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The Word of God is the ultimate reality, Pope tells opening Synod session October 06, 2008

As the Synod of Bishops opened its discussion of the Word of God on October 6, Pope Benedict XVI compared the enduring power of the Gospel message with the evanescence of worldly wealth and power.

Pointing to the current world economic crisis, the Pope remarked that the collapse of international financial institutions underlines the temporary nature of earthly treasure. "Money disappears; it becomes nothing," he observed. "Only the Word of God is the foundation of reality-- stable, like heaven."

Modern man is tempted to think of material objects as the ultimate reality, the Holy Father continued. But that is an error, he said, adding: "A realist is one who recognizes that the Word of God-- this reality that appears so weak-- is in fact the foundation of everything."

The Pontiff spoke at the opening session of the Synod, with 244 participating bishops in attendance at the Vatican meeting. Pope Benedict plans to attend most of the sessions during the 3-week Synod, to follow the bishops' discussions. Following the Pontiff, Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and president-delegate for this Synod, addressed the assembly. Then Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, the relator-general, explained the work of this Synod: "to discern how the Spirit and the Church aspire to respond to the gift of the Word made flesh through the love of the Holy Scriptures and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God to all humanity."

The Word of God is "the source of life" for the Church, and the foundation upon which both missionary work and ecumenical dialogue must be built, Cardinal Ouellet said. However, the Canadian prelate said, it is not accurate to say that Christianity is a religion "of the Book;" it is, rather, a religion "of the Word."

Cardinal Ouellet explained his point by saying that "in the living tradition of the Church, the Word of God takes first place: it is the living Christ." Scripture and Tradition form the two channels through which this living Word comes into the world. Thus, he said, "Scripture is not all the Word, it is not totally identified with her." The full force of the Word comes only through the power of the Spirit.

In Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council proposed a greater appreciation for the Scriptures, urging all Catholics to a regular prayerful use of the Bible, the cardinal recalled. Unfortunately, he said, that suggestion has not been carried out. The Synod, he suggested, should seek "a remedy to the ignorance of the Scriptures which adds to today's difficulties in evangelization."

This task is complicated, Cardinal Ouellet continued, by other problems the Church now must face. In a blunt appraisal he listed some of those problems, acknowledging weaknesses in religious-education programs and tensions between academic theologians and the Church's teaching magisterium.

Christianity, the cardinal remarked, begins with "the mystery of a God who speaks, a God Who is Himself the Word, and gives Himself to be known by humanity in many ways." In their efforts to know and love this God, he suggested, the faithful should consider "the flesh-and-blood dimension of Mary, between the old and the new Covenant, who accomplishes the passage from Israel's faith to the Church's faith."

A direct personal encounter with the Word of God will awaken the faith and fervor of individual Catholics, Cardinal Ouellet said. Moreover, a deeper appreciation for the Word will bring new life to the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the faithful encounter the Word made flesh, "Christ Himself, addressing His People and offering Himself to His Father as sacrifice of love for the salvation of the world."

Finally, the cardinal said, a deep reverence and love for the Word of God will stimulate missionary work. Evangelization, he said, must reflect a desire not merely to educate people, but to help them discover the joy of the Gospel message. Again he emphasized that the Christian approach to the Scripture is based upon a lively desire to encounter God in the Word, not merely a matter of book-learning. "Consequently," he said, "the witness of the Word of God demands that the missionary disciples be authentic witnesses of the primacy of love over science."