During his visit to Sweden on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Pope Francis offered a prayer in the Cathedral of Lund using words never previously expressed by a pope: "Holy Spirit, enable us to recognize with joy the gifts which have come to the Church through the Reformation." In Evangelii Gaudium he had already expressed a similar thought: "It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us." (No. 246)
I was very moved to participate in that celebration at Lund because such words touch us, the brothers of Taizé, deeply. It is as if the path along which Brother Roger led us for so many years has been confirmed.
Our community integrates a growing diversity into a common life—a diversity of confessional origins, and also a diversity of cultures, since we now come from all the continents. By bringing together Protestant and Catholic brothers, and sometimes by welcoming an Orthodox monk for a time, our community wants to anticipate the unity to come. It tries to realize what can be called an exchange of gifts: to share with others what we consider a gift from God for us, but also to welcome the treasures that God has placed in others. This is what the Pope is proposing.
After the Lund meeting, I wondered how I could associate myself personally with this prayer of gratitude formulated by the Pope. I asked myself: coming from a Catholic family, what are the gifts of the other Churches for which I should thank God?
It would take time for me to formulate all that I owe to the Eastern tradition, but that is not our topic today. This morning’s theme invites me rather to focus on one of the gifts of the Churches of the Reformation which has become vital to my own faith and which I discovered with Brother Roger and the first brothers of our community: the primacy given to Holy Scripture.
I could name several other gifts of the Reformation that I have welcomed, but this one is the most fundamental. In my family, even though we were fervent Catholics, the Bible was never read; it was not considered necessary. My father had only one book with the bible readings for Sundays, and he always kept it with him. He did not need anything else.
It was at Taizé that I discovered the Bible. As a new brother of the community in 1974, the study of Scripture was an exciting novelty for me. It was to become the heart of our pastoral work with young people. When I arrived in Taizé, the community was already organizing youth meetings every week, but in the mid-1970s Brother Roger made a significant change. He asked us brothers to put the reading of the Word of God at the center of these meetings. Since then, and still today, the young people we welcome listen to a biblical introduction given by one of us every day for a week.
Brother Roger had realized that, after a complex period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was first and foremost necessary to help young people go to the sources of faith. He certainly must have drawn on his own experience, his own history. His Protestant origins inclined him to return constantly to the biblical sources.
The intuition that guided us at that time remains true in our twenty-first century. Today, throughout the world, society and patterns of behavior are changing rapidly. Prodigious opportunities for development are increasing, but instabilities are also appearing; worries about the future are increasing. In order for technical and economic progress to go hand in hand with more humanity, it is indispensable to seek a deeper meaning for existence. Faced with the weariness or the confusion of many, the question arises: what is the source from which we live? Or in other words: how can we free up the source within us?
To help young people go to the most essential source, to help them open the doors of their hearts to the presence of God, I sometimes ask them: are we aware enough of the treasure that is the Bible ?
Of course, it is not always easy for them to read the Bible; they find texts that they do not understand. To make their reading easier, we suggest two ways of approaching the Bible.
The first is to highlight strongly what is at the heart of the Bible—love of God and love of neighbor. The covenant of God with his people begins with the freshness of a first love, then come the obstacles and even the human infidelities. But God never tires of loving, he always seeks his people, he always seeks each and every one of us.
In fact, the Bible is the story of God's faithfulness and it is sometimes beautiful to remind young people of the impressive words of the prophet Isaiah. God says to everyone, "Can a woman forget her little child? Even if there was one that forgot, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
Becoming aware of this long history of God's faithfulness can awaken in young people a sense of the need for slow maturing. Sometimes we want everything right away, without seeing the value of a time of ripening! But the Bible opens up another perspective: "My days are in your hand, Lord.” (Psalm 31, 16). Several parables of Jesus also focus on the growth and maturing of the realities of the Kingdom of God.
The discovery of God’s unconditional love opens our hearts to love of neighbor. Many biblical texts, which at first sight can seem harsh and difficult, become clear in the light of the requirements of love for our neighbors.
The other way of approaching the Bible that is good for young people to grasp is this: the Gospel tells us that Christ himself is the Word of God. When we read the Scriptures we meet him, Christ; we listen to his voice; we enter into a personal relationship with him.
Martin Luther invited people to seek in the Bible "was Christum treibet", "what makes Christ appear." In this way all he did was to make explicit the identification of the logos, the Word of God, with Christ, as seen in the prologue of the Gospel according to John. At about the same time, independently but inspired by the same source, John of the Cross noted: "The Father has spoken one word, which is his Son."
In addition to the actual reading of the Bible, during the weeks of meetings in Taizé we see how the singing during the common prayer helps young people to interiorize the Word of God. Songs repeated over and over make it possible for a few words from the Bible or from a witness to Christ to remain within us for a long time, and to penetrate our existence. These songs can then accompany us during the whole day.
A long moment of silence at the center of each time of common prayer also plays a role in meditating Scripture. Even in a large assembly, silence allows each person to be alone before God. It makes it possible for us to turn to him, not primarily to ask him for this or that, but to welcome his presence. In the course of long silences a taste for God can arise, a word can grow in the human heart.
In silence God speaks to our hearts, even if we do not realize it. Through the Holy Spirit he visits us. If he speaks to us it is always to tell us, over and over again, of his love, his unconditional love. And to call us to love and give our life as he loved us and gives himself for us.
Brother Roger often said: if we remember only a single word, we must put it into practice. It is by putting it into practice that we understand it better and it will give us access to other words of Scripture. When we only understand a little of the Gospel, we can seek to grasp more from a word that has become important to us, which has already become real in our lives.
Naturally, although here I am underlining the contribution of the Reformation which has emphasized the primacy of Scripture, it is true that in our day the other Churches also give the Biblical sources an important place.
In this regard, I often think of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2008, to which I had been invited. The subject was precisely that of the Word of God and its place in our lives. This Synod expressed a deep concern to give the Bible a much more important place. A cardinal thanked the other denominations for their attention to the Bible. A bishop said, "There was a reaction in the Catholic Church against the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation, and this has downplayed the importance of the Bible. Now we are emerging from that period."
During that synod, we heard testimonies from all over the world. Some were like precious pearls. A Bishop from Latvia reported that in his country, during the Soviet regime, priests and ordinary believers died for proclaiming the Word of God. A priest called Victor was once arrested because he owned a Bible. The agents of the regime threw the Bible on the ground and ordered the priest to trample on it. But he knelt down and kissed the book. As a result he was sentenced to ten years of forced labor in Siberia.
When one hears such testimonies, one understands how much the Bible has been loved and has transformed the lives of many people in many countries.
May I conclude by giving three examples of how the desire to communicate the Word of God has been a constant feature in the history of our community of Taizé.
At the time of the Second Vatican Council, Brother Roger launched an ecumenical fund to help agricultural cooperatives created by bishops from Latin America. The president of the Bishops’ Conference of the continent told him that participating in the human promotion of the poorest was important, but that it was equally important to participate in their spiritual promotion. So the project took shape of broadening the use of the funds collected by Taizé to make an ecumenical translation of the New Testament into Spanish, and to send a million copies to dioceses throughout the continent. Similarly, shortly after the Council, our community sent half a million Portuguese New Testaments to Brazil. Each person who received the New Testament was invited to read the text with ten other people.
Much later, taking part in the millennium of the baptism of Russia in 1988, Brother Roger heard the Orthodox bishops speak about the lack of bibles among their faithful and that they would need at least twenty million. Brother Roger then revived the collection of funds to have one million New Testaments printed in Russian and sent to the Orthodox Church in a country then still under Communist rule.
More recently, a similar need arose in China. Thanks to the same collection of funds, called Operation Hope, we were able to print a million Bibles in 2009 in Nanjing and distribute them throughout the dioceses of that great country.
I began this intervention by mentioning the prayer of thanksgiving for the gifts of the Reformation offered by the Pope at Lund. I would like to conclude with a question I asked last May in Wittenberg. Does not this prayer of the Pope in Lund call for an answer? Is not the openness of the Pope to the gifts of the Reformation an invitation to express in turn the openness of Protestants to the gifts of the Catholic Church? Could they not praise God especially for the ability of the Catholic Church to make visible the universality of the Church?