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Catholics and the Bible

When television was still a novelty, we would watch almost anything just because it was on.
In the early 1950s, for instance, when I was only about ten years old, I watched Life Begins at 80, on which a panel of four octogenarians would answer questions mailed in by viewers.
On another show from that period, two teams of four teenagers would compete in identifying verses from the Bible.
The moderator would read a passage, and the teams would vie to be first in finding it and stating the book, chapter, and verse.
Although I watched this show every week, these kids impressed me as geeks, and Protestant geeks at that. That was the easiest way to explain why I couldn’t do what they could do.
In those days, we Catholics celebrated the Mass in Latin, so the only Scripture most of us heard in English was the Sunday Gospel.
Our religious instruction concentrated on the catechism and never delved into the Bible.
But things have changed.
While most of us Catholics still couldn’t compete with those geeks, we have been encouraged by the Church to read the Scriptures, pray with the Scriptures, and learn about the Scriptures.
A significant step in this process occurred sixty years ago when Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical letter Divino afflante Spiritu (Inspired by the Holy Spirit), calling for new translations of the Bible and encouraging critical analysis of the texts in light of advances in archeology and historical research.
Then, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council approved the document known as Dei verbum (The Word of God) which says that the Scriptures, like the Eucharist, nourish the whole life of the Church.
The Council didn’t pull any punches in expressing, in the words of St. Jerome, the importance of biblical studies for the people of God as well as for scripture scholars and theologians: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’’
There are many opportunities now for Catholics to learn about the Bible — study groups or lectures sponsored by parishes and dioceses and formal courses offered by Catholic colleges and universities.
There are also many Bible-study resources for sale at Catholic book stores and on line.
But the Church doesn’t encourage us only to study the Scriptures in an academic way, but also to experience the Scriptures through prayer and contemplation.
One means of doing this, which began in monastic life but has become increasingly popular beyond the monasteries and convents, is lectio divina, a contemplative way of praying with the Scriptures each day to attune ourselves to the voice of God in our daily lives.
Another practice that began in religious life but is now used by many lay people is The Liturgy of the Hours.
Also known as “the Divine Office,” this is the official worship prescribed by the Church for each day of the week, consisting of psalms, prayers, hymns, and both biblical and non-biblical readings.
Joining one of the small Christian communities that exist in many parishes is still another approach.
Members of small communities engage in faith sharing that includes reading and reflecting on scripture passages and seeking ways to put the word of God into practice in everyday life.
And, of course, one can simply set aside a few minutes each day to read from the Bible and mediate on what words or phrases are especially moving or meaningful.
Adopting this practice with a goal in mind, such as reading through the four Gospels, or through the books of Genesis and Exodus, or through the psalms, can be a good way to become familiar and comfortable with the Scriptures.
None of us needs to get to the point of flipping to the right page after hearing a single verse from the Bible, but all of us are welcomed and — this is important — encouraged to make a place in our often hectic lives for listening to the word of God, a word that is spoken not just for scholars but for all people.
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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