This work was presented at the July 2009 session on the Study of the Gospel in Limonest. It attempts to bring us closer to the Study of the Gospel as a spiritual study. The Holy Spirit is truly the soul of this study: he forms Christ in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist. He gives life to the written word, which becomes the living Word, like a second Incarnation. As the Spirit inhabits the Scriptures, we are called to allow ourselves to be led by him in reading, studying and proclaiming this word of grace and life that has been entrusted to us.
The Church lives by the Word of God. The Word of God has always been a source of renewal and reform in the life of the Church throughout history.
God wanted Scripture to be one of the constitutive elements of the Church so that, guided by the Holy Spirit, it could fulfil its mission of announcing to all nations the power of God's salvation - the Good News of the Gospel. In the witness of the Bible, the Church finds the nourishment of her faith and hope, the substance of her thinking, the guide that directs her actions.
From its very beginnings, the Church gathered around the Word of Jesus Christ preached by the apostles. This is what we can call the founding experience of the Church at Pentecost. Then, almost from the end of the apostolic era, the words of Jesus and the preaching of the apostles began to be written down. What happened then, and what lasted practically throughout the second half of the first century, was once again driven by the Holy Spirit, who thus brought about a second incarnation of the written word.
The Holy Spirit dwells in the Word of God. His inspiration is not limited to the time when it was written down; it animates the whole life of the Church. The Holy Spirit opens the minds and hearts of believers so that they understand the Scriptures and interpret them in the way he wanted them to be interpreted.
The action of the Holy Spirit was very present in the apostolic and post-apostolic periods, but also in all the efforts of the Church Fathers to inculturate revelation in Greek and Latin culture. This activity of understanding and inculturation continued throughout history: in the Middle Ages, crossing the borders of the Roman Empire, in the Modern Age with the evangelisation of the American Continent, and later in Africa and Asia.
The Church lives by the Word of God; it is her principal nourishment (Mt 4:4; DV 24). And this Word must be read and meditated on in the light of the Spirit, for he makes it the living and present Word. This is the long experience and the great treasure that we find in the rich tradition of the Church. An original voice stands out in this tradition, that of Antoine Chevrier with his spiritual study of Scripture: the Study of the Gospel.
I - THE LIFE-GIVING ACTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
It is the Spirit who forms Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, in the womb of Mary; and it is the Spirit who makes Scripture the living and actual Word of God.
1 - The action of the Spirit in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh
To reveal and make known his plan of salvation, God chose the path of the Incarnation. The Incarnation bears within it this gesture of God, this effect of making himself close, of taking on the human condition so that he can be understood and recognised by man, who is his image. This is why God not only becomes flesh, but also becomes language, and above all becomes human speech, in order to communicate his plan of love and to associate humanity with his work of salvation.
It is under the impulse and animation of the Holy Spirit that the dynamism of the Incarnation develops. He forms the Son's human body; he reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of the Most High, the God with us (Lk 1:35; Mt 1:20-23). But the Spirit's activity is not limited to the moment of the Incarnation. It is present throughout the life of Jesus, showing how the man Jesus is the Son of God, how he came to fulfil the Father's will by placing himself at the service of the mission he has given him.
The Spirit is the one who, in the Jordan, anoints and consecrates Jesus Christ as the Messiah who makes the Kingdom of God present in the world: a Messiah, the beloved Son of the Father, who also became the Word to whom we men must listen: "Behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, whom I am pleased to choose'" (Mt 3:16-17).
Jesus announces the Kingdom of God. He carries out his mission under the impulse and influence of the Spirit, who implants the Kingdom at the heart of human realities, in the hardest and most conflict-ridden depths, in the most impenetrable problems that most of us, along with the majority of men, escape (Lk 4:14-30; 7:21-23). This leads to conflict with the spirit of the world, with the evil spirits that enslave humanity. The story of the temptations and the exorcisms performed by Jesus show us how active the Holy Spirit remains in this battle. It shows us that in Jesus, God is committed to liberating us from everything that enslaves humanity. So we are no longer slaves, but sons, in other words free (Lk 4:1-13; 31-37; 11:14-22).
The Incarnation leads Jesus to embrace the human condition with all that it implies, including an unjust death. "In his human condition he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8). But the action of the Spirit does not end with Jesus' death on the cross. In faith and trust, at Calvary Jesus surrenders his spirit to the Father. The Spirit of the Son exerts his power beyond death, beyond the limits of the flesh. It penetrates the true life, the life of the Spirit, which we call resurrection. This is what Paul reminds the Corinthians, who find it difficult to believe in the resurrection, in new life in the Spirit: "The first Adam was a living animal; the last Adam is a life-giving spiritual being" (1 Cor 15:45).
The Spirit works in such a way that Jesus is not a dead person, nor a figure from the past, but that he is the glorified Son, seated at the right hand of the Father, and at the same time present every day until the end of the world. This is the great confession of faith made by Paul in his letter to the Romans: "Set apart to preach the gospel of God (...) This gospel is about his Son, born according to the flesh of the lineage of David, established according to the Holy Spirit, Son of God with power through his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:1-4; 8:11).
The Spirit reveals and makes us see the humanity of Jesus. At the same time, he attests to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that in every human being Jesus reveals the Father. He is the Word, the Word of the Father; he took flesh and pitched his tent among us (Jn 1:14). The Word enlightens the new humanity. The bond of union, the bond of family, is no longer flesh and blood; it is the Spirit and faith: "But to those who have received him, to those who believe in his name, he has given the power to become children of God. These were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1:1213; 3:5-7).
As we have said, the Spirit makes the risen Jesus present and guarantees his continued presence in the world: "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another paraclete who will be with you always. He is the Spirit of truth... I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you..." (Jn 14:16-20). This presence of Jesus through the Spirit is particularly clear and close in the Eucharist. Through his action, the Spirit makes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord, and constantly offers it to us as food for life. "Sanctify these offerings by pouring out your Spirit upon them; may they become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord" (Eucharistic Prayer II). In the fourth Gospel, the conclusion of the Eucharistic discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum confirms that the Spirit in Jesus acts as a principle of life and transformation; for us, Jesus becomes the bread of life, the food of eternal life: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6:63).
The Spirit reveals to us that Jesus is the Word who, from the beginning, was turned towards God, that he is God, and that he has set up his tent among us (Jn 1:1-2, 14). This is not just any word, but a living word, a word that is a person and that expresses to us perfectly who God is: "No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him to us" (Jn 1:18). This clear, transparent, definitive word that God speaks to all mankind is his Son: "After God had spoken to the fathers in the prophets many times and in many ways in the past, he has now, in this final age, spoken to us in a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds" (Heb 1:1-2).
We have briefly outlined the action of the Spirit in the Son, the Word made flesh, the Word of the Father, who reveals to us the love and communion within the Trinitarian family. The Spirit is the one who reminds us of Jesus' words and leads us to a true knowledge of the Son through faith: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak what he hears and will communicate to you everything that is to come" (Jn 16:13).
2 - The action of the Holy Spirit in Scripture
Everything we have just said about the action of the Holy Spirit in the Word made flesh, in the living and personal Word of the Father, is realised in a similar way in Sacred Scripture, the written word. Scripture becomes the Word of God under the action of the Holy Spirit. This same action of the Spirit continues to animate, very present, what we can call the whole process of the gestation of Scripture: it comes as a continuation and an extension of the Incarnation; its blossoming is the inspiration of the sacred books. But we are not going to develop this theme here.
It is the Spirit who guarantees the continuity between, on the one hand, the Word, the definitive Word of the Father, and, on the other, the witness given to him by the sacred books, the written word that reveals to us today the whole of God's plan for salvation.
The Holy Spirit remains active throughout the process of creating the books of the Bible. This is confirmed by the Second Vatican Council's constitution Dei Verbum: "Within the words there is a soul that inspires them and gives strength to those who approach them with faith" (cf. DV 24). "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with the same Spirit that caused it to be written" (DV 12). The true subject is not the human being, but the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who exerts a real influence on the sacred author, the reader and the interpreter. The presence of the Spirit is not confined to the definitive text that we accept as inspired, but is also manifest in the believer who reads and interprets the Word. Author, reader, interpreter, all are inhabited and animated by the Spirit.
With regard to the presence of Jesus in the whole of Scripture, Henri de Lubac expresses himself well and profoundly on the subject of this truth revealed to us by the Spirit: "It is not only the sacred books that were inspired at a given moment. The same sacred books are and remain inspired... The Spirit did not content himself with dictating Scripture, he enclosed himself within it. It is made fruitful by the miracle of the Holy Spirit".
God's words were expressed in human words; they became like human language. Just as, in another time, the Word of the eternal Father, by assuming "the flesh of human weakness", became like men.
The Word became human speech; inspired by the verb "to become incarnate", we could say that it "took hold". For this is truly the incarnation of the Word in the word: he made himself present in the vulnerable, ephemeral flesh of words, and it is through this that salvation comes. Through the humble words of Sacred Scripture, the Word speaks to us. Through the same words, we have access to the Word, the Word of God.
Epiclesis on speech
The Spirit breathes life into the written word and situates the Book in the greater amplitude of the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Church. From then on, thanks to the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is a liturgical and prophetic reality; it is a proclamation before being a book; it is the witness of the Holy Spirit to the presence of Jesus Christ as a revelation of the Father, the privileged moment of which is the Eucharist.
The proclamation of the Word of God contained in Scripture is an action of the Spirit: just as in the past he worked to make the Word a book through inspiration, now in the liturgy he transforms the book into the Word, making it the loving presence of the Father who meets his children to speak with them (DV 21).
Hence the close relationship that is established between the Word and the Eucharist; we must continue to deepen it, as Saint Jerome warns us; we will also find an echo of this in Antoine Chevrier, as we will point out later. The Flesh of the Lord, true food, and his Blood, true drink, are the true good that is reserved for us in the present life: to nourish ourselves with his Flesh and drink his Blood, not only in the Eucharist but also in the reading of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, the Word of God is true food and true drink, which we obtain through the knowledge of the Scriptures.
For the written Word to be the living Word of God, an epiclesis is needed: Holy Tradition is the epiclesis of Salvation History, it is the theophany of the Holy Spirit, without which history remains incomprehensible and Scripture a dead letter. Just as the Church invokes the Spirit to bring about the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, so too the Church invokes the Spirit and receives his help in Tradition, so that Scripture may find new life and become the living and effective Word of God at every moment in the life of the Church.
The Word of God does not remain fossilised in the Bible. It waits and rests in the Bible, but it is not petrified; nor is it an inert, naturalised animal; nor is it necrotic in a printed book. You could say that it "sleeps". It is waiting for the power of God to awaken it. As we have just said, it needs an epiclesis - an invocation made to the Spirit - that gives it life and transforms it. Without this epiclesis, the Word remains asleep, it does not awaken.
The intelligence of faith
It is only in faith that we can welcome and understand all this action of the Spirit who reveals and gives life. To grasp what God has wanted to say to us, we need to see things from the point of view of faith; in fact, the message of divine revelation is essentially related to our deepest vocation and destiny. Underneath the words of the text, we must discover the truth of our salvation. We can only access it in the Holy Spirit: "He touches the heart of man, turning it towards God to open the eyes of his soul, and he gives everyone the profound joy of consenting to and believing in the truth" (DV 5).
The kind of relationship we can have with the Word of God is clearly determined by a vision of faith. Whenever the believer picks up the Bible and begins to read it in faith, the power and full inspirational capacity of the Holy Spirit becomes real. But if we do not read the Bible in the light of the Spirit, it is no longer a believing reading; it is a reading that loses all its value and properties, a reading that is on the fringes of the faith of the Church. On the other hand, the wisdom of faith allows us to enter into the deepest meaning of the text, into a word that is truly charged with revelation. Saint Gregory the Great speaks to us of the need for this wisdom, for what we call the intelligence of faith: "The words of God absolutely cannot be penetrated without this wisdom, for if anyone has not received the Spirit of God, he can in no way understand the words of God".
The believer is first and foremost someone who listens. This is what identifies the true believer who has accepted the words and commandments of the Lord: "Listen, Israel! God calls us to listen with the ear of our heart. Those who listen in this way acknowledge the presence of the one who is speaking to them and who wishes to engage with them; they seek a space within themselves so that the other can dwell within them. From all this emerges the anthropological figure that the Bible wishes to construct, that of the man capable of listening (1 Kings 3:9). But this listening is not simply hearing biblical phrases, it is a discernment of the Word of God that the Spirit himself brings about. This requires faith and must be done in the light of the Holy Spirit.
Listening in faith is inextricably linked to prayer. Whether in the liturgy, in a group or individually, the reading of the Bible must always be accompanied by prayer, and this will be our response in dialogue with the Word that God addresses to us: "Prayer - let us remember - must accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture in order to establish a dialogue between God and man, for it is to him that we address ourselves when we pray; it is to him that we listen when we read his words" (DV 25). This is why it is necessary for silence to extend beyond words. The Holy Spirit helps us to know and understand the Word of God by silently uniting himself with our own spirit (Rom 8:26-27). To arrive at a fully valid interpretation of the words inspired by the Spirit, we must allow ourselves to be guided by him; and to do this, it is essential to pray, to pray a lot, to ask in prayer for the inner light of the Holy Spirit, and then to accept this prayer obediently.
Prayer becomes openness, welcome and adoration. In it, there is room for adoration of the Word, for prayer in faith and on our knees. Indeed, our reading of the Bible is an encounter with a text that is like holy ground where God dwells. Faced with the holiness of the text of the Bible, the believing reader must "leave his sandals", as Moses did before the mystery of the burning bush; all he has to do is listen to the one who is speaking to him.
The Spirit acts in such a way that Scripture is not simply a printed text but a revelation from God. The primordial place and principal role of the Spirit in no way diminish the contribution of the human sciences when it comes to understanding the profound meaning of the Word of God. Thus a spiritual understanding of Scripture presupposes a demanding commitment to the study of the biblical sciences, since spiritual understanding must never be separated from exegetical research. Faith does not dispense from conscientious and serious work. On the contrary, it demands it imperatively, it requires it as a matter of urgency. However, we cannot forget that an understanding of faith is necessary to penetrate the meaning of the words of Sacred Scripture.
It is in the Word of God that the Church finds the proclamation of its identity, the grace of its conversion, its sending out on mission, the absolute rule of faith. This is why this Word, enlivened by the Spirit, is above all a Word that is meditated on, studied, prayed over and celebrated, nourishing and articulating the life of the Church.
Antoine Chevrier is part of the rich tradition of so many witnesses to the Gospel who read and studied the Word of God in the light of the Spirit. This is the source that inspired, laid the foundations for and sustained the mission and work of Prado. It was in listening to and studying Our Lord that Prado was born.
II - THE STUDY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, A SPIRITUAL STUDY
So far we have tried to highlight the action of the Holy Spirit in Jesus, the Word made flesh, the definitive Word of the Father, and then his action in Scripture, the written, living and actual Word of God. All this reflection amounts to laying the foundations on which the Gospel Study is based and structured, both in the experience of Antoine Chevrier and in the praxis of Prado, with the same fidelity to the rich tradition of the Church which reads Sacred Scripture in the breath and light of the Spirit.
All the dynamism, all the creative and life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit in the Word and in Scripture are present and present in Gospel study; we call it "spiritual study of the Gospel", that is, study done in the Holy Spirit.
1 - Spiritual study
The expression "Study of our Lord Jesus Christ" is used repeatedly by Father Chevrier. He took it from the Imitation of Jesus Christ.
In this case, the word "study" does not have a scholastic or purely intellectual meaning. It is a study that must involve the intellect, of course, but that attaches more importance to the affective dimension, to the reasons of the heart, to love. Rather than an obligation, this study responds to an inner attraction, it is a true passion. For Père Chevrier, the word "study" takes on connotations of wholehearted attachment, taste and zeal. In this study, we find the greatest joy and, as a result, we devote our time and care to it. Knowledge of Jesus Christ is Father Chevrier's passion. It is a study that is born of love, that develops in love and that ends in love. The Spirit produces knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Father Chevrier does not speak of a spiritual study of the Gospel. Usually, he speaks rather of the "Study of Jesus Christ", but he establishes a close relationship between the study of the Gospel, the study of the words of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who unveils the mysteries of God and reveals them to mankind. Father Chevrier affirms this in a Gospel study on the Holy Spirit, and he backs up this assertion with a text from the letter to the Ephesians: "As you read this, you can see what an understanding I have of the mystery of Christ. God did not make this mystery known to men of past generations as he has now revealed it through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets" (Eph 3:4-5).
Antoine Chevrier experienced that the Spirit is in the Gospel, in the words of Jesus Christ. Scripture is inhabited by the Holy Spirit, who makes it the word of the living and present Christ, a letter written for us in our hearts. This is why the disciple and the apostle must study the Gospel in order to know Jesus Christ and to love him: "The spirit of Jesus Christ is found above all in the word of Our Lord. The study of the holy Gospel, the words and actions of Jesus Christ, that is all our study, that is what we must seek to know and understand" (Yves Musset: le Christ du Père Chevrier, p.40). For that very reason, it must be a continual and constant task to initiate and grow in this knowledge, in the intelligence of the faith.
As we have already noted, the Scriptures are the work of the Spirit. In studying the Gospel, we welcome the witness of the Spirit and entrust ourselves to him to guide our whole existence as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ. We study the Scriptures under the light and action of the Holy Spirit (it is a "spiritual" study) in such a way that our search is not centred on a message or a book, but on the person of the Word who is revealed in the words and actions of the Scriptures: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you to the whole truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak what he hears and will communicate to you everything that is to come. He will glorify me because he will receive what is mine and will communicate it to you" (Jn 16:13-14). Spiritual study of the Gospel in accordance with Christ.
A true disciple of Jesus is someone who has been taken over by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit leads him to knowledge and full communion with Jesus Christ, until the disciple comes to think and act like Jesus Christ, until he is one with him. "The disciple of Jesus Christ is a man who is filled with the spirit of his Master, who thinks like his Master, who follows him in everything and everywhere... This spirit is poured out in the Holy Gospel" (VD 510). To cultivate this grace, this spiritual study, is to open our whole lives to the Holy Spirit, who forms Jesus Christ in us, just as through the Incarnation he formed Jesus in Mary. The Spirit's action and presence is neither spectacular nor visible; it is simple and discreet. It is hidden in history and in writing. This is why Father Chevrier refers us to the Scriptures; the Spirit is always present there to communicate himself to those who listen to or read them, united to the faith of the Church. Enlivened by the Spirit, the disciple enters into a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. In this way, they allow themselves to be recreated in their actions by the same Spirit who leads them to knowledge and communion with Christ himself.
This spiritual study of Scripture is always carried out in the faith of the Church. Without the Spirit, we cannot be conformed to Jesus Christ, any more than there can be apostolic witness. The Holy Spirit is the soul, the source of a new incarnation of the Word in our spirit through inspired Scripture, which reveals and makes present the One sent by the Father in the community of believers. This study of the Scriptures is the foundation of the witness of the dead and risen Christ, and leads us to discern everything, to see everything and to read everything from his point of view: "We do not speak of these things in the language of human wisdom, but in the language of the Spirit (...) for they are judged spiritually. The spiritual man judges everything and is judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord to teach him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:13-16).
To possess the Spirit or allow ourselves to be invested by him, the way passes through the person of the Word contemplated in the Scriptures. The reading and assiduous study of the Scriptures are fundamental to the life of the disciple and the apostle; they cannot be merely occasional. So it's not a question of frequenting the Gospel from time to time, but of letting the hand of the Spirit submerge us in the deep waters of the Gospel.
"First of all, we must read and reread the Holy Gospel, immerse ourselves in it, study it, know it by heart, study every word, every action, in order to grasp its meaning and pass it on to our own thoughts and actions. It is in daily prayer that we must make this study and that we must make Jesus Christ a part of our lives" (VD 227). As Father Chevrier reminds us and testifies, there is a strong interaction between the study of the Gospel and prayer; both call to each other and make each other fruitful. Another fruit of this interaction is the conversion that comes from an encounter with Jesus Christ, when we let ourselves be led by the Spirit. He is the soul of this study, which brings us into struggle and confrontation with our own spirit and with the spirit of the world: "Who are those who have the spirit of God? They are those who have prayed a lot and asked for it for a long time. They are those who have long studied the Holy Gospel, the words and actions of Our Lord, who have long worked to reform in themselves what is opposed to the spirit of Our Lord" (VD 227).
The spiritual study of the Gospel leads us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, to a personal encounter with him, and this is what enables us to enter into a relationship of dialogue with Jesus as our contemporary. Moreover, this experience of encounter is the soul of mission. Through the study of the Gospel, and as he did with Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, the Spirit urges us to go to the poor, to make their lives our own and to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to them. This is why, we repeat once again, the study of the Scriptures is the study of the person of Jesus Christ; not a search to accumulate information about Jesus, but a search for communion so as to become one with Christ. This is reflected in the apostle Paul's experience of the new knowledge of Jesus Christ: "I live, but it is no longer I, but Christ lives in me. For my present life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me" (Gal 2:20).
2 The Study of Our Lord Jesus Christ
We have already indicated that this expression does not come from Father Chevrier. He took it from the "Imitation of Jesus Christ" when he was a theology student. It would later appear and be repeated in his writings.
In Father Chevrier's time, as in Europe today, religious ignorance and ignorance of Jesus Christ were widespread, especially among the working class who were emerging from the beginnings of the industrial revolution. This marked Antoine Chevrier's life and challenged the way he exercised his ministry. For him, knowing Jesus Christ was everything. Consequently, what is essential in the life of a Christian, in the life of a priest, is to study Jesus Christ in order to come to know him.
But this study is not intellectual, academic or investigative. The objective is not information, but knowledge of a person: it is that Christ takes shape in those who seek him through the knowledge of faith. This search is not centred on a doctrine or a book, but on Jesus Christ, who is revealed in the words and actions recorded in Scripture. This study also has to do with love, because love evokes presence; it evokes communion with the person we love.
For Chevrier, this study originated in his contemplation of Jesus Christ. His whole life was marked by his experience of the grace of Christmas 1856, that is, his contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation. This was the source of his constant eagerness to make the One sent by the Father known to everyone. This was to be his great work: to know Jesus Christ in order to make him known. "Are we not here for this and this alone: to know Jesus Christ and his Father, and to make him known to others?
Before the grace of Christmas 1856, there is no Gospel Study in the writings of Father Chevrier. The Study of Jesus Christ therefore has a mystical and apostolic origin, the grace of Christmas. Without the special light contemplated in the mystery of the Incarnation, we could not explain his admirable and surprising way of commenting on Saint John's Prologue: "The Word became flesh".
The Study of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist
"Studying Jesus Christ in his mortal life, in his Eucharistic life, will be my entire study" (1st Regulations 1857).
It is significant that Father Chevrier's first Gospel Study is preceded by a study of the Eucharist. This is how Jesus Christ unites himself to us, and we to him. This shows us that the study and knowledge of Jesus Christ are realised not only in the Gospels (in the Scriptures), but also in the sacramental life.
Like Antoine Chevrier, we too are called to study, get to know and seek Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, in its celebration and in adoration before the tabernacle. "The tabernacle is the place where the disciple of Christ is invited to faith, to adoration, to a loving heart to heart" (Yves Musset: le Christ du Père Chevrier p.79). This contemplation and this space for study fit in well with Father Chevrier's spirituality, which has its source in the mystery of the Incarnation: the Eucharist is like "an extension of the divine Incarnation. In the Incarnation, he changes himself in us. In the Eucharist, he changes us into himself" (Ms 7,1).
This study by Father Chevrier on the Eucharist emphasises union with Jesus Christ and love, which brings us back to one of the most specific features of Father Chevrier's spirituality: imitation of Christ, our model. "We become the brothers of Jesus Christ, since we are united to him by the same thoughts and his blood flows through us in the holy Eucharist" (Ms 11,2). "We are his outer life and he is our inner life" (Ms 9,4j). In faith we eat and drink the Word made flesh at the table of the Word and in the breaking of the bread. In our daily lives, we need to be aware of the continuous relationship between our study of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist.
The "Rules of Life" of 1857 focused above all on the imitation of Jesus Christ, whom Father Chevrier considered to be the model to follow. It is indebted to the theology and spirituality of its time. However, we must be able to read beyond certain formulations or expressions, and look beyond what Father Chevrier had in mind. When he speaks of imitating and taking Jesus as a model, it is not a question of copying a model from the outside. That is why, in the same "Rules", he expresses himself in the form of a prayer: "Make me so like you, so conformed to you, that I am one with you, that I am truly and worthily your representative on earth...". The true meaning of the word imitation is communion, union with Christ. Jesus Christ is the model because he is within us, he dwells within us and it is he who models us in his image. Knowing Christ has the effect of uniting us and identifying us with Christ himself, of transforming us into Christ. Behind the imitation of Jesus Christ, there is a sacramental dimension. The living and active presence of Christ, together with his brothers and sisters, brings everything to the Father in each of us and through us.
The study of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is united to the study of Jesus Christ in his mortal life, in the witness which the Scriptures offer us of him under the action of the Holy Spirit. The study of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
The Study of Our Lord Jesus Christ takes place above all in the Scriptures, in the Gospels, since it is there that we encounter Jesus Christ. As we have already said, this science of great value, this study, is "spiritual": "The spirit of Jesus Christ is found above all in the word of Our Lord. The study of the holy Gospel, the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, this is all our study, this is what we must seek to know and understand...". (Ms 10,24a). This is why this study must be preferred to other studies which, while also necessary, are of lesser importance. "No study or science should be preferred to this one. It is the most necessary, the most useful, the most important, especially for anyone who wants to be a priest, his disciple, because this knowledge alone can make priests" (VD 113).
This study, carried out under the action of the Holy Spirit, is what produces true knowledge of Jesus Christ and moulds a being conformed to Jesus Christ: "I asked Our Lord, and I still ask him every day, that you be filled with his spirit, that the study of Jesus Christ be for you a study dear to your hearts, that your whole desire be to conform your life to that of the Master" (Letter 80).
In The True Disciple there is a very beautiful formula for expressing what Gospel study is, and what it should be for us: "Filled with the Holy Spirit... study the Gospel to conform our life to that of Jesus Christ" (cf. VD 225). We study the Gospel, not in order to know what Jesus Christ did, not in order to know his doctrine and therefore to see what we should do. If we enter into the Gospel only to discover what Jesus did and to follow in his footsteps, our relationship with Christ will remain one of voluntarism, and he will be no more than a figure from the past. The study to which Father Chevrier invites us is at a much deeper level. He wants Jesus Christ to pass through us, to dwell in us, to dwell in our hearts through faith, and for the Spirit to form the whole Christ in us. We cannot be content simply to reproduce some of Jesus' attitudes and actions.
This study is a real work of research, a systematic investigation that we have to do with perseverance every day, because it is our first work, the one that allows us to develop who we are, our identity. To do this, this study requires us to let go of our own minds and our own wills in order to welcome and make ourselves available to the Spirit of God and to what he wants to reveal to us. Researching and investigating the Scriptures requires us to step outside ourselves to enter into what is unknown to human thought; it also requires us to allow ourselves to be led, even without understanding, as Mary did (Lk 1:29-34). We do this Gospel study in the attitude of the poor and the condition of the needy who seek to receive life, true wisdom, and who make themselves available to welcome God's gift. In Gospel study, we do not seek to understand everything, but we want to give ourselves to the person of the Word. That's why this study cannot be something we do occasionally or as and when we have the time. On the contrary, it is a very important part of our ministry, something as daily as eating. This study is the measure of our attachment and our love for Jesus Christ; but it is also the measure of our dedication to the mission, which is Christ's mission, not ours...
Gospel study requires the same perseverance and assiduity as prayer; indeed, the two are closely related. "First of all, we must read and reread the Holy Gospel, immerse ourselves in it, study it, know it by heart, study every word, every action, in order to grasp its meaning and pass it on to our thoughts and actions. It is in daily prayer that we must make this study and that we must make Jesus Christ a part of our lives" (VD 227). Prayer and Gospel study are mutually fruitful. That is why Father Chevrier added the need for prayer to the need for study in order to know Jesus Christ. He himself prayed and entered into a relationship with the Master he wished to know. The prayer "O Word, O Christ" comes at the end of the Gospel Study on the titles of Jesus Christ (VD 108). This was Antoine Chevrier's experience, but it was also that of many pradotists. It is undoubtedly for all of us a call that shows us the way to do Gospel Study. "Prayer should not be a matter of idle talk or mysticism. The life and words of Jesus Christ must be its essential foundation... Even in prayer, the knowledge of Our Lord must come first... The basis of prayer is the study of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ms 9,2d).
The knowledge of Jesus Christ of which Antoine Chevrier speaks is that of faith. In the Scriptures, God in person comes to meet us to communicate and enter into a loving dialogue with us. Gospel study is therefore first and foremost an experience of faith: it starts from faith, develops in faith and increases faith. We need to pay attention to this dimension that puts us in an attitude of listening, of trust in the word that is addressed to us. Father Chevrier himself serves as our guide in this type of Gospel Study, which aims to nourish and increase our faith. He ends his Gospel Study on the divinity of Jesus Christ with this statement, which should always be present on the horizon of our own Gospel Study: "Do not forget the great act of faith in Jesus Christ, Word and Son of God" (VD 82).
The knowledge and study of Our Lord Jesus Christ must cover the whole of the Scriptures because, as we have already said, all the Scriptures speak of Jesus Christ and all are inhabited by the Word of the Father. "Totality" does not mean encyclopaedic knowledge or an accumulation of information on the texts or books of the Bible. "Totality" refers to the fundamental core from which the mystery of Christ, the Word made flesh, is understood and explained. The centre of the Scriptures is the Word, the one who comes in the flesh to save mankind. From this light, people, with their intelligence and freedom, can understand all the questions and mysteries that affect their lives.
The Scriptures are what the Lord has given us and placed in our hands so that we can know him and live our lives in the way of the Covenant. In this communication and revelation, the Word made flesh becomes the most explicit word available to us, a word of revelation that is communicated through the Scriptures inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, if we want to know Jesus Christ, we must know and study the Scriptures. This is what Saint Jerome reminds us: "To ignore the Scriptures is to ignore Christ". But let's be very aware that this is a study enlightened and guided by the Spirit; this is what enables us, starting from the book, to enter into a relationship with the Word made flesh, the Son of God, the living Word of the Father. "Word is the name of the Son of God. It means Word. God sent his Word, that is to say his Word, who took on our humanity to instruct us and make known to us the law and the will of the Father... He is for us like a living letter in which we must read the will of the Most High... How carefully must we read this letter sent from heaven!" (Ms 5,27).
The Gospel Study is part of the Church's tradition of reading the Scriptures in the light of the Spirit, who presents them to us today as a living and current word, presenting Jesus Christ as our contemporary.
The action of the Spirit in the Incarnation of the Word, his action in the Scriptures as the living word of God, continues in the Gospel Study through which we come to know Jesus Christ and enter into communion with him.
It is always the Holy Spirit who animates and guides the Study of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We must do this study both in the Eucharist and in the Scriptures. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we invoke the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
In the same way, in our Study of the Gospel, we have to make an epiclesis, an invocation to the Holy Spirit, so that the word of Scripture becomes revelation and presence of the living Word, of the risen Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true food just like the Eucharistic bread.
We must always study the Gospel in prayer and in faith. Its purpose is to lead us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. In other words, we do Gospel Study to establish a real dialogue with the Lord, a personal relationship with Jesus, and this will be the impetus that will energise our life, our mission, the incarnation and the commitment that we will be able to live in the midst of the world. To do this, a knowledge of the Scriptures that remains on the outside is insufficient. This is what the fourth Gospel shows us in Jesus' dialogue with the Jews, who scrutinised the Scriptures and thought they knew them. The revelation of the Spirit and faith are necessary. "The word of the Father does not abide in you, because you do not believe in him whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think you will gain eternal life through them. They are the ones that testify about me. And you do not want to come to me in order to have eternal life" (Jn 5:38-40; cf. 5:46-47).
At the centre of Gospel Study is the person of Jesus Christ. I enter into this Study with the intention of being conformed to him, to follow him confidently and unconditionally until I become one with him. Therefore, the purpose of my Gospel Study is not what I must do, nor is it to go in search of what I need; my purpose is to be recreated by the living and effective Word of God, to walk guided by the Spirit who has the power to bring true life and to nourish our existence and witness. By communicating and centring our lives on the person of Jesus Christ, we will be led to see everything from his point of view. For the believer, for the apostle, more than the Gospel, more than justice, more than freedom, more than love... what really exists is Jesus Christ, who is our justice, our freedom, our love. Centred on him, we will also live our mission and ministry from the radicality of the Gospel.
Putting Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives presupposes that we give of ourselves and strip ourselves completely in radical poverty, in the image of the poverty of the One sent by the Father, who makes nothing of himself, who says nothing of himself, and who accomplishes at every moment the will of the One who sent him. This is what it means to "know Jesus Christ": it means letting the Son penetrate and invade all that we are, by becoming one with him. As happened to Paul, we will be able to experience that he is our life, that he himself lives in us, that through us flows the life of the Son of God, eternal life (Gal 2:19-20; Jn 17:3).
Xosé Xulio RODRIGUEZ