By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The catechetical theme for the 2019-2020 season of faith formation and evangelization beginning this month is “Stay with us.” The source for this unusual command, really an entreaty, is the Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke 24: 13-35. After the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus the apostles and disciples were scattered like sheep without a shepherd and without a future. They were so overwhelmed with grief, bordering on despair, that they were unable to recognize their risen Lord even when he was at their side. Two unnamed disciples were walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus with heavy hearts when Jesus appeared alongside of them. He feigned not knowing what had happened on Good Friday in order to break open the Old Testament with all of the prophetic declarations that anticipated the Messiah, his life, death and resurrection. The two became so enraptured with his presence and his hope-filled words that they pleaded with him to “stay with us” because it was already dusk. While he sat at table with them Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. With that “their eyes were opened and he vanished from their sight.” (24:31) Either these were two apostles at the Last Supper, or they had been informed about the transformation of the bread and wine at the Passover Meal into the Body and Blood of the Lord. In any case, they turned to one another and exclaimed, “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (24:32)
This is the resurrection account that established the foundation for the Eucharist, the Breaking of Bread, which the early disciples celebrated in one or another of their homes, as identified in the Acts of the Apostles (2:46). In fact, Acts 2:42-47 defines the four pillars of authentic Christian community, Word, Worship, Community and Service. The Word refers to the proclamation of the Scriptures at Mass, evangelization, or the proclamation of the Kerygma to unbelievers, and catechetical instruction, or faith formation to the baptized. It is the God’s dream that the hearts of his Son’s disciples would burn in the presence of the sacred scriptures and that every level of instruction would be evidence of a living faith seeking understanding.
The Sacred Scripture is the heart and soul of all faith formation, the cornerstone of our faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This gift was reflected upon at the recent Rite of the Installation of Lectors with our Permanent Deacon Candidates at St. Jude in Pearl on Sept. 7.
Two excerpts from the document on Divine Revelation from the Second Vatican Council were broken open during the homily. “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.” The priority of place of the Bible in the teaching ministry of the Church is evident in Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit. He refers repeatedly to the biblical figures who were instrumental in God’s plan of salvation, of course, especially with regard to the Blessed Mother.
The second reference from Dei Verbum is the exhortation to all the baptized, laity and clergy, as disciples of the Lord to allow the Holy Spirit to light or reignite the fire and keep it burning within our hearts and minds. “Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher (or catechist) of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” (4) since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
The hard-hitting quotation that completes the Dei Verbum reference is from Saint Jerome who translated the entire Bible in the fifth century from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, commonly known as the Vulgate. He allowed the Word of God to wash over him and to burn deep within. As the new catechetical year begins may we all allow the Word of God to burn in our hearts so that the Lord indeed “may remain with us” opening the eyes of our hearts so that we may recognize his real presence in his body, the church, in the gathered assembly at Mass, in his body and blood, soul and divinity, at the altar, in the breaking of the bread at the Lamb of God and in the reception of holy communion. This is our Catholic faith and we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz