The Word of God As Infallible Spiritual Director

Father Cantalamessa Reflects on Being Guided by Bible

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Bible may be the most infallible spiritual director around, commented the preacher of the Pontifical Household.



Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this today in the Lenten meditation he delivered to Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

The sermon titled "Welcome the Word: The Word of God As a Way of Personal Sanctification" was the second in a series of Lenten meditations the preacher will give this Lent.

The series, titled "The Word of God Is Living and Effective," reflects the theme of the next Synod of Bishops on the word of God, to be held in October.

In today's reflection, the Capuchin outlined three steps for effectively using the word of God as a tool for personal holiness: "Welcoming the word, meditating on the word, putting the word into practice."

Father Cantalamessa said the first step "embraces all the forms and ways in which the Christian comes into contact with the word of God," such as listening to it in the liturgy, reading it and studying it.

Extremes

The preacher warned of two dangers in the first step: “hermeneutic inflation” and fundamentalism.

He said the first danger occurs most often in an academic environment when "one believes that the most serious thing in regard to the Bible is hermeneutics, not practice."

Father Cantalamessa said the second danger, fundamentalism, occurs when one takes "literally everything that one reads in the Bible, without any hermeneutic mediation."

"The two excesses -- hyper-criticism and fundamentalism -- are only apparently opposed," he said. "What they have in common is the fact that both stop at the letter, neglecting the Spirit."

Mirror, mirror

Father Cantalamessa compared reading Scripture to looking into a mirror, "The soul that looks into the mirror of the word learns to know 'how he is,' he learns to know himself, he sees his deformities in the image of God and in the image of Christ."

When reading the beatitude "blessed are the poor in spirit," the preacher gave as an example, one can see "that you are full of attachments and full of superfluous things." When reading that “charity is patient,” he added, "you realize how impatient, envious and self-interested you are."

But when looking into "the mirror of the word," continued the preacher, "we do not only see ourselves; we see the face of God; better, we see the heart of God."

"God has spoken to us in Scripture," he added, "of that which fills his heart, and that which fills his heart is love."

"In this way," said Father Cantalamessa, "the contemplation of the word procures the two pieces of knowledge that are the most important for advancing along the road of true wisdom: self-knowledge and knowledge of God."

Guiding light

In this context, the preacher offered the Bible as a spiritual guide, "To every soul that desires it, the word of God assures fundamental, and in itself infallible, spiritual direction."

He explained, "There is a spiritual direction that is, so to speak, ordinary and everyday, which consists in the discovering what God wants in the situations in which man usually finds himself.

"Such spiritual direction is assured by meditation on the word of God accompanied by the interior anointing of the Spirit, who translates the word into good 'inspirations' and the good inspirations into practical resolutions."

The preacher warned, however, of abusing the practice of randomly opening the Bible, "which must be done with discretion, in a climate of faith and not without having prayed for a long time."

"Nevertheless," he said, "it cannot be ignored that, with these conditions, it has often born marvellous fruit and it has been practiced by the saints."

Doers

"The word of God is only truly understood when one begins to practice it," said Father Cantalamessa, touching on the third step of using the word of God for holiness."

"This third step," he said, "consists in [...] obeying the word."

He explained, "As soon as one begins to look through the New Testament to see in what the duty of obedience consists, one makes a surprising discovery, and that is, that obedience is almost always seen as obedience to the word of God."

"The obedience itself of Jesus is exercised above all through obedience to written words," the preacher added. "In the episode of the temptations in the desert, Jesus’ obedience consists in recalling the words of God and of abiding by them: 'It is written!'"

Also in the life of every believer, "the words of God, by the present action of the Spirit, become the expression of the living will of God [...] in a given moment," said Father Cantalamessa.

"Obedience to the word of God," he said, "is obedience we can always do."

"The laity do not have a superior in the Church whom they must obey -- at least not in the sense that religious and clerics have a superior," concluded the preacher, "but they do have, in compensation, a 'Lord' to obey! They have his word!"