Friday, January 23, 2015

What's the Word?

In the Christian world, people always ask, “Do you know Jesus?”  I used to think, “well if you’re a Christian, then duh!  Of course you know Jesus!”  But the more I’ve encountered people and talked about ‘knowing’ Jesus, the more I’ve realized that many people only know about Jesus, but they don’t really KNOW Him!  Jesus is so much more than a historical figure or a lens of how to live your life.  He is a person who is alive today and He is offering a free gift of His love constantly to everyone of us!

But how do we, not only verbally accept this free gift from God, but also physically come to know Him, and allow Him to change our hearts? When I first began this crazy journey as a FOCUS missionary, I started to explore my faith much more deeply.  I came to understand how He comes to dwell within each of us, through the Scriptures, as the Word of God.

When I started out as a FOCUS missionary, my prayer life had little to do with the Bible.  I was much more interested in reading supplementary spiritual books about devotions or Saints.  I felt like I understood more of these types of readings as opposed the Bible.  I was able to really think about them and come to logical conclusions.  Looking back, I realized all I was doing was thinking, not praying!  About the time I went to campus, I was talking to a fellow missionary and asked him where I should even begin reading the Bible.  He told me to start in John’s Gospel and then work my way through the other 3 Gospels starting with Matthew.  So I thought, “Great, I have a starting point!” 
As I began to read, the opening part of John’s Gospel arrested my attention. John 1:1-14 may be one of the richest, most tangible visuals we receive in scripture of how Jesus comes into the world.  

As I read this part in John’s Gospel, I had just read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 103:

"For this reason the Church venerates Sacred Scripture as much as the Lord's Body"

This baffled me because I had to ask myself the question, “Are there any Catholics that I know who venerate Sacred Scripture as much as the Body of Christ?” Most Catholics I know who attend Mass regularly know that the parts in the Mass where the priest holds up the Host and the Chalice is a pretty big deal.  However, I would venture to guess that those same Catholics probably couldn’t tell you what the first reading was or the Gospel for that matter(I know I couldn’t!).  They were probably more concerned with how much they agreed with or disagreed with Father’s homily. 

This raised a big issue for me as I embarked to know the Truth more deeply.  If the Church went as far as to say that the Word was as important as the Eucharist then I was doing something wrong in not reading Scripture more often!  So I began to read further into why the Church had decided to make this claim in the Catechism.  The paragraphs preceeding 103 were as far as I had to go:

I had always been able to understand that when the Bible referred to the ‘Word,’ it was referring to Jesus himself(as indicated by the capitalizing of the ‘W’ to indicate a proper noun, also Jn 1:14).  This part in the Catechism however, shed new light on my understanding.  It helped me to see that this ‘Word’ was not simply just a person who came 2000 years ago and died for our sins.  This ‘Word’ extends much further into the beginning of time itself, when God spoke and creation came into being.  

In John 1:4 we see that, “All things came to be through Him, and without Him, nothing came to be.”  I had realized at this point my understanding of creation was separated from the Gospel account.  I had always assumed that God the Father was just speaking and creation was resulting.  A solo act, if you will.  However, after reading this account in John’s Gospel with the aid of the Catechism, I could clearly see that the same ‘Word’ John speaks of, is the same ‘Word’ that is in the beginning with God, who is God.  I finally understood that Jesus was in the beginning with God the Father, carrying out the Father’s Will perfectly, bringing things into existence as God the Father spoke.  God the Father’s action IS Jesus bringing things into being.  

With this new understanding and visual, I was able to make an important connection that I had missed all these years.  When John says that, “all things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be,”  I could see that I came to be and exist here and now because Jesus holds me in existence.  He is creation itself, He is the reason I exist whether I know Him or not.  He is the reason we are all here, the reason we get to be present in creation at this very moment in history.

I was so taken aback by the thought of this.  Jesus had suddenly become so much more to me than just a man who came 2000 years ago, who claimed to be God and died for all our sins.  Jesus made Himself known to me deep within, at the very core of my being.  He is in me and I am in Him.  My very existence is caused by His choice to know me and hold me in existence.  And as I type this, I am even coming to know more fully the intentionality and precious care with which each of us are made, whether we know it or not.  

The Catechism goes on to tell us that the same ‘Word’ that created the Universe and everything in it, is the same word on the mouths of the prophets and the sacred writers.  It is the same ‘Word’ that comes to us in the reading of Sacred Scriptures.  I realize now that reading and listening to the scriptures is a way that Jesus is communicating himself fully to us, except this is feeding our intellect rather than just our physical being.  This helps us to understand Him and His life within us, the same life that we share in the Eucharist(His Body and Blood) at every Mass.  Reading Scriptures daily is communing with Jesus daily!  Jesus is revealing His personhood to each one of us individually, every time we read the Sacred Scriptures, pouring out His love!

So how can we practically allow the ‘Word’ to change us and begin living a relationship with the Lord in our daily lives?  Here are my suggestions to get started:

Whenever you sit down to pray, before even opening Scripture, remind yourself of these 3 things:

1. This is God Himself, coming to me fully in the words that I read and hear.
2. He desires to speak directly to me, what is He saying?
3. How am I applying that to my life here and now at this moment?

From there you can begin to read, waiting for something to catch your attention(this is a simplified version of Lectio Divina – a type of prayer the Church teaches).  Once something has your attention, read it over again slowly.  Here I would suggest implementing something called W.R.A.P. 

Write- Write the verse/phrase/ or word that has your attention.
Reflect – Reflect upon its meaning in Scripture.
Apply – Apply the meaning directly to you, here and now.  Put yourself in the scene.
Pray – Pray, thanking the Lord and asking Him to give you the graces to accept His will.

This is a good starting point for anyone looking to welcome Jesus more fully into their heart through Scripture.  Jesus thirsts for everyone of us to come to know Him more deeply through the Word!  At the very least I urge anyone who reads this to read Scripture for 5 minutes a day and see what the Lord does in your lives.  

May God bless today and every day of your life!