We do not look to Bible as a text book to acquire knowledge.
- As our Founder teaches us, we shall approach the Word of God:
- In faith. Without faith we cannot know the true value of the Word of God and seek God’s Will in our lives. We nurture an obedient faith that moves us to “do whatever He tells us” (Jn. 2.5).
- With humility and interior poverty, like Mary and the poor in spirit. God reveals himself to the simple and lowly.
- With interior silence. Interior silence lets us hear the voice of God speaking to us through his Word. In silence and inner peace we can pierce “the mysteries” hidden in the sacred books and acquire the “science of the heart” so needed by a missionary without which we would be as Claret says, a “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”
- With love of God and fidelity to his Word. Without love it is impossible to understand God’s Word. It is charity, which makes us sons of God and like Him, that gives us the capacity to hear him and understand him.
- With an open spirit and with a will to profit from the Word.It is necessary to let ourselves be challenged by it personally and vocationally as Claretian Missionaries: Our motivation is to:
- To seek a greater identification with Christ.
- To acquire a suitable formation for becoming “good disciples and fervent preachers.” In the Word of God, the formandi will find the best models for his life and mission.
- To feel called, sent and identified with Jesus’ command to preach the Good News to all people throughout the world.
4. We Know that words in the Bible are conditioned by its context.
- In the Bible we find ways of speaking and writing different from our own (parables, miracle accounts, annunciations…).
- Bible is an incarnated word and we must distinguish its perennial meaning from what was proper to that time alone (killings, violence, discrimination against women…). Hence we avoid literal and subjective reading of the word, but seek to understand the message communicated to the people of God which is valid for all ages. We read all texts from the viewpoint of the message and life of Jesus. In order to put the text in its setting, we also make use of very simple resources as maps; introductions and commentaries.
II. How to Read the Bible?
1. The right ambiance for reading
- Begin with a brief silence and a prayer to ask the Lord to send us his Spirit and open our hearts to understand his Word obediently.
- Then read the text slowly, without haste. If necessary, read them again in order to be sure we have grasped their message.
2. Reading the text in its context
The first step is to ask what the text meant to its first addressees. We Avoid the tendency to make an immediate application to our own situation or to moralize the reading.
We do it by asking the text:
- When and where is it taking place (for example, on Sabbath day in the synagogue)
- Who are the people present (people, disciples, Jesus)
- What is being spoken, by whom and why, its meaning and its impact on people
- What are the actions, by whom and why ?(reading, looking with wonder, wanting to kill Jesus)
- What is the Good News (invitation, call to conversion, affirmation, consolation etc.) the passage communicates to the people?
3. Reading existentially in order to understand life
After this first reading of the text, we must expose our life to the challenge of the message we have discovered.
- What is the passage telling me today in my life?
- In the light of the Word of God how do I look at the events that happen in me and around me?
4. Prayerful reading
Reading the Word leads us to dialogue with the Lord in prayer.
- We speak to the Lord through petition, thanksgiving, reproach, repentance, thus filling out the dialogue which He has begun.
- We listen to God when we read his Word and we speak to him when we address our prayer to him.
5. Community reading
It is very important that personal reading be complemented with community reading.
- The Christian and Claretian community is the addressee of this Word, hence it is in a community reading that we best discover God’s message for us today.
- In community reading, the Liturgical reading is the best expression of this community dimension.
- Value the moments of community reading of the Word in the Eucharist, prayers of the church and community sharing of the Word.
- Listen with an open heart how the Word responds to the charisms and sensibilities of our brothers. It enables us to penetrate the message more deeply and disclose the wealth of Scripture more clearly than an individual reading.
6. Committed reading
When we approach the Bible, we bring with us our life and the life of those around us. When we discover its message and allow ourselves to be probed by it, we discover that the Word of God often offers us a life alternative, a way of conversion.
- What is the Lord asking me to do today with my life?
- Be sensitive to the whisperings of the Word to act positively to create a better world and to be authentic in your life.
- Ignoring to follow this way or disregarding the commitments that the Word sets before us, leads to a break in our dialogue with God. Normally, when our Bible reading does not issue into a commitment, it becomes harder and harder to understand what we are reading and eventually one may be tempted to give up Bible reading.
The above mentioned aspects of a meaningful reading of the Word of God is applicable to any method one may choose to practice. Often people adapt traditional methods to one’s own circumstances. Lectio divina (divine reading) is a time-tested method of profiting from the Word of God.
III. Practical Suggestions for scriptural formation
- Make daily study, reading and praying of the Scriptures part of your life.
- Have some time dedicated for Bible in your routine, a time which is not easily interrupted or taken away by your work or study.
- Give primacy to the readings according to the liturgical cycle. A good practice is to follow the readings of the Holy Mass of the coming day before going to sleep each day (Sleeping with the Word!).
- Reading and studying Scripture following a schema according to the stage of formation is very profitable (for example reading the vocational narratives in Bible during novitiate; following the schema of Word Mission). Random readings of Bible on a regular basis is not helpful for a serious and committed reading of the Bible.
- Following the stages of Lectio Divina in Bible reading and study will make it a beautiful and rewarding habit in one’s life.
- It is advisable to have more than one version of Bible at your disposal for better appreciation of a text, though you may predominantly use any one of the more accepted versions.
- Develop a collection of useful literature and materials on Bible learning and teaching both for community library and some in personal collection. As servants of the word, they will be handy tools in our apostolate. (commentaries, maps etc).