Handing on the Faith in Scriptures?

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the goals of the Year of Faith is a re-reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in particular the four major documents; The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  Just the titles of these documents alone should give one pause as to their weight in the Church’s understanding of itself, for the titles name that this understanding is constitutive to what it means to be Catholic.

I remember my amazement and excitement around my first read of these documents years ago in my first years of theological studies.  As I continue to re-read these documents, that same excitement comes back to me.  When I think about the world that I live and move and have my being in these days, I realize the need more and more for people to have an actual encounter with Jesus, in particular an encounter with Him in the Word.  So I began my re-reading with one of the later documents of the Second Vatican Council–Dei verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation).

As I seek a return to the document many years later, I find myself drawn to some of the documents that came as a result of this document, i.e., The Biblical Commission’s Document on “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.”  Both documents call us to understand the Biblical story as not a lesson in history, but an understanding of Salvation history as an experience with God’s Revelation.  As a parent and Christian we must connect our life to the larger Christian story.  It is from the final state of the text that a person approaches the text and makes a connection from the transformations that happened in the community at that time to the transformations in the community at this time.  It is from the narrative level that the common language of the story is acted upon in each given community.  I use the narrative level as a means of making the biblical stories of the past, much more current and relevant to my family and peers.

The tension in using this particular method with modern society is the tendency to not appreciate a formal study in scripture.  Many people I have met want to quickly move to the “what’s the point” part of understanding scripture, and therefore missing the part of the transformation as part of understanding.  While the document on interpretation gives a critique of this method as one that might lead someone to stay “at the level of formal student of the context of text,” within our Christian journey and family lives, we must move to draw out the message or we have lost the interest, credibility and relevancy of our children, family and friends.

Joseph Fitsmeyer in his commentary on the “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” refers to the 13th century phrase attributed to Augustine of Dacia, O.P., about the four senses of scripture: “The literal teaches facts; the allegorical, what you are to believe; the moral, what you are to do, the anagogical, what you are to hope for.”  I am appreciative and sensitive to the literal sense of scripture and making sure that this sense is not the “’literalist’ sense to which fundamentalists are attached.” As a parent, it is difficult to help your child understand the difference between literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical in the earlier stages of their life, but as they grow older in their ability to understand the ability to distinguish increases, just like our faith life. It is through these distinctions that they come to know Jesus and the community at a much deeper level.

Dei verbum states: “scriptures belong to the entire Church and are part of ‘the heritage of faith’, which all, pastors and faithful, ‘preserve, profess and put into practice in a communal effort’, it nevertheless remains true that ‘responsibility for authentically interpreting the Word of God, as transmitted by Scripture and Tradition, has been entrusted to the living Magisterium of the Church, which exercises its authority in the name of Jesus Christ” (Dei Verbum, 10).  This leaves many questions in my mind of the role of the local bishop and the tension of the sensus fidelium, especially on those occasions where the local bishop seems distant from the lived reality and the issues of the day. Recognizing that the living Magisterium of the Church is larger than one Bishop, we must find ourselves to have a vision and understanding of the Scriptures that encompasses the whole Church.  However, these issues end up being addressed in a particular ministry, as I think about the Domestic Church, the family, I agree with the document on “Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” that  “biblical exegesis fulfills, in the Church and in the world, an indispensable task.”  As the primary educators of our children in the faith we must dispose ourselves to the constant study of the Scriptures.

For a family in handing on the faith, we must continue to develop our love Scriptures and a deeper understanding of them, both at an exegetical and hermeneutical level.  We must find new ways to use the Scriptures in our homes, either through Ritual celebrations, Liturgy of the Hours, seasonal reflections, prayers and regular family reading.  So when I am handing on the faith to my child, I  have an encounter with not only a unique word of God in my spouse and child, but also a unique encounter with the Word of God and the Word made Flesh.  So the faith tradition I hand on is not a thing, it is a Person–Jesus Christ, and the community that brings to life His message.  

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