Many Catholics, for one reason or the other, are ignorant or unfamiliar with the Scriptures and many Catholics often feel inadequate as to how to incorporate the reading and praying with Scripture as a regular part of their spirituality. I think that many Catholics find the Bible intimidating. You do not need to be an expert or a theologian to understand Scripture. While it is possible to misunderstand the meaning of the Bible, that’s why we have the Church, we have to remember that Scripture is God’s Word to us, and if we approach the reading of Scripture with an open heart and with humility, it is unlikely that we will go wrong. After all, we live in a marvelous time when Catholics have untold resources to help us. Here are a few:
Magnificat - a wonderful booklet/missal published monthly with the readings, reflections, explanations, stories of the saints, prayers and so much more. You can purchase this at the Rosary Book Store in Lansing.
Good News Ministries – an email resource which includes a reflection on the daily readings of Mass. On Sundays, the reflection includes questions for private and group use, sent a week early to help you prepare for next Sunday's Mass.
Lectio Divina – publication of the Ignatian Spirituality Center with a weekly guide on how to pray with the Bible. There are numerous websites using this ancient tradition of Lectio Divina, the Carmelites have one and there are many others.
Sunday Connection (Loyola Press) - a weekly email that provides useful background and activities, for children and the whole family, to better understand the Sunday's Scripture readings, helping connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.
The Question of the Week (Our Sunday Visitor) - a resource that looks at the Sunday readings, especially the Gospel, with a question based on the Sunday Gospel to reflect on.
Word on Fire Sermon Podcast (Wordonfire.org) - Bishop Robert Barron provides weekly audio podcasts of his sermon online and on iTunes.
The Catholic Children's Bible app (Saint Mary's Press) - - a great resource for children that uses images, dynamic animations, realistic sounds, and engaging interactivity to engage children with the Scriptures.
These are just a few resources. Most importantly the church fathers have over and over again emphasized the “spiritual interpretation” of Scripture. What does this mean? It means that if we read and pray with the Scriptures with an open heart and a desire to grow in holiness, the Holy Spirit will always guide us. Of course we need the Church – for she has a vast wealth of spiritual knowledge and experience throughout the ages. By remaining close to the church we will be led to the truth. Jesus promised this in the Gospels.
History - The best way to begin your journey of reading and praying with Scripture is as always, look to the beginnings, the roots of our faith. That means understanding the history and origins of how the Scriptures came about.
Of course, the Scriptures pre-date the Christian tradition. The Jewish people were the first to authorize and authoritatively gather together texts which recounted the history and Word of God to His people. We call that the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures. As Christians we inherited the sacred tradition of reading, understanding, celebrating liturgically the Scriptures.
First we must realize, that modern people tend to think of the Bible as a book, and this is such a limited way to look at the Scriptures. First and foremost the Scriptures are God’s Word to us! The Word of God is not a book, it is a person, Jesus Christ. He is the Living Word who speaks to us.
Historically the Bible wasn’t always bound between two covers. The Bible we know today took a long journey through many eras, communities, and places before it became the sacred text we recognize today. The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblia, which means “books.” This is a more accurate description of what the Bible is, a collection of many books, like a library. Each Biblical book has a unique history and took a distinctive route on its way to inclusion in the Bible.
Many authors in very different places and times, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote and edited the books that constitute the Old and New Testaments. The most well known compilation of the Scriptures is what the Jewish people call the Torah, or The Law, or the Books of Moses, since the orthodox Jews believe these first five books were written by Moses himself: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
It was centuries later that the Christian Church added to include the psalms, the books of the prophets and the other historical texts of the Old Testament and called them inspired and sacred texts, even though the Jewish people revered these texts and used them liturgically, like the psalms. In the earliest times, before they were written down, most of the stories of the Old Testament were passed on by word of mouth and kept sacred, memorized and repeated over and over in their liturgies and communities.
How did the Bible become the Bible we know today? - We cannot possibly explain every aspect of how the Bible came to be in this article, but let me focus on a few aspects. First, we must understand that the Bible is the Church’s book, it is her sacred text, and she herself brought it about. How? Well, as I explained before, the church received the Old Testament from the Jewish people – remember – the apostles were Jews and many of the early church believers were converts from Judaism. The Jewish people waited for a Messiah and when He came, they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. And so the early church looked back on the Old Testament and saw how Jesus fulfilled these texts and promises in Scripture. But even in the early church there were struggles and conflicts. Some took it upon themselves to interpret the Scriptures. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles where some believers without the authority of the apostles went out preaching that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians. How was this resolved? By the authority of the apostles and early church leaders.
Every once in a while there will be an archeological discovery of an ancient text that is contemporary with the Gospels. Many will say that the church suppressed these other texts to force their interpretation on the community. This is absolutely false. Some examples of these writings that are contemporary with the Gospel are…. The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene…. And many others were well known to the early church fathers. But they rejected them. Why? The criteria for acceptance in the Canon of Scripture (the official books of the Bible) were:
These “Apocryphal writings” or as they are sometimes called “Gnostic” writings, were rejected because:
1. They denied the material world and rejected the Incarnation.
2. They saw human sexuality as fallen and dark.
3. They often had a magical way of looking at the early life of Jesus.
4. They had a misogynistic view of women.
5. The crucifixion and resurrection were not accepted as the central parts of salvation.
6. Salvation tended not to be seen as a gift of grace, but rather as having special knowledge (the word “gnosis” is the Greek work for knowledge).
7. These Gnostic writings were not of apostolic origin.
Why did these early church fathers carry such weight of authority? Because many of them were taught by the apostles themselves or their immediate successors. So they had a direct connection to the apostles themselves and what Jesus had authoritatively passed down to them. For example, St. Irenaeus, one of the early church’s bishops and martyr, who wrote often directly to or about the Gnostic heretics was himself a disciple of the bishop and martyr St. Polycarp who himself was a disciple of St. John the Apostle.
The Canon of Scripture, the authoritative list of the Books of the Bible was confirmed at several official Councils of the Church. The Council of Hippo in 393 A.D., of Carthage in 397 A.D. and the Council of Carthage in 419 A.D.
Are the Scriptures the work of men or God? -Yes and no. In the Judeo Christian tradition we understand that God inspired men, sacred authors to write down His Word. But God did it in a human way… using the history, traditions, understanding of men at different times to write down these texts. Ultimately that is why we need an authority, the Church. The Church has been given by God the authority to speak and act in His name, always with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Diocese of Lansing wants to help you in your journey with Scripture. - During Advent we will continue to have teachings about the Bible. Bishop Boyea of Lansing is inviting all Catholics to join him in reading the Bible over the span of 365 days starting on the First Sunday of Advent. Here is how to sign up:
“I invite you to join me in reading through the Holy Bible over the course of the next 12 months, starting this Advent. Together, it will be our Year of the Bible. Each day, I will text you or e-mail you a chapter of Sacred Scripture. We will then read it and meditate upon it. Over the weeks, I’ll also invite you to events; share video reflections with you; and let you know about other Year of the Bible updates. By the end of 12 months, together, we will have made our pilgrimage together. All you have to do is pick up your cell phone and text the letters BYOB which stands for Bishop’s Year of the Bible – to 84576 OR to our Diocese of Lansing website here to sign up:
I encourage you to take up the bishop’s invitation and to learn more about the Scriptures and learn how to incorporate them into your spiritual life. God’s eternal Word, Jesus Christ, wants to speak with you. Let us all learn how to listen more deeply to Him.