CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 1 – Guided by a dream

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 1. Using a method for reading and praying with the Scriptures that is attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, I took a step inside the story.

I am Ruth. I went with my mother-in-law Naomi and never looked back.

It was an easy decision for me. It was much harder for her to accept my decision. I love her and always will. There is no sacrifice in this decision for me. I feel closer to her than I have ever felt to my own mother; I love her more than my life. Naomi and I, we walk hand-in-hand, even though we might not touch each other. We brave the desert storms. We have the same direction: her people, who — through my love for her — are my own people. Her God is my God.

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

Naomi isn’t always the easiest woman to be with, especially since her whole family died in Moab. She has been taking this as a sign that God is unhappy with her, but I think that’s not true. I’m sure God just had other plans for her. That’s as far as I know him, this God. The strong one. The one who saves. The one who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The one who has dreams for us. I am following one of those dreams. I have always been the dreamer in our family, my husband never really understood that. But his God did. Praying to the God of Israel felt easier than praying to our gods in Moab. So I followed Naomi to be with a people that knew their God, a people who had met him, personally. Apart from praying with them, I also have to find work there. And possibly a husband. Someone with my kind of spirituality would be nice.

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who leave everything behind, guided only by a dream.

CNS Bible Blog: Judith 12-13 – A woman serving God

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Continuing with the Book of Judith, I focused on Chapter 12 and Chapter 13. Using the method of praying with Scripture known as Ignatian contemplation (or Ignatian imagining), I continued to read and pray, imagining myself as Judith.

As I step into Holofernes’ tent, all eyes are on me. I lie down for the banquet and General Holofernes, supreme commander of 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, looks enraptured. I rejoice inwardly, as this is exactly the state I need him in to execute my plan. I do my best to fire his imagination, sending him flirtatious glances, smiles, gestures, while he is getting more and more drunk. For some reason, I’m deeply enjoying this game – with the two of us expecting completely different rewards from it. My God has a fine sense of humor. I sigh in sadness as I remember the looks I used to get from my husband, Manasses. Oh, how I still miss him. He would thoroughly approve of my being here.

I’m a little nervous. Holofernes, so drunk that he has passed out, is lying on his bed, right in front of me. The moment has come. I gather myself, I gather my years on the rooftop of my house, years spent in prayer and fasting, spent soaking up energy for this moment. I grab his sword with both hands and whisper: “God of life, God of Israel, one man has to die so that your people can survive and remember your Holy Name for generations to come. Guide my hands.” Then I strike with all my strength.

I stand there, my still muscles shaking from the effort, while my whole being is taking in what I have just done. What God has just done. Using a woman, the beauty of a woman. I am amazed. Men can’t do that, end a war. They have to retaliate, they have to keep going, an eye for an eye. But through the beauty of a woman, God can end wars. Oh, the joy! Now quick, let me take his head and get out of here. My Israelites have to be told about the greatness of God!

As I step out of the story, I pray for the unique gifts of women, that they may be appreciated and cultivated every day in the church and elsewhere.

Pope Benedict as Bible blogger?

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops on the Bible heard an unusual suggestion Tuesday morning when a Hong Kong observer asked Pope Benedict to start up his own daily blog on Scripture.

Agnes Kam Leng Lam, president of the Catholic Biblical Association of Hong Kong, said people need to experience Scripture in small but significant doses.

“To put it in a nutshell, I’d like to suggest to you Holy Father to start a multi-language blog to shepherd today’s world by scriptural verses, daily verses,” she said on the synod floor. The pope’s blog should include simple reflections that relate Scripture to real-life situations, she said.

Lam included advice that’s probably good for any blogger: “Remember, brief texts, Holy Father, and plentiful images, and this will be very attractive to the young generation and to today’s people.”

The talk apparently provoked a positive reaction and some laughter, but the pope, who was presiding over the Oct. 5-26 assembly, didn’t say whether he’d be blogging anytime soon.

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.”

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