Read the scriptures regularly.
As someone who grew up in the Bible Belt, it seems a little silly to point out that Christians ought to read the scriptures regularly. In this part of the country, reading the Bible and being a Christian are almost synonymous. But among Catholics of recent generations, this was not always something one assumed to be at the center of the Christian life. The prayer life of many Catholics was more likely rooted in attending the mass, praying the rosary and perhaps attending benediction. Being the pastor of a parish with many folks who remember the church of a different era, I hear this all the time. “Father, what you have to remember is that we were discouraged from reading the Bible,” is a statement I hear regularly.
While I have no reason to doubt that this was indeed the experience of many Catholics who grew up in the generation preceding mine, I think there are still a few things regarding the Catholic Church and the Bible that are important to highlight. First of all, the early Church was one that had a high regard for the scriptures. St. Jerome went so far as to say, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” It is also noteworthy that the beginning of what many would call the modern resurgence of Catholic Biblical study began with the publication of the papal encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu which was issued by Pope Pius XII on September 30, 1943. While it often takes many years for large changes to make their way to the people in the pews, it can be said that the Catholic Church has now been encouraging serious study of the Bible for over 50 years. This morning I was looking through an old St. Joseph missal from 1964 that has written inside the back cover an encouragement for Catholics to read the Bible regularly. Perhaps equally important is the fact that prayers like the mass, the rosary and many other traditional Catholic prayers are filled with a wealth of scripture. This means that even if the average Catholic were never to open the Bible at home, they would still be exposed to quite a bit of it simply by attending the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.
All this being said, one of the most valuable things a Christian can do, is to sit down alone each day with the Bible and to read slowly through it from cover to cover, and when finished to start over again. Fr. Thomas Hopko, from whom these 55 Maxims are taken, often gives a simply strategy for reading the Bible. He says, “As you are reading put into practice the parts you understand and don’t worry about the parts you don’t understand.” The beauty of the Bible is that we will never exhaust the wisdom found within its pages. There is always a deeper understanding to be gained.
And for those who continue to use the excuse that because a priest discouraged you from reading the Bible 30 or 20 years ago (or even last week!) means you can’t ever understand it, here is a challenge from another priest. Stop using that as an excuse and pick up your Bible today and begin reading. I guarantee that if you do, you won’t understand everything you find written on the pages, but you will understand enough of God’s inspired Word to nourish you for the rest of your life.