Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God. — St. Augustine
Today is the Sunday of the Word of God, proclaimed thus by Pope Francis last September.
The Sacred Scriptures are, for the Christian and the Jew, the heart and soul of our encounter with God. Devotion to the daily reading of the Bible is one of the non-negotiables of a life of thriving faith, hope and love. As Vatican II said so eloquently,
For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.
Fr. Tom Hopko once said, “So much of the spiritual literature of the monastic tradition in the East is an attempt to persuade monks to have as their first love not works of philosophy, theology or spirituality, but Sacred Scripture. They say, ‘Why are you spending all your time with the friends of the Bridegroom, while insulting the Bridegroom Himself by showing no interest in hearing His own voice! Why do you love the echo more than the Word?'”
The Friday after my life-altering encounter with Christ in February of 1987, I picked up a Bible and, for the first time in my life, read it with faith. I read Matthew’s Gospel, for whatever reason, beginning around 10:00 p.m. and finished sometime in the early morning. I remember saying to my girlfriend the next morning, “This book is alive! I never knew that.” Needless to say, she was completely freaked out, believing I had lost my mind.
I had, à la 2 Cor. 10:5: “We take every thought captive to obey Christ.” The Word-made-flesh had invaded and captured my fleshy brain, and began to animate and restructure it with His own mind.
Living faith, embodied best in prayer, is the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the meaning of the sacred text, revealing it to be, not a dead, but a living language. For Christians and Jews, to say “God never speaks to me” is the highest insult imaginable to the whole economy of divine revelation that has wrought — at great cost to both God and man — a Treasury of divine and human Speech. From Abram to the death of the last Apostle, the reception, interpretation and handing on of the divine Word “for us men and for our salvation” was a titanic labor enacted by countless human beings loving, wrestling, battling, contenting and suffering with God.
And we, each day, are called to carry on this theandric legacy, and so fulfill Habakkuk’s prophecy:
The earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
I think here of the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi I worked with in Hartford back in the 1980’s, whom I have quoted here before. He once said to me, when I asked him what it meant to him to be part of God’s chosen people,
Some chosen-ness! Disasters, enslavements, exiles, genocides, forever wandering the earth like our father Abraham. This is the terrible and blessed burden of being chosen, of making known His holiness among the nations. But, Baruch Hashem!
Baruch Hashem means, “Blessed is the Name (of G-d).”
When I read Scripture, I try to begin each time with a simple act of gratitude for that burdened history of a People the world is to be forever indebted to for making present to each of us, at any moment, the living Voice of the Father who once spoke us into existence — and wishes to do so again at every new moment.
So, listen to those children, as St. Augustine once did, and tolle et lege! — “take up and read!”