The beginning of last week marked the one-year anniversary of the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan. Somehow, like 9/11, those scenes of people trying to leave their homeland, are etched in my mind. This is also the images we see for those who continue to flee Ukraine.
I have just completed my second assignment for Interpreting the Bible for Leadership and Mission, as part of the Graduate Certificate in Mission and Culture. In previous courses, I have studied scripture, and yet I recognise that I will never ‘know’ all there is to comprehend when you begin to read and break open scripture. There are so many layers in revealing the Word of God in every age.
Many of you are possibly old enough to remember not even picking up a bible, let alone reading one and seeking to understand its meaning. I recall my older brothers had a book called Bible History, which was as close as most Catholics got to exploring the Bible. The Second Vatican Council changed that, and I was blest to be in high school just after this Council and had nuns who began to break open scripture with us with great enthusiasm. I was also part of the Young Christian Students (YCS) movement in which we would discuss Gospel passages and seek to make sense of them based on our lived experiences.
As part of my recent studies, I came across an article written by Francis J Moloney, SDB in 2016, on Sacred Scripture at Vatican II, in the Toronto Journal of Theology. He wrote:
The documents of the Second Vatican Council are shot through with the language of the Bible, Christian liturgical traditions, and the fathers of the church. The church’s historical journey away from its earlier focus upon these sources was reversed at Vatican II. Two documents deal specifically with the use of the Word of God: Sacrosanctum Concilium (sc) (On the Liturgy) and Dei Verbum (dv) (On Revelation). sc, the first document to appear (1963), insisted upon a broader and deeper use of the Word of God in the liturgical texts, and in a renewal of the lectionary. Vernacular celebration initiated a regular exposure to sacred Scripture and called for biblically based preaching. Promulgated toward the close of the council (1965), dv was an epoch-making statement on the function of revelation in the love affair between God and humankind. Crucial teachings upon the role and mutuality of Scripture, tradition, and the magisterium broke new ground in the history of Catholic thought. Not new, but freshly stated, Vatican II insisted upon the unique reception of Jesus Christ at the one table of the Eucharist and the Word. The decades since the council have struggled to respond to the council’s insistence upon the role of the Word of God at the heart of the Catholic Church. The challenge remains. It still remains to be faced in a Catholic world very different from the one that produced sc and dv.
I feel very blessed to have been taught by the Sisters of Mercy, who seemed to quickly take up the call of Vatican II to reveal to us the scriptures and to invite us to begin to make meaning of our lives based on our rudimentary reading of these passages of scripture. I must admit the fascination and intrigue has never left me.
Dei Verbum 21, 22 and 23 state:
It [the church] has always regarded and continues to regard the scriptures, taken together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith. (dv21)
Access to sacred Scripture ought to be widely available to the Christian faithful. (dv22)
Taught by the Holy Spirit, the spouse of the incarnate Word, which is the church, strives to reach an increasingly more profound understanding of the sacred scriptures, in order to nourish its children with God’s words. (dv23)
I am aware that this dream is still being realised, as the crucial process of the reception of Vatican II continues. I have been privileged to have undertaken lots of study, the purpose of which for me has been to try to understand this gift of faith that has been handed onto me by my forebears, but also as a great gift of grace. I cannot help but see my whole life through this lens of faith and as explained by the simple definition for theology as “faith seeking understanding”. I long for everyone to have this opportunity.
I am conscious that I struggle, but that for some Catholics, their faith is not open for dialogue or new understanding. When I look at Jesus in the scriptures, that is what he was doing with the scribes and pharisees, he was challenging them to look to the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. I hope these words from Rev Anne Hewitt in Churches Together SA, 17 August 2022 might tempt some of you to explore some scripture studies. Presently, about 15 people have begun the Christian Formation Course in the Diocese and as part of that one-year program, they will study scripture.
Anne Hewitt wrote a reflection God’s Spirit Unbend and Re-shapes Us based on Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman and is then challenged by the synagogue officials for healing on the sabbath.
When our focus is on Church rules, rationale and regulations, we often forget the real person, the intentional reason and the relevancy of why the rules were developed in the first place. This can ‘bend’ us and reshape us in a way we may never have intended – in how we love our neighbour, in our own wellbeing, in our thinking and choices, and in how we practice and ‘do’ our faith. Our focus on faith is bent by the weight and shape of rules.
We see these outcomes in those who are not included, through structural injustice and myopic understanding. It is seen when our practices are not connecting with and supporting those whom we are called to serve.
Jesus is drawing the focus away from the human ‘rules’, towards to the people of God. He offers the ‘re-shaping’ that comes from being present in God’s love. God’s Spirit unbends and re-shapes us - to bring the good news; to recover our sight to see where we are to serve, and whom we are to love; to revise our ways of living and doing, so that justice prevails and peace reigns. God’s love reshapes us and sets us free.
This is a poignant reminder at the one-year anniversary of the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan. We pray with the innocent community, particularly women and children, and with all the wider diaspora weighed down by un-Godly rules from this regime.
May the lens of faith you bring to your life, bring you meaning, joy and peace.