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Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini

on Saturday, 01 January 2011. Posted in Encyclical letters & Other documents of the Magisterium

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh”

Here are large excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini" (the word of the Lord), which was presented on November 11, 2010 in the Vatican. The document, which is dated Sept. 30, draws from the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held Oct. 5-26, 2008. The assembly reflected on the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church":

As the Prologue of John clearly shows us (Jn 1:1-18), the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, "became flesh"; hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression "word of God" here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit "he has spoken through the prophets". (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed)

God's word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church's living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is Sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments.

All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the Sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book": Christianity is the "religion of the word of God", not of "a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word". Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, receiv

For us, this proclamation is a word of freedom. Scripture tells us that everything that exists does not exist by chance but is willed by God and part of his plan, at whose center is the invitation to partake, in Christ, in the divine life. (…)

The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives, we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail. (…)

The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth. (…)

He (Jesus) who'has made God known'(Jn 1:18) is the one, definitive word given to mankind". Saint John of the Cross expresses this truth magnificently: "Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word – and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour, but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty". (Saint John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22.)

Definitive revelation and private revelations

Consequently, the Synod pointed to the need to "help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations" whose role "is not to'complete'Christ's definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history". (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 67.)

The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public, and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation. (…)

The Synod Fathers declared that the basic aim of the Twelfth Assembly was "to renew the Church's faith in the word of God". To do so, we need to look to the one in whom the interplay between the word of God and faith was brought to perfection, that is, to the Virgin Mary, "who by her'yes'to the word of the covenant and her mission, perfectly fulfills the divine vocation of humanity". The human reality created through the word finds its most perfect image in Mary's obedient faith. From the Annunciation to Pentecost she appears as a woman completely open to the will of God. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made "full of grace" (cf. Lk 1:28) and unconditionally docile to his word (cf. Lk 1:38). (…)

The word of God and Marian prayer

Mindful of the inseparable bond between the word of God and Mary of Nazareth, along with the Synod Fathers, I urge that Marian prayer be encouraged among the faithful, above all in life of families, since it is an aid to meditating on the holy mysteries found in the Scriptures. A most helpful aid, for example, is the individual or communal recitation of the Holy Rosary, which ponders the mysteries of Christ's life in union with Mary, and which Pope John Paul II wished to enrich with the mysteries of light. It is fitting that the announcement of each mystery be accompanied by a brief biblical text pertinent to that mystery, so as to encourage the memorization of brief biblical passages relevant to the mysteries of Christ's life.

The Synod also recommended that the faithful be encouraged to pray the Angelus. This prayer, simple yet profound, allows us "to commemorate daily the mystery of the Incarnate Word". It is only right that the People of God, families and communities of consecrated persons, be faithful to this Marian prayer traditionally recited at sunrise, midday and sunset. In the Angelus, we ask God to grant that, through Mary's intercession, we may imitate her in doing his will and in welcoming his word into our lives. This practice can help us to grow in an authentic love for the mystery of the incarnation. (…)

Commitment in the world

The word of God sheds light on human existence and stirs our conscience to take a deeper look at our lives, inasmuch as all human history stands under God's judgment: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations" (Mt 25:31-32). Nowadays we tend to halt in a superficial way before the importance of the passing moment, as if it had nothing to do with the future. The Gospel, on the other hand, reminds us that every moment of our life is important and must be lived intensely, in the knowledge that everyone will have to give an account of his or her life. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Son of Man considers whatever we do or do not do to "the least of his brethren" (cf. 25:40, 45) as done or not done to himself: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (25:35-36). The word of God itself emphasizes the need for our engagement in the world and our responsibility before Christ, the Lord of history. As we proclaim the Gospel, let us encourage one another to do good and to commit ourselves to justice, reconciliation, and peace.

God's word inspires men and women to build relationships based on rectitude and justice, and testifies to the great value in God's eyes of every effort to create a more just and more liveable world. The word of God itself unambiguously denounces injustices and promotes solidarity and equality. In the light of the Lord's words, let us discern the "signs of the times" present in history, and not flee from a commitment to those who suffer and the victims of forms of selfishness.

The Synod recalled that a commitment to justice and to changing our world is an essential element of evangelization. In the words of Pope Paul VI, we must "reach and, as it were, overturn with the force of the Gospel the standards of judgement, the interests, the thought-patterns, the sources of inspiration and life-styles of humanity that are in contrast with the word of God and with his plan for salvation".

BENEDICT XVI

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