CNS Bible Blog: Judith, Chapter 10 – Hanging on to tradition

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down again with the Book of Judith and started reading Chapter 10. Following the method of “Ignatian contemplation” (a way for reading and praying with the Scriptures that has been used by Jesuits since the 16th century), I took a step back inside the story as Judith.

Uta Sievers

When the Assyrian soldiers grab my bare arms, I feel fire run through my body. I shrink back but see the necessity of going through this. I feel shame at the humiliating smiles, at their obvious enjoyment of having me in their hands. Disgust at their dirty hands on my skin. The eyes of men who are trained for war, not for love. Their smelly bodies rub against me as they push me forward to take me to Holofernes. Beauty can be such a trap.

I manage to tell the story of my treason convincingly, and there is a reason for it: I am still angry at the Elders in my town, who almost mistrusted God. Silly people, my Israelites! I feel I could almost do it, lead the enemy into the heartland of Israel. But that’s not God, that’s me, the Jonah in me. All I need to do now is get through to Holofernes, and any story will do.

As I am escorted through the gaping crowds of soldiers, I feel lightheaded. I know what God is doing here by way of me, Judith: crossing all the boundaries of what’s permitted for a woman, a stranger, an inferior human being. It’s so outrageous that they decide not to harm me … for now.

I have five days. Four and a half now. I feel my way through those days, doing things almost in a trance, following the master plan. I reconnect every night with the one who is in charge here. Oh, how I long for my nightly prayer sessions. To feel clean once again inside and out after washing myself in the fountain. To share my fears with the one who knows them already, and who even knows the outcome of our plan. To find strength and answers. To be safe from the inhabitants of the camp, one night at a time.

As I step out of the story, I pray for the men and women of all faiths who hang on to their traditions and customs in the midst of adverse conditions because that is where they find meaning.

Better homilies, better readers: That’s the ticket

VATICAN CITY — The need for better homilies and the importance of lectors carefully, slowly and clearly proclaiming the word have been insistently recurring themes at the world Synod of Bishops on the Bible.

Auxiliary Bishop Anton Leichtfried of Sankt Polten, Austria, told the synod yesterday that for too many Catholics, going to Mass is like standing near a train station: every once in a while, a train whips by — the Sunday Scripture readings.

A Franciscan Friar at Rome's Termini Train Station (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

A Franciscan Friar at Rome's Termini Train Station. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

“The readings of the Sacred Scripture will pass quickly by the ears and eyes of the faithful who cannot get on board and stay on board,” he said.

Bishop Leichtfried asked the synod to suggest that all Catholics read at least the Gospel for themselves before going to church. And that those who preach really take on board the fact that their Sunday homily is probably the only Biblical reflection most Catholics will hear all week.

CNS Bible Blog: Judith, Chapter 8 — Fighting for right

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

I sat down with the Book of Judith and started reading Chapter 8. Following what is often described as an Ignatian method for reading and praying with the Scriptures, I took a step inside the story. (At the end of this post, you will find a video with Jesuit Father James Martin, associate editor of America magazine, giving a step-by-step explanation of Ignatian contemplation.)

Uta Sievers

I am Judith. Sadness has been with me for the last three years and four months. The man I love, my husband, has died unexpectedly. Too soon. I now live in a tent on the rooftop of my house. It’s hot in there. I pray, I fast. My sadness is physical. My clothes are black. They cover my pain. Now I have so much time for myself. Time to spend with God.

I pray, I fast. I ask. I listen. The moment will come. God has planted a forest of fast-growing nurture-trees within me. I have enough energy to explode.

Something in me calls me with a low, gentle voice. I am prepared.

I explode in bursts: first, when the Elders make plans. Oh, the anger! I knew anger could be good thing. It got me into doing my own planning. And then I told them: “You can’t play with God like this! You bet your lives and those of your people on him interfering in the next five days. Are you mad?? God will act when the time has come, and there is no way for us to know when that is. I know you wanted to protect the people from the worst when you told them not to surrender the city but wait for another five days. That was the right direction. No good will come from us surviving in slavery, while the enemy gets to Jerusalem and destroys the temple. Not surrender, but action will save us. I am going to try something…. Just let me do my thing and you’ll see.”

When did I know what to do? Much earlier. On my rooftop. The knowledge flowed through my body day in and day out, through my prayers. It felt very natural. That was then, this is now. I rise, I get angry, I act. God is here.

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who feel called by a small, gentle voice to stand up for what is right.

The Road to Emmaus: The synod’s favorite Bible story

By a huge margin, the Bible story quoted most often during the first week of the world Synod of Bishops on the Bible has been the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who is briefing English-speaking journalists on the synod speeches.

The Emmaus Icon commissioned by Father Rosica. (CNS photo by Father Thomas Rosica. Used with permission)

Anytime the word “Emmaus” is mentioned in any language or anytime there is a reference to Luke 24:13-35, Father Rosica’s ears perk up. He did one of his post-graduate projects on the story. And, while in Jerusalem in 1990, he commissioned Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul of the Mount of Olives Monastery to paint an icon of the story’s two main scenes.

The reason the story keeps coming up at the synod is because so many bishops and other synod members see it as the perfect example of what the church must do with the Scriptures: discuss them with the faithful, explain them and let them lead people to recognize Jesus.

Father Pasual Chavez Villanueva, superior general of the Salesians, told the synod this morning that the story give precise instructions for how to evangelize the young, emphasizing that it is Jesus who evangelizes through his word and that evangelization takes place by walking alongside people, listening to their sorrows, and then giving them a word of hope and a community in which to live it.

Father Chavez told the synod that today’s young people definitely share with the disciples “the frustration of their dreams, the tiredness of their faith and being disenchanted with discipleship.”

“Young people,” he said, “need a church that walks alongside them where they are.”

Church teachings in your pocket

VATICAN CITY — The U.S.-based Apostolate for Family Consecration is offering bishops attending the world synod on sacred Scripture a free MP3 video player preloaded with commentaries on church teaching.

a logo from the Apostolate for Family Consecration

A logo from the Apostolate for Family Consecration.

The black, pocket-sized video player has more than 45 hours of Cardinal Francis Arinze giving colorful commentaries on Scripture, catechetics, and Vatican II teachings. The Nigerian-born cardinal is prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The gift is part of an wider initiative the international lay movement is promoting during the monthlong synod. They have invited synod bishops to attend a one-and-a-half-hour presentation Oct. 8-10 to hear and ask questions about the movement’s catechetical materials and formation programs.

Apostolate members came to Rome after visiting Hong Kong and Myanmar, where they spoke with church leaders about offering catechetical training to local Catholics and bringing their materials into local dioceses so as to help families bring Scripture into their daily lives.

If you feel left out because you are not a synod bishop, not to worry: many of the apostolate’s materials are available for free online, and videos and audios are easy to download onto your own MP3 player at the apostolate’s Web site,

Worth a look during the synod

As you follow the world Synod of Bishops on Scripture at the Vatican this month, here are two Web sites that might be worth your time:

– On our synod page we’ve posted a link to a new slideshow of photos by David Maung, who spent a day inside a Mexican prison following the ministry of the Missionary Servants of the Word.  As one of the captions in the photo slideshow notes, nuns from the Missionary Servants offer Bible study several times a week to the prisoners. We hired David to illustrate a synod-related story on how organizations like the Missionary Servants of the Word might be an example for the church as it seeks to find fresh ways to make the Bible important in Catholics’ lives.

– Chris Gunty, associate publisher of the Florida Catholic, which serves most of Florida’s dioceses and its one archdiocese, has launched a new blog on the synod aimed particularly at “what the synod means to you and me.” The latest post (as of this writing) tells how one parish found blessings for its members by organizing a way for the parish to read the Bible in manageable chunks rather than all at once.

The synod and images from The Saint John’s Bible

VATICAN CITY — The world Synod of Bishops on the Bible, which starts with Mass Sunday, will involve some 400 people, if you count members, experts, observers and support staff.

And each one of them, on several occasions, will be praying with the help of images coming from Minnesota.

CNS photo from St. John's University 2004

Seven vertical slices represent the days of creation in this illustration from The Saint John's Bible. (CNS photo from St. John's University, 2004)

Art from The Saint John’s Bible, a newly hand-copied and hand-illuminated version of the Scriptures, was chosen to adorn the separate booklets for the Masses and prayer services that will be celebrated during the Oct. 5-26 synod.

In addition, a portion of the Bible and six illustrations from it will be on display in the atrium of the Vatican’s synod hall for the next three weeks.

The Bible was commissioned by the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey and by St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. The project began in 1996 and is expected to be completed in 2010 when it should total more than 1,000 parchment pages.

Some pre-synod news

VATICAN CITY — Over the next four weeks, the Vatican’s synod hall will be the setting for close to 300 speeches about the Bible as the 253 “synod fathers” (cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and a dozen priests who head religious orders), a dozen “fraternal delegates” representing other Christian communities and some of the three dozen “observers” invited by Pope Benedict XVI address the world Synod of Bishops.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the synod, told Vatican Radio Tuesday that Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew would be one of the “fraternal delegates.” Usually, the patriarchs of Orthodox churches send a representative to the synod rather than attending themselves.

But before any of them have a chance to speak, viewers of Italy’s government-owned RAI 1 television station and its satellite sister RAI Educational will hear dozens of people reading the Bible and famed tenor Andrea Boccelli singing J.S. Bach’s “Lodate Dio” (“Praise God”).

The tenor will sing Oct. 5 after Pope Benedict XVI, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria and the Rev. Maria Bonafede, moderator of Italy’s Waldensian Church, have read the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. After Bocelli sings, the next section of Genesis will be read by the actor Roberto Benigni.

The recitations are part of RAI’s “The Bible Day and Night” project we wrote about earlier.

Another event connected to the synod was last night’s presentation of the Italian edition of “The Essential Guide to the Sacred Bible,” a 64-page book by Msgr. Pietro Principe, published by the Vatican publishing house. USCCB Publishing plans to release the English translation in early 2009.

The book is a brief introduction to the Bible. Among other things, it contains: a map of the Holy Land at the time of Christ, an explanation of what the Catholic Church means when it says the Bible is “inspired,” a brief introduction to the various books of the Bible, and short profiles of 45 men and 13 women who figure prominently in the Bible.

Msgr. Principe said he wrote the book for Catholics who do not want a scholarly tome, but want “to begin to approach this treasure” so that they would learn to love the Bible and to love God who continues to speak through it.

Getting ready for the synod on the Bible

Many Catholics in the pews don’t realize the significance of next month’s world Synod of Bishops in Rome on the Bible. We’ve been giving it extra attention this summer and fall with numerous articles and a new section of our Web site devoted to the synod.

For instance, you can read Rome bureau chief John Thavis’ examination of why Pope Benedict thinks attention to the Bible is “an area he has long considered crucial and in need of revitalization.” Or, you can read a primer from our Faith Alive! religious education series on what a synod of bishops is and how it operates.

This blog also has had several items on the synod already. And, just this morning, bloggers and news agencies around the world are linking to our story from our correspondent in Jerusalem on the Israeli rabbi who says the Vatican invitation to him to participate in the synod is a sign of hope.

Our clients are also examining the importance of the synod. One interesting example of that is the podcast I listened to last evening on my way home from work. Jesuit Father Drew Christensen, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, opened the podcast (you can download it or listen to it here) with one of the best explanations of the synod that I’ve heard so far. Even if you can’t listen to the entire half-hour broadcast, just the first few minutes are worth your while.

Record number of women for Bible synod

VATICAN CITY — The Oct. 5-26 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible will have the largest number of women ever participating in a Catholic synod, as forecast in an earlier post.

Pope Benedict XVI has named six female scholars to be among the 41 experts to serve as resource people for the synod members as they discuss the importance of the Scriptures in the life of the church, look at the Bible’s role in Catholic prayer and liturgy, evaluate its role in ecumenical and interreligious relations and discuss ways to improve biblical literacy at every level of the church.

The list was published with the experts’ names given in alphabetical order, but it seems fitting that the first woman on the list was Sister Sara Butler, a professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. A member of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, Sister Butler was one of two women Pope John Paul II named to the International Theological Commission in 2004. They were the first women ever named to the body that advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The other women experts named to the synod today were:
– Sister Nuria Calduch Benages, a professor of the biblical theology of the Old Testament at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
– Bruna Costacurta, also a professor of Old Testament theology at the Gregorian.
– Marguerite Lena, a professor of philosophy in Paris and director of theological formation for young adults at Paris’ St. Francis Xavier Community.
– Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Jerome Obiorah, a professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of Nigeria and at the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria.
– Trappist Sister Germana Strola, a member of the monastery at Vitorchiano, Italy.

Pope Benedict also named 19 women to be among the 37 synod observers; the observers attend all synod sessions, participate in the synod working groups and are given an opportunity to address the entire synod assembly. Like their male counterparts, most of the women observers are professors or leaders of religious orders, Bible-based Catholic lay movements or large Catholic organizations.

Topping the list of all observers — again, because the list is given in alphabetical order — was Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

CNS will carry a complete story on the papal nominations Monday.

UPDATE: Click here for the full CNS story.


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