Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
What a unique major event the people in the Lafayette, La., diocese are having to close the Jubilee Year of Mercy! But it’s also meant to be inspire new-beginnings. This event is the Jubilee of the Word Marathon — an 86-hour public-square reading of the Bible from cover to cover — Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.
The marathon reading began on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 6 am and will continue straight through until finish on Sunday night, the Feast of Christ the King, at 8 pm.
It’s all happening right now in the picturesque Square of St. Martinville, La., in front of St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church. And what better place to public proclaim the Word of God since Marathon organizer Father Michael Champagne says this is the oldest building and oldest canonical church. It dates back 251 years ago. Acadian exiles founded the parish then.
The timing is perfect. “The whole Bible is a drama of God’s mercy, a great book of God’s mercy. It’s about God continually trying to convince us of his goodness and fidelity, and calling us back to his mercy for us,” Father Champagne emphasizes. He’s the superior of the Community of Jesus Crucified based in the Lafayette, La., diocese.
He believes the extraordinary event “will do a profound good in our area and beyond.”
One of the main hopes is that this Marathon will inspire people everywhere to dust off the family Bible and begin reading the Sacred Scriptures. And living them.
People Quickly Moved
When Father Champagne contacted all 121 of the Lafayette diocese’s parishes, lectors and volunteer readers responded with great enthusiasm to fill the 259-plus time slots. Calls were still coming in as we talked the day before the Marathon began.
Some readers are non-Catholics too —ministers and lectors from Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals — who wanted to be involved.
While the reading will be in English by and large, there will be passages in French which is big in the Arcadian area, Vietnamese, Spanish, Italian, and German by different ethnic groups in the parish.
Everyone will be reading from the special large Bible Father Champagne had commissioned. He sent the 25 pound, 12-by-20 inch Bible to Rome to have Pope Francis bless it. The version is the New American Bible.
Hear and Marinate
Naturally, there are only so many readers, but there can be any number of listeners. In fact, the whole marathon is live-streaming, and people around the country can join in by watching it here. Any and everybody can watch and listen.
Father Champagne has the perfect invitation for Louisianans to come listen and absorb the Word of God. He uses a homey and colorful comparison.
“People here cook a lot,” he says. “We marinate a lot of things in sauce and leave it overnight, so we use the motif, ‘Come Marinate in the Word.’
The meal then continues because what’s marinated has to cook then be eaten for the benefit of the people dining.
Here is where Father Champagne convincingly and enthusiastically enlightens us about Sacred Scripture.
He says the diocese has strong devotion to Eucharistic adoration with many chapels having round-the-clock adoration. There Jesus is present body, blood, soul and divinity.
“But a lot of times our people are not reading the Scriptures daily as we hope they would,” Father Champagne finds. We’re looking to discern what God is asking and telling us, looking for God’s “marching orders.” This marathon will show them where to find directions.
“God’s preeminent way of speaking is through the Scriptures,” Father Champagne explains. When I want “to know what God is calling me to do in life, what God is asking, how to deal with this kid or this relationship, I pick up the Bible and read.”
God’s word that he uttered at Mount Sinai is the same he speaks to us in the most preeminent way in the Scripture, and we want to cultivate that with our people, he explains.
“We’re pushing during this event that our faith has to be lived publicly and rooted in the Word of God,” he says, “so that the Word of God and the Sacred Scriptures would be more part and parcel of our daily routine.”
So important is this to our faith life that Father Champagne doubly emphasizes, “The Scripture is something we need to hear daily.” If we do that, “we would actually be able to see how we ought to live.”
As he told a radio audience in his area a short while before the Marathon, “Marinating in God’s word, we start to think like God, desire like God, live like God.”
Plenty of Examples
Father Champagne gives one of many examples through Scripture of what happens when we’re not connected to the Word of God.
The book of Nehemiah details how the Jews came from exile after not living the Word of God. Going to rebuild the destroyed temple, in the rubble they rediscovered the Torah and had it read to them from morning till night with everybody standing at attention. Everybody ripped their garments, mourning and crying because they had forgotten these things.
“They had so far removed themselves and were living a way of life incongruent to what God was asking them,” he says. Then they had a conversion. They went back to Scripture.
In the same way, “We have to go back and recalibrate things,” he counsels. “We have to go back to the original, the source, what God is actually saying. People believe Jesus is in the Eucharist but Jesus is also present deeply in his Word.”
Father Champagne describes how God didn’t have just Isaiah’s situation in mind when he had Isaiah writing, but our situation too. When we pray and meditate, God “speaks to me through those words and gives me consolation and encouragement and directs my paths.”
We have to remember, “When God said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ 2000 years ago, Jesus had me in his mind listening to it now,” reminds Father Champagne. God saw me hearing and reading this in 2016.
“That’s the power of the Word” and “we don’t adequately grasp that. Pick up the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and we get light to our path.” Holy Spirit gives the grace to move hearts.
Hope and Nourishment
Father Champagne explains that the Fathers of the Church lived very differently because they lived in the Scriptures. And he points out “Mother Teresa says we’re supposed to become like a Living Word to one another.”
We can’t get the benefit of a meal if we don’t eat it, so likewise we can’t get the benefit of Sacred Scripture if we don’t read it, listen to it, meditate on it.
If we start to silence those truths in our lives not living Scripture, says Father Champagne, we start getting our ideas from others, defining our laws and living according to those that are not God’s laws, and we see results like redefining marriage and gender.
That doesn’t happen when we go back to God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. The Holy Spirit moves hearts. The Jews had strayed from God, been exiled, rediscovered Sacred Scripture, read it, meditated on it, put it back into their lives returning to God.
Father Champagne hopes making the Sacred Scriptures front and center in this Marathon “would start to be a point of reference for our lives so that we listen to the Scriptures, to Jesus’ teachings, to his revelation, and that starts to give light to our path and then we would act upon it...live it. Daily put it into practice and become a living Word.”
That way be can be a light to others. As he says, “People not study the Scriptures, not going to church, need us.”
One bonus is that this Marathon is taking place during National Bible Week and the 51st anniversary of Dei Verbum, Blessed Paul VI’s dogmatic constitution On Divine Revelation
On Nov. 18, 1965.
Another bonus is the fact a plenary indulgence is attached to the reading or listening to Sacred Scripture for 30 minutes, along with fulfilling the standard requirements. So people can exercise mercy by gaining the indulgence and offering it for deceased loved ones and other departed souls by listening to the Word of God and fulfilling the other requirements.
What Lectors Say
What do some of the readers proclaiming the Scriptures in the Jubilee of the Word Marathon think about being a lector in this event? Three shared their thoughts.
"It's like I really wanted to be here for opening of Jubilee of the Word Marathon to grow in the Spirit of the Bible, to help build the closeness of the community...to experience the grace of fellowship,” Herb Boudreaux said.
“It was uplifting and also overpowering while proclaiming [the Scriptures] in public,” he added. “It was such a wonderful Year of Mercy...experience[d] through pilgrimages and the 'holy doors'... feeling the grace of God's mercy [in this Jubilee]."
Lisa Schmidt commented, "Reading the Bible again just reminds you how important and rejuvenating it is to read always. Scripture is eternal like God because it is alive... [I am] sorry Jubilee [Year] is over, even though I participated...I wish it would never end, but I do believe in God's heart this mercy is always available. It really isn't over; always been there. Made me realize He can't hold back His mercy and really [it] never ends. It took Jubilee to realize He wants to pour [out] His mercy..."
Elaine Karam shared this thought. "This year [we] focused on the Gospel of joy...[The] focus on Jubilee caught up in Pope Francis asking us to be merciful and humble. Made us more aware of Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy and made them come alive in my life. Prayed Holy Spirit would work through me while reading and whatever message He want received would be received."