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In a survey conducted in nine countries in anticipation of the October Synod of Bishops on the Bible, 75% of U.S. residents interviewed said they read a Bible passage in the previous 12 months.
BY ANTHONY FLOTTREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
VATICAN CITY — It’s the Year of St.
Paul and just months before a Vatican Synod on Scripture. What better time to
start learning the Bible?
Several new Catholic groups and
projects can help.
Their help is badly needed, says the
Vatican. The working document for the Oct. 5-26 Synod of Bishops on the Bible
calls for a creative pastoral response to a growing hunger among Catholics for
the word of God.
The document, released at the
Vatican June 12, says the synod should help find ways for Catholics to better
understand Scripture — which they especially hear at Mass — and relate it to
their everyday lives, including works of justice and charity.
Pope Benedict XVI June 24 appointed
American Cardinal William Levada to help lead the synod. He also recently
addressed the Catholic Biblical Federation, which was gathering in Tanzania,
saying Christianity is the religion of the word of God, “not a written and mute
word, but incarnate and living.”
Recent polls also indicate the need
for Bible study help.
Catholics in the United States are
less likely than the population as a whole to read Scripture outside religious
services, according to the latest report from the U.S. Religious Landscape
Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Less than a quarter — 21%
of Catholics — said they read Scripture weekly, and another 21% said they do so
monthly or at least yearly.
And earlier this year, an international
study on Bible-reading practices initiated by the Catholic Biblical Federation
based in Stuttgart, Germany, also indicated a need. It was conducted for use by
bishops at this October’s Synod. It involved 20-question phone surveys (and
subsets) with 13,000 people in nine predominantly Christian countries — the
United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France, Italy,
Poland and Russia.
The Bible “is not the text of a
minority but an important point of reference present — in different degrees and
ways — in the life and culture of broad majorities of the population,” said
Luca Diotallevi, a sociology professor at the University of Roma Tre who
directed the project.
The Catechism teaches that 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.” Quoting St. Jerome, it continues, “Ignorance of the
Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (No. 133).
But, said Mark Hart, executive vice
president of Life Teen International and affectionately known as the “Bible
Geek,” most Catholics today weren’t raised reading Scripture.
“It is not as much a forgetting of
Scripture’s importance and primacy as it is an ignorance of it,” he said.
“Oftentimes, we learn the faith but not the faith’s foundation, which is rooted
in Tradition — oral and written.”
Correcting that means carving space
in our days.
“How can we make time to read the
daily papers or our e-mails and not God’s love letter to us on a daily basis?”
Calling for Help
Tim Gray, executive director of the
Catholic Biblical and Catechetical School in Denver, reports that Bible study
groups are “exploding” today. That 70% of all respondents to the Catholic
Biblical Federation survey expressed a need for help interpreting the Bible
makes sense to Gray.
“Because the Bible is so
intimidating, without having a guide or a roadmap people just don’t even want
to try,” he said.
Gray noted that Denver’s Augustine
Institute (Augustineinstitute.org) recently began a master’s program in
Scripture and that “I get more requests for people who graduate with a
Scripture degree than we have students. That’s a hopeful sign to me.”
Beginning this fall, religious,
laypeople, catechists and educators can enroll in the institute’s master’s
program via distance programming that will include online video.
For those not interested in
school-led education, aids like the popular “Bible Timeline” can help, said
Gray, giving people “a simple reading plan and big picture.”
greatadventureonline.com, “The Great Adventure Bible Timeline” and other aids
feature popular apologist Jeff Cavins. Offerings include a DVD presentation,
mnemonic devices, color-coded resources, workbooks and other aids to help
provide a “big picture of salvation history.” The website also sells study
kits, indexing tabs and book-specific studies.
Gray calls “Timeline” the “first
most effective thing I’ve seen” to get Christians reading the Bible.
Another readily available source of
help are Bible study groups. The study found that reading in groups made one
more likely to read Scripture — more so than shared religious beliefs or
Gray said that in his frequent
travels around the United States he has noticed a rise in Bible study groups in
parishes and even on college campuses.
“Twenty years ago that would be a
rare occurrence and now it’s becoming much more common,” he said.
Gray works with more than 700 adults
studying Scripture at the Catholic Biblical & Catechetical School, a
division of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and notes that “the
small group is the key part of it. [It’s] a great thing for their own spirituality
and community building.”
Added Alexander Schweitzer, Catholic
Biblical Federation general secretary: “The Bible often reflects religious
experiences, problems, questions, beliefs of groups, and is marked by a strong
social aspect. Interacting with sacred Scripture is a question of dialogue
between real life, which is never isolated, and the Word of God. Doing this in
community can add to the dialogue and reality aspect.”
Hart’s Life Teen website
(lifeteen.com) offers regular Bible Study links exploring various topics
(chastity, depression, Eucharist, etc.) designed for solo, pair or group study.
Bible verses related to the topic are presented for reading with statements and
questions eliciting further discussion. Though marketed for teens, many adults
would find the resource of help, too. Hart also offers interesting Bible facts,
a search for verses by theme, Biblical pronunciations and more.
(Catholic News Service
contributed to this
Anthony Flott is based in
Looking for more information on Bible Study programs
more information on Bible Study programs? Check out some of these Internet
sites to get started — or continue — in study of
of the Catholic Faith —
Catholic-Convert.com Like Indiana Jones? Steve Ray is the Catholic Indy. The
noted convert’s site offers various Bible Study information, including Ray’s
articles on the topics and a link to purchase his first study guide, on St.
Crossroads Initiative — Crossroadsinitiative.com Good starting point with Marcellino D’Ambrosio providing a
nice list of Catholic Bible-study tools, including ordering information.
Augustine Institute — AugustineInstitute.org Based in Denver, the Augustine Institute strives to
“provide graduate students a coherent and unified instruction in Scripture,
Catholic doctrine and history, as well as the pedagogical and leadership skills
to impart the same to others.” Online courses to be available this fall.
Adventure — GreatAdventuresOnline.com
Hard to get much better than Jeff Cavins’
well known Great Adventure, “a Catholic Bible learning system that makes the
complex simple by teaching the story of the Bible.” The site includes links to
foundational and other studies, seminars, a Bible study locator map and more.
Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology
Scott Hahn fans will dig this site, which
includes a Biblical Instruction section with links to online instruction,
courses of study, a parish-based Bible Study program and blogs from … Church
Scripture Study International — CSSProgram.net
a program “ideal for any parish or group looking for an inspiring Bible study
that is completely faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church” by drawing
on a wealth of Church resources. Resources include an “Ask the Author” forum,
maps, pictures and articles. Full-length program available on DVD.