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The School of Words

Are you at a loss for ways to improve or change your spiritual life? The answer might be much easier than you ever imagined.
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.net

       So, here you are, you pray, go to Mass, attend the sacrament of Confession regularly and volunteer at the Adoration Chapel.  But there are things in your life that seem like you have no control of, stuff still depresses you, a lot of prayers go, what seems to you, unanswered.  Your “faith life” is sometime so monotonous that it makes you want to scream.  Your love for the Church is not diminished and you know that Catholicism is what will carry you to the goal of eternal life, but you have a vague feeling that there has got to be more than this.  What are you doing wrong? Are you not a “good enough” pray-er or what?  Not really.  Don’t be quick to find fault with yourself. Maybe there are things that you have overlooked or just failed to take advantage of. 

       In the Church we have a tradition of “words” that is very potent.  It is how the Church was formed; indeed it’s how the world was created.  In our society, filled with an endless jumble of sounds (noise) we have mistakenly relegated “the word” to being equal with all the other noises.   We have forgotten that God used the word to create, literally everything, and that the word is the only teaching tool Jesus ever used.  The Fathers of the Church taught by their writings and the Martyrs gave their lives for their spoken beliefs, their words.  The bible clearly and pointedly  instructs us that: "The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts." (Heb 4:12-13 Jer. Bible)  The Word has the power to sink into you in ways that we don’t even understand.  So when we engage with the Word we need to be clear that it is an actual force that has the power to change us, heal us, and grow us.  Though the writings and teachings of the rest of the Church and all its preachers, teachers and saints is not scripture, these writings also carry a potency and power because they were formed  from  the struggles and experiences that transpired for the sake of the Gospel and its people.  The word is present and remains all around us, available and free for the taking in many different forms. 

       So what does this have to do with you and your struggles to live your faith and get to know the mind of God?  In a nutshell: everything!  It has been my experience that when people say their spiritual life is boring or monotonous I find that they have drifted into a kind of comfort zone that has been the same for a very long time.  While this is not a sinful act it can be, none the less, spiritually dangerous.  Most people tend to stick with what is easiest, least threatening and most familiar.  They pray the same prayers, read the same readings and think the same way they have been thinking for literally years.  While this is a faithful spiritual life, it is not a spiritual discipline that will give you the same kind of growth and progress that you might have experienced when your prayer life was new. The Lord is always calling us to more growth and more knowledge.  Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once observed that in the spiritual life, if you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards.  There is no such thing as reaching a level and staying comfortably there.  So how does one accomplish this?  Not everyone is a scholar and/or a student.  This brings our focus back to the Word and its transformative power.

       I once had a theology professor who told the class that; “to study is a holy act”.  In my struggles to finish that degree, and ever since, I have reflected upon that thought many times.  I have come to understand the wisdom of the statement.  Just because you are not enrolled in a graduate school does not mean that you can’t do legitimate study.  To study means a variety of things that anyone can do.  First, this implies that you are open to new information; next it implies that you are willing to put in extra time, third it means that you are more than willing to allow whatever changes that Lord will have in your thinking.  Last, it means that you are open to doing things differently than your “regular routine”.   In order to venture into some study that will expand and grow your spiritual life you really only need one thing, and that’s a Bible.  I have been reading the readings of the day, every day, for years.  I have come to understand that casting my eyes on the text and taking it in is an act that is much different than one momentary hearing at Mass for that day.  This is in no way meant to diminish the efficacy of daily Communion.  However, literally picking up the Bible and casting your eyes upon the page is a “holy act”.  The Word enters your psyche in a completely different way than hearing.  The Bible itself (Mt 6:22) observes that the eyes are the doorway to the soul and what we allow to enter through the eyes has everything to do with its soundness.  When you take in scripture daily, through the eyes, it penetrates you and changes you in ways that are extraordinary.  Remember that the Lord Himself told us that the word is “living and active” (see above quote).  The difference between hearing the Word and reading the Word is like the difference between hearing about how beautiful Rome is and actually experiencing The Eternal City in person.  The latter affects you and impresses your spirit in a way that just hearing about Rome could never accomplish.

       Make no mistake, being willing to “cast your eyes upon the word” is in no way a precursor to, or result of, reaching a place where one is able to, or even desirous of becoming a biblical interpreter.  That is best left to the scholars, exegetes and ancient language specialists.  But the simple act of reading the Scriptures daily will change you just because the Word is the Word.  Reading the Word is engaging God.  Jesus himself told us; “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. ( Lk 21:33)   We need to be ever mindful that the Word of God goes far beyond black ink on a white page.  The willingness to engage the Word is a holy act.  If you develop a desire to know more about the word and what it means to us feel free to read additional materials and sample the wisdom and opinions of the scholars.  More efficacious, though, would be the readings of the Early Church Fathers who wrote in the heat of battle during the struggle for the Church and its people.  Both the Eastern and Western Fathers wrote to uphold and instruct the nascent communities, form leaders and defend against all the heresies that were formed to try and destroy the spreading movement of Christianity.  Their writing comes straight out of that battle and is rich with wisdom, inspiration and insight.  Their words are holy too.  Did you know that after Christ’s death, the remaining Apostles created a document that instructed communities about how to function in order to carry on and continue Jesus’ teaching?  It’s called the Didache and is available for anyone even today.  Did you know that Pope Saint Clement I (reigned 88-97c.e.), the third successor to Peter, wrote letters to the Corinthians just like Paul did?  That community continued to have its troubles and Clement’s letters provided them with encouragement and instruction in a similar manner to the Apostle to the Gentiles.  His letters are available to anyone today.

       So the transformative power of the Word, God Himself, is there for the taking.  It is so obvious that the opportunity to take advantage of this tool often passes people right by.  Attending the School of Words can lead to other blessings and challenges that you might not have counted on.  Maybe your status quo would change, maybe you would hear God in a new way, maybe your view of the spiritual life would change, and maybe you would travel on for “graduate credit”.  The possibilities, like God, are endless!  The best part of this bargain is that tuition is free and the benefits are a surprise!

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