Backwards into the Future: Meditations on Letter to the Hebrews

 Fr Antony Lester, O.Carm., Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites

Backwards into the Future: Meditations on the Letter to the Hebrews, by Fr John FitzGerald, O.Carm. (Saint Albert's Press, 2005: ISBN 0-904849-30-9, 144 pages, price £8.00).

For many of us the Bible is something of a closed book. Not because of any ill-will on our part, but because we simply do not know where to start. It can seem to be very complicated and a matter best left to the experts. In part this notion comes from a time (in living memory) when we were taught that the Bible could as easily lead us astray as enlighten us. Nowadays the Church wants us to read, pray and study the Bible, as the bishops of Wales tell us in their introduction to this new book by my Carmelite brother, Fr John FitzGerald.

Fr John is a great scholar with a real gift for sharing his knowledge with people who don't have his background in study and learning. A part of the beauty of this book is the way in which John's scholarship has informed his prayer and meditation.

True learning is often marked by great simplicity and these gentle meditations on the Word of God in the Letter to the Hebrews are simple and understandable.

Fr John explains in the introduction to the book that it is not meant as a commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, (although his meditations do contain very illuminating comments). Instead, this volume offers the reader a way into the text of Hebrews in meditation and prayer. This is made easier for us by the fact that the whole of the Letter to the Hebrews is printed chapter by chapter from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. This helps the book to be useful for reflection in church, at home, or on the bus.

Many centuries ago St. Jerome wrote that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. Lent is a time when we seek to renew our relationship with Jesus and to draw nearer to him again in love.

This valuable new book can be used for individual or group reflection, and the underlying method that Fr John has used is as old as the Church itself. The practice is knows as Lectio Divina, and it is simply a way of bringing our lives and the Word of God together. The book also contains a simple Guide to Lectio Divina by another Carmelite, Fr Carlos Mesters. His simple introduction to the prayerful reading of the Bible has been used by Christians of all denominations to enable a more profound reading of the Word of God, which the Letter to the Hebrews tells us 'is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword' (Hebrews 4:12). Both Fr Carlos and Fr John draw from the ancient fount of spirituality that is Carmel, a spirituality succinctly described at the conclusion of the book.

In their foreword, Archbishop Peter Smith, Bishop Mark Jabalé, and Bishop Edwin Regan state: 'If we are to realise the insistent recall to Christian unity which is now demanded of us we will do well to ensure that we can be complimented on our knowledge of the Bible, which is indivisible in its ultimate significance from the Eucharist and the visible community of the Church as the Body of Christ.' I am happy to join them in recommending this Lenten book to the people of Wales, and to all those who wish to follow Jesus Christ, who is 'the same yesterday and today and forever.' (Hebrews 13: 1-8).

First posted YORK - 25 January 2005 - 612 words

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