Fifty days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost Sunday (Pentecost is Greek for “50th day”), commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. For this reason, Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Church.
Pentecost should remind Catholics to be ready to share the faith, and Bible study can come in handy. But finding a solid Catholic one isn’t always easy.
After becoming a stay-at-mom home following the birth of her second child, 35-year-old Tracy Walnoha was eager to meet some like-minded moms.
The Pittsburgh-area mother found what she was looking for in a community Bible study. For close to seven years, Walnoha met weekly with about 100 other women from various Christian churches. She even became part of the leadership team.
Born and raised Catholic, Walnoha was among a handful of other Catholic women in the Bible study. The meetings were going well — until they started to talk about the priesthood of Melchizedek.
“We were studying the Pentateuch. When I read the line about being ‘a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek,’ I thought, That’s our priesthood; they say that at Mass,” explains Walnoha.
She started questioning her fellow leaders as to why this wasn’t being addressed. Unfortunately, she didn’t get much of a response.
“They were very evasive and didn’t have an answer to it,” notes Walnoha.
So she and the other Catholics in the group started to search for a more Catholic-friendly study. After a long search on the Internet and trying a variety of Catholic Bible study programs, they found Gail Buckley’s Catholic Scripture Study.
“This was the program we had been looking for,” recalls Walnoha. “It couldn’t have been any clearer.”
Fullness of Faith
In 1994, Gail Buckley left the Methodist faith of her youth and entered the Catholic Church.
On fire for the faith and all things related to Jesus and the Bible, she was invited to a Bible Study Fellowship by a friend.
“I knew I was supposed to go. I knew the Lord wanted me to go,” says the North Carolina native.
For the next three years, Buckley faithfully attended this nondenominational Bible study. She was learning a lot and enjoyed the fellowship and prayer. However, she was also hearing snide remarks against the Catholic Church here and there.
“Most of these nondenominational churches are usually Baptist, as far as their doctrines are concerned, and their studies are usually held in Baptist churches,” explains Buckley. “So, they are not really nondenominational.”
What finally led her out of the group was a careful reading of the life of the founder of Bible Study Fellowship, Audrey Wetherell Johnson. Johnson details her life as a foreign missionary working to save all the “pagan Catholic children.”
“I felt so betrayed,” Buckley recalls. “How could I go back to that group of women? That was the sign that it was time for me to go.”
Feeling called to continue to go deeper in her knowledge of Scripture, Buckley bounced around from different Catholic Bible studies hoping to offer her expertise. However, she often found these studies to be very disappointing: “I got really upset, and I said, ‘Lord, I can do better than this, and I will start a Bible study.’”
Today, Catholic Scripture Study boasts 20,000 registered individuals with study groups in all 50 states and in 40 countries around the globe. Author and theology professor Scott Hahn and regular Register contributor Mark Shea are among the study’s authors.
“This is pretty much a Catholic version of Bible Study Fellowship. But the difference is that here we have the fullness of truth,” Buckley says. “We study the Blessed Mother, the Eucharist, purgatory, and all those things you don’t have in a Protestant Bible study.”
The program is user-friendly. With lecture notes available, the facilitator of the study does not need to be a Scripture scholar.
Go and Be Catholic
Well-known Catholic speaker, author and pilgrimage leader Steve Ray is familiar with stories like those of Walnoha and Buckley. Born and raised as a self-described Bible-alone believer before converting to Catholicism in 1994, Ray says that the idea of an interfaith Bible study is a misnomer.
“Usually the way these groups work is that while they call themselves interfaith the reality is that it is all different kind of Protestant groups such as Baptists, Methodists and Assemblies of God. Very seldom are Catholics accepted and welcomed,” explains Ray, who has authored several studies for Catholic Scripture Study.
He says that it would be hard to have a truly nondenominational Bible study due to the variety of views various denominations have relating to Scripture.
“The Catholic comes to the Bible and asks: ‘What does the Church teach about this?’” says Ray. “The evangelical comes and asks: ‘What do you think about this?’ It is more of an emotional kind of thing.”
As the Catechism notes, “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. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’” (No. 133).
Pope Benedict XVI has said that Catholics should “read the Bible regularly, to let it keep us company and guide us.”
And with good Catholic studies available, there’s no need to join elsewhere.
The benefits speak for themselves.
“There is probably not much that will change your spiritual life more than getting in a good Bible study,” shares Ray. “You get into a good Bible study and you are sharing your life, your thoughts and theology with people. You build bonds, and it becomes more of a family, and the Catholic life becomes more than just Mass for an hour on Sunday. Your life will change.”
What’s stopping you from signing up?
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Bible Study Resources
Catholic Scripture Study: CSSProgram.net
The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study: GreatAdventureOnline.com