Can you imagine a world without words? I do not mean being unable to hear or voluntarily living in silence, but that words do not actually exist. For human beings life would be mere ‘existence.’ There could be no exchange of ideas, no community living, not even a name for each individual person. Communication would be only in its most basic form. Language is at the heart of who we are, how we form relationships, how we understand our world.
This is why Jesus’ title, ‘Word of God’ is so fundamental, so all-encompassing and so powerful. We remember from the Genesis story of creation that ‘God said…. and so it came to be’. The point of the story was to show the dynamic power of God’s word: the mere utterance of the word brought it into being. Jesus, as the Word of God, is the humanised expression of who and what God is. This is a most extraordinary reality, and just how wonderful a gift this is bears thinking about often.
Last year Pope Francis declared the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time as ‘Sunday of the Word of God’. (At their recent meeting, the Australian bishops marked February 7 as the day Australians would celebrate this, so as not to clash with Australia Day.) Why would we need a special day to celebrate the Word of God when the Scriptures are read at every Mass, indeed are included in every liturgy of the Catholic Church?
Among the reasons given by Pope Francis is to remind us that the purpose of the Bible is that God’s word might be proclaimed. We do this not only by reading sections aloud during the liturgy, but by living lives that reflect God’s love and goodness to others. St Francis of Assisi is reputed to have told his friars at one time, ‘Preach frequently, and if necessary, use words’.
The degree to which we become ‘reflectors’ of God’s love and goodness depends on the acuteness of our hearing. And it is not just the ears on the sides of our head that need to be paying attention; it is, as St Benedict put it, the ‘ears of our heart’. It is in God’s word that we discover the meaning of our own experience. And so, says Pope Francis, the importance of good proclamation and good homilies at our Sunday Eucharist, cannot be underestimated. St Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17), so the more attentive we are to the Scriptures both in the celebration of the liturgy and in our own personal prayer, the deeper our faith will grow.
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday is very familiar to us. Jesus joined them and ‘beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted for them the things about himself in all the scriptures’. The result of that journey was a shared meal, during which Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to them. It was at that moment that their eyes were opened and they recognised him. The bond between the Word of God and the table of the Eucharist is unbreakable: hearing God’s Word proclaimed at the table of the Word impels us to offer our sacrifice of thanks and praise which culminates in receiving Jesus, the Word of God, as our very food.
Pope Francis reminds us too of the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the Word of God to ‘do its work’. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that enables the words written by humans to become the Word of God. It is the Holy Spirit who directs the ears of our heart to the phrase or word that will most nourish, strengthen, encourage and transform us.
As we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God, let us open the ears of our heart, allowing God’s word to transform our lives and to move us to join with our sisters and brothers in faith as we share Eucharist together.
Dr Jenny O’Brien is manager of the Office for Worship.
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