Thursday, April 3, 2014

Daily Thought For April 3, 2014 (Getting Soaked In Scripture)

Get Soaked in Scripture 

     As a young man sixteen hundred years ago, Saint Augustine sought meaning and purpose in his life. He had been raised by a Christian mother, Saint Monica, and although he had drifted away from the Church, he was still fascinated by Jesus. That's why, in his quest for truth, he early on turned to the Bible. But as he read it, he felt disappointed. In its pages, he didn't find the scholarly philosophy he enjoyed reading. He found instead, especially in the Old Testament, tales of conflict and very imperfect people. It didn't help that he was reading a poor translation. Augustine concluded that the Bible was of no use to him, so he put his copy aside to gather dust. 
     Years later, in Milan, Italy, he encountered the magnificent preaching of Saint Ambrose, the local bishop. Ambrose's homilies led Augustine to view the Bible in an entirely new way, especially the Old Testament. Augustine came to appreciate that the Old Testament shouldn't be approached as a philosophy textbook, but as a reflection of the great sweep of God's plan in human history, culminating in Jesus himself. All of which the Old Testament spoke was but a journey toward Jesus. 
     The real turning point came when Augustine, sitting in a garden, heard what sounded like a child's voice urging him to "take up and read." A Bible was nearby. Augustine opened it and his eyes came to rest on words that cut him to the heart. At that moment, he knew that not only was Jesus the key to understanding the entire Bible, but that Jesus himself could speak with him through the Bible. In other words, the Bible wasn't simply a resource for understanding God; it was instead a book in which one could encounter God. 
     Elements of Saint Augustine's conversion story may strike a chord with us. Like him, many of us are looking for faith, or hoping to strengthen the faith we have. From time to time we may have turned to the Bible, seeking a clue or inspiration, but found it to be puzzling, overwhelming, unhelpful, or a turnoff. Perhaps, again like Augustine, the Bible we've picked up is a poor translation for our needs; that one in the hotel nightstand was translated four hundred years ago, after all! So we've written off the Bible as irrelevant, and our copy, should we have one, gathers dust. 
     Yet Saint Augustine ultimately met Jesus in the Bible, and we can too. How? Like him, we can "take up and read"-something we may not be used to doing. Earlier generations of Catholics weren't encouraged to read the Bible, and many Catholic homes didn't have one anyway. But times have changed, and from the highest levels Catholics are invited to learn what generations of Protestant Sunday School kids grew up singing: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!"
     When we read the Bible, we may find ourselves confused. That's okay, and thankfully there are excellent resources available to help us view the Scriptures through a Catholic lens. The truth is, the Bible can't be completely understood outside the Church. Consider this: When he ascended into heaven, Jesus didn't leave behind a book; he left behind a Church, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible sprang from the Church as part of its living Tradition. For us to fully benefit from the Bible, it should be approached through the framework of the Church and its teaching. 
     Should we not have much time to read the Bible on our own, we can certainly hear it proclaimed on Sundays. Over any threeyear period, great parts of the Bible are presented to us in the readings at Mass, called the "Liturgy of the Word." Just as those who listened to Jesus were astonished when he taught them during their worship, we can have the same experience when we worship, if we make the effort to pay careful attention to the Scriptures when they're proclaimed. We hear them through the voices of lectors or clergy. But it is God himself who speaks to us: "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them."
     On our journey of faith, we need food to sustain us and keep us going. Jesus understands this, and he gives us himself as nourishment. "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35), he said. These words refer not only to the gift of the Eucharist, but also to the unique teaching and divine wisdom he offers and through which we come to know God and his love for us. This "bread of life" comes to us today through the pages of the Bible, which we understand to be the word of God. 
     The Bible was inspired by God as no other written words have been or ever will be. Its books may have been written 
ages ago, but they speak of timeless truths and eternal wisdom, without which our faith can become vague or rootless. Scripture instructs, challenges, consoles, and helps diminish the distance between God and us. Without the Bible, we would know precious little about Jesus and what he revealed to us about God. "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ," wrote Saint Jerome. His words may sound blunt, but they're certainly true. 
     The good news is Jesus doesn't want us to be ignorant of him. To know him is to love him, and Jesus wants us to know and love him deeply. We might understand the Bible, then, as his gift of love to us, that we might come to love him in return, be strengthened in faith, and transformed into generous, compassionate people. In a word, to become more like him. 

     We might say, then, that in order to be immersed in a life of faith, it is good for us to be fully soaked in Scripture. Jesus says to us, as the child's voice said to Saint Augustine, "Take up and read." 

from When Faith Feels Fragile ― Help for the Wary Weak, and Wandering by R. Scott Hurd pp. 57-60