Posted July 16, 2013 in Word Made Flesh:
Scripture: One Word at a Time

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

Thus says the Lord: "Rejoice with Jerusalem. Be glad for her, all you who love her…" (Isaiah: 66:10).

"In ten words or less," you ask? That kind of thinking is often part of the problem, my friend. What makes these "ten words or less" questions so unsatisfactory is the fact that most of us don’t really want an answer that simple to any question because then we either have to do something about the problem at hand or shut up.

And God knows the last thing we want to do in this blog-y-cyber-chat-room era is shut up and listen. In four words or less: to ponder and think!

However, when somebody asks me your particular question these days, I do have an answer, "in ten words or less"—actually in eight words, though it took almost eight decades to boil it down.

You ask, "In ten words or less, what do I think the problem is with so many people who seem to get little or nothing out of the readings from the Bible at Mass before even they hear a sermon (homily)?"

There are obvious and practical reasons which I can’t go into here, but my own, personal answer to that question is: "the loss of the sense of The Holy!"

I think many of us have forgotten that the whole panorama of our Scriptures—which, incidentally, we call Sacred Scripture—is about a profound mystery woven together in words stirred up by the Holy Spirit long before anyone else preaches about it in their own words!

Sacred Scripture is holy because God, who is holy, is at the center of it all, and that’s the sense of "holy" I think we’ve lost.

You mean like gittin’ people ta slow down, smell the flowers, listen to the sounds of momma nature for a change?

Reverence and awe? Yes, that’s good too, my friend. But this "sense of the holy" means we recognize that there is even something about flowers and birds and Mother Nature which is beyond awe and reverence, indeed, beyond our grasp—beyond our grasp not because we are stupid or intellectually lazy but because God who created them all is beyond our grasp.

That doesn’t mean, as some people imagine, that God is impersonal or unapproachable. It means that we are not the center, the source, the meaning of it all, especially when it comes to understanding Sacred Scripture.

In four words or less it means, "I am not God." And this is fundamentally the primary implication of the very word, holy, when we speak of "the sense of The Holy."

Well, I never thought I was God, Reverend, but I think I kinda get what you mean now. So if the problem is, "the loss of the sense of the holy," then how do you propose we get back there when we hear all those readings from the Bible at the Mass?

I don’t know if I can answer that question here, but I can tell you how I’m getting "back there," and I can tell you in nine words or less: I’m getting back there one word at a time.

One word at a time?

Yes sir, one word at a time. A long time ago on this mysterious journey, I gradually lost the capacity to plunge deep into the Bible whether I read it or heard it read unless I did it one word at a time. Anything bigger was overwhelming.

Like, for example?

Well, this very article is a good example. It all began with one word from among hundreds of words in twelve readings from Sacred Scripture, the selections from four Sundays of the year plus the responsorial psalms, given to me by my editor as the primary focus for this issue of Restoration.

Twelve readings from the Bible would bring up all sorts of insights and ideas in an ordinary person’s imagination and they could probably go out and write a book. Me?

Well, Reverend, whoever said you were…..

Ordinary? You’re so kind! (Smile.) But out of this new bible mode, my one-word-at-a-time mode, which has been going on for quite a while at many levels of my life, not just when I read or hear the Bible read, out of this mode, I latched on to one word from among all those hundreds of words in the readings from Scripture out of which grows this article.

One word? You?

Yes, the simple word, "rejoice." I don’t know why I finally came back to that particular word after having read all 12 readings, and it was right there in the very first line of the very first reading from the book of Isaiah for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

I just knew, the second time around, that that was the word. How did I know that? Because nothing else was happening in my poor, little, weak, confused mind but that one little word over and over: rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.

Instinctively I knew: shut up, listen, repeat, listen, wait, repeat again, but above all, shut up!

(PS. But then the voices usually start, "I don’t have time for this: I gotta get this article done!" "Shut up, listen, repeat, wait." "But the deadline is this week and I haven’t even started yet." "Shut Up!" "OK, OK already!")

Then somewhere in that "shut up" silence, as I worked and lived my everyday life, I began to hum and the word, "rejoice," showed up, and suddenly I was singing a song one of our laymen wrote based on this very reading from Isaiah.

It has a delightful beginning all wrapped up in the musical repetition of the word, "rejoice." I didn’t plan on that! And that’s the McMystery of it all.

(PS: The word "McMystery" is my way of expressing what I experience when I talk about "the sense of the holy," and this "one-word-at-a-time" mode in my reading or hearing the Bible read.)

The McMystery is what happens to me when a single word from Scripture is connected by the Spirit to an ordinary everyday event in my personal McNulty life, and suddenly, mysteriously, that little word takes on a life of its own.

It’s no longer a single word from the Bible, but it unwraps all sorts of words and images and memories from Sacred Scripture and my life, things I may have forgotten for a while, but there they are, seemingly out of nowhere.

Like that song, and they put me in touch with something beyond my grasp. They open me up to "the sense of The Holy." I don’t know how else to say it.

You know Reverend, when you get all mystical like this, you really make me feel like a biblical Baalam’s ass.

Mystical? Geeze Louise, there’s nothing mystical about opening your heart to Sacred Scripture one word at a time even at Mass, my friend. All you have to do is just shut up and listen.

Yes, genuflect, sing, stand, sit, and kneel, but during the Liturgy of the Word, listen for one little teeny tiny word from among the hundred or so words which you hear during the readings.

Let the "pros" do the theological, homily work to open up another aspect of Sacred Scripture after the readings at Mass. Simple folk? Pick a word, just one word. When you got it, repeat it again and again, peacefully, quietly, even during the homily, all during Mass, all during the week.

Wait for that McMystery moment when the Holy Spirit of Sacred Scripture mysteriously unwraps that single word in some simple event in your everyday life and gives you a whole new sense of it—something you didn’t figure out on your own, something beyond your grasp, something "holy."

Which brings us right back to the original question "in ten words or less."

Well, you do realize, I hope, that according to my computer counter, it took you one thousand two hundred and ninety one words to get here, Reverend!

And so my friend, "in ten words or less"—actually twenty seven—you just missed the whole thing, one word at a time. But I’ll be thinking of you on those four Sundays when we’re reading from Sacred Scripture.

And, PS, whatever happens, pray God it’s not "in ten words or less," because then you’d have to do something about it or shut up. (Ahem.)


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