This Sunday, the third Sunday of January, we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God. Instituted by Pope Francis in 2019, this Sunday is set aside for the celebration and study of the Word of God.
If we want to love Jesus Christ, we must know Jesus Christ. And if we want to know Him, we need to know His Word. We are fortunate as Catholics to hear Scripture so frequently at Mass. But it cannot stop there. Scripture study should be an integral part of our lives as Catholics. The Church encourages the study of Scripture and desires the “children of the Church” to “become steeped in their spirit” (Dei Verbum 25).
The Sacred Scriptures are the primary way we hear the voice of God. The Second Vatican Council reminded us, “For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them…” (DV, 21)
If the Lord wants to speak to me through the Scriptures, that means I need to take time to read them. I need to set aside time to pray with them. But I also must be studying them.
Think of Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They knew the Scriptures. They likely had the Scriptures memorized. But they still needed them explained. They still needed someone to open them up for them. As do we.
It’s not enough to hear a passage of Scripture on Sunday. It’s not enough, even if your pastor actually preaches on it. We need more.
While it’s a stereotype that Catholics don’t know Scripture, it’s a stereotype for a reason. Do we hear a lot of it at Mass? Yes. But do the majority of Catholics live in the Word, live and breathe it, study it, the way our Protestant brothers and sisters do? No.
Jesus tells us how to get to know him. He says to the Scribes, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (Jn 5:39).
St Jerome, whose most famous quote reminds us that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, said that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers.” He said we must “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.”
In 1974, Pope Paul VI said the recent increase in study and use of the Scriptures by Christians was the work of the Holy Spirit: “The progress made in biblical studies, the increasing dissemination of the Sacred Scriptures, and above all the example of tradition and the interior action of the Holy Spirit are tending to cause the modern Christian to use the Bible ever increasingly as the basic prayerbook and to draw from it genuine inspiration and unsurpassable examples” (Marialis cultus, 30). And we’ve obviously seen even more growth since then.
Jeff Cavins and Father Mike Schmitz have introduced tens of thousands of people to the story of Scripture. Encouraged by the Bible in the Year podcast, Catholics realize they can simply pick up the Bible and begin reading it for themselves. But again, it is not enough to hear or read. We must study and pray.
Pope Benedict said he hoped for a flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus.” (VD 72)
It’s clear if we want to encounter Christ, we must strive to encounter Him with our minds – reading Scripture, studying Scripture, praying and meditating with Scripture.
There are lots of resources out there for you to begin. Writers like Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, and Michael Barber have made even the deeper mysteries of the Scriptures accessible to all of us. Organizations like the Augustine Institute and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology are dedicated to helping us fall in love with the Word.
Last year I began an online community for Catholics who wanted to know and pray with the Scriptures a bit better. I have worked in adult formation in the Church for over sixteen years. Much of that time has been centered upon Sacred Scriptures. Having the blessing of studying under and working for Scott Hahn, I was impacted by his desire for “biblical literacy for the laity.” After I began teaching online, I quickly found Catholics who had a deep desire to know Scripture better. They weren’t looking for heady, academic studies, but for someone who could sit down over a cup of coffee with them and answer their questions.
We are living in a time in the Church when it has never been easier to access incredible resources, studies, and courses. There are libraries full of books, an internet full of courses, and a iTunes Store full of podcasts. What makes this community a little different is that we are doing this together. Have a question? I’m in the message boards with you. I have “office hours” via Zoom. I’m ready to have the conversation, to struggle with the difficult passage, to laugh at the inside jokes, and guess what? To pray with you, too. if you’re interested in learning more, see here. If you’re interested in joining, you can do that here.)
Over the next few months, we’re going to be discussing Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini. Whether you read it with us in the community or not, I encourage you to pick up this beautiful letter. Take the rich passages to prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you read the Scriptures in the heart of the Church– in Him, the Spirit in which they were written.
But most of all, pick up those Scriptures. Pray with them. Study them. Allow Christ to speak to you through them.