The mood in our aeroplane was subdued as we began the descent to cold and cloudy Glasgow Airport on our return from sunny Gran Canaria. Once we had touched down, the recorded message was played with the usual strained cheeriness, telling us not to put on our mobile phones, not to smoke, not to unfasten our safety belts …. And then, at the end of the cheery litany of prohibitions, it ended, by mistake, in saying, “Have a happy holiday!” We all guffawed. “Is that Gospel?” I thought!
And maybe we might open the Gospel a bit more if it said, “happy holidays!” or “your so handsome!” or “you’ve won the lottery”! But, sadly, we Catholics are not good when it comes to the bible. I remember our family bible as a child. My dad opened and read a bit every Sunday whilst I kept trying to see the pictures of Moses and the ten commandments or Abraham fighting off the ravens. Most of the time, the bible was shut. It smelt fusty. That sums up the bible for many Catholics!
So, Pope Francis has wisely decreed a new commemoration in the Church, to be observed every Third Sunday of the Year. He has called it, “Sunday of the Word of God.” His point is clear, simple and true: all of us in the Church, not just priests and bishops or religious, need to take the bible up again with our own hands, open it and rediscover it, make it our own and let it become a basic part of our lives.
The bible is a difficult book. In fact, it is a difficult library because it contains 73 books! Even the thought of lifting it off the shelf, never mind of opening it, can make people weary. Like so many other things in life, so much depends on how you approach it. If you go to the cinema telling yourself you will hate the film you’re going to see ….
The bible is a love story, a long love story. It tells the story of God’s love for humanity and how hard we humans play to get. Now admittedly, when you are reading the rules about how to get rid of leprosy in the book of Leviticus, you don’t feel your heart longing with love. But if you open the prophet Hosea, or take time to read closely the psalms, or listen to Jesus pour his heart out in the Gospel of St. John: then you will perceive and even be shocked by the passion and depth of the divine love for human beings. And among those human beings there is you and there is me.
The moment you were conceived in the womb of your mother, the love story began for you. The Trinity itself spoke a word at that moment, a unique word that will last for ever. What word? The word that created your soul, you yourself. You are a word of God, a fascinating and complex word, a mysterious and beautiful word, a word whose meaning is still unfolding and which you yourself cannot grasp in all its fullness. The world and history are filled with all these unique words which together weave an epic story of profound meaning and beauty which escapes those very words. As word, you were created by the Word of God himself, the eternal Son of the Father. Your word somehow echoes his Word, reflects and images the Word Who He Is.
And so, when you open the bible, the Word of God expressed in human language, that Word speaks to the word you are, it reads who you are. It reveals to you who you are. It tells you about that deep mystery of who you are, revealing to you what you cannot grasp by your own powers or mind. Reading the bible makes you transparent to God as it makes God transparent to you. The overarching story of the bible and every little episode within it speaks to who you are, to who humanity is, to what creation itself is.
Of course, the bible is not the place to go for scientific knowledge or for unerring historical record. It wasn’t written for that. It is not an “instruction book” on how to do geography or history or run a government or business. You have to approach it with another mindset and, indeed, heartset. As you look into the depths of the bible, the Word, it is the Lord himself who gazes back, eyes alight and aflame with jealous love, mind and heart fully engaged in how to draw you more deeply into himself and draw you more fully out of yourself.
And so, go to the Word expecting light. The “light shines in the darkness which cannot overpower it.” “In the land of shadow and darkness, a great light has shone.” Christ the light enlightens your very own darkness. He strips you naked of the coverings you use to hide from him, to hide from the truth, from your own truth and from his own truth. In his light you see light, a light for your path, a light which points you to your true purpose and leads you along the way towards it. A light which unmasks any fakeness inside you, healing you in the act of revealing you.
And so, go to the Word expecting love, eternal love, passionate and overwhelming, tough and purifying, true and deifying love. When that love enters you, you will not ever again give the name love to anything other than His love. The Word pierces the heart more deeply than the lance pierced the Crucified, because the Word’s love will not abide resting anywhere other than in the deepest recesses of your very being. As it cuts you, the sword of love will bleed you of all that is unworthy of its gaze. It will kill and drain out all unlove and beget and instil only living love.
And so, go to the Word expecting life, not the life it already gave you when it called you into existence from nothingness, but the life which was never nothing, which never was called into life, but which is, was and ever shall be. The life of the I AM WHO AM. The Breath with which the Word was spoken and speaks is the Spirit of Life, the Lord and Giver of Life. The Spirit who inspired the written Word, who brought the Word into the flesh of the Virgin. As you contemplate the Word of God, your own breath becomes one with the Breath who in you inspires you to understand the Word, who spoon-feeds your very soul a little at a time with the elixir of eternity.
The three L’s: light, love and life. We Catholics need the triple L plate on our backs, to start again and to allow, yes allow, God to reform and conform us to the person his Word has always desired us to be.
I have handed out to you a leaflet explaining two methods on how to pray with Scripture, the Lectio Divina and Gospel Contemplation. I invite you with all my heart to open your bibles today, to approach them with reverence and a sense of excited anticipation at the treasures which the Lord has put into your hands. Read and pray with the Scriptures individually, as couples and as families. Let the Word of Christ be heard out loud in your homes. Think of all the other words that rattle around the confines of your homes with little or deleterious effect, and let the Word of Life be heard, too. That Word will heal all the other words.
For me, the Word has become like a drug. I need it and, when for whatever reason I don’t get it, I can actually feel hungry and thirsty for it. Without it, I could not serve you. Indeed, there would be no point in serving you, for I am here as a minister of the Word. The Word purifies the mind and heart. The Word, with one more L, leads us into the World of God, into his way of thinking and feeling. It confers without violence the mind of Christ upon our own minds. The Word sanctifies us, sets us apart for God. Even its therapeutic effects are known: because it gives such hope, it brings peace; because it reveals the truth, it brings healing and forgiveness; because it communicates God to us, it revives our lives, our consciousness and our sense of purpose.
What a gift is the Word! What a gift is this Sunday of the Word! If only we would engage with it, a little at a time, with loving trust and faith, we would in no time find our lives renewed. The great St. Augustine, when he was wallowing in his own sin and self-pity, heard the voice of a child say to him pointing to the bible, “take and read.” He did it and it transformed him into one of the greatest saints of history. Why should we settle for anything less than what God wants to achieve in us by the glorious power of his Word?