The Word of God as Gift
by Most Reverend Anthony Bosco
That we are made in God's image is not because of our body. If we accept the astonishing statement that we are like God, we must realize that the similarity is not in our frail physical body but in our immortal soul, our psyche, our anima.
That we are made in God’s image is not because of our body. If we accept the astonishing statement that we are like God, we must realize that the similarity is not in our frail physical body but in our immortal soul, our psyche, our anima.
Our soul is the “thumbprint” of God. Our soul is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. (Our dogs don’t believe they are human. They just treat us as larger alpha dogs. Sorry about that, pet lovers.) Our soul allows us to long for eternity. It is like a compass needle aching to point and return to its Creator.
During our earthly pilgrimage, the union of mortal body and immortal soul is significant and interactive. The Romans spoke of a sound mind in a sound body. Joy and sorrow, spiritual though they be, affect our body. Illness and trauma and physical health can depress or elate us. We then communicate these mental and sometimes abstract ideas and thoughts from our soul to our body. Our body becomes the medium of transmission of our mind’s content. We are now communicating, in union with the recipient.
Communicating the Word
Logos is Greek for “word,” and it has a long and distinguished history. It meant the spoken word or a mediator for pagan gods. For us Christians, it soars to eagle heights when John’s Gospel begins with the statement: “In the beginning was the Word…” The reference is clearly to the Son of God who incarnate became the visible Word uttered by the Father from all eternity.
When we communicate with another we do not think of the process. It is second nature, automatic. The medium can be a gesture, an embrace, a smile, a frown, a spoken word. The route taken is from our mind to our body to another’s body and ultimately to the mind, heart, and soul of the hearer or reader.
Here in this article, I am attempting to incarnate my thoughts by making them visible through the written word. As you read them, I hope the physical and perceivable signs will be translated into meaning and you will understand what I am saying. We move from my mind to my fingers to your eyes and, hopefully, to your mind and heart. Voila!
Scripture’s journey is from God to the inspired writer to the text to our eyes or ears and to the very depths of our souls. We receive a precious gift.
For the purposes of this discussion, “Word of God” will refer to the inspired books of the Bible as defined by the Council of Trent (1546). It includes the books of the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis, to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. This is not to imply that God cannot continue to reveal himself to private individuals, but such revelations must be authenticated by the Church.
Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation, reminds us that the two streams of divine revelation are Scripture and Tradition with a capital T. “….[T]here exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end…Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (Dei Verbum II, n. 9).
The Word of God as Gift
When you hear the word “gift,” what comes to mind? Sometimes I think of the frustrated and not too joyful crowds at our malls at holiday time. I am desperate to get a gift for Aunt Mathilda. She will be furious if I don’t, and she is so hard to buy for. She has everything!
But I also think of the many unexpected gifts I have received that were chosen thoughtfully. For me, the most meaningful gifts are those that are unmerited and given out of sheer love with no return expected.
Every gift is a form of communication. It makes a statement of some sort. But every communication is not necessarily a communication of love. “Pass the salt” expresses my need and my hope that somebody will hear me. It does not imply a strong bond between me and the hearer. The so-called corporate gift (send them all the fruit basket) may express gratitude but not necessarily affection.
So why do we dare to call the word of God “gift”? Certainly Christ’s redemptive life, death, and Resurrection are easily seen as salvific gift. Every Christmas present contains that idea whether consciously or unconsciously. But is every gift from God an intimate gift? It is not too difficult to consider revelation as a gift. It is a gift-giving communication that furthers intimacy. God is sharing secrets!
Intimacy and the Word
In our lives we have family, friends, intimates, and acquaintances. We pass strangers on the street. As children of God, all of these people are our brothers and sisters. But we dare not embrace each and every one of them for fear of being misunderstood and carted off to jail. We may be showing a degree of intimacy that the recipient considers unwelcome.
Intimacy is all about the ability to love and be loved. It is about disclosure without fear of rejection. It is also about commitment. It is a two-way street. The lover reveals himself and does so as a proof of that love. The sharing strengthens the bond. “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will…Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God…out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends…and lives among them” (Dei Verbum I, n. 2).
We use words so often without thinking of their deeper meaning. We describe an intimate person in our life as a “soul mate.” We prefer this person’s physical presence but physical distance does not destroy the intimacy. Our spirits remain united. Absence can make the heart grow fonder and increase the joy of physical reunion. Our soul can grow stronger or, alas, weaker.
When I ask young people if a spirit is “real,” they sometimes seem to hesitate. For many, “real” means “I can perceive it with my senses. Persons are real because I can see, touch, or hear them.” The spirituality of God and the soul causes these young people to question whether God is a real Person. We can’t see him even though he is everywhere.
I was a Baltimore Catechism kid and knew that the answer to the question of God’s presence everywhere was: God is everywhere but as a pure spirit he “cannot be seen by bodily eyes.” I could recite the words but I didn’t quite understand the “pure spirit” bit. Sin and Baptism made a “mark” on my soul. I know now we don’t “have” souls. We are souls. I can’t see my soul but I certainly know it is there. If our spirits are alive and real, then they can develop, they can grow stronger and weaker, and they are in need of nourishment and stimulation.
This Gratuitous Communication
Eucharist is food for our journey lest, because of malnutrition, we falter and fall. Extraordinary Synod XI called by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 was on the Eucharist. Three years later, Synod XII was convened. Its topic was the Word of God. Before the synod meets, a document called Lineamenta is circulated among the bishops. The document contains topics and questions for discussion. The bishops and theologians then send in their reactions. After the synod, a statement is issued.
In the Lineamenta for the synod on the Word of God, we read: “This Synod wishes to set forth, in continuity with the preceding one, the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God, since the Church must receive nourishment from the one ‘bread of life from the table of both God’s word and Christ’s body.’ This is the Synod’s underlying purpose and primary goal, namely, to fully encounter the Word of God in Jesus the Lord, present in the Sacred Scriptures and the Eucharist. St. Jerome observes: ‘The Lord’s flesh is real food and his blood real drink: this is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with his flesh and to drink his blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink’” (Introduction, n. 4).
Further on we read: “This gratuitous communication, which presupposes a deep communion analogous to human intimacy, is characterized by God himself and his Word, that is the ‘Word of God’” (I, n. 6).
At the Table
One of the great gifts that fosters human intimacy is dining together. Having a meal with loved ones can be a sublime experience. Coming from an Italian family, I recall with great joy meals where we didn’t want to leave and break the spell. Both the company and the cuisine drew us to remain.
The Old Testament speaks of the joys of the table. Christ taught at table. Heaven is described as a banquet. At Eucharist we have the two tables with awesome gifts: the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. Both communicate love and intimacy. But we can also partake one on one with the Scripture just by picking up our Bible. Scripture is a treasure chest of gifts waiting to be opened.
We live in a nation of fast-food dining. Fast food sounds like an oxymoron to me. Elegant food takes time to prepare, and we should take our time to relish it and get the full benefit.
The Word should not be gulped down. This reverent consumption is called lectio divina. In his Angelus address, November 6, 2005, Pope Benedict said, lectio divina “consists in poring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, ‘ruminating’ on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its ‘juice’ so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself.” The Scriptures will never run out of juice. Nor should we ever not be thirsty.
We have briefly considered the Word of God as gift. It is humbling that our Creator should give creatures gifts so sublime, or that he should wish to have an intimate relationship with us. What can we give in return?
In the third Eucharistic Prayer we ask God to make us an everlasting gift to him. Big deal! He gives us everything, we give him ourselves. We need his help to do so. The Scriptures are a love letter from God. Lovers cherish communications and gifts from the beloved. We cherish this revelation and should be astonished that he wants us to get to know him and his plan for history.
If catechists have fire in their belly and hearts filled with hunger and love for the Word, then, with God’s help, students will catch the spark. As grateful recipients of the gift, they will joyfully share it with others.
Most Reverend Anthony G. Bosco is the retired bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, PA. He is invested in civic, ecumenical, health, and nursing activities. Most Reverend Bosco has a long history of involvement in Catholic radio and television and is one of the founders of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania. He is recognized for his outstanding pastoral and compassionate ministry within his diocese.
Bishop Bosco opens our imagination to reflect upon the meaning of “made in God’s image.” How do I understand the phrase? What difference does it really make for appreciating my own life and the life of those whom God has placed around me?
Early catechisms of the Catholic Church asked a question: What is man? The response: Man is a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. Oh how that response was drilled into so many of our lives; yet did we truly understand what it meant? Has our way of living witnessed to the fact that we see every human being as made in God’s image?
Using the metaphor of gift, Bishop Bosco invites us to appreciate the Word of God as an intimate gift of God’s self-communication calling for profound communion—intimacy with him. By embracing the Word of God as gift, we are called to be a walking testament of God’s unconditional love for all humanity, omitting no one from this great love.
1. What does the phrase “made in God’s image” mean to me? How does it influence my relationships with others? Do others perceive me as seeing them as made in God’s image?
2. What is my understanding of revelation? Do I realize the difference between Divine Revelation and private individual revelation? Describe the authoritative difference each type holds on us.
3. What does the reception of a gift mean in my life? When are gifts most meaningful? Why?
4. How do I see revelation as a gift, a means of intimacy with God?
5. What is my understanding of “soul”? Has it changed over the years? What questions or issues still remain when I talk with others about the spiritual life and the soul?
6. Bishop Bosco speaks about the Eucharist as “food for our journey.” How do I understand the Eucharist in my life? Do I sense the power of the Eucharistic presence? What difference does this experience make in my life?
1. Visit vatican.va and link into Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation). Spend reflective time reading n. 2 through n. 13. Design a lesson plan or catechetical activity that would enable students to understand the key elements articulated in those articles for deepening their grasp of the meaning of revelation.
2. Visit vatican.va and link into the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist). Discover new insights that intensify your appreciation of the Eucharist and the significant role that an understanding of Scripture plays for immersing ourselves into the Eucharistic celebration.
3. If lectio divina is part of your spiritual journey, share your experience with a neighbor, friend, or student. Explain to that person how lectio divina is an opportunity to experience the Word of God as gift. If you are not familiar with the methodology of lectio divina, Google the term for copious resources.
* Binz, Stephen. Introduction to the Bible: A Catholic Guide to Studying Scripture: Introduction to the Bible (Liturgical Press, litpress.org)
* Ralph, Margaret. Scripture: Nourished by the Word (Loyola Press, loyolapress.com)
* Brueggemann, Walter. Spirituality of the Psalms (Fortress Press, augsburgfortress.org)
* Catholic Biblical Association of America (cba.cua/edu/pub.cfm)
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