The Biblical Apostolate – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Hierarchy
“God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb. IV:12)
All over the country, we notice today a growing hunger and enthusiasm for the word of God. Interest has been generated in reading and reflecting on the message of salvation as found in Scriptures. While we welcome this new development with joy and satisfaction, there is however the accompanying anxiety as to how to cope with the ever-growing demand for a deeper scriptural knowledge. There is also the added concern as to the way and manner with which the Sacred Book is handled and propagated.
Conscious of our duty as Bishops and custodians of the authentic word of God, we direct this joint pastoral letter to our beloved people on the vital role of the Bible in Christian life, and on the much needed participation of all in the Catholic Biblical Apostolate in our country.
Recalling Vatican II
When Vatican II opened the windows of the Church to allow the fresh air of change to come in, the Church opened itself to a new Pentecost. With the issuance of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (DEI VERBUM), it provided the basis for a true and genuine biblical renewal in the Church. The Conciliar document became, too, the Magna Carta of the Biblical Apostolate in our present times.
This epochal move taken by the Fathers of the Council is an open invitation to all men of faith and good will to keep close to God by knowing Him more and better through Jesus Christ. The Conciliar document stressed the fact that God is a personal God who has spoken to men. With them, He has initiated a dialogue, in which they are invited to listen to His words – and to respond. In this scheme of evangelization, God’s words are revelation and man’s response is faith (D.V. n. 5).
God’s revelation is the life-blood of Scriptures. It is a communication and manifestation of Himself in His saving plan for men, through the prophets and writers of the Old Testament and in the fullness of time, through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1). In God’s divine plan “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God, as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And tradition transmits in its entirety the word of God which was entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit… Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. “Hence, both Scripture and Tradition, as entrusted to the Magisterium of the Church, must be accepted and honored with equal feeling of devotion and reverence” (D.V. n. 9).
The Church holds in veneration the Sacred Scriptures, as the word of God, just as she venerates the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ (cf. D.V. 21). She invites the faithful to partake of the Bread of Life from the one table of the word of God and the Body of Christ. Needless to say, all the preachings of the Church are nourished and ruled by Sacred Scriptures (ibid.).
A true mother that she is to her children, the Church seeks ways and means to provide easy access to the Bible to all the Christian faithful (D.V. n. 22), so that its saving message may animate their daily lives. This is the timely and timeless apostolate that brings the Sacred Scriptures closer to the people of God.
The Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines
The official organization of the Biblical Apostolate in the country began with the formation for the Bishops’ Bible Committee in 1968. Tasked with the work of propagating the Sacred Scriptures, the Committee entered into a cooperative venture with the Philippine Bible Society for common translations in the different dialects of the country (cf. D.V. n. 22).
The event was an auspicious beginning which preceded equally momentous biblical developments, to wit:
a) establishment of the Catholic Bible Center in 1971, which later developed into the National Catholic Bible Center (NCBC);
b) formation of the Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate in 1978;
c) launching of activities via the mass-media, like the Bibliya at Buhay Radio Program, the “Bibliarasal”, “Scripture Venture” and Basic Bible Seminars, and the publication of the Good News Magazine, “Binhi”, Word-Alive, and other biblical bulletins, all aimed at making the people Bible conscious and Bible-oriented;
d) celebration of the Annual Bible Week and Bible Festivals;
e) publication of the Daily Bible Reading Guide;
f) organization of the Catholic Bible Ministry School and the Youth Bible Apostolate;
g) undertaking a ten-year Bible project known as “A Bible for Every Family” (BEF) Project, directed towards the distribution and enthronement of the Bible Communities, and the formation of Lay Bible Ministers;
h) attendance at the first, second, and third Plenary Assemblies of the World Catholic Federation of the Bible Apostolate (WCFBA), which inspired and spurred the promotion of the Biblical apostolate all over the country.
The Bible in the Life of the Faithful
All these developments and efforts aim at satisfying the ever-growing hunger for the word of God on the part of the faithful. When Vatican II called for the renewal of the Christian life, it realized that the task is not easy. There are many forces militating against a complete renewal of life in persons and in society. For one, there is the spirit of secularism and materialism which has slowly crept in, and men value their religion exclusively for what they can draw out of it, and not for what they can render in service to God and their fellowmen. For another, the inertia of sinful social structures is a massive obstacle to change. Personal renewal and societal change will come about only when there is a change of heart, a change of attitudes, a change of values and priorities, a change in relationships and life-style. A regeneration of the national character can come about only with the regeneration of each one of us as individuals and as community.
How do we realize this? One effective means is by going back to the word of God as found in Sacred Scriptures. A biblically-based spirituality is imperative. Bible reading and reflection help bring about, not only a deeper intimacy with God and a more serious commitment to His truths, but also a deeper relationship with one another, and deeper awareness of world events in concrete situations, in all aspects of human life and in all periods of history, especially the present. The Holy Bible, indeed, is man’s companion in his search for “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
Moreover, the Sacred Book is also the source of spiritual nourishment, strength and consolation. “Everything written before our time was written for our instruction that we might derive hope from the lessons of patience and the words of encouragement in the scriptures” (Rom. 15:4). And as St. Jerome said: “If there is anything in this life which sustains a wise man and induces him to maintain his serenity amidst the tribulations and adversities of the world, it is in the first place, I consider the meditation and knowledge of Scriptures.”
Our Biblical Thrusts and Priorities
Mindful of the important role that the Scriptures play in the life of Christians, as they grow more as persons in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and relate themselves to one another in the spirit of brotherhood under the Fatherhood of God, we solicitously focus our attention on major specific areas of concern from which the faithful can draw growth and guidance in making the Holy Bible a way of life, nay a Christian life. Towards this objectives, we invite our faithful to the following concerns:
The liturgy is the summit and font of the life of the Church. The People of God must be made to experience the richness of a liturgical life based on the word of God. As Vatican II puts it: “Scared Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy… In order to achieve the restoration, progress and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that sweet and living love for Sacred Scriptures to which the venerable tradition of Eastern and Western rites give testimony…” (Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, S.C., n. 25).
Care and devotion must be observed in the reading of the word in the liturgy. We disapprove the practise of substituting the words of men (writings of contemporary, even secular authors) for the holy word of God. It will be very helpful to institute the Ministry of Lay Lectors, who after a proper training, will be officially deputized to undertake the devout and clear reading of the word in the Mass and other liturgical services.
Clerics and seminarians, preparing for the priesthood, should take great interest in deepening their knowledge of Scriptures. By meditating on the Scriptures, they shall develop in themselves the same love and concern that God has for all and especially the poor. Seminaries should provide their students with a deeply biblically-centered faith-experience and in-service training regarding different forms of communicating and living the Gospel message.
Religious, “men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate Him more closely, by practising the evangelical counsels” (P.C., n. 1), should promote a renewal of spirit, and bring about the solidity and vitality of the religious life. This is chiefly done by going back to the very source, which is the Bible.
Therefore, “let them have the Sacred Scriptures at hand daily, so that they might learn ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8) by reading and meditation on the divine Scriptures…” (P.C. n. 6).
Catechists and Lay Leaders
Catechists and lay leaders play an important role in the apostolate of the Church. Being animators of our Christian communities, they should have an adequate training in Scriptures. They should make the Bible, the source of their spirituality and prayer-life. “All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching… for reproof, correction, and training in holiness, so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped with every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
We all know the many profound and rapid changes the beset our families today, changes that have affected our society and culture in general. We invite our Christian families to nourish themselves with the word of God as found in Sacred Scriptures, in order to adequately meet the various needs of present-day life and life-situations.
Let the Bible be enthroned in every home, and be the source of inspiration to all the members of the family, as they gather in a communal reading and meditation on the Word of life.
Schools and the Youth
We find in our youth a rich potential for building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. If we can provide them fulfillment in their search for the truth and the good, they can be expected to make a valuable contribution to the spread of God’s kingdom on earth. Toward this end, we urge our Catholic schools to provide a biblical formation for the young, in order that they may attain the right vision and adopt the proper values and priorities that can come only through God’s word.
Basic Ecclesial Communities
Basic ecclesial communities are one of the current phenomena of our times, a clear sign of the movement of the Spirit in the Church today. We trust that they will contribute immensely to the spiritual renewal and social change in our parishes and communities today. A careful preparation of the sacred text for the group reflection must be made, and a proper formation provided on the use of the word of God.
Catholic Charismatic Groups
Charismatic groups are sprouting all over the country. They hunger for the word of God, for their spiritual nourishment and growth (cf. I Pet 2:2). Every effort must be had to form them in the proper reading and correct interpretation of Scriptures. Care must be had that they do not fall into the error of Fundamentalism – a too literal interpretation of Scriptures, nor into a false sense of Illuminism – a claim to be enlightened and directed from on high by the Holy Spirit, so that they become free to give their private interpretation to the word of God. Firm pastoral authority and proper guidance are needed to counteract such aberrations.
Our efforts to promote ecumenism with our separated brethren, must take into consideration the provisions of Vatican II, regarding the restoration of unity among all Christians. Catholic guidelines and methods toward this end must be fully observed. As regard Sacred Scriptures, we must be careful that in our desire to promote understanding and harmony with our separated brethren, we do not sacrifice the official teaching of the Church’s Magisterium.
In regard however to translations, production and distribution of Bibles, we endorse the cooperation with the Philippine Bible Society, in the spirit of Vatican II (cf. D.V. n. 22), taking into consideration the guidelines issued by the Pontifical Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in 1968.
Efforts have to be made to bring the word of God to our cultural communities, better known as Tribal Filipinos. They too, are entitled to the message of salvation. We commend the work of the Summer Institute of Linguistic (SIL), for their initiative and efforts in translating the New Testament into the different languages of our cultural communities, the most recent of which is the Ivatan New Testament for the Batanes area.
Justice and Peace Movement
The justice and peace movement is a part of the social apostolate of the church. It calls for the establishment of a more humane, just and participatory society toward a fullness of life for all. It promotes a process of liberation based on a double change – a change of heart in the human person, and a change of meaningless and unjust structures in the community.
Any movement however for justice and peace, will succeed only when it is solidly based on the word of God. The Holy Scriptures reveal to us a God of love, of mercy, of justice and fullness of life, a God who showed preference for the poor and the oppressed (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 9:36). But the evangelical meaning of the “preferential option for the poor” must be clearly understood. It cannot and should not lead to the use of violence, nor should it move us to promote class struggle. An analysis therefore of the social reality in the light of Scriptures, can be a rich source of inspiration in man’s struggle for justice and peace, and for the unity of our people. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and a force for liberation” (Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”).
We call on all workers for justice and peace to refrain from manipulating the Sacred Book to support totalitarian and atheistic ideologies and movements. On the other hand we commend all those who exert their efforts to promote the authentic message of the word of God.
We cannot in any way underestimate the role of the means of social communication in our contemporary world. Through them, we reach and influence, not only single individuals, but the very masses and even the whole of human society. “It is the birthright of the Church to use and own any of these media which are necessary or useful for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity…” (Decree on the Means for Social Communications, I.M., n. 3).
As regard the Bible Apostolate, every effort must be made to present the message of Scriptures via the mass media.
We, Bishops “designated by the Holy Spirit to take the place of the Apostles as pastors of souls” (C.D., n. 2) commit to personally nourish ourselves with the word of God, and to faithfully promote the love for it among the people. We commit ourselves to give priority to the Scriptures as basis of our pastoral programs, to nourish our ecclesial communities with the word of God, and to encourage our faithful to a greater interest in reading and reflecting on the Scriptures. We further commit ourselves to the organization of Diocesan Centers for the Biblical Apostolate, convinced “that the ministry of the word – pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place is nourished and thrives in holiness through the word of Scriptures…” (D.V. n. 21).
We entrust to our Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate, in conjunction with our national, regional and diocesan Bible Centers:
a) the formation of lay readers at Mass, lay Bible ministers and lay Bible promoters;
b) the training of people in mass media (press, radio & TV), for the proper promotion of the word of God from the Catholic point of view;
c) the material distribution (if possible, for free) of the copies of the Bible to the poor and the needy, so as to provide their homes with a text of the Sacred Book;
d) the preparation of texts and articles for the proper understanding and interpretation of Scriptures;
We call on our priests and religious, our helpers and cooperators in the pastoral ministry to “immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study,” mindful that “anyone becomes an empty preacher of the word of God to others, not being a hearer of the word in his own heart…” (D.V., n. 25). We ask them to be the principal animators and promoters of the Bible Apostolate in their respective communities, at the same time that we ask them to respect other people’s beliefs like our Muslim brothers in the South, who also have their own sacred book.
In closing, as we celebrate the two-thousandth anniversary of Mary’s birth in this MARIAN YEAR ‘85, we humbly commend ourselves and our people to the Blessed Virgin. She is the “Seat of Wisdom” who shared in the homage given by the Wise Men to the Infant Savior (Mt. 2:11). She is also the Mother and Model of the Church who, more than any of us, received the blessing of those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28).
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
February 24, 1985
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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The Biblical Apostolate – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Hierarchy