Entering the Word

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Of the "legitimate" reasons I have heard from Catholics for not reading the Bible more often, one stands out. There is in a certain sector of the Catholic population a fear of "private interpretation" and of "going Luther" on the Church.

While one should not discount the possibility of this happening, one does well to put the whole thing in perspective. Luther was a highly trained religious, steeped in knowledge of the Scripture and exposed constantly to some real abuses occurring in the Church of the time. Admittedly these abuses were not necessarily pervasive, and I do not know enough history to say whether or not they were condoned by the hierarchy of the time. Nevertheless, they were enough for a man concerned about true holiness to begin to have his doubts about the Church, its laws, its rules, and its structure.

Most of the people who are concerned about this seem to live in fear of what they might find in scripture--as though just beneath the surface is a great Kraken that will drag them under and convince them that all they have known and loved since childhood is mere fairy tale. By turning the pages of this great love letter from God, the thought goes, we become progressively more fundamentalist.

Well, there's a great deal more to fundamentalism than merely turning the pages of the Bible. The Bible was "defined" by the Church and is one of the great gifts of Catholic Tradition to the world of Christians. It is true that after Luther a certain amount of suspicion accompanied the private reading of Scripture, and it did take the Church populace (if not the hierarchy) an unduly long time to get over this--in fact, many are still not over it entirely.

I'm here to tell you, as a former Baptist and a fair reader of scripture, that if you are one of the people worried about reading scripture for this reason, you will find nothing there to trick you into leaving the Catholic Church. If your faith is otherwise secure, if you aren't one of those who thinks that there's a lot of fact around The DaVinci Code, in short, if you are in the solid middle of St. Blogs, there is nothing in scripture that is going to drag you under. The Church will not suddenly transform into the Whore of Babylon and the Pope will not assume the aspect of the beast with seven heads and ten horns.

No, indeed. Proper reading of the scripture will reinforce all you already know from other sources. As a Baptist and a fundamentalist, following the rules of my own Church in the reading and interpretation of Scripture, I found that the Catholic Church had gotten it right and we had it wrong. One dip into John 6 without compromising your fundamentalist principles and you're sunk--the real presence is real, the Eucharist is not a symbol, and so forth.

"Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church," might be subject to illimitable debate in some circles, but as soon as one glances casually at the historical reality, one is struck with the harsh reality of the establishment of the Catholic Church with Peter at its head.

Scripture is filled with reconfirmations of Catholic thought and doctrine because the Catholic Church is built on the dual foundations of Scripture and Tradition. Tradition gave us the scripture, and Tradition assists us in understanding scripture.

If you follow the Church's very clear guidelines on how to read the Bible, (in short--you never read it alone because others have read it before you and all of presently defined practice comes out of understanding it with the mind of the Church) you will not travel off into the realms of private interpretation.

Surely there are problems in the Church of today. And surely the Church does sometimes fail its children in their formation and essential understandings. But the reality of the present-day situation is that we have enough books and enough guides and enough helps for reading the Bible that no one is left completely to their own resources.

In short, the "Luther" excuse for not reading the Bible every day is not a valid one. So a couple of tips for reading the Bible:(1) one may still be in the grip of fear, but pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance before starting, and trust in the Holy Spirit, the same spirit who guides and has guided the leaders of the Church throughout the ages to lead you to the truth. He will not lead you astray. (2) Don't read the Bible looking for an offensive weapon or a way to "combat" protestants, or to lead your fallen Catholic friends back to the Church. The Bible is not a weapon, proof-texting is not a profitable enterprise, wrenching Scripture from its context and applying a single verse rather than an interpretation that encompasses the whole. The Bible is a love letter. Read it as such. Stay with it. Linger over it. Read a passage time and time again. Memorize it--not to use in an argument over the veracity of this or that doctrine, but as a memento to carry with you wherever you go--as words to cherish and savor in those moments when you have nothing else to do and no Bible to hand.

Keeping these points in mind, the reading of Scripture becomes an opportunity for conversation with God, and, for a change to allow God to do most of the talking. Remember in the words of Fr. John O'Holohan, "It is not, 'Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking,' but 'Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.'" You don't need to fill up the silent spaces, you don't need to talk incessantly. Just read and spend time with the Lord in scripture. If for no other reason, read for the poor souls in purgatory--the Enchiridion of Indulgences grants a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions to anyone who spends a half-hour a day reading scripture. For less time a partial indulgence is granted. So, if you can't bring yourself to do it for yourself, offer yourself the opportunity to help those most abandoned, and longest separated from the beatific vision. With this beginning you may find that the habit of scripture reading takes hold and your whole faith life is enriched beyond your greatest expectations. That, at least, is certainly my prayer for those of your who take up this most wonderful of practices.

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Well said. The only thing additional thing that I can recommend for Catholics who feel this way is to start from the mass readings of the day, and read the full context of those passages. E.g., Jesus teaches the disciples the Our Father towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount: so today read the preceeding passages and the following passages. (This works better in Ordinary Time, when the mass readings are usually taken in order). Once you get started reading the Scriptures, they get really addictive.


Wonderful, beautiful post. Let me echo Brandon and take him a step further. Fr. Louis Bouyer in his "Introduction to the Spiritual Life" over and over again makes the point that the Liturgy IS LIVING SCRIPTURE. Scripture is primarily proclamation and teaching and all its lessons and precepts are brought to fruition in the actions of the Church. The Eucharist IS Living Scripture, so is the Sacrament of Penance and the others. So is the Liturgy of the Hours.

Our private meditations should begin here and expand outward.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 7, 2006 9:21 AM.

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