“Your word, Lord, stands forever” (Ps.119)
All of us who profess to be Catholic are called to be as much like the Lord as we can be – in other words, to be holy. We are aware that our faith places demands upon us; we are called to constantly deepen and sustain our faith and by doing so, to gradually become ever more holy. What we cannot do is stand still or become complacent in the practice – or the deepening – of our faith. Unless our faith is lived out day by day, unless it really changes how we live each day, then what is it that we are professing to believe in?
In all this, we look to the Church as our teacher in the faith, for the Lord has made very particular promises in her regard and has established and commissioned her to preach the Gospel and to lead souls to Him. One of the primary functions of the Papal office is to teach and to lead the Church in the faith; and in his recent Apostolic Exhortation ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, Pope Francis has done just that. He has reminded us of the call to holiness which is directed to every one of us and reminded us, too, that we are expected to respond. Thankfully, he has also made some very practical and pertinent suggestions on precisely how we are to achieve the demands of such a call as the one inviting us to sanctity.
He points to the example of various Saints who have made this journey of faith before us, and whom we can look toward as example of how to tread the path – but he cautions us to be authentic, in that we are called to our own particular path, one which we alone will tread. He simplifies matters substantially by reminding us that ‘amid the thicket or precepts and prescriptions’, what we really need to do is to keep our gaze fixed firmly on the Lord. Francis tells us –
“Nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words and seeing His way of teaching the truth. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when He gave us the Beatitudes.”
We are reminded, too, that ‘holiness consists in an habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration’, and that this prayer is our response to encountering the Lord. And to do this, it is essential that we spend time with the Lord, listening to Him and learning from Him. All through this, the Lord is enkindling a fire within us, so that our hearts begin to burn with the same fire which is ablaze in His Sacred Heart.
Reading the Gospels, it is abundantly clear that the Lord was intimately familiar with Holy Scripture. He makes numerous references to Scripture throughout the course of His public ministry, even refuting the temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture. Even from a young age, this intimacy was apparent, such that when He spoke about Scripture, “all who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 3:47).
An exceptionally powerful way of spending time in the company of the Lord, learning from Him and becoming enkindled by Him, is through Scripture. As Pope Francis wrote –
“The prayerful reading of God’s word, which is ‘sweeter than honey’ (Ps.119) yet a ‘two-edged sword’ (Her.4:12) enables us to pause and listen to the voice of the Master.. Meeting Jesus in the Scriptures leads us to the Eucharist, where the written word attains it’s greatest efficacy, for there the Living Word is truly present.”
Blessed Pope Paul VI expressed something very similar when he wrote –
“Through the reading and study of the sacred books ‘the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified’ (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men” (‘Dei Verbum’, 26)
Previously, writing in ‘Misericordia et Misera’, Pope Francis said that ‘prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life’. And as Saint Jerome, the great Biblical scholar, said – ‘ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’. In the Sacraments, we experience the Merciful Lord and His touch. In the Scriptures, we come to know this Lord better, for it is here that He is fully revealed to us in all His beauty, compassion and mercy; and it is in the Scriptures that ‘the Church constantly finds her nourishment and strength’(Catechism, para.104).
All of us have easy access to the Scriptures – Catholic Bibles are relatively cheap to buy or can be read online; there are even a variety of commentaries available to assist us in this reading. But what we really need is the desire and the willingness to spend a little time each day reading the Scriptures, and in doing so, learning a little more about the Lord in Whom we believe.