Spiritual Power of the Word of God

Author: Gianfranco Ravasi


Gianfranco Ravasi

Reflections on the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte - 4

"All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God will stand for ever". The vivid and "colourful" verses of the Prophet Isaiah (40,6-8) paint the constant flow of centuries, which pour like a river from millennium to millennium, and in running dry leave behind refuse or dead leaves that float on the waters of time. This is a universal experience of humanity. Even the Dinka nomads of Sudan sing: "At the time when God created all things, he created the sun. The sun is born, dies and rises again. He created the stars: stars are born, die and rise again. He created man. Man is born, dies but returns no more".

However the prophet, in this ceaseless flow of time that vanishes from millennium to millennium, identifies a rock that does not crumble but endures. It is the Word of God that will "stand for ever". In fact in the eyes of the Lord, as the wonderful elegy of Psalm 90 [89] sings, "for a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night" (v. 4). Before darkness falls on the second millennium and at the dawn of the third, John Paul II invites us to discern that presence which never fades, to fix our gaze on "your word, O Lord [that] endures for ever; it is firm as the heavens" (Psalm 119 [118],89). This is what is suggested in the middle section of Novo Millennio ineunte, in paragraphs 39-41. They shine forth with Sacred Scripture with which, moreover, all the pages in the Apostolic Letter are enriched, especially those devoted to the solemn and luminous icon of Christ. The word of God continues to echo from the rooftops of our cities that are distracted by a thousand of other voices and sounds. This is what is called evangelization. In the paragraphs noted, a path is traced, which we will now attempt to describe precisely with the image of a journey. It begins with the exalting experience of the Second Vatican Council, when the Bible penetrated more intensely the daily life of the ecclesial community.

On this path, which was opened from that moment, walk "the feet of those who bring good tidings, who publish peace ... who publish salvation" (cf. Is 52,7). The Pope identifies their features: they are not "specialists" of evangelization but "all the members of the People of God. Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him" (NovoMillennio ineunte, n. 40). At the sides of the roads, at the intersections of squares, throng the listeners or those for whom the announcement is intended. The Holy Father describes their faces too: they are individuals and groups, children and adults, families and in particular, young people, whose profile the Pope highlights more than others, because the future of our history is entrusted to today's youth.

In the end there should be no distinction between evangelizers and those whom they are addressing, because everyone who has heard them must become in turn a witness and messenger, as the Psalmist instructed. These are "things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought ... that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God" (Ps 78 [77],3-7). Nonetheless, the path of evangelization is often steep and strewn with obstacles. We need tools, a method, a plan. The Pope points out various components of the commitment to the evangelization of the Word.

First of all comes fidelity to the message, to its integrity, to its serious and strict demands. Indeed, Jeremiah did not hesitate to describe the Word of God to be "like a hammer which breaks the rock" and "a fire" (23,29), whilst the Letter to the Hebrews has recourse to the famous image of the sword, "piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow" (4,12). John Paul II asks us "never to hide the most radical demands of the Gospel message" (Novo Millennio ineunte, n. 40). However, the firm decision not to do so, must be combined with the "respect due to the different paths of different people and with sensitivity to the diversity of cultures in which the Christian message must be planted, in such a way that the particular values of each people will not be rejected but purified and brought to their fullness" (ibid.).

Then there is the delicate high road of evangelization: on the one hand, it must preserve the aspect of radical, unadulterated fidelity to the word, but on the other, it must also address the aspect of "inculturation" and patient, gradual progress. Actually, the evangelizer should be mindful of St Peter's exhortation: "Be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (I Pt 3,15). Consequently those who proclaim the Word must use a language that combines exactnessand suppleness, faithfulness and actualization, memory and the presentmoment. But communication ought to convey that flavour, that spark which could be felt, the Pope continues, in the "ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost". It is that love which distinguishes the preacher of the word from the propagandist. Indeed this inner strength does not allow those who proclaim the Word to hesitate about entering the darkness of rejection, the areopagus of indifference, the uproar of persecution. The Pope looks again at that great "cloud of witnesses" (Heb 1,12), that is, of martyrs, not only of early Christianity, but also of the century that has just ended.

The apostle of the Word should therefore use a method which consists of fidelity and attention, which must be enthusiastic and incisive, but also flexible and patient; it must be "confident, enterprising and creative"(NovoMillennio ineunte, n. 40). At this point the Apostolic Letter lets usglimpse the goal of the journey of proclamation: the vibrant encounter with the Lord of the word. John Paul II writes: "It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives" (ibid., n. 39). Knowledge of the texts is necessary to prevent the proliferation of vague applications and interpretations. However, the word must flourish in an acceptance of faith and love, heart and life, because "all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Tm 3,16). The Danish philosopher, Soeren Kierkegaard

(1813-55) left in his diary these vivid words: "The Bible should be read as a young man reads a letter from the girl he loves: the Bible is written for me".

(Orig. Ital. in O.R. 23 May 2001, n. 2)

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 August 2001, page 6

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