I BECOME HIS CAPERNAUM: Reflection on the Word of God

I don’t like Monday but I love the Word of God. Monday morning, even though it’s my day off, feels like a hangover. Heavy, slow, dull. And it’s raining, so the temptation is to stay in but there’s a movie that I want to see – A Hidden Life – and it’s only on in Ashford at lunchtime. I get myself together and out the door.

Walking down the street I run into a young family from the parish who are on their way back from the doctor. I hear them before seeing them.  The young voices exclaim my name in unison and one of them looks up at me and says, “I am sorry about your brother-in-law!” It is so tender the way she says it. “Thank you!” I reply, adding that he needed to die because he was in a lot of pain. “He rests now” I say and she adds “in peace!”

The Word of God is alive and active and it comes to us in many forms. It is impossible to resist it when spoken by a child and my mood is completely altered, the strain in me dissolved.

Yesterday was Word of God Sunday, named so by Pope Francis so that we might pay greater attention to the Sacred Word of God in Scripture which I consider to be the most precious of gifts given me from the time I was a young student.

It’s as if God touched my lips with It, placed It in my mouth, gave me the prophetic scroll to consume in all Its bitterness and sweetness and wrote It upon my heart, a painful and ecstatic engraving.

In the Liturgy we reverence the Word, holding It aloft, incensing It, kissing It. In Nairobi they dance and sing the Word up the aisle as a mark of respect and love. But we reverence the Word most by listening to It, receiving It into our hearts, that It may take root and bear fruit in our lives.

It can only be properly read, heard and understood under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that is why it is essential to pray to the Spirit before reading or hearing the Word. Then the Holy Spirit uses the Word to resonate within our souls, stirring us to a response. The external written Word of the Bible seeks out the interior Word that is written in our hearts and the meeting of these two aspects causes the one Word to spark into a flame.

When I read yesterday’s Gospel what resonated with me was, “…He went and settled in Capernaum.” Jesus, the Eternal living Word, seeks to settle into my life, make His home in me so that I become His Capernaum, the Word made flesh within me. And He is my most welcome guest, my abiding and permanent resident.

His very name -Jesus – is the highest of all God’s Words. Name above all names, most sublime, beautiful, powerful. The name I wish to be on my lips when I draw my last breath. Sadly, it is a name spoken most casually and disrespectfully, especially in television and movie dramas, when it should only be spoken with reverence and love.

The movie, A Hidden Life, is a rare exception. It is the true story, based on actual events, and on the letters between Franz Jagerstatter and his wife, Franziska. Here God is spoken of and spoken to so tenderly, reverently, even in times of great suffering when questions are being asked of Him. And it’s never sentimental. I would love to watch it again, if only to hear the way they speak to God – the couple, Franz and Fani whose love for each other is exquisite. Their enemies and others speak scornfully about Christ and God but never this couple. “One must accept everything that He sends us with gratitude. He loves us. He won’t send us more than we can bear.” (Fani)

An aspect of the Word that we don’t often advert to is Its silence. A lot of communication in A Hidden Life is done is silence. God’s own communication is sometimes done in silence. There’s a hint of such silence in the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet – Aleph that corresponds to the Greek Alpha (beginning) has no sound of its own, it is silent, suggesting the silence that was before the beginning of things. Jesus says of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” I am the Aleph! The soundless beginning.

We witness the silence of Jesus in the face of the accusations made against the woman taken in adultery; His silence in the face of His own trial; the silence of the Father when Jesus cries out in Gethsemane and on the Cross at Calvary. I suspect we also witness something of the silence of God in Pope Francis whose refusal to give answers is scorned by a world that demands immediate reactions leaving little or no space for reflection. And sometimes complete silence is the only true response that we receive from God.

I return to the Name of Jesus, the exquisite Word. May we take a silent moment to let this Name, this Word of life, settle silently into our hearts, touching the places that are sore and sorrowful bringing consolation and healing. May we speak His Name as a blessing over all that is in need of transformation and conversion.

“…on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’” (Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23)