Words can be ten a penny. That’s perhaps why when we think of God’s Word, or God’s Words, we can be turned off. How can we worship a Word? How can we worship a Book, even a holy book like the Bible? What we want is action, not talk. Now, we wouldn’t mind having Jesus before us talking to us. That would be something, an event! But I bet we would tire of that, too, as did so many of those who listened to him in his lifetime.
So, if the Church asks us to perform a Liturgy of the Word, to worship God’s Word, we clearly need to understand first what is meant by that Word. As we saw last week, the Word is, first of all, the person of Jesus Christ. If we express ourselves in words, Jesus is the fullest expression, the total Word of God the Father. God’s self-expression is so great, so perfect that it is another divine Person. When the apostle Philip once asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus answered, “Philip, to have seen me is to have seen the Father.” He could just have easily have said, “to hear me is to hear the Father.” And just as our self-expression mirrors us but is not us, so Jesus mirrors the Father but is not the Father. If God is utter divine perfection then, by definition, so is his self-expression, his divine Son. That is why, when we worship the Word, we are not worshipping a book, but the Son of God himself.
Still, we prefer action, and maybe that’s why most Catholics prefer the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, because in it we see by faith something happening: the consecration, the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We see in the Liturgy of the Eucharist a reflection of God becoming man, bread becoming body and wine becoming blood. We also see in it a reflection of Calvary, where the blood of Christ became totally separated from his Body out of love: at Mass we see the bread consecrated first and the wine separately. We also see a reflection of the Resurrection when, as we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, the two become one again in a superior way, as when Jesus was raised from the dead.
But stop and ask yourself. How does the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ? Is it magic? Is it make-believe? No. It happens when the priest does two things: he repeats Christ’s own words, what we call the “words of institution” of the Eucharist, and he does so only after asking the Holy Spirit to come down upon the bread and wine. Put differently, the action of the consecration only happens by the Word of Christ infused with the Spirit of Christ. Just as you and I can be heard only because the muscles of our mouth take shape and the breath within us breathes into them so that they can be heard and understood, so in the same way, the Holy Spirit breathes, not into the words of the priest as a man, but into the words of Christ which the ordained priest reiterates.
The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: God’s word is alive and active. To hear, to read, to worship the Word of God is therefore a beautifully dangerous thing! It is to expose yourself to divine action. The words of Scripture, in different ways and degrees, express or articulate the Word who is Christ and it is the Spirit of Christ who in different ways and degrees breathes into them and makes them alive and active. In fact, you can hardly even separate the Word from the Spirit, just as when a person says something there’s no separation between their breath and what they say. God’s Spirit is always present in God’s Word, in Christ. That is what we mean when we talk about the inspiration of Scripture, the inspired Word of God. It’s not just that the Holy Spirit prompted the many human co-authors of the bible to say holy things. No, it’s that the Spirit himself makes those words his own. The Spirit did not appear to people and dictate from outside what was to be written. No, the Spirit inhabited their minds and hearts, made use of their human gifts and insight and breathed into what they first said, and then wrote, the very Word of God himself. St. Jerome once said, “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” When St. Augustine was struggling to get out of his imprisonment in sins of the flesh, he heard a child’s voice cry out, “take and read!” When he then opened the scriptures he devoured them and found the truth of which Jesus once said, “if you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will set you free.” The Word of scripture breathes into our deepest soul and mind and heart the truth which is Christ and, if we listen, it will also set us free too from our sins and our fears.
The words of scripture might look like any others, just as when Jesus walked the earth he looked like any other man. But they carry within them, just as Jesus carried within his human body, the entire wealth of divine truth, the entire power of the divine Spirit. How tragic it is that we humans die of thirst for the truth, for love, for life when the deep and eternal wellspring of truth, love and life lies dusty on a shelf in a back bedroom of the house, if it’s even in the house at all. Where has our Christian common sense gone? Why the apathy? And if you just can’t get away from your iphone or ipad or imac, there are numerous apps on the Word of God, numerous programmes for learning and studying the Word. The problem is going against the goad: we like to stay with what is easy and superficial. Our zeal, our enthusiasm, our determination, our sense of urgency about knowing and loving Christ have been all but suffocated by entertainment, by the need to feel nice right now and all the time, by stupid claims to know everything already or to get stuck in a pitiable inner world of profane and secular self-satisfaction. And yet, the Lord in his great patience awaits us beneath that dusty bible, inside those apps we have not yet downloaded.
And what does he await to do for us if we can stir ourselves to bother? He will spring into action by first shedding a new light in our souls. God said, let there be light, and there was light. But the light which he creates in our souls is of a far superior order to all the suns of the universe. It is the light of his face, the light which first created our souls, the benign and reassuring light of knowing that we exist because we were first loved by him, even before our parents to whom he entrusted us. It is the light of eternal certainty that he wants us, that we mean everything to him no matter who we are, what we have done or what has been done to us. “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light to my path”, says a psalm. The Word is our immoveable and imperishable guarantee that we have a divine origin and a divine destiny and its name is the God whose Love is beyond all names.
When we expose ourselves to that light in the thousands of different ways the bible tells us of it, the Word becomes our rock, our foundation. As King David puts it: “your Word is my refuge, my shield, my mighty help.” Jesus puts it still more beautifully, “make my word your home.” His Word opens up to us a whole new world, a whole new way of thinking and feeling and deciding and loving and giving. We came into existence because of that Word, so how can it not be our roots, our home, any less than it will be our final glory, the Father’s house? With that foundation, that home, that utter certainty of being loved by and belonging to God, the Word becomes our healing, our deep and everlasting healing. It heals memories, suppressed or not. It heals the gaping wounds of resentment and bitterness that we often try and manage through escape mechanisms like drink or drugs or food or even work. It heals broken relationships. The Word purifies the mind and heart of the lies and deceit that we tell ourselves so convincingly that we no longer see them for what they are. By instilling in us the thought patterns, the vocabulary, the beautiful imagery of God, the Word exorcizes from us the paganism of cheap and empty thought systems that are worthy neither of our intelligence nor of our passion. The Word purifies the affections and restores them to their true human nobility. It purges the damage wrought by pornography and partisanship, by prejudices and presumptions.
In a word, the Word creates, recreates, heals, restores, purifies, ennobles, uplifts, redeems, saves and glorifies. These are but a few of the gifts which the Spirit in the Word offers to us in the Liturgy of the Word. So, don’t be daft. Open wide the mouths of your hearts and souls and minds and let your Redeemer, your divine Lover, fill them with his glorious Word.