“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). A client last week shared how he’s discovering the power of the word of God. A cradle Catholic, he’s experiencing new life in the Lord, as well as the death of old habits and ways of thinking. Amidst this rebirth, passages like Romans 6:8, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” are speaking to him as never before.
The word of God is living and active. Do you desire personal renewal? Do you desire renewal in your parish, community, or the Church as a whole? Dive into the word. Study it. Commit it to memory. Treasure it in your heart. As Moses told the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land (Deut 6:6-9)
These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Every renewal movement in the history of the Church has begun with a Christian pondering the Scriptures. St. Francis of Assisi heard the gospel passage, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Mk 10:21)”. He leaped up in the church and cried out, “This is what I want to do with my whole heart!” And he did. The Franciscan movement was born, and it transformed the church and all of medieval Europe. St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, St. Benedict and the birth of Western monasticism, St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century, the Abolition Movement in England and in the U.S., Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal – all began with individuals, and then groups, studying the word of God and taking it to heart.
The word of God is living and active. It is life, food, and breath. Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews from the Nazis in occupied Holland. She ended up along with her sister Betsie in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In the miserable, flea-infested, filthy and overcrowded barrack, they and the other inmates clustered around the word of God. A copy of the New Testament had been miraculously smuggled in despite repeated strip searches and near-discoveries.
Because of the many languages represented in the barrack, each passage had to be translated from Dutch to English, German, French, Italian – whatever. One evening, the passage was read,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
The inmates huddled around the reader, as campers huddle around a fire on a freezing night. As the passage was translated from language to language, Corrie saw its “flame” leaping from face to face, bunk to bunk. It was a light, all the brighter for burning in so very dark a place. The truth of God’s word smote her: “More than conquerors! We are more than conquerors, no matter how desperate our situation!” She later recalled, “I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were–of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts.”
My earliest experience of the word of God was attending Mass with my family as a very young child. Then in second grade, I was inspired by the movie The Ten Commandments. I decided to read the Bible cover to cover. Once finished, I read it again. And again. I enjoyed the narrative parts – especially the story of the 10 plagues, in Exodus. But in many parts, I had no idea what I was reading. I didn’t know that some parts of the Bible are history, some poetry, some prophecy, some songs (the Psalms), and some proverbs. Trying to read it all as a story was immensely confusing. Add to this the 16th-century phrasing and vocabulary of the Douay-Rheims version we had.
I continued to hear the Scriptures in contemporary language at Mass. We used contemporary translations in the high school seminary as well. I continued to enjoy the “story” portions. Some of the other parts struck me as very dull (1 and 2 Chronicles, Leviticus and most of Numbers, for example). Others struck me as poetic but having nothing that I could relate to (the prophets and the New Testament letters, for example).
In the summer after freshman year, an older seminarian read the following passage to me. It was one he obviously loved and found powerful, St. Paul’s prayer for his Ephesian readers:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:14-19).
That’s now a favorite passage of mine, amazingly life-giving. But at the time, I didn’t get it. I thought it was pretty. But I had no idea what it was about.
I began to attend a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting in October 1976, my senior year of high school, for two reasons.First, I wanted to learn Spanish better, and the meeting was at a Puerto Rican parish in Chicago. Second, I was dissatisfied. I had a vague sense that there had to be more, though I couldn’t define what that “more” could be. As soon as I walked into the meeting, I was home. The praise, the singing, the enthusiasm, the palpable presence of the Lord, and the way people at the meeting talked about Jesus as if they knew Him all grabbed me. The people there told me that I could have a relationship with Jesus. They told me that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit. Two friends prayed for me on March 17, 1977, and I experienced both.
One of the friends who prayed with me invited me to try re-reading the Gospel of John. I did. I found that John, and the whole Bible, had become – overnight – entirely different. I couldn’t put them down. The words spoke to me as no other words ever had. When reading the Bible alone, I would literally say out loud, “This is true! This is true! This is true!” These were God’s words spoken to me. They were living and active. They were what life is all about. It’s been that way ever since.
My experience had no psychological explanation. I’d read the Bible several times before, and it was nothing like this. The only explanation had to be spiritual. Before, I’d read without the Holy Spirit, the Bible’s author, interpreting and “awakening” the word to me. Now, having opened me more fully to His action in my heart, He was. Many, perhaps most of you reading this have had a similar awakening to the word of God. If you haven’t, earnestly seek that from the Lord. It’s a gift He loves to give.
To be continued…