Studying Scripture renews the Church, Denver bishop teaches

Bishop James Conley, Auxiliary of Denver
Bishop James Conley, Auxiliary of Denver


Addressing the National Catholic Bible Conference on Friday morning, Auxiliary Bishop of Denver James D. Conley urged Catholics to be “disciples of the Word” like King Josiah, the priest Ezra and St. Francis of Assisi. Recovery of God’s Word can create renewal and change “hearts and history,” he said.

“Too few of us think of God’s Word as exciting or newsworthy enough to be sought out every day. And therefore too many of us miss the most newsworthy event in life – the experience of God, the creator of the universe, speaking to us through His Word,” Bishop Conley said in his speech, which was originally to be delivered by Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput.

The bishop recounted the story of Josiah, whom he called “perhaps the greatest of the Davidic Kings of Judah.” His example teaches Christians the need for “hope in the midst of darkness.”

Josiah’s grandfather King Manesseh committed evils such as idolatry and child sacrifice, even sacrificing his own sons. Such evils were continued by Manesseh’s son Amon.

“It’s sobering that God’s own people could be so degraded by a pagan culture that they would sacrifice their own children. But obviously we don’t need to look very far to find modern parallels,” Bishop Conley stated.

King Josiah came to power at a very young age in a culture that had “imbibed for almost two generations the worst of pagan beliefs and behaviors.” He was part of a family that was “far from the Lord.”

Bishop Conley noted the Scriptures’ description of how Josiah “began to seek the God of David his father,” saying his action teaches us that renewal of the Church and the world must begin with ourselves.

Turning back to the story of Josiah, Bishop Conley recalled how he rediscovered a book of Hebrew Scriptures in the Temple, which had been abandoned by his forerunners.

“When the book was read to the king and the people, it was the first hearing of the Torah for that generation. In other words, things had become so perverse that Israel had completely lost the Word of God, this last copy being found in the nearly abandoned Temple.”

Josiah responded to the Scriptures with “humility and penance,” moving his people to renew their covenant and to turn away from paganism.

“Renewal happened because Josiah recovered God’s Word and made it available to everyone,” the bishop explained, noting the Second Vatican Council’s exhortation that the Christian faithful frequently read the Scriptures.

“We need to hear God’s Word, not just one day a week but every day, until it soaks deeply into our souls. This is what Josiah did, and any personal and ecclesial renewal requires that each of us recover the daily practice of praying with and hearing God’s Word.”

The priest Ezra was also singled out by Bishop Conley. Leading the remnant of exiles returned from Jerusalem, he too read “the book of the law of Moses” to the people.

“Once again, the reading of God’s Word triggered a renewal of God’s people, and this Word was intended to be heard by all God’s people, not just the professional religious or experts.”

From Ezra’s example, Bishop Conley drew three lessons:

First, if we want to “hear” God’s Word in Scripture we must listen with “reverence” and a “sincere and humble piety.” Second, God’s Word is always delivered “within the context of the believing community” and cannot be fully understood outside of the “ecclesial context,” the Church. And third, to understand the meaning of our own lives requires that we must first “grasp the plot of God’s story.”

“This means that we can’t approach Scripture as if it were something that needs to be interpreted by us, but rather quite the opposite -- we need to let Scripture interpret us, our lives, and our world,” he explained. “To read the world in light of Scripture, as opposed to Scripture in light of the world, is the hallmark of a Christian reading of the Word of God.”

The bishop also noted the example St. Francis of Assisi, who heard the Gospels not as something in the past or as something meant for others but as “God’s Word spoken to him personally.” This motivated Francis to begin an “adventure” of recovery and renewal.

“The best way to evangelize is to burn, like St. Francis did, for the love of God. To sustain that kind of zeal you need constant contact with the fire of God’s Word.”

While much Scripture is simple enough to be understood without expertise, the bishop noted, he strongly recommended Catholics find “trustworthy guides” and pointed to the example of the graduates of the Denver Catholic Biblical School.

“The Church desperately needs many such guides to bring about the recovery of Scripture,” the Denver auxiliary said.

Pointing out that Catholics believe that the Eucharist and the Scriptures should both be reverenced, Bishop Conley said, “The Word of God listened to with obedience and lived with simplicity can still make news for those willing to hear.”

As he drew his talk to a close, the bishop urged his audience to help the Church make the Word of God spread “vigorously” in a culture that “desperately needs light to dispel its present darkness.”

“This is your task, beginning today: Be witnesses of the one, true and loving God. Be faithful sons and daughters of the Church. And like Josiah, Ezra and St. Francis, be disciples of the Word.”

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