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Pope Francis begins his Apostolic letter “Aperuit illis”: “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45) with these words – referring to the Risen Lord at his last apparition amid the gathered disciples in the Gospel according to Luke.

The main purpose of the letter is to institute the Sunday of the Word of God on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time for the whole Church (see the circular letter S01/2019). The timing – the letter was issued on 30 September 2019 – coincides with the opening of the death anniversary of St. Jerome (A.D. 420), an illustrious biblical scholar whose affirmation “one who does not know Scriptures, does not know Christ” belongs among the most quoted refrains in the Church.

The Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF) invited its members and all the national bishop conferences to celebrate ten months, starting with the beginning of the new liturgical year on 1 December 2019 and to end on 30 September 2020, the anniversary of St. Jerome, as the Year of the Word of God.

The purpose of the Year is “to renew […] efforts to place the Word of God at the center of the life and mission of the Church” (cf. letter of Cardinal Tagle, 25 January 2019; referring to Tertio Millenio Adveniente, 36; Verbum Domini, 73; Evangelii Gaudium, 174).

We, Divine Word Missionaries, have welcomed both calls and decided to join the invitation of CBF (cf. P08/2019), considering it in line with the message of our last General Chapter 2018. Its celebration is inserted in the process of renewal and transformation. It started before the Chapter, noted as a desire to draw again from “the Word of God as the source of our life, vocation, and mission” (GC2018, 2).

The Year of the Word of God offers us an occasion to deepen our rootedness in the Word. Taking the Pope’s letter “Aperuit illis” as a starting point, we may observe the event of the Year of the Word of God in the light of three biblical images: the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, public interpretation during the time of the governor Nehemiah, and the prophetic eating of the scroll by Ezekiel.

On the road to Emmaus

The risen Lord appeared to two of his disciples while they walked to Emmaus, leaving behind Jerusalem with a disappointing experience of Jesus’ passion and death (cf. Luke 24:13-35). They were unable to recognize him because they were focused on their interpretation of those traumatic events. However, in listening to Jesus unveiling the sense of the Scriptures, they came to realize his identity in their midst in a new light. So many times those two may had read the same Scriptures, and yet, in listening to Jesus there was a new meaning for the experience they struggled with.

Listening with an open heart to the amazing “symphony of the Word” (Verbum Domini, 7) – in particular to its neglected scores – remains a constant challenge on our road through unexpected and painful events of today’s world. “Let us listen with open hearts and minds to the many ways that God speaks to us.  Listening to the voice of God in the realities around us is a challenge” (GC 2018,18). We will never be ready to listen and identify the mysterious presence of Jesus in places and situations that preoccupy us.

The Year of the Word of God compels us to search for the light of the Word (cf. Psalm 109:105) in unceasing listening to it, not relying on already traveled paths and popular slogans. It is in being “on the road” that we can be approached by Him who sheds his light into our darkness and in listening to His voice, we experience the grace for transformation.

In front of the whole assembly

The second biblical image leads us back to postexilic Jerusalem in the time of governor Nehemiah and the scribe Ezra. In front of the gathered assembly of people, “Ezra read clearly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read” (Neh 8:8). And because the people wept at hearing the words of the book, both Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged them to celebrate, “for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength” (8:10), and they inspired them to share their food and drink with the needy.

In carrying out our foremost obligation to proclaim the Word (c. 107), we bring others the fullness of life, as the Prologue of our Constitutions reminds us. The Incarnate Word of God has brought us this fullness (cf. Jn 10:10), and thus the uppermost aim of our mission is to facilitate life-giving relationships among people and with God through Christ. It won’t happen unless the person of Jesus is present in our advocacy endeavors in JPIC activities, in our communication, and our mission activities. Our whole involvement will bring life and joy to others when speaking of Christ – in deeds and words if needed.

As Pope Francis underlines, our primary responsibility lies in explaining Scriptures in the homily. “For many of our faithful, in fact, this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of God’s word and to see it applied to their daily lives.” (Apperuit illis, 5)

May the Year of the Word of God encourage us to become ambassadors of encounter with Jesus, the source of life, and relief through his Word. As for Jesus, so also for us, this mission is to be oriented above all towards those on the margins of the society, the suffering and hopeless (GC 2018, 26). We need them to be together with us to experience real joy at the table our heavenly Father prepares for us.

As prophetic imperative

Finally, the third image is the prophet Ezekiel commanded by the Lord to eat the scroll of the book, and experience its sweetness (Ezek 3:1-3). A prophet who is to announce the Word of God needs to absorb it himself first.

We, Divine Word Missionaries, impelled by our name and prophetic task, need to be nourished by the Word always: “…read, reflect upon and share the Word of God and our faith, and […] celebrate the Eucharist” (GC 2018, 14). It is not only a requirement given by our Constitutions (c. 407) but the requirement “sine qua non.”

Cardinal Martini, once archbishop of Milan, used to distinguish three ways of reading the biblical text. First, as a parish priest who approaches it with a question: “What shall I tell to people?” Second, as a participant of a biblical group who asks himself: “What does it tell me?” And, the third, the most appropriate question: “What does the text say?” To study and interiorize the Word for ourselves, and not just with some pastoral or other “practical” purpose, is also an invitation coming from the Year of the Word of God.

Only then we become prophetically sensitive, with open “sensum,” minds. Now we are close to the celebration of the mystery of Incarnation, the Word who became flesh (cf. John 1:14). May the contemplation of the love of the Incarnate Word impel us and open our minds and hearts to be attentively listening missionary disciples!

By Father Superior General Paulus Budi Kleden and the Leadership Team

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota” – December 2019