The Gospel of John begins with an amazing truth of the faith: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
All things come into existence through the power of God’s spoken Word. As Christians we listen for the Lord. We listen for truths of the faith. We look to experience God and live within Him as followers in Christ. It is the God’s word that we recognize as truth and brings us closer to Him.
Today’s Gospel reading touches on this thought as Jesus challenges the Disciples’ doubts about what he has just told them in John 6:60-69:
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
The power of God’s word is something we have regular access too, yet struggle with its mystery and purpose. The Bible is one of the most powerful tools of faith and yet one of the least utilized by those who need it most. The Bible has become another odd paradox that makes no sense as we travel down the path to Holiness that is our Catholic faith.
Through my travels in life I’ve never met an atheist with a grasp of the Bible. When challenged on my faith by someone like this I always like to ask, “What was it about reading the Bible that makes you believe God doesn’t exist?” I ask this question because I already know the answer; they have never read the Bible nor feel the need or have an interest in doing it.
Asking that question though touches on a sad reality of faith in the modern world. Faith is among a growing field of subjects in life in which an educated opinion is no longer required. Faith has been reduced to a feeling, or an attitude, formed without the need of individual self-discovery or personal experience.
This is a doubly sad truth in Catholicism. The second largest Christian denomination in the United States behind Catholicism is former Catholics. Catholics are leaving the Church at an alarming rate and usually due to disconnects on a belief that they struggle to share with the church. When speaking to people who call themselves former Catholics, I like to ask if they ever have read the Catechism? I have yet to find one that has. Sadly, I have found that even though many Catholics wish to better understand their faith, or believe they are at odds with some component of it, most of us who have read the Catechism are those who went through RCIA. The Catechism is beautifully written, easy to reference, and provides a direct understanding of the Catholic faith.
Furthermore, the same can be said of Catholics and the Bible. Yes, Catholics do read the Bible at Mass, though some may not even recognize it as such. But few Catholics come to realize the intimate personal connection with Christ that indulging oneself in God’s spoken word can provide. There are still those in the faith that believe Catholics don’t read the Bible, and even more who struggle with the idea of reading it at all because they have no reference in their life of it’s use. Finally, you have those like my wife who experienced the Bible in their Catholic School years as more of a set of books of Historical truths than as a way to grow deeper in your connection to Christ. All are successful interruptions of faith that lack a beautiful truth our protestant brothers and sisters long ago discovered.
As a former Catholic hater I can tell you when we brought in a new church member, especially a fallen away Catholic, one of the first things we would try and do with them was to get them to start reading the Bible or join a small group which incorporated Bible reading.
Because the Bible is the inspired word of God and the spoken words of Christ. We knew it would touch their hearts. We knew that they would come to know God in a new way like they never had before. We knew that sanctifying grace would pour out from the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Remarkably, this really is no different than the approach we take in encouraging men to attend CRHP or other retreat weekends. Same goal – same purpose.
Now what do I mean by Sanctifying Grace? Again, the Catechism is a great resource for this. Justification and Grace are how we experience God’s salvation. It’s man vocation of life in the Spirit. It’s how we participate in Life in Christ.
P1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism.
P1996 Our justification comes from the Grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers to the divine nature and of eternal life.
P2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act in his love. “Habitual Grace,” the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.
Or put most simply – Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy.
Find the Catechism too intimidating? Well you shouldn’t, but another great resource you should check out is DEI VERBUM, which translates as HIM. Dei Verbum is Pope John Paul VI’s encyclical on Divine Revelation. Simply, it’s the Church’s official position on several things including the Bible. It’s about 10 pages.
P7: In His gracious Goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion, commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is that source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts.The Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation in writing.
The Have’s and the Have Not’s
So why do Protestants love the Bible so much? Why is this idea of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone) so important to them? Well…outside of prayer and worship it’s what they have.
As Catholics we are blessed with the Sacraments, Prayer, Sacred Tradition, Holy Mother Church, the Liturgical Calendar, vocational purpose, and much more that we embrace to implant ourselves to a life in Christ, seek holiness, and salvation.
It’s no secret that the greatest resource Luther had at his disposal when leaving the church was the printing press. There is much he left behind when he left the church, and it is also no secret that one of Luther’s greatest loves and laments of his actions was the Eucharist.
Does that mean Catholics don’t read the Bible? No. Sadly though, it does mean that many Catholic’s haven’t been reading the Bible or haven’t – through family tradition or lack of tradition – learned the habit and joy of reading the Bible.
After converting to Catholicism it took me years to break the habit of bring my Bible to Church. My wife looked at me like I was nuts when we started regularly attending Mass and I would bring my Bible. A few people would stop me on the way into church to ask if I was a reader that day. Not understanding I simply said, “Yes, I try too everyday.” Others I met who knew me as a convert, would stop me simply as an act of kindness to tell me I didn’t need my Bible.
I am certainly not suggesting here that Catholics should start bringing their Bible’s to Church. However, we should recognize, that in the Mass we read the Bible and that Sacred Scripture is an important component of the Mass, and not just a time to play with our kids or find our friends in the crowd. The readings are presented to us through the Liturgy of the Word. And more importantly, the Church does suggest we read the weekly readings in advance of Mass as well so that we may focus on them more intensely during the Liturgy. This is why she makes those readings readily available to us.
Organize that Garage
But I don’t like to read big books. The short attention span of the American adult rears its ugly head in many ways in our faith.
The Bible is not a book. It’s a library of books. Some as small as three pages for the literary length challenged. If you fall asleep when you read the Bible, great, you needed the rest. Keep trying. If you fall asleep multiple times, great, keep trying. It will happen.
Now how do you eat an elephant? Answer – One bite at a time. So how are the bites of the Bible organized for consumption? Well, I assume most everyone knows about the Old and the New Testament. But do you know how the testaments are organized?
The Old Testament:
The Pentateuch – The first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Called the Torah by the Jews, the Pentateuch is the story of creation and of the nation of Israel.
Historical Books – These are the books of the story of the Israelites return from exile into the promised Land. These include: Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees.
Wisdom Books – These books are Israelite reflections on faith and God’s relationship with Humanity. These books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Sirach, and Wisdom.
Prophets – These books are the writings of those whom God inspired to counsel and confront people and kings. The Major prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Major and Minor being only indicators of length of influence in history (and there fore length of the corresponding book).
The New Testament:
The Gospel Account – The four portraits and collections of stories and sayings of Jesus Christ. These include the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and then the Gospel of John.
The Acts of the Apostles – This is the story of the early Church after Christ’s ascension into heaven.
Letters – written by Christians and that show us the thoughts and concerns of the early church.
Thirteen Pauline Epistles – letters written or attributed to the Apostle Paul named after the community or person to whom the letter is addressed. These include Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Collossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
The Seven Catholic Epistles – letters attributed to other Apostles and written to larger audiences. These include James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st 2nd and 3rd John, and Jude.
Revelation – Written to offer those in need hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Now that we have broken this down I have a challenge for you: Tab your Bible. Tabbing a Bible was hard for me to first do as a protestant because urban legend had it that this is only what old women did. But that is so not true. Tabbing your Bible is an intimate act with Grace. It is physically walking through the outline of the Bible as described above. You will understand and become so much more familiar with the Bible through the experience.
And there is a bonus to tabbing. You become familiar with a logic system that will more easily allow you access to the books as you may need them. You will be able to have starting places to find scripture relevant to questions you have as you learn the audience and writing purpose of each of the books. Has your life ever been such that you wish you could find something in the Bible about ?????. Well, tabbing your Bible will help you get smarter about that.
I always laugh inside at the guys who tell me their wife tabbed their Bible for them. I think to myself, “Really, would you let your wife organize your tools in your garage?” It really is in the same vein. There is a reason why you are the only one in the house who can find stuff in the garage. It’s because you organized the garage. You put things in places based on your system of understanding and it’s use.
Additionally, when you take ownership of the Bible – of your Bible, and / or begin to see it in this way, you also begin to see the message of Salvation as an understanding of a covenant relationship with God. The Old and New Testaments could be re-titled as the Old and New Covenants. This covenant relationship is what defines us as Catholics. Participating in this covenant relationship begins to be understood as a combination of actively participating in the Sacraments and understanding the message of salvation as expressed through the Bible. This is why we rely and trust in the apostolic succession of Bishops in the Church to interpret and preach the covenant message.
My Light House
Daddy…what’s the Bible? What it’s for?
Have you ever been asked that question by your kids? Do you think you one day might? How would you answer it? Do you think you could answer it?
In his CD available in the kiosk at the front of the Narthex from Lighthouse Media, former KC Royal Mike Sweeney calls out to all of us as Catholic men to be The Priest’s of our homes? We know from the Church it is our job to get our spouse and our kids to Heaven.
Great; now how do we do this? As men we have to be accountable to the calling of our faith, and to our vocations as Husbands and Fathers. It’s great that we can experience formation at church, but how are we bringing that home? Want to know an easy solution? Read the Bible at home. Discuss the weekly readings with your kids. Read them as a family one night during the week before coming to Mass. Put them into context for your kids (as best as you are able). If you struggle to understand something, or can’t answer a question they ask – make it a priority to have your kids remember that question for Mass and listen for the answer in the Homily. If it isn’t addressed, have your kids stop and ask the Priest on the way out of church.
But start the tradition for them. Help them feel comfortable with the Bible. Show them that it is more than a pretty wedding gift, an interior design show piece, or worse yet – just another book on the shelf. If you prioritize it, they will prioritize it. Like all things in our kid’s lives, if we don’t lead or kids someone else will. What are you leaving them open too if you don’t? If you pray and desire that your kids develop a strong understanding of the faith as they mature into adulthood, why would you not want the spoken word of God to be a part of that?
Now if you listen carefully at Mass during the processional of the Children out of the Sanctuary for their time away during what begins your peaceful time for the Liturgy of the Word, as you watch to see which cute little child is carrying the cross at the front of the line you will hear the song that usually plays. It’s Amy Grant’s classic Thy Word. The Chorus of the song is, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet….and a light…unto…my path.” This is an beautiful rendition of Psalms 119: v 105.
Brothers, Is your light on?