Mary Kee knows the benefits of Bible study groups, which she has participated in for upwards of 20 years, usually at her home parish of St. Theresa Church in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.
She says she began to study the Bible “to better understand the Scripture passages, the readings at Sunday Mass and the daily readings, and to enhance my understanding of the faith.”
Stephen Ray, author, speaker, writer-producer-host of the DVD series The Footprints of God: The Story of Salvation From Abraham to Augustine and EWTN guest, agrees: “St. Jerome said back in the third century, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.’ You can’t say it any simpler.”
“It’s the word of God,” Ray emphasized.
He finds it ironic that people often travel the world looking for apparitions and seeking the words of God, “and right on our table, gathering dust, is the Bible. We’re trying to hear God’s word today, and what’s sitting on the table is the inspired and infallible word of God.”
Edward Sri, professor of theology at the Augustine Institute and author of The Bible Compass: A Catholic’s Guide to Navigating the Scriptures (Ascension Press), points out that all Catholics need to see sacred Scripture isn’t just a bunch of stories from a long time ago or ancient text with proverbial wisdom. “These are the inspired words of God — God speaking to each one of us through the sacred Scriptures,” he explained.
No Foreign Idea
Why might people shy away from reading and studying the Bible? Ray believes that many Catholics think that Protestants have claimed the Bible for themselves.
“In reality,” Ray (CatholicConvert.com) explained, “it’s one of the most important things that we do. This is our book. We’re the ones who wrote it and translated it. It’s our heirloom.” It should be “read in our family,” he added.
St. Jerome, whose feast day is Sept. 30, helped see to that. A doctor of the Church, he translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the Vulgate.
The Church makes sure that the Bible is not foreign to the faithful.
All Catholics going to church on Sundays “are exposed to so much of the Bible,” Sri (EdwardSri.com) said. “It’s like being part of a junior Bible study. A Catholic just showing up at Mass is exposed to the great breadth of Scripture.”
“At the same time, we should take time outside the liturgy to read the sacred Scriptures and see them as not just offering abstract theological principles, but see that this is God speaking to us today.”
He emphasizes that when God spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai and he gave them the Ten Commandments, “before they were ever put on the tablets of stone, he spoke the words on Mount Sinai to all the people, not just to Moses. All the people heard.”
“But look at the ‘Thou shall’ and ‘Thou shalt not,’” he added. “It was in the second person singular. Not in the plural ‘you’ all. … It was a personal word.”
“He might be telling me a story, but if I’m prayerfully reading the sacred Scriptures, I would sense there is something in this for me in my life today,” he continued. “There’s something God wants to show me in this word written centuries ago. These words written down continue to have life today and speak to my mind and heart today.”
The Bible for All
Don’t be intimidated by the Bible, Ray emphasized: The Bible is written for ordinary people as well as for scholars.
“The word of God rings true in your heart and mind,” he said. “You do not have to be a scholar to read the 23rd Psalm, a simple poem. David was writing simple Psalms from the heart — poetry that comes from the heart. And the Proverbs are all about oral instruction.”
“Jesus didn’t talk in high philosophical tones,” he added.
So open up your Bible.
As Sri put it, “An ordinary, faithful Catholic should be able to open it up, even if not having a master’s degree and not a lot of learning in Scripture, and they can always encounter God and be nourished spiritually by the Bible and get a lot out of it.”
He gave the example of his teaching Missionaries of Charity sisters throughout the world. Some don’t have college degrees, “but every day they spend time reading God’s words and praying over them,” he said.
“I’m moved to see how many connections they see in the Bible.” He also teaches many well-educated people, “and the sisters have a deeper sense of the sacred Scriptures with very minimal education, simply because they spend time” with God’s word.
“It doesn’t take a master’s degree to love your wife. You need to spend time with her. Jesus is our bridegroom, and he wants us to spend time with him” in his word and beyond.
Start out by reading the Gospels, Ray advised.
Next, get involved in a good Catholic Bible study. “Put a whole bunch of people together and it can become exciting,” Ray said.
Sri also counseled: “Begin with a word of prayer: ‘Help me to understand the sacred Scriptures, Lord, and be attentive to you. Send the same spirit into my heart and guide me and speak to me through these words in Scripture.’”
He also advises how to glean the most from reading a particular passage by relating what is happening to one’s own life. With the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-12), “I see Mary is the first person to notice. What does that tell me about Mary? She was attentive to the needs of other people. She has a sensitive heart looking out for others. Do I do that? Do I notice the people around me? Do I notice other people’s needs? All of a sudden, this story of 2,000 years ago is now applying to my life. Talking to God about this, I can imagine Mary and put myself in that scene. I can imagine: What if I was one of those servants and this woman comes up to me and says, ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.’ Do I do whatever the Lord tells me?’”
Results Are In
“If we don’t dig deeper and study further,” Connecticut parishioner Kee said of Bible study, “we won’t understand the passages well. And that’s really what it’s about for me.”
She finds “it’s easier to develop spiritually when you study the Bible.” She sees it as “God’s plan for us.”
She also likes to take the daily Mass readings and meditate on them while praying the Rosary: “When you study Scripture, it opens your mind to a better and deeper understanding of prayer.”
Bible study is also a nice way to meet other faith-filled people — and there’s always something to learn.
As Ray said, “The word of God is infinite.”
a Register staff writer.