The Catholic University of America

On Dec. 1, Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl, S.T.D., archbishop of Washington, university chancellor and CUA's Cardinal William W. Baum Professor of Theology, gave a lecture at CUA titled "The Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: An Insider's View." See below for an article about the speech from the Catholic Standard.



Archbishop Wuerl offers insider's view on Synod of Bishops on Word of God

From: Catholic Standard
Date: Dec. 4, 2008
Author: Mark Zimmermann

On the Sunday in late October when the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God completed its work, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl -- a U.S. delegate at the gathering -- went to St. Peter's Basilica to pray. As he sat quietly in the majestic basilica in Rome, he thanked God for the experience he had just shared with Catholic bishops from around the world, and "I realized how blessed we all are with God's Word."

Today, that Word of God continues "to enlighten us, direct our lives, encourage us, and bring us to God," Archbishop Wuerl said during a Dec. 1 lecture at the Catholic University of America on "The Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: An Insider's View."

Archbishop Wuerl said that Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that "God's Word came among us, and continues to come among us, so we might be one with God."

At the synod, the bishops reflected on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." Archbishop Wuerl said the Holy Father made it clear that the "synod was to reflect on the Word of God, which is far greater than just the Bible... The first and primary meaning of the Word of God" is Jesus. The archbishop noted the beginning of St. John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:1,14)

"The fullness of God's word comes to us through Christ Jesus," Archbishop Wuerl said. He also noted, "The Word became one of us, to speak to us... to communicate to us the infinite love of God."

His talk was sponsored by the CUA president's office and its School of Theology and Religious Studies. Archbishop Wuerl serves as Catholic University's chancellor and as CUA's Cardinal William W. Baum Professor of Theology.

Vincentian Father David O'Connell, Catholic University's president, introduced Archbishop Wuerl's talk, noting, "This is a wonderful way for us to begin the season of Advent, when we await the Word made flesh."

Archbishop Wuerl noted that the idea of synods grew out of the Second Vatican Council, when the world's bishops convened from 1962-65. Pope Paul VI conceived synods as a way to continue that collegial spirit, but with smaller groups of bishops meeting every three years or so to examine important issues in the Church.

The Oct. 5-26 synod included 243 bishops from around the world, the major superiors of a number of religious orders, and included the participation of about 100 other people, including biblical experts and representatives of the Jewish and Orthodox faiths and some Christian denominations.

"What you look up and see is the face of the Church throughout the world," he said, noting how the bishops came from Africa, Asia, Australia, South and North America and Europe. "It's a powerful sight. You realize how universal the Church is."

And as the proceedings continued, Archbishop Wuerl said he was struck by the bishops' unity. "On all the essential elements of the faith, we were one... When you think what we were talking about, something 2,000 years old, diffused around the world... It says to me the Spirit is still very much at work in the Church. You could sense the enduring work of the Spirit, holding the Church together."

Every bishop had the opportunity to speak for five minutes, offering their experiences and insights to the gathering, Archbishop Wuerl said. The bishops included biblical experts, and prelates from around the world offered pastoral ideas. The representatives of other faiths also offered their insights. Then the bishops met in small language groups and later in larger groups, and the best ideas were formulated as propositions, that were spelled out in reflections of a couple of sentences. Pope Benedict will take those propositions and later issue a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

On Oct. 26, Pope Benedict XVI closed the synod with a Mass, and said that the word of God must be put into practice by loving and serving others as Jesus did.

Archbishop Wuerl noted that for the first time, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, participated in a synod, offering reflections after an evening prayer service with Pope Benedict and the participating bishops at the Sistine Chapel. The patriarch noted how Eastern churches experience God's word today through the senses, hearing the Word of God in Scriptures, seeing the Word of God in icons, and touching the Word of God in the sacraments, expecially the Eucharist, and in the communion of saints.

"This whole idea of God speaking to us is an all enveloping reality," Archbishop Wuerl said. "God is at work in the world, speaking to us."

Another key point made at the synod, the archbishop said, is that the Catholic Church is "the home of the Word." Pope Benedict XVI gave the participating bishops facsimile copies of biblical texts written in ancient Greek on papyrus during the second century. The bishops were presented with facsimiles of the parchments depicting the prologue to St. John's Gospel and the account of the Lord's prayer from St. Luke's Gospel. Over the past 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has collected and authenticated the canon of biblical books accepted as divinely inspired, and through Scripture, its apostolic tradition and teaching office, the Church continues to bring God's Word to today's world.

"We believe God continues to be present to us, to speak to us," said Archbishop Wuerl, who said that Pope Benedict in addressing the synod underscored the importance of scholarly study of the Bible, but he also emphasized the spiritual aspect of helping people experience Jesus as God's Word in their everyday lives.

"Everyone here has the opportunity to respond to that Word, to be part of a loving relationship and conversation with God," Archbishop Wuerl said.

The synod emphasized the importance of helping Catholics read and experience the Bible, and Archbishop Wuerl said that one way Catholics can do that is through the traditional practice of lectio divina - selecting a phrase from the Bible and reflecting on it and praying about it during quiet moments of the day, "taking a phrase from Scripture, mulling it over, making it your thought of the day."

"The synod said we need to encourage Catholics to be much more comfortable opening the Bible and accessing it," he said.

Most Catholics know the Bible well from hearing the Scripture at Sunday Mass, with nearly all of the New Testament and large sections of the Old Testament read in the three-year lectionary cycle, Archbishop Wuerl said. The challenge, he said, is to help them make the Bible a part of their devotional lives.

Catechists have a key role to play in teaching Catholics about the Bible, Archbishop Wuerl said. "They go out and become the living voice of the word of God," he said.

The archbishop noted the importance of Bible study groups at parishes, and he said those kinds of efforts need to be encouraged, with the goal of reading Scripture and praying about it. After a recent talk on the synod to employees of the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wuerl said he hopes eventually to have the archdiocese develop a systematic way to encourage Scripture study and prayer, across all faith formation programs in schools and parishes. Archbishop Wuerl has emphasized how the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults are filled with Scriptural references, with the Bible passages helping to explain and illustrate the Church's teachings.

Archbishop Wuerl noted that speakers at the synod also emphasized the importance of homilies as a way for people to experience Scripture, and there was talk of developing a directory of homiletics to help provide practical guidance for priests and deacons, to help them preach on God's word and offer the context of the lived experiences and teachings of the Church.