A Mission Moment: The Power of the Written Word

By Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J.

During Lent the Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., assistant to the president for mission integration, will share prayers and other reflections related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

This week he writes about the Fr. Timothy Brown, S.J., Reading Scholars Program, which was established to inspire inner-city fifth through eighth graders with a love of reading and a willingness to mentor younger elementary students. Each scholar reads at least 20 books and gives at least 20 volunteer hours to mentor younger children after school and receives in return a $500 scholarship toward the tuition in an inner-city Catholic school.


The Spiritual Works of Mercy invite us to instruct the ignorant and counsel the doubtful. What better way to do this than to pick up a book. St. John the Evangelist begins his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”

Words hold power. Words bring hope, peace, and strength.

My dream has always been that the Fr. Timothy Brown Reading Scholars Program will allow young readers to develop a real capacity to think, to write, and to pray as they discover the power of the word. (See a video of a few Fr. Brown Scholars reading here or here or here or here.)

Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, in his acceptance speech wrote:

I learned to read at the age of 5, in Brother Justiniano’s class at the De La Salle Academy in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is the most important thing that ever happened to me. Almost 70 years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the word in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space and allowing me to travel with Captain Nemo twenty thousand leagues under the sea, fight with d’Artagnan, Athas, Portos, and Aramis against the intrigues threatening the Queen in the days of the secretive Richelieu, or stumble through the sewers of Paris, transformed into Jean Valjean carrying Marius’s inert body on my back. Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. My mother told me the first things I wrote were continuations of the stories I read because it made me sad when they concluded or because I wanted to change their endings. And perhaps this is what I have spent my life doing without realizing it: prolonging in time, as I grew, matured and aged, the stories that filled my childhood with exaltation and adventures.

Reading the Divine Office every day is the best reading discipline that the Church has to offer.

The breviary is the official prayer book of the Church. You do not have to be a Jesuit to pick it up and pray through the Psalms and readings of the day. Through the ministry of reading the Office, you can participate in the official ministry and care of souls. You can become a pastor in your own living room from early morning to late at night. By reading and praying through the Sacred Scriptures from Matins to Compline, you can read and pray with the entire praying community throughout the day.

The Church lives in time and with time.
Reading Matins
Night—night —everything is still
The Church at prayer…
The Church’s prayer for the Second Coming…
She prayed and waited for the return of Christ as the Judge of the world.

Psalm 94
Come let us sing joyfully to the Lord;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.

Office is a beautiful way to consecrate the whole day. The day can be compared to a journey through the desert with a break every few hours to be refreshed at an oasis of Scripture.

Let us read and pray these Lenten days. Pray for the Fr. Brown Scholars. Pray for our city. Pray for our Church, our world, and for who depend on our daily Office.

Recommended Lenten Reading

1) Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home by Pope Francis
2) The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
3) Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
4) Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
5) Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver
6) The Road to Character by David Brooks
7) The Gospel of John

Find more reflections from Fr. Brown posted throughout Lent here.

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