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Scripture Needs to Be Read Spiritually, Says Preacher Delivers Final Lenten Meditation for Pope and Curia ROME,

MARCH 14, 2008 ( Scripture is not only inspired by God, but also "breathes forth God," that is, the Holy Spirit inhabits Scripture and animates it, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this today in the Lenten meditation he delivered to Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. The sermon was the last in a series of meditations the preacher gave this Lent. The series, titled "The Word of God Is Living and Effective," reflects the theme of the next Synod of Bishops on the word of God, to be held in October. Father Cantalamessa spoke about the two meanings implied by 2 Timothy 3:16 "all Scripture is inspired by God." He explained that the more common meaning is the "passive" one, referring to the way that God directed the writers of the holy texts. The second meaning, the preacher explained, is "active": Scripture, is not only "inspired by God" but also "spirates God." "After having dictated the Scripture, the Holy Spirit is in a way contained within it; he ceaselessly inhabits it and animates it with his divine breath." Setting him free Father Cantalamessa then asked, "How do we approach the Scriptures in a way that they truly 'free' the Spirit that they contain?" He said that "in Scripture, the Spirit cannot be discovered if not by passing through the letter, that is, through the concrete human vesture that the word of God assumed in the different books and inspired authors. In them the divine meaning cannot be discovered, if not by beginning from the human meaning, the one intended by the human author, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Luke, Paul, etc. It is in this that we find the complete justification of the immense effort in study and research that surrounds the book of Scripture." But, Father Cantalamessa affirmed, there is a "tendency to stop at the letter, considering the Bible an excellent book, the most excellent of human books, if you will, but only a human book. Unfortunately we run the risk of reducing Scripture to a single dimension." The Pontifical Household preacher pointed to a sign of hope: "That the demand for a spiritual reading of Scripture and one guided by faith is now beginning to be felt by some eminent exegetes." The Capuchin urged a furthering of this "spiritual reading." He explained: "To speak of the 'spiritual' reading of the Bible is not to speak of an edifying, mystical, subjective, or worse still, imaginative, reading, in opposition to the scientific reading, which would be objective. On the contrary, it is the most objective reading that there is because it is based on the Spirit of God, not on the spirit of man. "Spiritual reading is therefore something that is quite precise and objective; it is the reading that is done under the guidance of, or in the light of, the Holy Spirit that inspired Scripture. It is based on a historical event, namely, the redemptive act of Christ which, with his death and resurrection,

accomplishes the plan of salvation and realizes all of the figures and the prophecies, it reveals all of the hidden mysteries and offers the true key for reading the Bible." Toward all truth Father Cantalamessa said that this "spiritual reading" of Scripture applies to both the Old and New Testaments. "Reading the New Testament spiritually means reading it in the light of the Holy Spirit given to the Church at Pentecost to lead the Church to all truth, that is, to the complete understanding and actualization of the Gospel," he said. The preacher affirmed that spiritual reading both integrates and surpassed scientific reading: "Scientific reading knows only one direction, which is that of history; it explains, in fact, that which comes after in light of that which comes before; it explains the New Testament in the light of the Old which precedes it, and it explains the Church in the light of the New Testament. "Spiritual reading fully recognizes the validity of this direction of research, but it adds an inverse direction to it. This consists in explaining that which comes before in the light of that which comes after, prophecy in the light of its realization, the Old Testament in the light of the New and the New in the light of the tradition of the Church." Father Cantalamessa contended, then, that "that which is necessary is not therefore a spiritual reading that would take the place of current scientific exegesis, with a mechanical return to the exegesis of the Fathers; it is rather a new spiritual reading corresponding to the enormous progress recorded by the study of 'letter.' It is a reading, in sum, that has the breath and faith of the Fathers and, at the same time, the consistency and seriousness of current biblical science. The Pontifical Household preacher ended his reflection with a word of hope regarding a return to a spiritual reading like that of the Church fathers. The Capuchin said "from the four winds the Spirit has begun unexpectedly to blow again" and we "witness the reappearance of the spiritual reading of the Bible and this too is a fruit -- one of the more exquisite -- of the Spirit." "Participating in Bible and prayer groups, I am stupefied in hearing, at times, reflections on God's word that are analogous to those offered by Origen, Augustine or Gregory the Great in their time, even if it is in a more simple language," he said. "Let us conclude with a prayer that I once heard a woman pray after she was read the episode in which Elijah, ascending up to heaven, leaves Elisha two-thirds of his spirit. "It is an example of spiritual reading in the sense I have just explained: 'Thank you, Jesus, that ascending to heaven, you do not only leave us two-thirds of your Spirit, but all of your Spirit! Thank you that you did not give your Spirit to just one disciple, but to all men!'"