St. Jerome’s maxim above, continues to be true today as it was in the third and fourth centuries. The Second Vatican Council included it in its Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum paragraph 25) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes it in its section on Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church (paragraph 133). So why is it that many Catholics spend so little time in the Sacred Writ?
Not a Catholic Book
I believe there are three reasons. The first is that we seem to think this is a Protestant book. Hate to state the obvious but not only did we have it first, we assembled it. Our Protestant brethern should also remember that the canon of Sacred Scripture was compiled for use in the Divine Liturgy where it appropriately finds its context. Outside of that context, its meaning and application can quickly lead us into error. That being said, since the Reformation, there seems to be this urban legend that states that prior to the Second Vatican Council, Catholics were discouraged from reading Scripture. While I cannot argue with the perception, it certainly was not the case in Church teaching or discipline. A common question when a Catholic begins to read Scripture is what is the difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bible
The central issue is the Old Testament Canon or books. The Catholic canon is taken from the Septuagint (Greek version) which contained the full canon as attested to by a number of ancient documents and Councils. The Protestants use the version that was translated and compiled at the Jewish Council of Jamnia sometime between 90-100 A.D. The Council was convened due to the Christians using the Septuagint to proselytize the Jews. Additional, they adopted a “canonical authenticity” rule that said that only books written in Israel and in Hebrew could be admitted. Oddly enough, the Hebrew liturgical language at the time was Greek. A little know fact is that the Council was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees – though the Sadducees had the majority vote. In addition to the text not being deemed “canonical” due to language and location, all the text omitted contain text that address the resurrection of the body. As you know, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. Modern findings seem to indicate this was more of the reason for Jamnia excluding the texts. Just a post script, the King James version of Scripture contained a full canon until 1863.
He is Alive, not History!
The Second reason is that Catholics treat Scripture like a history book. It is not. This is because that when proclaimed, Jesus is speaking to us in the present. He is alive! He can use history to speak to us but He always speaks to us in the present. To read Scripture is to gaze upon the face of Christ. Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:1-3), desires for us with open hearts to look upon Him and hear His voice,
Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For this is our God, whose people we are, God’s well-tended flock. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. (Ps. 95: 6-8)
In a time when so many want to hear the voice of God, so few are willing to listen to what He has to say to us daily. Where do we start? The daily readings for Mass. The Holy Spirit has designed every liturgy for us to hear the voice of God in our daily lives. The liturgical cycle mysteriously meets our daily needs.
Additionally, the Word of God is not just a book of collected Scripture. There is something to be said that the Church in Dei Verbum paragraph 21 starts off by proclaiming that
The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord…
He is present in its proclamation. How do we treat our Bibles? Do we toss it around like every other book? Would you pile your mail upon the Blessed Sacrament? Hey, don’t look so offended. I am just teasing out the application from what the Church has already made clear. When proclaimed, our Lord, “Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8). He is always relevant and present when proclaimed.
Jesus is not Fast Food
The final reason I believe is that we are a fast food culture. We want it now and when it is convenient to us. Drawing fruit from our meditation on Scripture or even seeing the Word of God transform us, does not happen overnight. Many pericopes may seem dry and inconsequential – even confusing. But that means we need to wrestle with the Word of God like Jacob who refused to stand down until the Angel of the Lord blessed him. We need continue pouring over the Word and those tough Scriptures until the Lord blesses us. St. Jerome speaks of the fruitfulness of Scripture by quoting Psalm 1:1-3 and insisting that we will bear fruit when it is ripe and not before:
Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps 1:1-3)
The Word yields its fruit in due season. Not on our timetable but the Word of God’s. Father Prior Mark Daniel Kirby of the Diocesan Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle in Tulsa, Oklahoma said it this way on his blog Vultus Christi:
Lectio divina requires that we stick with it, that we wrestle with the tough bits, with the passages that seem, at first, impossibly dry and impenetrable. If we leave the cell for a drink of water from any other source — think of Jeremiah’s diatribe against the “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13) — we risk missing the draught of living water by which God intends to quench our thirst.
For those who are new to reading Scripture daily, here are a few tips:
- Commit to a specific length of time and stick with it.
- Please oh please, do not start with Genesis and work your way through the Bible. Start with the Gospel for the day.
- Pour over it a few times and then listen.
- Do not be surprised if the Lord waits to speak in the last few minutes. Stay with Him, even if it goes beyond your committed time. He never disappoints.
- Write down daily the verses that seem to speak to you, then return to them at the end of the week. You may be surprised that it gives you great insight into your heart and your activities.
- Hang in there! He wants to speak to you – He is already speaking to you. But, He also has to clear out the clutter and distractions in our head and heart and that takes time.
Finally, there are a number of great commentaries and programs to learn about how the various books in Scripture relate to each other and history. There are Bible studies to help us understand what Scripture is saying. But that is not praying Scripture. No spouse or significant other wants to be analyzed while in a loving embrace. They want to gaze at you and you at them. Otherwise, they feel – and rightly so – used. Biblical analysis is different from prayer, separate the two. You can know a lot about someone without actually knowing them.
St. Jerome pray for us that we may fall in love with the Most Blessed Trinity through Sacred Scripture!