Scripture has the power to change lives — especially when people are able to see their own stories in the pages of salvation history. So says Catholic apologist Jeff Cavins. The Catholic author points out that “after discovering God’s plan of sheer goodness in the Scriptures,” laypeople are often inspired to frequent the sacraments with greater focus and participate more fully in the life of the Church.
Cavins is president of The Great Adventure, a Catholic Bible-study system used in 2,400 parishes throughout the United States. Practical and interactive, the program helps participants follow the progression of events recorded in Scripture by presenting them in a chronological sequence. (It’s online at GreatAdventureOnline.com.)
Cavins, who is also the director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, Minn. discussed the lectio divina approach to the Bible — as well as the growth of interest in personal Bible reading among Catholics — with Karna Swanson of Zenit news service.
What is lectio divina and how important is it for the average Catholic?
Lectio divina — divine reading — is the ancient art of praying the Scriptures in a contemplative way. It first begins with reading and listening to a Scripture passage. The discipline of listening was the center of the spiritual life of the Hebrew people, as seen in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel.”
Second is meditation upon the Scripture. When a particular passage gains the attention of our heart, we begin to meditate upon it. Meditation is best understood by the image of a cow chewing its cud. We linger and ponder that which has arrested our attention.
The next is prayer, which is a loving conversation with God, where we allow his word to deeply touch our heart. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation, a quiet, wordless rest. As a husband and wife can enjoy each other’s presence without saying a word, so can the Christian enjoy the presence of God.
Lectio divina is important for Catholics because it is an accessible means of not only fostering a deep relationship with God, but of personalizing the love letter written by their heavenly Father. It is simple, intimate and fruitful.
You talk of the Bible as a story. How effective has this approach been to helping people connect with the contents of Scripture?
It has been extremely effective, as evidenced by the thousands of studies currently going on in the United States. People who have grasped the narrative story of the Bible have discovered the narrative thread to their own lives. They have come to know their story in his story, which is the true history of the universe. We have heard so many testimonies of lives that have changed. We hear of husbands and wives who are discussing the Bible with each other for the first time in their marriage.
There is a dramatic increase in Church life, both in sacramental participation and volunteerism. We have observed that many people have become leaders after discovering God’s plan of sheer goodness in the Scriptures. These are people who would otherwise not have stepped into leadership roles. It was the sheer joy of knowing God’s will that moved them to serve others.
In addition, once Catholics understand the basic story of salvation history, the systematic and organic presentation of the faith as outlined in the Catechism becomes accessible.
Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, said at the beginning of last month’s Synod on Scripture that biblical images are no longer a part of popular culture. What effect does this distance from Scripture and its stories have on the faith of Catholics?
When we lose the narrative thread of salvation history, we also lose the ability to communicate to the next generation the critical signs and symbols of faith. With an absence of biblical images, people are forced to search for and adopt new images, which most often are secular and unrelated to their true calling to be sons and daughters in a covenant relationship with God.
These secular images are popularized by a host of TV celebrities and books. Because these secular images often seem accessible and easily understood, they are adopted. Consequently, the Christian images that our grandparents understood now seem foreign and old-fashioned.
On The Great Adventure website, one sees hundreds of parish churches throughout the United States involved in Bible study. What has led to this renewed interest in the study of Scripture?
While humanity has made great strides in the areas of medicine, technology and communications, our spiritual growth has not kept pace, and people are feeling the effects of it with a palpable void in their heart. It is not a surprise to me to see our heavenly Father drawing people to the Church, the pillar and support of truth.
Now that a growing number of Bible studies are offered in the Catholic Church, people are responding with eagerness to see what God has for them. With the incredible growth of the Bible studies that we are experiencing, our attention will be given to leadership training. Most of [the] growth comes from one person telling another about their experience.
Are Catholics catching up with Protestants in their knowledge of Scripture?
From [my] perspective as a former [Protestant] pastor, the issue of biblical illiteracy and lack of understanding is not solely a Catholic problem. It may appear that our Protestant brothers and sisters understand more of the Scriptures than Catholics, but I have found that many of them know specific verses, but not the entire narrative, which leaves them with a pocket full of promises rather than a comprehensive plan.
In fact, many non-Catholics who have gone through The Great Adventure came to an understanding of the Catholic faith as they saw the plan of God revealed. They have a deeper appreciation of the Scriptures when they realize that Scripture comes from within the Church, and it is to be read and interpreted in the context of the Church.
You have created ScriptureSynod.com to help the faithful follow the recently concluded synod on the Word of God. How important is it for Catholics to have knowledge of what went on at the synod?
I think it is very important for the laity to know what the Church focused on during this historic synod for two reasons.
First, sacred Scripture speaks to how we live our lives. The laity’s response to God’s divine revelation is what the Catechism calls “the obedience of faith”: “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God” (No. 143).
Whatever the outcome of the synod, laity should be predisposed to respond in some way to the Holy Spirit’s lead.
The synod’s title itself, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” should interest the laity, because the life and the mission of the Church is our life and mission. As Catholics we do not separate ourselves from the Church when determining the direction of our own lives. What happens in Rome will manifest in our home.
Second, knowledge of what just happened in Rome offers the laity the ability, along with the synod participants, to contemplate, render thanks for, meditate upon and proclaim the Word of God. Our awareness of the happenings of the synod will enhance our participation through prayer.
The task of the interpretation of Scripture has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.