"A BOOK that is FIRE." LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS TO YOUTH
This is Peter Gonsalves' translation of the Italian version of the preface written by Pope Francis for an edition of the Bible for young people, who have collaborated to discuss and write comments. The text was provided by La Civiltà Cattolica.
My dear young friends,
If you saw my Bible, perhaps you wouldn’t be attracted at all. You would say: "What? Is this the Bible of the Pope? A book so old, so worn out." You may also wish to gift me a new copy, maybe one even costing 1,000 Euros. But no, I wouldn’t take it. I love my old Bible, the one that has accompanied half my life, that has seen my joys, and has been wet with my tears. It is my priceless treasure. I live with it and for nothing in the world would I give it away.
The Bible for young people, you have just opened, is beautiful. It is so vivid, so rich in the testimonies of the saints, of young people, which makes you want to read it at one go from the start to finish. And then…? Then it will be hidden, it will disappear on the shelf of a library, maybe behind the third row, only to gather dust. Until one day your children will sell it at the flea market. No. This cannot be!
I want to tell you one thing: today, even more than at the beginning of the Church, Christians are persecuted. What is the reason? They are persecuted because they carry a cross and give witness to Christ. They are sentenced because they possess a Bible. Clearly, the Bible is a very dangerous book, so risky that in some countries those who own a Bible are treated as if they are hiding a cupboard full of grenades!
Mahatma Gandhi, who was not a Christian, once said: "You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature."
What then do you hold in your hands? A literary masterpiece? A collection of ancient and beautiful stories? In that case, we should say to the many Christians who are imprisoned and tortured for the Bible: “Indeed you have been foolish and unwise: it is only a literary work.” No, with the Word of God, the light is come into the world and will never be turned off. In my Apostolic ExhortationEvangelii Gaudium I wrote: "We do not blindly seek God, or wait for him to speak to us first, for God has already spoken, and there is nothing further that we need to know which has not been revealed to us. Let us welcome the sublime treasure of the revealed Word." (n. 175).
So you have in your hands something divine: a book like fire, a book in which God speaks. So remember, the Bible is not meant to be put on a shelf, rather it is meant to be held in the hand, to be accessed often, every day, either alone or in company. Others enjoy sports, or go shopping in company; why not read the Bible in the company of two, three or four? Even outdoors, surrounded by nature in the woods, by the sea, in the evening by candle light ... you will experience a powerful and unsettling experience. Or maybe you're afraid of looking foolish in front of others?
When you read it, read it carefully. Do not stay on the surface, as is done with comics! The pages of the Word of God cannot be flipped through! Ask yourself instead: "What does that say to my heart? Through these words, is God speaking to me? Is He perhaps arousing in me a yearning, a deep thirst? What should I do?" Only in this way the Word of God can unfold its full force; so that our lives can be transformed into becoming full and beautiful.
I'll let you in on a secret: when I read my old Bible, I often take it, I read it for a while, then I put it aside and I let myself be looked at by the Lord. I don’t look at Him, but let Him look at me: God is really there, fully present. So I see myself from his perspective and I feel - and this is not sentimentality - I perceive in the depths of my heart what the Lord is telling me.
Sometimes my Bible does not speak: so I don’t feel anything, I’m empty, empty, empty ... But, patiently, I stay there and I wait like this, reading and praying. (I prefer sitting. Kneeling hurts me.) Sometimes, while praying, I even fall asleep. But it’s not important: I am like a son close to my father, and that's what really matters.
Do you want to make me happy? Read the Bible.
Taken from: Quaderno N°3972 del 2015/12/26 - (Civiltà Cattolica, IV 519-654)