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Word of God and the Priest in light of the Synod

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TheWord of God and the Priest in light of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East

This is a reflection prepared by Fr. Dr. Louis Hazboun, from the Latin Seminary, for the monthly retreat of Priests in the Holy Land. In his reflection he combines the outcome of the Synod for the Middle East and the life of the Priest based on the Word of God.  Read below the full text Fr. Hazboun’s reflectionn.

During this year, the Synod Fathers have made an appeal for conversion in faith, based on the Word of God and a communion by being witnesses of love in all spheres of life. (R 3)   Based on the recommendations of the Synod, the Latin Patriarchate announced that this year is the year of the Bible in our Diocese of Jerusalem.  Hence we will meditate on the role of the Word of God in our lives and our priestly ministry in both theoretical and practical realms, through the Synodal documents: The opening sermon of the Holy Father for the Synod(O), an outline of the Synod (OU), the recommendations of the Synod (R), the closing sermon of the Pope (CS) and the Synod letter to the People of God (SL).  We may summarize the Word of God in our priestly lives in this consideration: “the Word of God in the Bible is a reference to discover the meaning of our presence,  our communion and our witness in the contemporary context of our country.” (OU 5)

Firstly, the Word of God and the discovery of the meaning of our presence:

The Word of God reveals to us the meaning of our presence in the holy places, the meaning of our presence in the interpretation of the Word of God and the meaning of our priestly ministry.

The meaning of our presence in the Holy Places: One of the objectives of the Synod was to instill and strengthen Christians in their identity and their connection to their land through the Word of God (0U 2). It is from the people of this Holy Land, and it is in this environment where the Word of God was commissioned; the Incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. In this land the Church was formed and we are her extension. (SL 1)  Thus, we derive the importance of focusing on the Holy Places, their histories and their implications especially in spiritual dimension; this as a means of increasing the understanding of the Word of God and the meaning of our presence. The Word can be better understood by first looking at it in its environment; for it was written in our languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) using our own cultural and literary terms. Reading the Bible where the historic event happened, is the best way to understand the meaning that God desires to reveal to man on the one hand, on the other hand it is a means of increasing our self-understanding. Therein, we will see ourselves through our own eyes not through the eyes of others; and we will read our own history, our cultural heritage and religion in our language to confirm our identity in our land. Otherwise, we are threatened in our existence; as human beings and land. The people of the Holy Land and their land incarnate the love of God to humanity. They become a message of love for every person. It is our duty to be truly “people of the book”, so as to develop the culture of the Bible. (R 2)

The meaning of our presence in the interpretation of the word of God: The most dangerous and pressing aspects of reading the Bible today come out of a serious ignorance about the inspiration, revelation and the word of God. The wrong use of the Bible and an absence of basic instruction necessary to understand the true meaning of the Holy Bible are the major dangers we face. (OU 7) If a person is outside of the reality of the truth found in the Word, his thought and life are very dangerous. To clarify the divine revelation and to understand the correct meaning of the Bible one needs to understand the Christological interpretation of the text which has been maintained by tradition.

A Christological reading is the principle characteristic of the Christian interpretation of the Bible. Christ is the key to the Bible, he is the interpreter and the subject of interpretation, because the scriptures speak about him as the Lord Jesus, as he taught to the disciples of Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24: 27) St. Augustine says: “In the new disappears in the old, and in the new the old is transfigured.” So the priest must encourage a Christological reading of the Bible, which is to be reflected upon, and interpreted based on Christ. (R 3) For at the center of the word of God, we find our Lord Jesus, for “he alone is the summary of the whole Bible.” The Synod Fathers recommend us to put the whole Bible (old and new Testament) at the heart of our Christian life, and to prepare a booklet introducing the Bible in the Old and New Testaments (R 3) requiring continuous formation for the priest. (R 30)

As for the part of tradition, the Bible is the book of the Christian community which developed and was transmitted by our church communities. So tradition is also the key to the interpretation of Biblical texts in order to avoid arbitrary interpretations (OU 10). This requires from the priests to celebrate the word of God in the liturgy, following the steps of the first Christian community. (R 3). This also goes to focus on the word of God in the celebration of sacraments, instruction, daily life and practice. (R. 30) It is the primary duty of the priest to proclaim the word of God, for they possess the special charisma to interpret the Holy Bible when they are determined to relay scripture not according to their own opinion but according to the word of God applying it to the various circumstances of their lives. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 4)

The meaning of our presence in our priesthood: The Word of God is the spirit and the basis of our pastoral service (R 2). The aim of the Bible is also the support the Christian in his life choices, on his earthly way and to enlighten his future with respect to his liberty (OU 12). The word of God helps our parishioners to affront the challenges, including the difficult conditions and the state of tension and frustration and even at times of fear. It requires us as priests to rediscover the Word of God in the Scriptures that explain what is going on around us in order to lead our daily choices: personal, social, political and ecclesiastical life. So we may help our parishioners to discover the cries of the poor and oppressed in God’s word, this word which presents a light of hope and the way of liberty (CL) and which illuminates the collective choices or decisions we make (OU 12). This discovery is first detected by contemplative reading of the Bible, either personally, within the family, or within the faith-sharing groups. (OU 7) In a special way through the preparation of the sermon, based on the word of God and linked to the concrete life of the parishioners. (R 30) The priest ought to encourage every family of his parish to have a copy the Bible in their home and to develop an easy methodology to read and meditate upon it daily, especially through Lectio Divina. It is important also that the priest works with his parishioners to create a Biblical site on the Internet, which puts at their disposal a Catholic explanation and interpretation, encouraging the parishioners to participate in Biblical courses which explain the word of God. This will help to answer their questions and to create an atmosphere of familiarity with the Bible so as to become deeper in the spirituality of the Bible and a commitment to its apostolic activity. (R 2) The faithful are thirsty for the word of God and if they lack it in our churches, they will find other sources to quench this thirst. (R 2) The Synod Fathers also recommend the establishment of centers of Christian education for the upbringing of adults so that they may have a living faith (R 30). In particular, the catechists should be well prepared and be faithful so that they may help to encounter current problems and challenges. (R 30)

Second: the word of God and Communion:

At the level of communion in our church, listening to the Word of God with prayer is one of the times, which reinforces the communion among the bishops, clergy and faithful, and leads to the practical application of requirements of the Gospel. (OU 40) Doing according to the requirements of the word of God, means an increase in our communion by the abandonment of our own viewpoints in order to be liberated from the thorns that suffocate the Word of God. (Mt. 13:7) More accurately the Synod highlights the close relationship between the Eucharist, as sacrament of communion and the word of God. “The church must be fed with bread on the table of the word of God and the Body of Christ.” The meeting with the Word of God in Jesus Christ present in both the Bible and in the Eucharist helps the body of Christ to become incorporated in his one mystical body. (church) “It is a collective and individual participation at the same time. The individual melds into one with the group through one communion,” says Father Olivier Clement (Sources, 1982, 109).

At the level of the communion within the churches and ecclesial communities, we must organize meetings between the faithful and priests so as to pray and reflect together on the word of God and to cooperate in different fields such as, the “Week for Christian Unity” (R 28). The disciples of Christ ought to be present in their prayers so that in their unity the world will believe. (Jn. 17:21) Meanwhile, the separation of the Christian communities contradicts the essence and nature of the church itself, and creates a source of scandal before our message. (Fifth Letter of Orient Catholic Patriarchs on Ecumenism) Amongst the laity, seminaries and universities it is recommended that there be cooperation and meetings so as to establish unity. (R 30) The Holy Bible, the word of God, is the fruit of the dialogue between God and humanity. It is the first reference to dialogue with other Christian communities, because our cooperation in the Biblical, Theological and Patristic studies strengthen the spirit of dialogue. (R 3) Dialogue, is the basic means for Ecumenism requiring a positive attitude based on the comprehension, listening, and being open to the other. These elements help to surpass a lack of trust and to work together to re-enforce the religious values which are shared. (R 3) At the level of the University, it is recommended that an association is established for higher education. (R 30) At the level of Catechism centers it is recommended to keep the doors open for different churches. (R 30)

And finally at the level of cooperation and dialogue with people of other religions, the word of God in the Old Testament is common between us and the Jewish people. Word of God belongs to both us and them. As it is mentioned in the Bible, that since God called Abraham the father of fathers, he became our father in faith: Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Second Vatican Council published a document called “Nostra Aetate”, regarding the dialogue with Judaism, Islam and other religions. This document calls for a dialogue which leads to the removal of conflict, because the word of God invites us to hear God’s voice, the speaker of peace: “He speaks peace to his faithful people” (Psalm 85:8). Is not permissible to appeal to the Bible as a tool to justify oppression, violence and occupation or to politicize the texts of the holy Bible. In contrast, recourse to the Bible should lead us to see the face of God in every human being and to treat him according to the attributes of God and His commandments. i.e. God’s goodness, justice, His mercy and His love for us. (SL 8)

Thirdly, the word of God and witness:

The Church was commissioned from of the Holy Land to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth (SL 1), in response to the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) Accordingly, the priest should encourage every Christian to proclaim the Gospel without shame or provocation. As the apostle Paul says, “the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Tim 4:17). Despite that we are a minority, this passage applies to us here as Christians of the Holy Land, by the words of the Lord Jesus: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:32) We carry the good news that manifested itself particularly here in the Holy Land, in the person of Jesus Christ. We need to become messengers of the Gospel and makers of peace and reconciliation for the whole society (SL). This requires us to enter into in the concept of the new evangelization in the Gospel. Pope Benedict has decided to dedicate 2012 to the theme of: “The new evangelization to carry the Christian faith.” (SL). Therefore the Synod Fathers call upon us to enter into the horizons of this new evangelization, taking into consideration the cultural and social realities in which we live, work and strive in nowadays. Such a thing requires a deep repentance and renewal in the light of the Word of God, and the sacraments, especially through reconciliation and the Eucharist (R 37). It also requires from us that we are witnesses not only through religious education, but also technical and social education.

Technical education includes training in modern techniques and knowledge, mass media and other means of communication in order to become witnesses in this world. The social education, especially Church’s social doctrine, leads to the mutual understanding among members of one society. (R 30)

Finally let us put the Synod Fathers recommendations both on the practical and theoretical levels under the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the Apostles, for she is the supreme example of the one who hears the word of God, so through this word our church can live a “New Pentecost” a dynamic and effective and constant force.” (OL)

Synod Documents and unmentioned symbols:

1) (O) Ouverture du Synode pour le Moyen-Orient, ROME, 10 octobre, en présidant la messe du XXVIIIe dimanche ordinaire, en la basilique vaticane.

2) (OU )The outline : Lineamenta – Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (Vatican City, 10-24 October 2010)( The Instrumentum laboris can be found on the Internet at the Vatican website:http://www.vatican.va

3) (R) The Synod: Final Propositions

4) (SL) Message to the People of God : During the Fourteenth General Congregation held on Friday 22th October 2010, the Synod Fathers approved the Nuntius, the Message to the People of God, at the conclusion of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops

5) (CS) The Holy Father’s Homily – Conclusion of the Synod: The Pope said this in his homily at the solemn closing of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in St. Peter’s Basilica.25 October 2010

Monthly Spiritual Retreat for the priests 01/03/2011

Fr. Dr. Louis Hazboun