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Catholic Focus: Reading Scripture

February 19, 2009
Last summer, I decided to begin reading the Bible cover to cover. Not that I hadn’t read the Bible before, of course I had – in spurts – in fact, the Bible that my Mom gave me when I left home at 16, is almost all underlined, with scribbles on the margins and falling apart. Well, it’s not almost ALL underlined (because I haven’t read all of it), but a lot of it is.
I committed to reading one chapter a day – and when that was not possible I would read 5-7 chapters a week. I made it through Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers (they say that if you can make it through Numbers, you can make it through anything). And I continued. I read, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1 and 2 Samuel. Then I started slacking (although I did take a trip through the Book of Acts and Paul’s Letters, to get me into the Year of St. Paul).
What helped is that my friend and S+L editor Marc Boudignon was also reading the Bible cover to cover. We would talk about what we read and encourage each other.
In September I began formation for the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Archdiocese of Toronto. The academic component of this program requires that we study Scripture – our first course: Introduction to the Old Testament. And so, I was renewed in my efforts to continue reading. I am now in 2 Chronicles – that’s because I had to take an aside trip through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and all the Minor Prophets (for our Introduction to the Prophets assignment) and now through the Gospels and the Book of Revelation (for our Intro to the New Testament assignment).
I'm not sharing all this to toot my own horn – but to encourage all of you to read the Bible. Catholics are, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, a people “of the Book”. And the Hebrew Testament is as much our Book as the Christian Testament. In fact, if anything, in reading from Genesis to Chronicles is that I’ve found new meaning and depth in reading the New Testament. Remember the Hebrew Testament was Jesus’ Bible.
When we hear that the Bible is the “Living Word of God”, wow is that true! The Word is alive and so relevant today to everyone, as it was when it was written. It is truly the greatest book ever written.
Which is why the theme of last year’s Synod of Bishops was “The Word of God”. At the close of the synod, Pope Benedict said the synod had helped the Church focus on the importance of Scripture, and he urged participants to return home and launch a program of Scriptural renewal in their dioceses and parishes. This is so important – and we forget – our Mass has two equal parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. So often do we emphasize the latter.
And so, when I was in Houston, at the University of St. Thomas, last Fall, I had a conversation with three students about reading Scripture. We know professors, theologians and scholars study the Bible, but I was curious to know what university students think.
Watch that conversation tonight at 7pm and 11pm ET, or catch it Sunday February 22nd at the same times, on Catholic Focus: Reading Scripture.
I also encourage you to pick up your Bible and read it. If the idea of cover to cover frightens you, then start with the Gospels (a good one to begin with is Mark), or St. Paul’s letters. Maybe read the Psalms or start with the Prophets. Or pick up a daily Missal and read the daily readings, or get your own 4-volume Breviary and do the Office of Readings. Whatever works for you – if anything I would suggest to get a Bible that has good footnotes or annotations and maybe even a study Bible. So many of those passages are hard to understand without help. That will help, but the key is to read it prayerfully and read it regularly. You won’t be disappointed. And – if you’re having difficulties, write to me – let’s help each other!

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