Friday, November 12, 2010

Catholic Bloggers Ignoring the Pope's "Fundamental Priority"?

Yesterday was probably the most frustrating exciting day of Pope Benedict's pontificate.

I may get myself in hot water for saying this but here it is: many people, even Catholic bloggers, are ignoring the Pope’s “supreme and fundamental priority”.

What is that priority? How are even Catholics missing it? How was a disconnect between the Pope's priorities and those of Catholic writers on display yesterday?

Let me explain and let me issue a clarion call to all Catholic teachers, writers and bloggers to make the Pope's priority their priority.

The Mainstream Media

If you simply followed the pope by getting your information through the mainstream media, you'd probably get the impression that the pope's top priority is cataloging and condemning each and every one of the evils in the world.

After all, look at the headlines on Google News just yesterday:

"Pope condemns violence 'in the name of God'."

"Pope condemns anti-Church sentiment."

Of course, since the pope is expected to speak out against all the world's evils, he knows that he has to—when he doesn't the headlines read, "Pope refuses to condemn. . ."

Even worse, some wrongfully and scurrilously accuse the pope of being consumed with a cover-up—charges most thinking people have come to see through.

Catholic Bloggers and the Pope's Concerns

But you'd expect the mainstream media to get the pope's message wrong. There's really no surprise there. Their anti-Catholicism is well-known. What is surprising—even distressing!—is the way the Holy Father’s chief priority is overlooked by even Catholic bloggers!

Now don't get me wrong, Catholic writers generally recognize some of the chief concerns of Pope Benedict. Certainly, among them would be the following.

1. Unmasking the dangers associated with the "dictatorship of relativism".

2. Reforming the liturgy, e.g., overseeing more accurate translations of the liturgy and emphasizing the need to foster a greater sense of reverence for the Eucharist.

3. Addressing the need for a proper interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, i.e., the importance of reading these documents according to a "hermeneutic of continuity".

4. Presenting an "affirmative orthodoxy" to the world--i.e., explaining that Christianity is not best understood in terms of a "no" but rather as a "yes" to Christ.

5. Addressing the economic meltdown and the moral problems, which are at its root.

6. Filling vacant episcopal chairs with competent leaders.

7. The need and the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel to what increasingly seems like a post-Christian western culture, i.e., the need for a “New Evangelization”.

8. Dealing with the rise of militant Islam in a Christ-like way.

9. Speaking out against the persecutions throughout the world, particular in Muslim countries.

10. Emphasizing the need for the Church reform the way it has dealt with accusations of clergy sexual abuse.

11. Fostering priestly and religious vocations.

12. The responsibility Catholic institutions of higher learning have to maintain their Catholic identity.

13. Healing divisions in the Body of Christ, e.g., providing a pathway for reconciliation with Anglicans or members of schismatic groups, which have broken away from the Church.

The list above is just a sample of some of the important things the Holy Father has focused on during his pontificate—many other things could be mentioned.

But what if you were to ask the pope, "Holy Father, what is the top priority for your papacy?" What do you suspect he might say?

Well, you don't have to wonder; he's answered the question, and, in fact, he did not mention any of the things listed above. And sadly, the item identified as the top priority gets short shrift--if any mention at all--in the Catholic blogosphere.

That’s not to say the concerns above are not important to him. They are. Yet when the Pope talked about his “supreme and fundamental” focus he actually named something else.

The sad thing is, most people—even Catholic writers—largely seem to ignore it, emphasizing to one degree or another other aspects of his papacy.

The Pope's "Supreme and Fundamental Priority"

How does the Holy Father describe his top priority? Here's Benedict in his own words:

Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time.”[1]

Leading people to "the God who speaks in the Bible"—that's the pope's chief aim.

The pope's clear focus on Scripture has been manifest throughout his papacy. Consider the following,

1. The Year of St. Paul. He devoted an entire year to St. Paul, calling the Church to pay closer attention to Scripture.

2. Numerous talks on St. Paul's teaching. During that year dedicated to St. Paul he meticulously went through the Apostle’s letters, giving numerous catechetical presentations on his teaching and theology.

3. Jesus of Nazareth, in 3 volumes! Much of his precious time has been spent writing a multi-volume work looking at Jesus in the Gospels, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. Volume 1 was a New York Times Best Seller. Volume 2 is about to be released soon, and there's a volume 3 waiting in the wings. This dimension of his papacy alone has highlighted in an important way the pope's deep desire to lead the faithful to Bible study.

4. The Synod on Scripture. He called together a major Synod in which the bishops of the world gathered to Rome to discuss the role of Scripture in the life of the Church. Again, this was a hugely significant event.

5. New Translations of the Mass. The new translations of the liturgy he has overseen emphasize in a much clearer way the biblical roots of the prayers of the Mass.

Neglecting the Significance of Verbum Domini?

Yesterday, then, was like the icing on the cake.

Pope Benedict released a 200 page document laying out in exhaustive detail the Church’s teaching on Scripture, Verbum Domini. The document is a follow-up—almost three years after the fact!—to the Synod on Scripture he convened in 2008.

As I explained yesterday, this is a historic document. The last major papal document on Scripture was published 57 years ago (Divino afflante Spiritu [1943]). The last major magisterial document outlining Church teaching on Scripture was Dei Verbum, a document of the second Vatican Council--dated to 1965, 45 years ago!

As Rome Reports explains, this is "the most important [Church] document on Scripture since Vatican II." See the video at the bottom of this post.

Yet this historic and extensive document received only passing mention--if any at all--on many of the most popular Catholic websites.

Let me put it another way: imagine the Pope had released a 200 page letter on the Mass. What kind of treatment and analysis would that be getting? Is the Pope's teaching about the Bible not also worthy of careful attention?

In fact--I'm just going to come right out and say it--there does seem to be a real overreaction to Protestantism in Catholic circles. Quote chapter and verse from the Bible in some Catholic circles and you might get a weird look: are you really a Catholic? Yet Pope Benedict is calling for precisely that: memorization of Scripture in Catechesis (cf. Verbum Domini 74).

There seems to be a creeping suspicion in some Catholic circles that liturgy is for Catholics, the Bible is for Protestants. The only problem is: that not what the Pope himself is saying!

To some perhaps the Synod's call for a renewed focus on Scripture is a distant memory, but not for the Holy Father!

Releasing the document almost three years later seems make an important statement: Don't forget about the Synod—hearing "the God who speaks in the Bible" needs to remain our “supreme and fundamental” focus.

And, just to reiterate how important the Bible is, the document is, once again, almost 200 pages long!

He’s 83 years old. That’s quite an undertaking! He has spent almost three years crafting his message.

Benedict in His Own Words

Clearly the Holy Father has a deep concern for calling Catholics to a greater appreciation for Scripture.

Indeed, at the beginning of the document the Holy Father explains:

"I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a well-spring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the Word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity" (Verbum Domini, paragraph 1).

Catch that? Three things here are important.

First: there needs to be a "rediscovery" of God's word. Apparently, some have lost a biblical focus.

Second: for the Pope the riches of Scripture are inexhaustible. They represent a “well-spring of constant renewal.” In other words, the Synod in 2008 did not finish the job. We're not done talking about the Bible.

Third: the Word therefore must be more fully at the heart of everything the Church does. Period. The Bible is not a supplement. It is not optional. It is essential. It must be the center of "everything" the Church does.

A Biblical Renewal

Later, citing the Synod, Benedict explains:

"With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus” (Verbum Domini, paragraph 72; emphasis mine).

In other place, he writes,

"In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life ” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10)" (Verbum Domini, paragraph 2).

Of course, keep reading and you'll see that, for Benedict, the principle way we "hear" God "speak" His Word to us is by listening to his voice in Scripture.

Scripture and the Neglect of the Body of Christ

In one section he cites St. Jerome, who linked the neglect of God's Word to the Eucharist.

Saint Jerome speaks of the way we ought to approach both the Eucharist and the word of God: “We are reading the sacred Scriptures. For me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the holy Scriptures are his teaching. And when he says: whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood (Jn 6:53), even though these words can also be understood of the [Eucharistic] Mystery, Christ’s body and blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching.

Then he describes the neglect of God’s word in terms of desecration of the Eucharist:

When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?”.[2]

This is a hugely impactful passage in the letter and I suspect the Church will be "digesting" it for some time.

Indeed, faithful Catholics would be horrified at the mishandling of the Eucharist at Mass. To imagine the precious blood being spilled all over the altar is an unthinkable thought. Yet the Word of God is poured out to us in the Bible--are we simply letting it fall to the ground?!

God is trying to speak to His Church in the Bible. Are we listening? What an affront it is to God to let those Bibles simply sit on shelves and collect dust! To ignore the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy!

To put it another way, we might say this. The phone is ringing. God is on the line. Is anyone going to pick up?

Benedict quotes revelation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice I will come in to him and eat with him" (Rev 3:20).

In fact, notice that hearing Christ's voice is the prelude to the banquet--if we fail to hear his voice in the Word we will miss his coming in the Eucharistic banquet.

The Pope then goes on to offer a beautiful reflection on the “sacramentality” of God’s word:

Christ, truly present under the species of bread and wine, is analogously present in the word proclaimed in the liturgy. A deeper understanding of the sacramentality of God’s word can thus lead us to a more unified understanding of the mystery of revelation, which takes place through “deeds and words intimately connected”;[3] an appreciation of this can only benefit the spiritual life of the faithful and the Church’s pastoral activity.

Making Bible Study the Priority

Many Catholic writers have rightly identified restoring reverence for the liturgy as among the pope’s top priorities. However, very few talk much about Scripture.

Just look around at the Catholic blogosphere for posts examining the meaning of Bible passages. Some of course do an excellent job of covering the Bible. Yet many never or hardly ever do.

And so, as I ran down the list of many of the top Catholic blogs yesterday, I was sad to find little if any mention of the pope's historic document. For some it was a blip on the screen--if even that. Some haven't even mentioned it at all. It's like nothing happened!

Again, if this were a 200 page document on the Mass, people would be picking it apart, listening closely to the Holy Father.

It’s high time for Catholics to make the “supreme and fundamental priority” of the Pope, their "supreme and fundamental priority". Let us all work together with the Pope as he calls for a renewal of Catholic biblical studies.

As Jerome said, if the Eucharist were to fall to the ground we would be "troubled". Let us also be troubled by the way the words of Christ in Scripture are poured out and ignored, recognizing the “great peril” we are place ourselves in when we fail to listen to God’s Word carefully.

Fellow Catholic bloggers: Let us offer biblical reflections. Let us talk about how we hear the Lord speaking to us in Scripture. Let us highlight lessons in the Sunday readings. Let us mention priests and bishops who do an outstanding job expounding Scripture, offering links to excellent homilies.

Over the next few weeks you will find more posts detailing elements of Verbum Domini on However, I challenge all Catholic writers to seize this moment and embrace the pope’s call for a greater focus on the role of Scripture in the life of the Church.


[1] Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remission of the Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. Emphasis added.

[2] In Psalmum 147: CCL 78, 337-338.

[3] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 2.


Anonymous said...

I think perhaps part of the problem it was reported in the News that the document was being released NEXT Thursday!!! (not "this Thursday")

So Many did not even KNOW it was out!!!!

I was very disappointed when I was going to over a week for it to come out. I had been waiting for almost 3 years and kept hoping it would be out soon.

I was waiting like a little kid for Christmas!

So did I find out it was out? I decided to look "anyway" this Thursday at the Vatican Website "just in case" they got it wrong...and hoping they did.

And to my joy and excitement THERE IT WAS! :) I kept saying over and over to my wife "Did I tell you that the Popes Post is out!?" and making joyful noises...

So perhaps part of the problem is many did not know...even sources that normally report any such event did not have anything on it in time...


Esteban Vázquez said...

Any idea as to where one might purchase a printed copy of this document?

Anonymous said...

Yes waiting for that too!

Pauline Books and Media will have it as will I think the USCCB press

Anonymous said...

Ah...I see I miss understood when it was to be released....misread things...

but then again maybe others did too :)

Glenna said...

Very happy to see this post! I try to post regularly on the Scripture readings for Mass ( but I think you're right about Catholic Bloggers supporting the Pope. If we were all actively involved in that endeavor, think what an impact we'd make!

Anonymous said...

Apparently you don't read the same blogs I do. Check out and you will see it was given the priority it deserves. Sharon

Anonymous said...

Michael--could the oversight be because "Verbum Domini" only means "the Bible" in one of many modes of revelation? Because, as the Synod Fathers expressed it, God's Word is a "symphony," only one strand of which is the Bible? Because Christianity, as Benedict loves to say, is "not a religion of the Book"?

Your comments are encouraging. Today I read carefully through p. 42. In this first section, the Holy Father echoes the Synod Fathers in relegating the Bible to one among many, apparently equal, modes of revelation.

In the Synod's _instrumentum laboris_, the voice of the Bible gets lost in the symphony--especially drowned out by various other forms of "proclamation."

I hope you're right that after p. 42 Benedict turns his attention to the Bible and to defining what _Dei Verbum_ means by "singular way."

bt said...

Is this document on Scripture available yet in English?

benedictgal said...

I am a new Catholic blogger and I have definitely not ignored what the Holy Father has written. In fact, I have devoted quite a few of my posts to Verbum Domini and other documents.

While my blog is not of the calibre of Fr. Z's or this particular blog, I believe that it fills some sort of a void.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I find it interesting that Benedictgal mentions Fr. Z's blog...
To me, WDTPRS is one of the best examples of what is wrong in popular Catholic blogging.
A priest who seems to have as many posts on nice meals and the birds in his backward as he has on the Bible and spirituality.

If only certain blogging priests would give as much focus to the Bible as they do to the biretta...

It saddens me that conservative Catholicism is so saturated with the aesthetics of the Liturgy, while speaking so rarely of Him whom we worship...

Bender said...

Neglecting the Significance of Verbum Domini?

Yes, I would agree that too often too many Catholic blogs spend too much time on tangental things, and not enough on the mission of every Catholic, not just bloggers -- to help Jesus in the work of salvation by leading people to God.

But come on. The document only just came out a few days ago. The pdf version that was originally posted at the Vatican website runs 208 pages. I was able to get that down to 29 pages (without the footnotes) by reducing it to 9-point font, but either way, that is a lot of text. I read a couple sections the day it came out, but can we get a chance to read the whole thing before busting our chops on this one? After being forced to wait for two years after the synod, I think it is safe to not have to jump on it instantly.

Ike said...

This is an excellent aritcle. As converts to the Catholic Church from Evangelical Protestantism, it stunned our family that so many Catholics do not know what's in the Bible! We couldn't believe that many Catholics did not even know the books of the Bible and where to find them, let alone specific verses! As Protestants, we grew up steeped in Scripture (of course, not having the full Catholic understanding), reading it twice a day, memorizing large portions, revering it, loving it. How I wish the same was promoted in Catholic Churches, with active year round Bible study groups, getting through the entire Bible, word for word. (and not merely the Jeff Cavins overview) Thank you, JO

Tim said...

A Catholic blogger audibly clears his throat and quitely says...


benedictgal said...

Reginauldus, I hope that your comments do not mean that you take the rubrics of the liturgy so lightly. Jesus had a lot of criticisms against the Pharisaic practices of his time. However, He never once had any issues about the cultic sacrificial worship of Ancient Israel. Why? The norms and rubrics, dictated by no less than God, Himself, all pointed to the Supreme Sacrifice of the Cross where the True Lamb of God would be immolated.

We pray as we believe. The norms and rubrics of the Mass are very important. The liturgy is not some free form exercise in creativity. Have we become so desensitized about rubrics that abuses do not matter?

Fr. Z and others like him point out legitimate concerns. The Holy Father, even as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, rallied against abuses in the Mass and the hermeneutic of discontinuity. In his first message as Pope, he specifically stated the importance of the liturgy.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important act of prayer that the Church does. If we get that wrong, then everything else is for naught. Recall that the Second Vatican Council stated that the Mass is the "source and summit" of our life as the Church. I would hope that your remarks are not meant to show a total disregard for the norms.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I obviously have touched a nerve here. Please know that I did not intend to offend or attack you.

I am not sure what makes you think that I am not concerned about the sure, I am very very concerned about the proper celebration of the Mass.
I myself am a priest, I celebrate the Extraordinary Form as often as possible. I have taught the extraordinary form to something like 20 or so other priests.
I have served as master of ceremonies for many Solemn High Masses.
I also celebrate the OF, with great fidelity to the rubrics and to the liturgical traditions of the Church.

However, all that being said, it disturbs me that a priest is known as a conservative simply because he wears a biretta...
We have very much lost our way in matters of the Liturgy, but there is a grave danger in the many "conservatives" who have never read the Summa Theologica, but know every line of Fortescue's "Ceremonies of the Roman Rite".

All I want is to have priests who are careful and reverent in their celebration of the Mass (hopefully both OF and EF) and who also are theologically traditional as well.

And I am more than a little alarmed when the mere suggestion that a priest's blog should have a theological and spiritual (rather than aesthetic) focus gives rise to a rather harsh attack and grave judgments against my character.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thinking a bit more... I find it interesting that you did not try to defend Fr. Z (and others of the same mold) by saying that he does in fact talk about doctrine, the spiritual life, and Scripture; rather, you simply defended the rubrics of the Liturgy (not the theology, but the rubrics and the aesthetics)...

By the way, I took a look at your blog. In my humble opinion (which you can take or leave at will), I think your blog is better than Fr. Z's; at least it is more "Benedictine", and more Catholic (in the fullest sense).

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

Another large problem in this regard involves many of the clergy. Many of the clergy were educated using methods that do not read scripture in light of scripture. JEDP is believed, and things like midrashes in the Gospels and thinking that "Luke lied" are part of their education. It is intimidating to some priests for the people in their parishes to further their education because many of the great programs available do not support those outdated thoughts and methods. If your parish priest does not wholeheartedly support Bible study as both a spiritual and academic exercise, Bible study can cause conflict at a parish level. I'm part of the Augustine Institute's Distance Education program--which is fantastic!--and my parish priest wants 'nothing to do' with me because 'that school is too conservative'!!!!!!!!!!! Please pray for struggles like this because I believe this is not unusual....

Mike said...

For anybody who thinks that Catholic bloggers have been ignoring Verbum Domini, here’s a few who definitely haven’t:

And as for the person who commented:
“To me, WDTPRS is one of the best examples of what is wrong in popular Catholic blogging.
A priest who seems to have as many posts on nice meals and the birds in his backward as he has on the Bible and spirituality.”
I counted over the last FIFTEEN posts and there was not a single one about nice meals.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I concede, Fr. Z has not recently posted on nice meals...however, in the last 15 posts, neither has he made a post about, I stand by my previous claim.

He did however make 5 or so posts on aesthetical and/or practical matters about the Liturgy or the Pope -- nothing about theology, mind you.
Also, he mentioned his trip to London...

Is this what the Pope wants from a Clerical Blog?

Personally, I don't care much...I do hate to see good Catholics fooled by this pseudo-conservatism, though.

Tabfa said...

Some people feel that God himself was out to condemn all the evils in the world when he wrote the Ten Commandments on that tablet of stone, and yes, he was. So, if the pope is out to condemn the evils in the world, he is on the right track. It is part of his responsibility as a pope. However, while he condemns, he also builds up by making positive goals for the Church. The pope must speak out against evil in the world - it is his "job".

Mike said...

Some more posts about Verbum Domini from a Catholic blogger (Eric Sammons):
An early Christmas gift from Pope Benedict XVI
Verbum Domini and the challenge of Catholic Scripture interpretation
Overview of Verbum Domini
Major themes of Verbum Domini

Brian H. Gill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian H. Gill said...

(Sorry about that: I made a really daft typo, on my first attempt to comment.)

I've skimmed this post several times, read it twice: and will probably be back for more.

Part of my interest is the view of studying the Bible, from the Catholic perspective. I'm an adult convert to Catholicism, and so lack the cultural background of a 'cradle Catholic.'

About studying the Bible? I have - and will continue to - study Holy Writ, guided by Tradition and the Magisterium: chiefly in the form of the current Catechism.

I've referred to the Bible, with links to relevant texts, in my blog - and will continue to do so.

On the other hand, I'm not convinced that free-range Bible study is an entirely unmixed blessing: for reasons I discussed in "The Pope's 'Fundamental Priority,' and the 'Dark Side' of Bible Study."

Although I'll grant that this is sort of worst-case scenario, I remember the weird anti-Catholicism, 'end times prophecies,' and numerology promoted by 'Bible Christians' in my youth.