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Feasting on the Word

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Saint Benedict, in his Holy Rule, legislates that during the season of Lent each monk is to receive a separate book which he is to read during that holy season. There’s been some debate about just what exactly Saint Benedict meant by this “book,” whether it was a manuscript containing the writings of one of the Church Fathers or if it was a section of the Bible, but the details don’t seem to matter as much as the fact that reading itself is essential for the life of the monk.  This high regard for reading seems to stem from the fact that as Christians we are connected, intimately and inherently, to the Word, the Logos, who is Jesus Christ himself: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was first revealed to us in human flesh, and he left himself to us in bread and wine which become his Body and Blood. So, this Word is to be related to, to be feasted upon, to be shared. But this Word comes to us through a long tradition of words, or the word, the self-revelation of God to the Jewish people in Hebrew Scriptures. In the New Testament we have the fulfillment of the revelation begun in the Old—Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus shares himself in the fullest sense with his disciples whom he then tells to share this good news even to the ends of the earth, and, we may add, to the end of the ages.  For us Christians, the main source of spiritual nourishment, the main source of our spiritual reading, is Sacred Scripture, the pages of the Holy Bible. Among those pages, the Gospels stand out since they contain the very words and deeds of Jesus. The other writings in the New Testament expound on that revelation and provide insight into the lives of the first generation of believers after the Ascension of the Lord. With these writings in the New Testament continue a long tradition of the interpretation of scripture, the expansion on and expounding of the Christian faith, and the continuing story of Christ’s life in the world.  We are able to survive, spiritually speaking, on prayer, the sacraments and worship, but we grow more deeply and fully by tapping into the Word of God in the Bible and the long tradition of spiritual writing that continues into our present day. We hear in the Old Testament: “Nourish him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of learning to drink” (Sirach 15:3). Sacred Scripture can be seen as the font or spring of learning, and the many streams flowing out from that spring are the diverse ways that we as changing, developing human beings have received and given expression to the word through preaching and tradition. Our ways of thinking, perceiving and expression change from age to age, from culture to culture. So, some of the streams of learning from which we can drink in order to be fed and sustained bear the names  Augustine, Hildegard, Anselm, Teresa of Avila, Therese of the Child Jesus, John Vianney, Dorothy Day, John XXIII, Thomas Merton and the list goes on. They all tell the same story, express the same truth, to some extent, but the way in which they tell it is unique to each and so has bearing on us when we dip into them. We are not all the same, and we are not always the same person. Saint Augustine may not resonate with me, but Dorothy Day may have a strong impact. As I am always a changing person, what St. John Vianney offers today may hit home, whereas the same message left me flat just days ago.  We need to keep drinking the waters of learning, whether they be from the spring of Scripture itself, or the many streams that flow out from the source. Reading has a strong impact on us. In our busy culture it may be one of the few times we are alone, and to do the reading justice it should be done in silence. Like prayer, spiritual reading can be a time for making contact with the Divine, even if it is through the intermediary of an author.  Saint Benedict was well aware that left to our own devices, most of us take the easy way out, the path of least resistance. By insisting that his monks do some reading during Lent, he is trying to ensure that they keep their minds and hearts open to the word of God; that they keep exploring the spiritual realm and expanding their horizons; that they keep in touch with what is eternal and has lasting value; that they continue to drink the water of learning. This sage advice applies to all Christians, for Benedict is someone who has drunk deeply from that stream and his teaching is valid for all the faithful to some extent.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections

Feasting on the Word

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Saint Benedict, in his Holy Rule, legislates that during the season of Lent each monk is to receive a separate book which he is to read during that holy season. There’s been some debate about just what exactly Saint Benedict meant by this “book,” whether it was a manuscript containing the writings of one of the Church Fathers or if it was a section of the Bible, but the details don’t seem to matter as much as the fact that reading itself is essential for the life of the monk.  This high regard for reading seems to stem from the fact that as Christians we are connected, intimately and inherently, to the Word, the Logos, who is Jesus Christ himself: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was first revealed to us in human flesh, and he left himself to us in bread and wine which become his Body and Blood. So, this Word is to be related to, to be feasted upon, to be shared. But this Word comes to us through a long tradition of words, or the word, the self-revelation of God to the Jewish people in Hebrew Scriptures. In the New Testament we have the fulfillment of the revelation begun in the Old—Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus shares himself in the fullest sense with his disciples whom he then tells to share this good news even to the ends of the earth, and, we may add, to the end of the ages.  For us Christians, the main source of spiritual nourishment, the main source of our spiritual reading, is Sacred Scripture, the pages of the Holy Bible. Among those pages, the Gospels stand out since they contain the very words and deeds of Jesus. The other writings in the New Testament expound on that revelation and provide insight into the lives of the first generation of believers after the Ascension of the Lord. With these writings in the New Testament continue a long tradition of the interpretation of scripture, the expansion on and expounding of the Christian faith, and the continuing story of Christ’s life in the world.  We are able to survive, spiritually speaking, on prayer, the sacraments and worship, but we grow more deeply and fully by tapping into the Word of God in the Bible and the long tradition of spiritual writing that continues into our present day. We hear in the Old Testament: “Nourish him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of learning to drink” (Sirach 15:3). Sacred Scripture can be seen as the font or spring of learning, and the many streams flowing out from that spring are the diverse ways that we as changing, developing human beings have received and given expression to the word through preaching and tradition. Our ways of thinking, perceiving and expression change from age to age, from culture to culture. So, some of the streams of learning from which we can drink in order to be fed and sustained bear the names  Augustine, Hildegard, Anselm, Teresa of Avila, Therese of the Child Jesus, John Vianney, Dorothy Day, John XXIII, Thomas Merton and the list goes on. They all tell the same story, express the same truth, to some extent, but the way in which they tell it is unique to each and so has bearing on us when we dip into them. We are not all the same, and we are not always the same person. Saint Augustine may not resonate with me, but Dorothy Day may have a strong impact. As I am always a changing person, what St. John Vianney offers today may hit home, whereas the same message left me flat just days ago.  We need to keep drinking the waters of learning, whether they be from the spring of Scripture itself, or the many streams that flow out from the source. Reading has a strong impact on us. In our busy culture it may be one of the few times we are alone, and to do the reading justice it should be done in silence. Like prayer, spiritual reading can be a time for making contact with the Divine, even if it is through the intermediary of an author.  Saint Benedict was well aware that left to our own devices, most of us take the easy way out, the path of least resistance. By insisting that his monks do some reading during Lent, he is trying to ensure that they keep their minds and hearts open to the word of God; that they keep exploring the spiritual realm and expanding their horizons; that they keep in touch with what is eternal and has lasting value; that they continue to drink the water of learning. This sage advice applies to all Christians, for Benedict is someone who has drunk deeply from that stream and his teaching is valid for all the faithful to some extent.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections
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