Q: How does ‘The Bible’ series showing on the History Channel rate?

A: The TV series, “The Bible,” certainly has received a lot of attention. So my first reaction is that any time religion is viewed in a positive light on TV it is a good thing. I have only watched a couple of the episodes so far, but I have many of the other episodes on my DVR waiting to be watched.

The series is an attempt to bring the Bible to life. At the very beginning of each episode, there is a disclaimer, “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the Book. Some scenes contain violence. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Most people do not even notice this disclaimer, but it is important to point out, because these shows are an interpretation of Bible stories. They are not necessarily factual or truly accurate as to what happened. The stories, as presented in these episodes, are stories, not history. The details of each story are being interpreted from the eyes of the producers and director. Taken as such, these stories are meant to present a message in which we as believers can hopefully find much deeper meaning.

Let’s look at one specific example – the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. In the episode, the friends bring the paralyzed man and lower him through the roof, just like we know the Bible story to be.

But there are some slight differences from the way I’ve always known the story. I’ve always understood the story as taking place in a very crowded home; the episode presents Jesus as preaching in an outdoor courtyard area and the viewers are able to see the friends carrying the man and then lowering him into an adjacent room. I’ve always heard the story as the man being lowered on a mat and Jesus saying to the man, “Pick up your mat and walk.”

The TV episode presents the man being lowered on a rug or carpet. These are all slight differences, but they show how the story is open to interpretation and not meant to be a historical documentary.

These slight changes do not change the greater meaning. In the scene mentioned above, the message is still that Jesus is able to heal and able to forgive sins. That is the power of the Scriptures. The Bible is a living document, not meant to be a historical document. The books of the Bible were written to bring people to faith and deepen the faith of those who believe. If this series is able to do that, then it is a wonderful thing.

Helping people to believe and helping people to grow in their faith is what Jesus asked us do. To be people of evangelization, we are called to proclaim the good news for others to hear.        

Finally, the other half of the disclaimer is also something of which to be aware. The episodes contain some terrible violence. This may very well have been the way it was back then, but it still can be difficult to watch. So just like any TV show, viewer discretion is advised.

Q: How do you reach out to young adults to keep them from becoming one of the rising “Nones,” those who consider themselves to be unaffiliated with a religion?

A: One of the most important realizations that we as church must come to is that we are not the same church we once were. When I was growing up, it was a given that I would be baptized into the Catholic church and then receive all of the sacraments, because that was the way it was in my family.

I was born a Catholic, just like I was born a male, Caucasian, of German descent. I can’t change the fact that I am a white male whose great-grandparents came from Germany, so in my mind I cannot change the fact that I am Catholic.

However, many people view religion as a choice and from their perspective if they wish, they can choose “none.” While I don’t necessarily agree that religion is a choice – I believe God is the creator of all things and is present in all things – I have come to realize that many people do view religion as a choice and therefore we have to help them to decide.

How do we help young adults to decide to continue to practice their Catholic faith?

First, we remind young adults that they are an important part of the Catholic Church. For a long time they heard the message that they are the future of the church. No, the reality is that youth and young adults are the church. They are the present and the future. We all, young and old, make up the Body of Christ.  

Second, we need to find ways to engage young adults in the church. Young adults have so much to offer that they need to be invited to the table; they need to be asked to participate.

Every parish should have young adults involved in the different ministries. Young adults should be lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; there should be young adults on committees and on parish council. Young adults should be helping plan parish events and involved in human concerns. They need to be invited to engage in all aspects of parish life.

Third, we need to help all people, children, youth, young adults, adults, elders, to have a desire for God. We must all build our relationship with God, become people of prayer, and experience the love of God through service to others. Then when we know the love of God in our lives, we must share that love with others.

Our faith is a precious gift, our sacraments are special gifts; we must allow them to be alive for others to experience and then there will be a great desire to want more.

(Fr. Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, and St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point. If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a priest, email it to ruscht@archmil.org and place “Ask Fr. Jerry” in the subject line.)