By Fr Billy Swan
There was a time when the Bible was understood by us Catholics as a Protestant book. Thank God that has changed. But has it changed to such an extent that we now consider God’s Word to be central to our lives of faith? Probably not. Here I would like to offer some practical tips for how our spiritual lives can be transformed by our daily nourishment by God’s Word in the Scriptures. First though, it’s important to outline two essential points that we need to know as we approach the Bible.
The first is that God’s Word is a word of love addressed to the world he created, and directed to the people he has chosen. In the words of St John: ‘God loved us first’ (1 Jn. 4:19). So when we pick up a passage of Scripture, at home or listen to the readings at Mass, our task is to prayerfully discern the love of God coming through in what we are hearing, and how that love both affirms and changes us.
The second point is the importance of listening to God’s Word with ‘the ears of the heart’ as St Benedict once put it. We are a people whose first task is to listen to the voice of our God. One of the best known verses from the Old Testament is ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one God’ (Deut. 6:4). Like Christians, our Jewish brothers and sisters are called to listen first to the Word of God and to obey it in faith. In the New Testament, Mary represents the new people of God who also stand in obedience to God’s Word – ‘Be it done on to me according to your Word’ (Luke 1:38). The danger of not listening to God’s Word or being ignorant of the Scriptures is that we begin to make God in our own image, and pare him down to our size, instead of listening to who he really is, and what he really teaches. The less we know the Scriptures, the more golden calves we are likely to make.
So how then can we allow God’s Word of love to take a more central place in our lives? What do we need to do? Having a Bible in our homes is a good place to start. Why not place it in a prominent place in your home instead of placing it among the other books on the shelf? After all, the Bible is not a book among books. It is the book of books! That said, we all need help in navigating our way through it. Thankfully, smaller publications such as ‘Bible Alive’ or the ‘Magnificat’ contain the daily readings we hear at Mass together with commentary. Why not ask your parish office how you can order these or gift a subscription to someone else? The real benefit of these publications is that they help us to become more familiar with the liturgical year and come to love the Scriptures, especially the weekday and Sunday readings. They also help remind us what the readings of the day are. We all can be distracted during the readings at Mass and can easily forget what they were. Publications like the ‘Magnificat’ can help us know what the readings are before Mass and after Mass, especially as we pray before bed – taking a look once again at the readings of the day and contemplating them in the light of the day we have just lived. Lectio Divina and Bible study groups are also to be encouraged. The Church has always insisted that God’s Word be listened to in communion with other believers. God speaks not just to individuals but to his entire family in the Church.
God’s Word of love awaits us to be heard and discovered. Only when we have been touched by its power can we share it with others. Through God’s Word we experience the love of the Word, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who lives among us (cf. John 1:14).