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Ottawa archbishop urges Catholics to read the Bible

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Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told the ScriptureFest 2011 audience that ‘All the baptized are called to make Jesus known.’ Photo by Ramon Gonzalez / The Western Catholic Reporter.Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told the ScriptureFest 2011 audience that ‘All the baptized are called to make Jesus known.’ Photo by Ramon Gonzalez / The Western Catholic Reporter.Learning to pray on scripture takes time, even for Archbishop Prendergast
By Ramon Gonzalez
The Western Catholic Reporter

VANCOUVER--The Bible should be part of the daily life of every Catholic, says Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ. “You need to feed on it.”

Speaking at ScriptureFest 2011, Archbishop Prendergast noted Catholics are not known for their appreciation of the Bible, but that has to change if we are going to evangelize the world.

“God wants the word to be known by everyone,” the archbishop said. “All the baptized are called to make Jesus known.”

Before we can do that, we have to know God’s Word ourselves, Archbishop Prendergast told more than 200 people attending ScriptureFest at Archbishop MacDonald High School in Edmonton Sept. 24.

“Few of us have a relationship with Jesus," he said. "The pope wants Catholic Christians to come to know Jesus. And the Holy Father wants every family to own a Bible.”

Once you have a Bible, however, the most important thing is to open it, read it and use it to pray, the archbishop of Ottawa said. Even before one goes to Confession one can read a passage from Scripture.

Ironically, Archbishop Prendergast, who gave three talks at the event, said he took a long time to warm up to the Bible.

“When I was doing my doctorate on the Scriptures I couldn’t pray on the Scriptures,” he admitted. “So Scripture (for me) became a job, a work, a study, instead of being something that fed me.”

Later on, after he got his doctorate and was teaching for awhile, Archbishop Prendergast, a Jesuit, was able to go back to the Scriptures and relate to them on a personal level.

He noted that in his 2010 apostolic exhortation on the word of God, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict effectively called for a reorientation in the role of the Word of God at every level of Church life.

However preaching the Scriptures and preaching Jesus Christ in general is difficult because many people have become distant from the Church, he said. But the Word of God is powerful. “The Word of God can challenge them, can transform them, can move them again and give them another start.”

How to approach people who are alienated from the Church is another challenge.

“But it’s my conviction that the Word of God can move anyone. Think of the disciples; they were kind of hopeless cases and yet Jesus didn’t write them off. He worked with them and they became tremendous evangelizers.”

In reading the working document of the latest synod of bishops, Archbishop Prendergast said he was struck by the observation that many Catholics struggle with the Old Testament.

“Knowledge of the Old Testament, that’s the Word of God, seems to be a real problem among Catholics, particularly if it relates to the mystery of Christ and the Church,” he said.

“I think this may have something to do with the way we do Scripture and the methods that we use. If the clergy are uncertain on how to do this, on how to read Scriptures and the preaching of them, it follows that those in the congregation will have hesitation on parts of the Bible.”

Archbishop Prendergast noted that whenever Pope Benedict speaks about the Scriptures, he recommends being careful to avoid moralism. “Moralism is when we kind of invite people to live the way God would want us to without (giving them) the basis to do it.”

Before he became archbishop, Archbishop Prendergast used to think that if he had the right catechetical program and taught kids the right way, “they would just follow the teaching of Jesus and live it.

“But that’s because I presumed they would be interested in learning. But if they don’t know Jesus, why would they? We start from the wrong principle.”

Power of actualization

The archbishop spoke of actualization — making the biblical texts come alive in the lives of the people who read it and listen to it — as an effective way to study the Bible.

This method transforms a biblical passage into “a personal message to the individual or group.”

This transformation happens during lectio divina, during the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, during pilgrimages, in the Focolare movement and in charismatic circles.

“The sharing that takes effect has a way of moving us to an affective relationship with God, with Jesus Christ.”

In addition to loving reading dynamic and literal translations of the Bible, Archbishop Prendergast also loves reading commentaries that are not written by Scripture scholars.

“Other people have different insights. So read broadly, read widely,” he urged his audience. “(The point is) the word of God has to touch you and change you.”

One challenge is to know what God is saying in our world today. But instead of looking for answers elsewhere, we have to go to Pope Benedict “because in his homilies and teachings he interprets the Word of God in a very powerful way.

“The disciple listens and hears God’s Word,” Archbishop Prendergast said, echoing ScriptureFest’s theme. The Virgin Mary is a model of listening and hearing the Word of God.

“Get your rosaries and your Bibles” and go evangelize the world, Archbishop Prendergast said. “The mission of the Church comes from God’s Word. God wants everybody to be his son and all of us are privileged to take part in that. All the baptized are called to make Jesus known.”

Last Updated on Monday, 03 October 2011 08:40  

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