Last Sunday was the first “Sunday of the Word of God,” as declared by Pope Francis last September. Each year the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time will now be recognized as such, for the “celebration, study and dissemination” of God’s Word.
As the pope explained in his apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis,” a day “devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a yearlong event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord.”
At St. Benedict parish in the Bronx, Father Stephen Norton, the pastor, is proud and grateful for the dedicated works of the two coordinators of the parish Bible Study Program, which he noted is in keeping with the pope’s declaration.
The two coordinators are Isabelle Welch and Carmen Mejia. They’ve been heading the weekly classes for eight years. Both trained through archdiocesan programs.
“It’s important because it opens the Scriptures for the people,” Father Norton said of the Bible Study Program in a Jan. 23 phone interview with Catholic New York. “It helps them to understand the love of the Word of God, and appreciate the Word of God, so that when they come to Sunday Mass, they’re better able to appreciate the parables and the stories both of the Old Testament and the New Testament through weekly study.”
Father Norton explained, “I’m using the Gospel of this Sunday—making fishers of men-—in remembering the Holy Father’s declaration. If it’s not applicable to priests, then it’s applicable to nobody. If we’re not sitting with the Word of God in order to be able to preach, then how do the people fall in love with the Word of God? This call of the Holy Father needs to be heard by the priests of every parish in every Sunday Mass.”
As for the two Bible Study instructors, Mrs. Welch and Ms. Mejia, Father Norton asserted, “We have two wonderful laywomen who do an amazing job. I try to get over there as often as I can. But I am confident with these two good, strong laywomen who have studied and who have prepared and have a really good program. They both had a desire to study the Bible, for the Word of God—and they took off with it. They’ve been really on fire with this…Isabelle also works with our RCIA program.”
The pastor said the meetings are held every Tuesday from 7:30 to 9 p.m., often preceded by a coffee and doughnut gathering. Each year the course runs from early October to around late May. “The lessons build one on top of the other; we get 15 to 20 people each year, and some are repeats,” said Father Norton, who has served as pastor of St. Benedict for 10 years. The meetings sometimes include talks by the pastor and visiting priests.
Father Norton said the program material is presented under archdiocesan guidelines and his prior approval, typically each year with a focus on a particular book of the Holy Bible.
Mrs. Welch told CNY that she and Ms. Mejia believe strongly that it’s important for program participants to get to know and understand the Bible. She said it’s important for the participants to feel comfortable in the classes, and to feel welcome, “so that they can share their thoughts and feelings, and ask questions.”
Of the pope establishing “Sunday of the Word of God,” she said, “I think it’s a beautiful message. We should intensify our journey to the Lord.”
Recalling her initial decision to become a parish Bible Study instructor, Mrs. Welch said, “I felt a very strong calling to get to know Jesus more, and the best way to do that is to study the Word.”
Pope Francis’s declaration to have a “Sunday of the Word of God” was made “motu proprio,” on the pope’s own initiative. Its title, “Aperuit Illis,” is based on a verse from the Gospel of St. Luke, “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”