Popes propose to find Jesus in the Bible

From St. John Paul II to Francis, the last three Popes have encouraged the Christian people to read the Bible and encounter Jesus Christ in it. In addition, Francis has on occasion given pocket Gospels to pilgrims who come to St. Peter's Square.

Loreto Rios-March 26, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes

The Pope hands a Bible to a reader during the Sunday of the Word ©OSV

Throughout history, many Popes have spoken of the importance of the Bible as a means of approaching Christ, the Word of the Father. In this article, we focus on the three most recent Popes: St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

Saint John Paul II

St. John Paul II spoke in numerous speeches about the centrality of Sacred Scripture as a means of knowing Jesus Christ in the Christian life. One example is his message to the World Catholic Biblical Federation on June 14, 1990, in which he explained that the center of the Scriptures is the Word, Jesus Christ: "The Bible, the Word of God written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reveals, within the uninterrupted tradition of the Church, the Father's merciful plan of salvation, and has as its center and heart the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen". Moreover, the Pope identified the Bible with Christ himself, saying that "by giving people the Bible, you will give them Christ himself, who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for the Word of God, for true freedom, for justice, for bread and love".

On the other hand, St. John Paul II stressed the importance of "constantly approaching the Bible as a source of sanctification, spiritual life and ecclesial communion in truth and charity", affirming that Sacred Scripture arouses vocations, is also the "heart of family life", inspires "the commitment of the laity in social life" and is the "soul of catechesis and theology".

In addition, at the General Audience of May 1, 1985, the Pope recalled the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council "Dei Verbum", in which it was stated that "God, who spoke in former times, is always conversing with the Bride of his beloved Son (which is the Church); Thus the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her in the whole world, brings the faithful into the fullness of truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell in them intensely' (Dei Verbum, 8)" (Dei Verbum, 8)".

However, although the Word of God is an effective and indispensable means for approaching Christ, St. John Paul II also stressed the importance of approaching it and reading it always in the light of the Church, without relying on personal or subjective interpretations. Along these lines, the Pontiff explained that the "guarantee of truth" has been given "by the institution of Christ himself [...] to the Church. [...] To all is revealed in this area the merciful providence of God, who has willed to grant us not only the gift of his self-revelation, but also the guarantee of its faithful preservation, interpretation and explanation, entrusting it to the Church".

Benedict XVI

The Pope Benedict XVI He also emphasized the importance of the Bible in approaching Christ: "To ignore Scripture is to ignore Christ," he explained, quoting St. Jerome at the general audience of November 14, 2007.

To this phrase, Benedict XVI added that "to read Scripture is to converse with God", but, like St. John Paul II, he stressed the importance of reading the Bible in the light of the Church: "For St. Jerome, a fundamental methodological criterion in the interpretation of Scripture was harmony with the magisterium of the Church. We can never read Scripture on our own. We find too many closed doors and we easily fall into error. [In particular, since Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, every Christian," he concluded, "must be in communion 'with the Chair of St. Peter. I know that on this rock the Church is built'".

Benedict XVI's 2010 apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini," which gathers together the conclusions of the Synod The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, is very important in this regard.

Among other things, the Pope also emphasized, like John Paul II, the Christological core of Sacred Scripture: "The eternal Word, which is expressed in creation and communicated in the history of salvation, in Christ has become a man 'born of a woman' (Gal 4:4). The Word here is not expressed primarily through discourse, concepts or norms. Here we are faced with the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular story is the definitive word that God speaks to humanity. [Apostolic faith testifies that the eternal Word has become one of us.

Pope Francis

Following this line, Pope Francis has also exhorted on numerous occasions to find Christ in the Scriptures.

The current pontiff explained in his address to the Catholic Biblical Federation on April 26, 2019 the importance of the Church being "faithful to the Word," saying that, if she fulfills this, she will not spare "herself in proclaiming the kerygma" and will not expect "to be appreciated." "The divine Word, which comes from the Father and is poured out into the world," pushes the Church "to the ends of the earth," Francis affirmed.

In addition, the Pope has encouraged on several occasions to become familiar with the Bible and to read it at least five minutes a day, since "it is not simply a text to be read", but "a living presence". For this reason, even if the reading is reduced to small moments a day, the Pope points out that it is sufficient, because those brief paragraphs "are like little telegrams from God that immediately reach your heart." The Word of God "is a bit like a foretaste of paradise. Therefore, if the Christian's relationship with it goes beyond the intellectual, there is also an "affective relationship with the Lord Jesus", identifying, as in the texts of other Popes mentioned above, Sacred Scripture with Christ.

"Let us take the Gospel, let us take the Bible in our hands: five minutes a day, no more. Take a pocket Gospel with you, in your bag, and when you are on a trip, take it and read a little, during the day, a fragment, let the Word of God come close to your heart. Do this and you will see how your life will change with the closeness to the Word of God", concluded the Pope's reflection at the General Audience of December 21, 2022.

In fact, Francis affirmed that the Word of God is for prayer, and that through prayer "it happens as a new incarnation of the Word. And we are the 'tabernacles' where the words of God want to be welcomed and guarded, so that they can visit the world".

He proposed the same on Word of God Sunday, January 26, 2020: "Let us make room within ourselves for the Word of God. Let us read a Bible verse every day. Let's start with the Gospel; let's keep it open at home, on the bedside table, carry it in our pocket or purse, see it on our phone screen, let it inspire us daily. We will discover that God is close to us, that he illuminates our darkness and that he guides us with love throughout our lives".

On other occasions, the Holy Father has also asked himself: "What would happen if we used the Bible as we use our cell phone, if we always carried it with us, or at least the little Gospel in our pockets? Francis answered himself that, "If we had the Word of God always in our hearts, no temptation could keep us away from God and no obstacle could cause us to stray from the path of good; we would know how to overcome the daily suggestions of the evil that is in us and outside of us" (Angelus of March 5, 2017).

A very relevant initiative of Pope Francis, reflecting the importance he attaches to the reading of Sacred Scripture among Christians and his desire to make it a daily habit, is the gift of pocket Gospels, specifically during the Angelus of April 6, 2014.

In his previous interventions, the Pope had suggested always carrying a small Gospel with him "so as to be able to read it frequently". For this reason, Francis decided to join an "ancient tradition of the Church" according to which, "during Lent," a Gospel was given to catechumens preparing to receive baptism. In this way, he presented the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square with a pocket Gospel: "Take it, take it with you, and read it every day," the Pope encouraged, "it is precisely Jesus who speaks to you there. It is the Word of Jesus.

Francis then encouraged to give freely what had been freely received, with "a gesture of gratuitous love, a prayer for one's enemies, a reconciliation"?

Identifying once again the Scriptures with Christ himself, the Pope concluded: "The important thing is to read the Word of God [...]: it is Jesus who speaks to us there".

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