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Benedict at the Table and Jesus on the Road: Showing us What it Means to “Open the Scriptures”

October 14, 2008
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).-The big news today was Pope Benedict's lesson at this morning's session of the synod of bishops.
After listening to the first round of 11 cardinals and bishops deliver their five-minute talks, we heard the solemn pronouncement "Fiat intervallum." (Let there be a break!), which we have heard many times over the past 10 days.
140334830_da68617132.jpgWhile many of us are used to hearing "Fiat lux" from the Genesis account of creation, or responding with "Fiat mihi senundum verbum tuum" (Be it done to me according to your word) during the Angelus, the words "Fiat intervallum" signal those long desired and merited espresso or caffé latte breaks from the hours of sitting and listening in the "Aula del Sinodo." (When I return to Toronto at the end of the synod, I will begin using "Fiat intervallum" at Salt and Light Television, rather than the crude "breaktime.")
Benedict at the table in the aula
Immediately following the "intervallum," we returned to the synod hall and were informed by Archbishop Eterovic that the "president" of the synod would now like to address us. And the president is the Holy Father! Pope Benedict sat down in his usual spot, put on the professorial glasses, opened his notebook and began speaking to the synodal assembly.
Every single person in the room came to life and paid close attention, including the synod staff, secretaries, "runners" and of course the five language press attaches. We were not given any "script" for this lesson and realized that the Pope was simply reading his own handwriting out of a notebook. Here before a sampling of the world Church was Joseph Ratzinger the professor, sitting among his students, disciples and colleagues, sharing his reflections on what he has seen and heard during the first week of the synod of bishops.
Referring to "Dei Verbum," the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Pope spoke of the importance of the historical-critical method that finds its roots in John 1:14, the Word becoming flesh. The Pope spoke to us as a father and teacher, reminding the assembly of the importance of Scripture studies that reflect the unity of all Scriptures; studies that are done with and flow from the living tradition of the Church. Our exegesis and analysis of the word of God must always have a theological dimension for we are not simply dealing with a history book of the past but with a Word that is alive in the community of the Church: a Word that is Jesus. When biblical exegesis is divorced from the living, breathing community of faith that is in the Church, exegesis is reduced to historiography and nothing more. The hermeneutic of faith disappears. We reduce everything to human sources and can simply explain everything away. Ultimately, we deny the One about whom the Scriptures speak, the one whose living presence lies underneath the words. When exegesis is divorced from theology, then Scripture will not be the soul of theology. The Pope stressed the intrinsic link between Scripture studies and the theological tradition of the Church. He also stressed the importance of theology that is rooted in the Bible.
In his simple, crystal clear address, Pope Benedict touched upon one of the important themes that has emerged in spades during this synod: bridging the gap that exists between those who have distorted the study and interpretation of the word of God and separated their Scripture studies and biblical analyses from theology and the living community of the Church. The Pope also made a strong suggestion that certain matters touched upon in his "lesson" be included among the propositions that will be given to him by the synodal assembly next week.
One of Pope Benedict's great qualities is his ability to teach very complex things with simplicity, clarity and beauty. This morning, Benedict was a teacher who unfolded for us the scroll of the living Word of God and showed us how to humbly approach that Word, learn from it and live by it. We received a simple, clear lesson about the unity of Scripture and theology from a man who is often called the "Mozart of theologians."
A young Italian layman working in the Vatican told me this week in passing: "Papa Ratzinger makes you want to love Jesus and the Church even if you have been far away from the Lord and the Church for a long time. He is a kind man."
Jesus on the road to Emmaus
At our daily press briefings, one of the frequently asked questions by the journalists covering the synod is: "What is the most frequently quoted Scripture passage(s) appearing in the talks of the synodal fathers?" I would answer without a doubt the Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13:35). It has been cited by cardinals, bishops, experts and special guests in many of the talks coming from every corner of the earth. The story is a great model or paradigm for catechesis, teaching, Bible study and above all for Christian living. I am delighted to hear the story referred to so often, especially since it was the topic of my first thesis at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome back in 1990.
The Emmaus story is one of the focal points in the construction of Luke's Gospel, revealing the tension between the events at the empty tomb and the disciples in reaction to them. These facts are clear from reading the story: Cleopas and his companion are going away from the locality where the decisive events have happened toward a little village of no significance. They did not believe the message of the Resurrection, due to the scandal of the cross. Puzzled and discouraged, they are unable to see any liberation in the death, the empty tomb, or the message about the appearances of Jesus to the others. In their eyes, either the mission of Jesus had entirely failed, or else they, themselves, had been badly deceived in their expectations about Jesus.
As the two downtrodden disciples journeyed with Jesus on that Emmaus road, their hearts began to burn as they came to understand with their minds the truth about the suffering Messiah. At the meal in Emmaus, they experienced the power of the Resurrection in their hearts. The solution to the problem of these two disciples was not a perfectly logical answer.
Through the powerful message of this Resurrection appearance story, Luke explains to his readers and to his community that the Resurrection is indeed a logical event to the one who understands the message of the Scriptures. However, Cleopas and his companion are "foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said!" (verse 25) Understanding the Resurrection implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the one about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers. More than a matter of theory and intellect, the Emmaus story tells us that the Resurrection must first and foremost be experienced in the heart. Through the Emmaus story, Luke has transformed a traditional recognition story into a blueprint for the Christian mission.
Emmaus and the synod: a journey from the head to the heart
The journey motif of the Emmaus story (and one can say of this synod on the Word of God) is not only a matter of the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but also of the painful and gradual journey of words that must descend from the head to the heart; of a coming to faith, of a return to a proper relationship with the stranger who is none other than Jesus the Lord.
For Cleopas and his companion on that first Easter, their journey was a gradual, painstaking process requiring a careful remembering and rearticulation of the events of salvation history found in the Scriptures, along with an experience of the Risen Lord. It is no less the same for Christians of the 21st century who continue to interpret the Scriptures in this day and age, and move from faith-filled insights to a proclamation and lived experience of the One who is truly risen from the dead. Is it any wonder that such a Gospel story has been quoted so often during this synod on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church?
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Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's English-language press attache for the 2008 world Synod of Bishops. A Scripture scholar and university lecturer, he is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, and a member of the General Council of the Congregation of St. Basil.

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