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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

To Attend to the Reading and Be Absorbed by It

"Attend to the reading, the exhortation, the teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). Reading - Lectio - is the basis of the Church's exhortation and the teaching. Paul commands Timothy to read and by this command, every minister of the Gospel is likewise obliged to ponder the Scriptures in ways that will build up the whole Church. Through reading the words of the inerrant and inspired Scriptures, we encounter the Word of the Father. To read, in this sense, is to plant one's whole mind, not merely in the words of a text, but in the truth that those words convey, the Truth that biblical teaching bears.

The Holy Bible, though inerrant and inspired by the Holy Spirit, is safeguarded and rightly used only through the most prayerful reading, a reading that is "absorbed" and "diligent" (1 Timothy 4:15). To truly read the Bible is to prostrate one's whole being in adoration. This is because the mysteries conveyed in the inspired text helps one find a reference point that is higher and more noble than one's own judgments. Not only does this kind of reading demand total concentration with the entire strength of one's mind, it also requires prayer, prayer that suffers deep silences. It is in the difficult to enter silences of heart that the Word has chosen to dwell. He makes our home in human poverty where one lives only by reliance on God, and this includes in the poverty of a mind that has emptied itself of all other unworthy occupations. This is where the reading of ministers of the Gospel must take them - whether one is a bishop or a parent, a priest or a catechist, a deacon or a teacher. To say that we meet the Word made flesh in such a reading is to affirm that the words of Sacred Scripture convey more than the limits of created human cognition can grasp. Since inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Truth Biblical teachings bear is greater than any created language can ever convey. Since committed to writing by men chosen by God, the words of this sacred teaching can seize us with holy fear. Since inerrant, these Spirit breathing words silence the cacophony of disordered judgments that have drowned out the sweet harmony of all that is most tender and good about life. Sin is revealed, a desire for conversion is conceived, and hoped filled contrition is born. There are even moments when a passage from the Bible suddenly baptizes the heart in mysteries that surpass every longing one has ever known. If ministers do not allow themselves to be taken up into the Sacred Scriptures through their own devoted reading, they lack the wisdom that they need to exhort and teach righteousness. Through the Bible, those powerful stories, teachings and songs, God manifests where we stand in relation to Him, His unimaginable kindness to us, and the response that we owe to Him. This rallying point is set higher than the affairs of the work-a-day world because we are meant for something higher than our own affairs. The Sacred Scriptures make known the affairs of God in our midst, and these Divine concerns are the measuring stick for our own concerns. It is this rallying point to which every exhortation calls believers. Only such a reference point lays bare the righteousness of God needed to instruct the members of Christ's Body. Those who diligently suffer being absorbed by the Word gain a wisdom that the whole Church needs today more than ever. A minister absorbed in the Word has a confidence that solicits the confidence of others. Although this directive to "attend" and "be absorbed" is particularly addressed to Timothy, he has come to represent all those who received the "imposition of hands from the presbyterate." Every deacon, priest and bishop should be "diligent" and "absorbed" in reading, preaching and teaching. Ordered to God's holiness by Holy Orders, the mystery that they have received is irreplaceable for the transmission of the Gospel. This is not an optional effort: the communion of the Church is at stake. Even in today's myriads of podcasts and blogs, and no matter how big the personalities involved, the preaching of those whom Christ has set apart by His Holy Mysteries can not be duplicated. This means that members of the lay faithful, such as myself, teach only in collaboration with the ministries of those God has chosen and raised up by Holy Orders. Sometimes our collaborative role is to encourage and to remind those whose first duty is this task. Privately, it even can be to correct. Whatever else, we support and we submit ourselves to the authority of the Church with which these men have been entrusted, and we never usurp their role, but defend it and help them embrace it. To act otherwise begets confusion in the communion of the faithful. If it is shameful to be ambiguously silent when the clarity is needed, it is likewise disordered to spew noisy rancor when the power of silence is demanded. Only the Word can give this clarity. Only He evokes the silence truth demands. To speak the truth into the difficult hardships that men and women face today protects the unity of the Church and the unity of a family. If many ministers fail to offer such a word, perhaps this is because one cannot utter it without being vulnerable to difficult hardship and rejection. Fear comes by nature ... by grace audacity. And grace comes by prayer. Yet, what a poverty when our courage fails and we neglect the duty that love imposes. Conversely, when a minister summons the fortitude to speak the truth with love, no matter the cost, something good always results, even if cloaked in rejection and hostility. Such a man embraces that suffering by which alone one soul can call another "father." Lay teachers of the faith have every reason to rejoice whenever their imperfect efforts help a preacher of the Word find this courage. When one minister regains heart, he helps thousands take heart too. On this note, St. Hildegard of Bingen describes the preaching of the ordained as the radiance of the Bride of Christ -- so that through her, the Lord draws those in need of salvation to Himself. We are bound together by the Holy Spirit -- the baptized and the ordained. As the Holy Spirit empowers their devotion to teach us, He inspires us to receive those words and enflesh them in human affairs. We cannot do this on our own. To ween us off self-reliance and to help us learn obedience of heart, God has chosen to work through others in our life. Because this is a time that calls for bold courage, we need those to whom God has given the power and authority to teach His Word for our sake with boldness and courage. It is through these Divinely imbued servants of the Word that we are able to receive the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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