I am a Roman Catholic priest, ordained 15 years ago. I live in a very religious and traditional setting: church attendance is high but biblical literacy is practically zero. Most churchgoers believe that the Bible is a collection of writings that are difficult to understand. People tend to view God as either a punisher or as a God who will, in the end, justify any evil deed.
I discovered the Bible only recently. Whilst I was studying to be a priest I had studied a number of bible texts and I have preached in church for many years, but I tended to used God’s word as a means of communicating my own ideas or the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. I had never let God speak to me through his word.
Then, recently, I experienced a time of suffering. God seemed very distant. One day, a nun gave me a New Testament and I began to read chapters at random. It was the first time I had read the Bible without the help of a commentary. The words descended into my heart as if someone was entering into me. I felt loved, comforted and healed. From then on I read more and more - every moment I was alone became an opportunity for me to read and pray. I had encountered God through his word. I realised that this was having an effect on my preaching, which was becoming more insightful. Many people in my church who had been apathetic believers began to come closer. God helped me to understand that a sermon that would bring glory to him was a sermon where the preacher became transparent before the word. It was necessary to disappear so that the gospel could appear.
I have not had any problems with the religious authorities – in fact my bishop has asked several times how my bible studies are going! Other priests have also begun to follow my example. What is still lacking, though, is an acceptance of this among churchgoers. I have encountered a certain resistance among some in my parish. Many seem unable to get used to the idea of reading the Bible. They remain convinced that it is an incomprehensible book, only to be read by a few special people. Others believe that the Bible is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book, and others believe that it isn’t really that important to read the Bible as long as you pray and go to mass. Many have nicknamed me ‘the philosopher’ but others are happy and have now encountered the mercy of God.
In Italy, God’s word needs to be set free. There are too many structures that hold back the one, true thing that can revolutionise our society. Everyone can meet God and experience his forgiveness through Scripture but, for this to happen, we need men and women who will preach without fear. There will always be many obstacles, but the Church of believers with shine through in the darkness of this century.
The author wishes to remain anonymous. He is known to Crosslinks through his friendship with mission partner Mark Oden.
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