By Deacon Louis Malfara

Special to The CS&T

A professional writer friend of mine mentioned that words have definitions that can be found in a dictionary, but their meaning rests within the speaker’s heart. It’s in this context that I understand the Eternal Word, Jesus, who is the inherent meaning of the Word.

St. John explains at the start of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Likewise, St. Paul views the Word this way: “The Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing even to the spaniding of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)

St. Paul sees the Word as active, real and alive.

Pope Benedict XVI, in commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dei Verbum, advised Catholics to engage in Lectio spanina (sacred reading or spanine reading) as a means for deepening communion with God. The Pope was echoing St. Paul who said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Col. 3:16)

The bishops will meet in Rome next month to convene the 12th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the topic: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

Their goal is to foster a greater appreciation of the Word’s power. St. Jerome said it this way: “…[T]his is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with his flesh and to drink his blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink.”

What a treasure the Mass is where we encounter the presence of Christ in the Word and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist!

Paul considers himself to be an apostolic preacher. The root of this conviction is faith in Jesus Christ, “It is the word of faith that we preach.” (Rom. 10:8)

As a preacher, I have a personal understanding of the Word. Preaching involves the interplay between a man and Christ giving birth to the Word in the listener’s heart. A 10-minute homily may be a miracle in the making, a union between God and the preacher that fosters a “communion” between God and the listener. The preacher and God together in a seemingly blind encounter with light, brightens the darkened, hungry soul. And all this begins in the preacher’s heart that is broken and sinful, and so very human. It’s an incarnation made possible by the Incarnation of Christ Himself.

Yet, this pales in comparison to the ordinary occurrences of the soul’s encounter with Christ when praying the Scriptures.

Here are some examples: a men’s Scripture study group met every Friday morning for 25 years before work, sustaining the faith of this ecumenical group; a priest regularly reads a Scripture passage to penitents before hearing their confessions and they dramatically experienced God’s mercy; and a woman confided how God consoles, instructs and guides her as she prays the Scriptures every day.

Indeed, this year of St. Paul reminds us that the Word is active, real and alive!

Permanent Deacon Louis Malfara is director of parish ministry at St. William Parish in Philadelphia.