The journey of Lent, says Cardinal Vincent Nichols, is "one we take towards the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in our ceremonies and in our hearts".
His words are part of a reflection on The Incredulity of St Thomas by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano. It's one of three meditations on paintings in the National Gallery he's contributed to The God Who Speaks: The Year of the Word initiative. Launched in September 2019, the campaign is aimed at creating new and renewed encounters with Christ through the Scriptures and engaging in the public arena through evangelisation, education, the creative arts and social action.
In the background of Cima's painting, pathways lead off into the far distance – emblematic, says the cardinal, of our continuing journey "upwards towards our heavenly home". In the foreground, Thomas reaches out to touch Jesus, who stretches out a hand to welcome him. So, the Cardinal says, the risen Word of God not only stands in our midst, but "accompanies us on our journey".
Another painting chosen for the God Who Speaks programme is Masaccio's Saints Jerome and John the Baptist. 2020 was chosen for the initiative because it's the 10th anniversary of Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Word of the Lord, but also the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St Jerome. Jerome is a key figure in the campaign, with his famous lion, shown in Masaccio's painting leaning adoringly against his leg.
Reflecting on the stories in these paintings is reflecting on Scripture, and for centuries art has provided a window onto the Bible. As well as art projects across the dioceses – a podcast series from the Diocese of Leeds, for example, and meditations on Catholic artist Peter Clare's paintings in the Archdiocese of Birmingham – there's also an official artist for the God Who Speaks campaign, Pete Codling, who's creating a Byzantine-style, multi-panel work featuring Jesus, Mary, St Jerome and many other biblical figures, reflecting on how God speaks through many different people.
Art is just one of the components of a campaign that's aimed at engaging Catholics with Scripture in a deeper and more intentional way. Dioceses are being encouraged to consider how we share God's word, where there might be gaps and whether anyone is excluded, and what new opportunities there might be.
Among the initiatives already begun is the national Scripture Tour – family-friendly events around the country that include a St Jerome skydancer, worship, Bible resources, speakers, and Pete Codling and his artwork. The God Who Speaks website offers a Bible Basics guide introducing the Bible to those who might not know it well, with a reading programme and resources based on Matthew's Gospel and guides for faith-sharing groups. There's also a Scripture Seekers tab with summaries of each book of the Bible, with introductions to each of the major sections. There are resources for World Book Day on March 5, and monthly focuses helping believers share the campaign's three themes of celebrating, living and sharing God's word. Grants are available for Scripture-based projects engaging Catholics with a disability, and for projects that encourage an exploration of the Scriptures in a creative, innovative and sustainable way.
In his reflection on The Incredulity of St Thomas, Cardinal Nichols expresses the hope that Lent will be a time of "entering more deeply into the Scriptures, into the word of God, as our light and our guide and the nourishment of our spirit". The God Who Speaks is aimed at encouraging Catholics to discover more about the Bible as God's gift to them, revealing Christ and bringing life.
The God Who Speaks campaign is run in collaboration with Bible Society.