Apostolic Exhortation – Verbum Domini
What is it’s importance for the VMY?
In one of our characteristics (Ecclesial), we, as members of this beloved Association, commit ourselves to live and work actively and responsibly in communion with the members of the Church and its pastors. Concerned that the members of the VMY immerse themselves in the life of the universal Church we have desired to publish this document that deals with the Word of God and its influence in the life of the Church. This document presents the Word of God as something that is living and relevant. As young men and women this is precisely what we are looking for and therefore as a synthesis of our Christian faith we are invited to deepen our love for the Word of God.
During the Second Vatican Council there were great differences among the cardinals and bishops who participated in this extraordinary event … differences in perspective regarding the future of the Church. As they reflected on this reality they knew that they wanted to help the Pope in governing and directing the Church and so they requested the establishment of a gathering called the Synod of Bishops, which is nothing more than a General Assembly in which the bishops and cardinals participate. Some of the delegates are directly chosen by the Pope, others are chosen by the different Episcopal Conferences and others are chosen as representatives of religious and clerical institutes (these delegates from the different religious and clerical institutes are invited and they are consulted unless the Pope decides otherwise).
The first Ordinary General Assembly or Synod of Bishops was held from September 29-October 29, 1967 and since that time there have been twelve Ordinary Synods, the last of which was held October 5-26, 2008. In order to make known the richness of the ideas expressed during this meeting the document, Verbum Domini, was published. This type of document is referred to as an Apostolic Exhortation.
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The word of the lord abides for ever. This word is the Gospel which was preached to you” (1 Pet1:25; cf. Is 40:8). With this assertion from the First Letter of Saint Peter, which takes up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word. This word, which abides for ever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word “became flesh” (Jn 1:14). This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today. The Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, meeting in the Vatican from 5-26 October 2008, had as its theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It was a profound experience of encounter with Christ, the Word of the Father, who is present where two or three are gathered in his name (cf. Mt 18:20). With this Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation I readily respond to the request of the Synod Fathers to make known to the whole People of God the rich fruits which emerged from the synodal sessions and the recommendations which resulted from our common endeavour.Consequently, I intend to revisit the work of the Synod in the light of its documents: the Lineamenta, the Instrumentum Laboris, the Relationes ante and post disceptationem, the texts of the interventions, both those delivered on the Synod floor and those presented in written form, the reports of the smaller discussion groups, the Final Message to the People of God and, above all, a number of specific proposals (Propositiones) which the Fathers considered especially significant. 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.
That our joy may be complete
Before all else, I would like to call to mind the beauty and pleasure of the renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus which we experienced during the synodal assembly. In union with with the Synod Fathers, then, I address all the faithful in the words of Saint John in his first letter: “We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and which was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:2-3). The Apostle speaks to us of hearing, seeing, touching and looking upon (cf. 1 Jn 1:1) the word of life, since life itself was made manifest in Christ. Called to communion with God and among ourselves, we must proclaim this gift. From this kerygmatic standpoint, the synodal assembly was a testimony, before the Church and before the world, to the immense beauty of encountering the word of God in the communion of the Church. For this reason I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).
From “Dei Verbum” to the Synod on the Word of God
With the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, we were conscious of dealing in a certain sense with the very heart of the Christian life, in continuity with the previous synodal assembly on The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission. Indeed, the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word. Throughout its history, the People of God has always found strength in the word of God, and today too the ecclesial community grows by hearing, celebrating and studying that word. It must be acknowledged that in recent decades ecclesial life has grown more sensitive to this theme, particularly with reference to Christian revelation, the living Tradition and sacred Scripture. Beginning with the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, we can say that there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church, culminating in the Second Vatican Council and specifically in the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. The latter represented a milestone in the Church’s history: “The Synod Fathers … acknowledge with gratitude the great benefits which this document brought to the life of the Church, on the exegetical, theological, spiritual, pastoral and ecumenical plane”. The intervening years have also witnessed a growing awareness of the “trinitarian and salvation-historical horizon of revelation” against which Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged as “mediator and fullness of all revelation”. To each generation the Church unceasingly proclaims that Christ “completed and perfected revelation. Everything to do with his presence and his self-manifestation was involved in achieving this: his words and works, signs and miracles, but above all his death and resurrection from the dead, and finally his sending of the Spirit of truth”.
Everyone is aware of the great impulse which the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum gave to the revival of interest in the word of God in the life of the Church, to theological reflection on divine revelation and to the study of sacred Scripture. In the last forty years, the Church’s magisterium has also issued numerous statements on these questions. By celebrating this Synod, the Church, conscious of her continuing journey under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, felt called to further reflection on the theme of God’s word, in order to review the implementation of the Council’s directives, and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers.
The Synod of Bishops on the Word of God
In the twelfth synodal assembly, Bishops from throughout the world gathered around the word of God and symbolically placed the text of the Bible at the centre of the assembly, in order to stress anew something we risk taking for granted in everyday life: the fact that God speaks and responds to our questions. Together we listened to and celebrated the word of the Lord. We recounted to one another all that the Lord is doing in the midst of the People of God, and we shared our hopes and concerns. All this made us realize that we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the “we” of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance. Hence our gratitude for the testimonies about the life of the Church in different parts of the world which emerged from the various interventions on the floor. It was also moving to hear the fraternal delegates, who accepted our invitation to take part in the synodal meeting. I think in particular of the meditation offered to us by His Holiness Bartholomaios I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, for which the Fathers expressed deep appreciation. Furthermore, for the first time ever, the Synod of Bishops also invited a rabbi to offer us a precious witness on the Hebrew Scriptures, which are also part of our own sacred Scriptures.
In this way we were able to acknowledge with joy and gratitude that “in the Church there is also a Pentecost today – in other words, the Church speaks in many tongues, and not only outwardly, in the sense that all the great languages of the world are represented in her, but, more profoundly, inasmuch as present within her are various ways of experiencing God and the world, a wealth of cultures, and only in this way do we come to see the vastness of the human experience and, as a result, the vastness of the word of God”. We were also able to see an ongoing Pentecost; various peoples are still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own language and in their own culture.
How can I fail to mention that throughout the Synod we were accompanied by the testimony of the Apostle Paul! It was providential that the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly took place during the year dedicated to the great Apostle of the Nations on the two thousandth anniversary of his birth. Paul’s life was completely marked by his zeal for the spread of God’s word. How can we not be moved by his stirring words about his mission as a preacher of the word of God: “I do everything for the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:23); or, as he writes in the Letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (1:16). Whenever we reflect on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, we cannot but think of Saint Paul and his life spent in spreading the message of salvation in Christ to all peoples.
The Prologue of John’s Gospel as a guide
With this Apostolic Exhortation I would like the work of the Synod to have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word. To accomplish this, I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14). This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith. From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”. May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments. Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God.
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For our reflection
As young people we are always open to the advances and the changes that the world offers to us. We are also aware of the new forms of technology that are made available to us. But … In what ways am I concerned about the journey of the universal Church in the world? What do I contribute so that the Church might be attractive to other young women and men? Think about this and then move forward to rejuvenate the Church!