13 October – Intervention at Synod of Bishops, Rome

Intervention of
Cardinal Seán Brady
at the Synod of Bishops in Rome
13 October 2008

Last month some leaders of the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities in Ireland met to consider how to give better witness to the Gospel of Peace and Reconciliation in a society recovering from decades of violence. The day was facilitated by Jean Vanier of the L’Arche community. At the end he produced bowls of water and towels and invited all present to wash each others feet. We had been happy to talk together, and even to pray together but this somewhat embarrassing challenge drew us to a new level of intimacy. This strong experiential ritual invited us to a new level of personal and ecclesial commitment.

One of those present was invited to read aloud the account of the Washing of the Feet from St John’s Gospel. As we listened our embarrassment was transformed. The presence of Christ in the Word served to highlight the reality of Christ’s presence in each other. Without compromise of doctrinal integrity or ecclesiastical discipline, our ‘inter-communion’ in the Word and our shared faith in its transforming power brought each one of us literally to our knees in an attitude of reverence and respect.

In this strong experience of ritual, with its Baptismal and Eucharistic resonances, we experienced the truth of the words of our Holy Father that: ‘To listen to the word of God together constitutes a path to be taken in order to achieve unity in the faith’(IL 54). We understood in a new way the words of St. Gregory the Great when he said: ‘Frequently, many things in the Sacred Writings, which I was unable to understand on my own, I came to grasp while in the presence of my brothers’ (Homiliae in Ezechielem, II,2, I: PL 76, 948-949).

Experience of the search for peace confirms the importance of acknowledging with gratitude the contribution of other Christians to our tradition. Here it is appropriate to acknowledge the immense contribution of the Protestant tradition to Biblical scholarship. It may also assist the healing of memory to affirm that certain emphases within the Reformation on improving access to the Scriptures were a good from which all Christian communities have benefited.

The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum stated that preaching should be nourished by the Sacred Scriptures. Our ancestors heard the Word of God from zealous missionaries. Their zeal was rooted in a life of personal intimacy with Christ whom they came to know each day through total immersion in the Scriptures. They sought to imitate him by embodying his values and his attitudes – the Beatitudes.

Every preacher depends on this personal intimacy with the Lord in the Scriptures. Preachers also need adequate preparation and ongoing help for their task. This should be such that it will enable the preacher to connect ‘the joys and hopes, the grief and the anxieties’ of all human life to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Only in this way will they lead their hearers into communion with our Risen Lord. It is to be hoped that exegetes, theologians and liturgists will work together to help Ministers of the Word to say what the Holy Spirit wants the Church to say to the world at this time.

In the context of an increasingly technological environment, effective preaching may also demand courage and creativity in the means of presenting the Word to contemporary culture. The Word of God is for everybody and for every situation. A greater and more imaginative use of modern communications gives the Church wonderful possibilities to communicate its message to the ends of earth. It is to be hoped that the Synod will come up with practical proposals to enable the Church to take full advantage of this opportunity.

A further challenge is to fill the families of today with enthusiasm for the presence of a Bible in their home.  The Word of God is itself a reality imbued with the presence of God. Like the Eucharist the Word too is viaticum – food for the journey of life, food for the journey of married life. Given the particular challenges which face the family in our time one of the things we could profitably learn from the Protestant tradition is the custom of having a Bible in the home and reading it often as a family.

The Word of God is a word of hope offered to a world often in dire need of hope, as the present global financial turmoil indicates. But as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, God’s word does not return to Him empty. This is the source of our hope.

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