We are a people of the Book! Believing that God speaks to us most profoundly through his Word, we hold the Sacred Scriptures, both the Jewish texts of the Old Testament and the Christian writings of the New Testament, to be the source of God’s revelation to us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” #102. In the Bible, we come to know who God is, the depths of his love and mercy, his plan of salvation and the meaning and purpose of our own lives.
The Bible is more like a library than a book, its texts written over the course of different centuries, formulated by various authors and communities, reflecting a fascinating array of insights, beliefs and events. In its pages, we discover theology, poetry, history, prophecy, proverbs, letters, apocalyptic visions and Gospel proclamation.
Although it is the Word of God, the Bible did not simply drop from heaven as a ready-made guidebook for life. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the preaching of prophets, the testimony of apostles, the varied human experience of God acting in general history and personal events, a multitude of authors wrote compilations of oftentimes complex oral traditions. Paul was preaching the Gospel of Christ, for example, before the Gospels were ever written. Imagine how difficult and exciting that was!
In its interpretation of the Scriptures, the Catholic Church avoids two extremes – biblical literalism and reductionism. Some folks take every word of the Bible as historically and scientifically literal, expecting the texts to answer questions that were perhaps not even in the minds of the authors.
The creation texts of Genesis speak profound theological truths – God made all that exists and it is good, man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, there was no sin or evil in the beginning, but there was human freedom.
But the complex questions that science raises about the details of the origin of the universe and the earth cannot be answered in precise detail from the Scriptures. They were not meant to.
On the other extreme, some reduce the whole Bible to a literary narrative, divorced from history and authenticity. They would raise doubts concerning the reality of Jesus’ miracles, the source of his quoted discourses in the Gospels and even whether he actually rose from the grave in his physical body.
The Catholic Church holds to the Sacred Scriptures as the source of her nourishment and strength, acknowledging the complexity of the texts’ origins but affirming them as the normative revelation of how God has entered into human history and experience, revealing his love, salvation and mercy, first to the Jewish people through the Covenant and then to everyone through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
St. Jerome famously said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. So how can we come to a deeper intimacy with the incarnate Word through the written and proclaimed Word? Throughout the history of the church, many believers have practiced lectio divina – literally meaning “divine reading.”
Here is a way we can embrace this spiritual practice. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can easily read and pray. Spend a few minutes in prayer, quieting your racing thoughts and stressed body. Some deep breathing helps.
Select a Scripture passage; it could be the Gospel reading for Mass today or perhaps you could pray over Mark’s Gospel in a sequential way. Read the text slowly and prayerfully several times. Ask the Lord to speak to you through his Word. Is there a phrase, an image, a particular word, an idea that jumps out at you?
Pray over that gift of God’s revelation, think about it, let your mind and heart expand in meditating on how this nugget of God’s Word to you is acting in the events of your life and in the people around you. Finally, are there any resolutions to action, change, or conversion that arise within as a result of this meditation?
Nuns and monks in monasteries, as well as thousands of people “in the world,” practice this lectio divina every day and have found how life-changing a regular, deep and prayerful encounter with God’s Word can be.
One of the fruits of Vatican II is a renewed and deepened appreciation for the Sacred Scriptures, as the Word is proclaimed in the celebration of every sacrament, opened up in the gathering of countless prayer groups, Bible studies and spiritual gatherings, and used as the centerpiece of personal prayer.
This Year of Faith presents a golden opportunity to deepen our knowledge and love of the Bible. Imagine if everyone had the Scriptures as close at hand as the cellphone, that we would turn to the Sacred Word as often as we text. Just think of the Bible as God’s inspired and enduring text in which he says everything that he has ever wanted to say, because he speaks his Word, his Son, his Jesus to us.