Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Wikimedia Commons

The Word of God Happens

“What struck me most about the Synod was the unity.” The Primate of Canada revisits a milestone in the life of the Church: the encounter with Christ; the relationship between faith and exegesis; and the movements.
John Zucchi

Two months after the event, it is all the more evident that the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God was a truly significant event, with its emphasis on a living Word that refers to an encounter with a Person and not to a fact of the past. The Holy Father named 64-year-old Marc Cardinal Ouellet the Relator-General of the Synod. He is the Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, a diocese that in the late-seventeenth century stretched across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean and down to the Gulf of Mexico. Traces met Cardinal Ouellet in his private study in the Archbishop’s Palace, in the historical center of his walled city. It was a chance to review the Synod and also to look at the task that at this moment has been entrusted to the Church and, in particular, to the movements.

Your Eminence, what struck you most about the Synod?
What struck me most about the entire Synod was the unity. Yes, the unity. I perceived that there was a unifying theme that concerned everyone. It was truly an experience of unity around a common mission of the entire Church, which is ever more urgent today: the announcement of the Word of God with a new strength–a new light–and at the same time the awareness that the condition of the world demands a new witness on the part of the Church to be, in its mission, in service of the Word of God. Word, yes, but God’s Word! There is a new awareness that the Word of God must be proclaimed without the filter of interpretations. We have to give back to Sacred Scripture the sense of the Word of God. This is what struck me most about the Synod.

In your report after the discussion, you wrote: “[T]he Word of God that communicates itself to us in Revelation bears within it this deep dialogical structure and calls us to dialogue with God who speaks and addresses Himself to us as friends.” Can you expand on this relationship between the Word of God and this dialogue in friendship?
God in Himself is dialogue. We know this thanks to faith. He is dialogue in Himself; relationship. He made us creatures in His image, and thus what He is is prolonged in the dialogue He wants to have with us. Thus, His word is the means that He gives us for the personal encounter with Him, to dialogue with Him. Not only did He wish to inform us about His nature, but He also wished to have a personal relationship with us. This is what I wanted to emphasize: the Word of God is a personal encounter, as is shown in history by the many encounters of the Word with the prophets, with the community. This encounter culminates in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Word of God who was given to us to speak with Him, to reach the very heart of God; to participate, in a sense, in the interior dialogue of God Himself. The entire Trinitarian vision of Christianity is at the origin of this Revelation through the Word.

And how did the Synod mark a step in the historical awareness of this Revelation?
I think that there was a return to the turning point which began with Dei Verbum, the Constitution of the Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council in which there is a broadening of the notion of Revelation. Previously, there was more of an insistence on the First Vatican Council, on the Constitution Dei Filius, which had to do with truth. Revelation was conceived as a number of truths, to be known and professed. This remains true but the Second Vatican Council wished to personalize Revelation more, presenting it as the personal “self-communication” of God; thus, it spoke about it in the singular, as a personal relationship that God establishes with His creature–and this in the light of Christ. The Second Vatican Council was very Christocentric. The heart of the Council was this centering upon Christ once again–Christ understood not simply as a truth among others, but as the fullness of Revelation. He is the personal truth of God incarnate, through which we enter into personal communion with God through faith. Thus, I believe that this Synod wished to pick up on this newness once again, this deeper conception of Revelation as event or personal encounter with God. Otherwise, we remain stuck at the level of intellectual communications of truth and this was somewhat the defect in the earlier perspectives. This was its limit. I underlined the Marian paradigm of Revelation instead of the intellectual paradigm book which ultimately must be studied. The Word of God, on the other hand, truly happens. That is why I used the scene of the Annunciation as the emblem of the place of the encounter, in which Mary reacts in the first person and abandons herself profoundly to the will of God to incarnate Himself in her. Mary gives her entire person to God; this is the paradigm that we must rediscover, a dialogical paradigm. In the scene of the Annunciation, we witness the dialogue between the Trinitarian God and Mary.

The delicate question of the tension between Biblical exegesis and theology came up a number of times at the Synod. Is the tension due to different approaches to scholarship or is the problem more fundamental–that is to say, a question of faith?
It’s a deeper question. The Synod reaffirms that the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture must be carried out in the faith, and that faith is not something “foreign” to the scientific character of the interpretation of Scripture. On the contrary, it is within this scientific character. Given that Sacred Scripture is the book of faith, it cannot be understood and deepened if not with faith, naturally using all of the resources of reason. This absolutely does not mean leaving reason behind. It means including reason within a broader horizon of understanding, a deeper one, which does not oppose itself to reason, but indeed integrates it in its own interpretative work. Therefore, there is a new relationship of faith and reason that has been dictated by the orientation of the Synod. Scientific exegesis that is extraneous to faith is a modern problematique that needs to be overcome, because it has caused much harm in the interpretation of Scripture. We can certainly strongly emphasize diversity, but what creates unity is the one Spirit that presides over events and over the memory of events: the Spirit of God. What we call spiritual exegesis or theological exegesis must be more developed, which means that a new chapter has been opened in the dialogue among pastors, theologians, exegetes, and the people of God. With this Synod, a new chapter has been opened in this regard.

Father Julián Carrón was moved by the experience of the Synod to reread the entire history of Communion and Liberation in three phases. He called the third phase, the present one, “the charism for the Church and for the world.” Fr. Carrón asked that as the members of CL continue to live a presence in the world, we be ever more ready to collaborate within the Church, especially where our collaboration is expected and welcomed.

From your point of view, where do you think the collaboration of CL is most awaited?

A particular way of understanding the relationship between faith and reason is certainly proper to the charism of CL. This is the strength of the Movement, and this is shown in its particular affinity with the present Pope, Benedict XVI. This has to do with the witness of fundamental, all-encompassing faith, that includes the dimension of reason. The path of CL is founded very explicitly on Christ, with a total adherence. At the same time, there is an insistence upon intelligence and the rational dimension of life: in culture, philosophy, and the interpretation of reality. What has struck me and what is most needed, I would say in all the contexts in which you find yourselves, from the university to professional surroundings, is this harmony between faith and reason of which you are witnesses, but always witnesses who are anchored in faith. And then there’s also your insistence on reality, on the reality of life: your gaze upon reality is a deeper gaze, that sees more than one normally sees, that picks up on the signs of the presence of God. In that sense, there is something great that you can give. It is evident that this has to do with giving witness, above all; a witness of coherence within an experience of faith and a witness that understands the need to defend certain rights–for example, with regard to education–and knowing well that such a witness carries certain risks, because in the moment itself in which it helps to create an ecclesial conscience it inspires, stimulates, reawakens, and at the same time rustles feathers. Ultimately, this is what used to happen to Christ. Before Him, there was the same type of reaction: to cling to Him or to refuse Him, but never indifference. This testimony is of the same nature…

The Synod placed a great deal of weight on the mission of witness as a counterpoint to a reading of the Word that would see Christ as a “fact of the past.” A witness reveals to the world “the unmistakable features” of the face of Christ. How can movements be at the service of the Church in this task?
I will complete my first answer. What struck me about the Synod was the unity, and at the same time the enthusiasm. Why unity? There are a number of reasons. Above all, there was the theme, there was the Pope, and there were the movements. I’ve already mentioned the theme. Second: the Pope is in his fourth year, and today his presence and his guidance are palpable. At the Synod, it was evident that the unity of the bishops was due in great part to his guidance–sweet and, at the same time, resolute. Third: the presence of movements. The auditors had an important role at the Synod. They spoke and dialogued, and from the interventions was perceived a strong complementarity of the movements and also a maturity on their part. The ecclesial movements have become a great force and a point of reference within the Church. They are recognized and work together and not in a kind of “competition,” but in a complementary way. I find this to be an extraordinary sign of the times.

How so?
Before a world that has been struck by a wave of secularization, above all in Europe, the unity of the Catholic Church is the only defense against secularism. It is for this reason that the experience of the Synod was extraordinary, as a simultaneous experience of unity, spiritual strength, and awareness that the Word of God is the living Christ, Christ living among us, who accompanies us as on the road to Emmaus, giving us the strength of His Resurrection and then launching us once again in the announcement that bears fruit. The future of the movements is to continue to work together, in a complementary way; this is something that had a developed beginning from Pentecost 1998. I remember the first great encounter of movements in 1998, and they have matured continuously since then. There is a new season of the movements, a season of ripe fruits. And God knows the Church needs them.