Yesterday I told the story of a friend of mine who asked me about how non-Catholics memorize Scripture.
I began by offering a few techniques that I’ve used in the past for committing Bible passages to memory. I then went on to explain that, memory techniques aside, non-Catholics tend to be more familiar with Scripture simply because they make it more of a priority in their lives.
Today I’d like to take a look at the Catholic response to this…
The Catholic Response
First of all, what does the Church teach on the subject? The Catechism says:
The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures…” - CCC #133
Well, you can’t really get much more forceful than that! The Church says that “all” Catholics should get to know Jesus better through “frequent” reading of the Bible. The Catechism then goes on to sum up the Church’s position beautifully and succinctly with a quotation from one of the Church’s greatest biblical scholars, Jerome:
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” – St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah
“The Word of the Lord…”
So, the Church really wants us to become familiar with Scripture, but where do we begin?
Does this mean that we should sit down tonight and memorize Leviticus? Should we start one of those “Read the Bible in a year” plans? Should we start learning Hebrew?! Well, no, not necessarily…
Don’t get me wrong, all those things are commendable, but I would suggest that there are easier and gentler ways for Catholics to integrate Sacred Scripture into their lives, simply by building on existing things in the practice of their faith.
Here are my suggestions to practising Catholics who would like to become more familiar with Sacred Scripture:
1. Do you pray the rosary?
Yes? Brilliant! When you pray the rosary, always try and make sure you pray it with the mysteries. These mysteries are the twenty episodes from the lives of Jesus and Mary, each of which have a short Scripture passage associated with them. These are all pivotal points in Salvation History and therefore a great place to begin.
2. Do you regularly do a Holy Hour?
Yes? Brilliant! In that case I would suggest you take some Scripture in with you to Adoration. Just take a small section of Scripture and read it in front of the Blessed Sacrament:
(a) How about working through John’s Gospel bit-by-bit?
(b) How about reading the Mass Readings for the coming Sunday?
(c) How about working your way through the psalms?
In this way Scripture can be a springboard to prayer or meditation.
3. Do you say a prayer before you go to sleep?
Yes? Brilliant! How about praying a Holy Spirit-inspired psalm from the Bible as well? In fact, why not try getting into the habit of saying Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours? It doesn’t take more than ten minutes to do and it’s chock-full of Scripture.
4. Do you go to Mass on Sundays?
Yes? Brilliant! In that case, you are already being exposed to so much Scripture! Not only do you hear four readings from the Bible in the Liturgy of the Word, but virtually everything that is said at Mass, either by the priest or the people, is Scripture or a paraphrase of it. My suggestions:
(a) Before you hear the readings in the Liturgy of the Word, say a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to open your ears and to speak to you through the Word which is about to be proclaimed.
(b) After the readings, the priest will offer a homily on the Scripture you’ve just heard. This is when the Bible should be explained and applied to everyday life.
But what if you don’t find what your priest has to say very engaging? Here are some suggestions:
(i) I would invite you to pray for him! Pray for your priest, especially before he preaches. It has been said that if you want a better priest, pray for the one you’ve got…
(ii) Look for one thing in every homily which you can take away with you to enrich your spiritual life. If you really listen I am certain that you’ll find something. You never know, after a while, you might even change your opinion regarding your priest’s ability to share God’s Word.
5. Do you eat Sunday Lunch?
Yes? Brilliant! Firstly, make Sunday Lunch a tradition – it’s seriously the best meal of the week. Invite your friends over or maybe those new to the parish – it’ll be a great bonding experience.
After lunch itself is over and everyone is sitting around the table drinking tea (which I’m sure you all do), read through the Sunday Readings again together. Talk about the the parts of the homily at Mass that touched you. If your friends go to a different parish, the conversation can become even richer as they share the points upon which *their* pastor focused.
6. Do you have 15 minutes to spare in the week?
I would invite you to spend some time during week, in advance of Sunday Mass, going through the Scripture passages that you will hear at the Liturgy. As suggested earlier in this list, you could do this at your Holy Hour. Think about how much more you could bring to your Sunday lunchtime discussions with your friends!
Regular readers of this blog will know that every week, usually on Monday or Tuesday, I do a “Lectionary Notes” post. This is an entry which provides some commentary on the upcoming Sunday Mass Readings. I’m not fussed whether you use my notes or someone else’s, but commentaries can really help us engage with Scripture. If you disagree with something in the commentary or have a question, then feel free to leave a comment on the post or ask a question over at the Catholic Answers forum.
“…Thanks Be To God”
So there you go, those were my six low-impact suggestions to help deepen your familiarity, knowledge and appreciation of the Sacred Word. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a note in the comments below.
Let us be challenged and inspired by our separated brethren and take nourishment from the Word of God and, above all, make it a priority in our lives…
“And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life” - CCC #131