Catholics and Scripture

We are told that it is very important to know ourselves; that we must know who we are.  Though this is true, we can only come to know who we are by knowing who our creator is.  We need to know God before we can know ourselves.  But, how can we come to know God?  Remember that as Catholics we believe in a personal God.  We believe God is a person, or rather, three persons in one.  The question then becomes: how do you get to know who a person is?

It might help us to think in terms of other human persons and not in terms of Divine persons.  There are two ways in which we can get to know something about another person.  One way is by observing that person, by looking at what she does.  This is what I call the “creeper” way.  You can learn some things about a person this way but you probably will not learn too much.  It is too indirect.  We also know that each person has an interior side that is not accessible through observation so a very important side of that person will remain hidden to us.  This way is clearly not the most effective way to get to know someone.  The second way to get to know a person is by talking to the person, by interacting face to face with her.  This is the only way the interiority of that person can be revealed to you.  You will be able to “see” what is hidden in that person because she is opening up to you.  Just like this is how it works with other human persons, it is also how it works with God.  You can know some things about Him by observing what He has done, for example, by looking at creation.  This is how Natural Theology came into being.  However, if you really want to know Him, then you need to listen to what He has to say about Himself.

As we all know, Scripture is God’s Word.  Through it, God reveals Himself to us just as any other person reveals herself through her words.  We also know that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.  That is, God’s Word is not a word like the ones we are so familiar with.  Rather, the Word of God is a person.  God has revealed Himself to us in his Word, in the person of Jesus Christ.  This is why St. Jerome famously said: “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. ”If we invert this saying, then we can affirm that knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ, and knowledge of Christ is knowledge of God.

We are all familiar with that nonsense that “Catholics don’t care about the Bible” or “Catholics are not biblical.”  The truth of the matter is that Catholics are the only Christians who are truly biblical.  First of all, who do you think compiled the Bible?  The Catholic Church did.  Yeah, you’re welcome.  The Bible is extremely important for Catholics.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s body.”  What are the two things we do at Mass? Listen to God’s word and receive the Lord’s body.  If you have been going to Sunday Mass for a few years, you have heard a significant portion of the Bible.  If you have been going to daily Mass for a few years, you have heard it almost in its entirety.  We Catholics know much more about the Bible than people think because our entire liturgy is biblical.

Of course, there are Catholics who are completely ignorant of Scripture, and that is a very sad thing.  But our Protestant brothers are not off the hook on this one.  Just because they can recite Bible quotes by heart, just because they know the chapter and the verse of a given passage, does not mean that they know Scripture.  You can have something memorized and still not know it.  It is better to know the context and the meaning of a passage than to know word by word what it says.  Hopefully, by knowing the context and the meaning you will also memorize the passage itself or at least the most significant points.  Furthermore, it is more important to live and interiorize a passage than to be able to merely repeat it.  When the Church tells us that we should know Scripture, She means that we ought to know it as we know another person.  You do not memorize all the minute details about a person’s life (that would be very creepy), what you do is that you make that person a part of your life.  Pope Benedict XVI writes, in his book Jesus of Nazareth: “The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture.  The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Scripture is full of potential for the future, a potential that can only be opened up when someone ‘lives through’ and ‘suffers through’ the sacred text.”

Therefore, if we want to know God then Scripture must become a part of our daily lives.  It cannot simply remain a “book”, even if we know that book by heart.  The Catechism says: “the Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book’.  Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, a word which is ‘not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.’”  So, how can we make the Bible a part of our lives?  You can start by reading it and by studying it.  Use one of the many commentaries that the tradition of the Church has to offer.  Do not try to interpret obscure passages on your own because you are not a Biblical scholar!  Too much confusion and discord has come out of people thinking themselves capable of interpreting the Bible.  Let the wisdom of the Church Fathers, of the Church Doctors, of the saints and of all other wise men and women of the past illumine those passages.  Then pray with Scripture. Lectio Divina is a great way of doing it.  The Church also teaches us by example how to pray with Scripture.  Have you ever heard of the Liturgy of the Hours?  It is the official prayer of the Church and it basically consists on praying the Psalter.  I had a Protestant friend tell me that Catholics do not know the Bible.  I pulled out my Magnificat and showed her my morning and night prayer, based entirely on Scripture.  Saint Josemaría Escrivá wrote: “Your prayer ought to be liturgical.  Would that you were given to reciting the psalms and prayers of the missal instead of private or special prayers!”  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Why make up prayers when Christ taught us that we ought to pray with Scripture?  Where do you think that we got the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” from?  We got them from Scripture!  Most importantly, Christ Himself prayed with Scripture.  Pope Benedict writes: “In the Passion, too –on the Mount of Olives and on the Cross– Jesus uses passages from the Psalms to speak of himself and to address the Father.  Yet these quotations have become fully personal; they have become the intimate words of Jesus himself in his agony.  It is he who truly prays these psalms; he is their real subject.”  That is how we are supposed to know Scripture.  It must become such a part of us that whenever we speak, we speak the word of God; that when we pray, we give back to God the words that He has given us.  What better way to praise God than by using His own words?

I would like to conclude by going back to the first quote from Pope Benedict that I mentioned: “The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out.”  We are all called to become saints and, as the Pope said, saints are the “true interpreters of Holy Scripture.”  That is, you are meant to be a light so that others may be able to interpret Scripture.  I think it would be good to bring this to prayer before the body of Our Lord in the Eucharist, the same body which we honor as we honor Sacred Scripture.  Now that we are capable of knowing who God is, we need to find out who we are.  Ask God, then, these questions: “What is the passage of the Bible that I am meant to make most intelligible?  What verse was written so that I may be transfixed by it?  Which words of yours where spoken that I may live them out?”  Then, open up your Bible and read.  This is why we Catholics are really biblical.  We make the text of the Bible a living, breathing reality.

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