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Sunday of the Word of God

The Sunday of the Word of God, observed Jan. 26 this year, is a celebration of the constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. This celebration is a new stimulus for Catholics today to nurture our reverence for the word of God and enter more deeply into the life of the Spirit. It is an opportunity “to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world” (Pope Francis, “Aperuit Illis,” no. 2).

Pope Francis has called Catholics to observe the Sunday of the Word of God on the third Sunday of ordinary time. As the Holy Father explains in his apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis,” devoting a Sunday to the word of God responds to the concrete ways in which the church continues Christ’s work of proclaiming God’s kingdom in our world.

For Christians today, the fathers of Vatican II expressed hope for a renewed life in the Spirit. Following previous councils and popes, Vatican II gave us clear teachings on revelation, sacred Scripture and sacred tradition, and on the word of God in the church’s life. In doing so, their aim was united to that of Revelation: “that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love” (Vatican II, “Dei Verbum,” 1).

The hope-filled teachings of Vatican II were given life through the Church’s work in subsequent decades. Of special importance, bishops from around the world gathered in 2008 for the Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. From this synod, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI developed his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini. The goal of the synod and Benedict XVI’s exhortation was to put teaching into practice so that the word of God might have a real effect in our daily Christian lives.

Pope Francis stands on the shoulders of those before him. By instituting the Sunday of the Word of God, the Holy Father is working to reinvigorate Catholic teaching on the word of God and to refresh the pastoral activity directed to all who hear and respond to God’s word. However, such work is not truly effective until it permeates the life of each community. Therefore, the church offers practical ways to observe Word of God Sunday and grow in our reverence for God’s word.

The church invites us to reflect. Turning especially to Scripture, we are called to deepen our understanding of the relationships between the word of God and numerous facets of Christian life: who we are as the people of God, the role of our pastors, the role of catechists, our faith in Christ that comes from hearing God’s word, the Sacraments (above all the Eucharist), the purpose of revelation (namely, our salvation), the work of the Holy Spirit, the practice of merciful love, and Mary, mother of the Lord and our mother.

The church invites us to engage. We are called to have constant recourse to Scripture, to read and appreciate it, and to pray it, especially through lectio divina. We are challenged to practice merciful love and to engage in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25). We are invited to become involved in and promote the ministries of reader and catechist, to appropriate anew the church’s teachings on revelation, and to pray through the intercession of the saints, especially our Blessed Mother and St. Jerome, patron of the study of Scripture.

Therefore, the Sunday of the Word of God is a celebration and an invitation. Through our observance of this day, we are invited to encounter God’s word anew through prayer, study and work. In the proclamation of the word, we are invited to open ourselves to the great “force and power in the word of God,” for it is “the support and energy of the church, the strength of faith for her sons and daughters, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (Vatican II, “Dei Verbum,” 21).

Starke is director of diocesan Office of Divine Worship.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020