By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
My noble efforts at maintaining a tranquil, stoic temperament fail miserably whenever I hear one particular response to the topic of reading the Bible. It comes in several variations, but they all seize on a common theme—or excuse. “Reading the Bible? C’mon, dude. I don’t need to do that; I’m a Catholic!” “Of course I don’t have my Bible with me. Who do you think I am, a Protestant?” Awkward chortles and seemingly genuine chuckles ensue, as if the remark had successfully struck a vein of truth and offered a healthy dose of praiseworthy humor.
I have heard such comments emerge from the mouths of high school students, college students, priests, and even speakers at youth retreats. Their flippant absolution of biblical ignorance, to be frank, heats the mercury in my mental thermometer to explosive levels, and instinctively causes my hands to clench and tighten into vengeance-minded fists. (Confession: I have never actually punched any wretched Catholic who regards reading the Bible as a quaint Protestant exercise.)
What irks me most about our widespread biblical illiteracy is that we have such little awareness of how essential the Scriptures are to a relationship with Jesus, and a full participation in the life of the church.
I would like, therefore, to give four simple reasons why you should read the Bible and find a guide who can help you navigate the infinite waters of Scripture. The first is that in the books of the Bible, God grants us an inspired account of what He wants us to know about His love for us. How can we go to God, St. Irenaeus wrote, unless God first comes to us? The Old Testament features the record of the Lord’s training of a particular people, Israel. Through patriarchs and prophets, God instructs Israel, and foreshadows the full revelation in divine grace that is unveiled in Christ and the church.
The second reason is the Gospels contain the deeds and words of Jesus, as remembered and recorded by apostles and first-generation Christians who wanted to share the joyful message. Why would you wish to complain of thirst when you know that a never-failing spring is a few feet away, just beyond a few tree branches? Thirdly, the Church herself assembled the various books of Scripture into one Bible. Having accepted what came to be called the Old Testament, the first generations of Christians composed, read, and shared the letters of Paul, Peter, James and John, eventually regarding them as the inspired reflections on the Church’s humble beginnings.
The fourth reason why Catholics must read Scripture is that the Bible acts as a bridge linking you not only to previous believers, but to the very God you are seeking in those sacred pages. When you listen to the Gospel at Mass or read it on your own, you yourself are the lame beggar lying on the road, waiting for Jesus to come; you sit at the Last Supper table and hear his instructions to receive the Eucharist “in memory of me.” When you read the letters of Paul, you become a Roman, a Colossian, a Philippian; the Apostle to the Gentiles is exhorting you to understand the loving mystery revealed in Christ, the foolish wisdom of God manifest in the cross. When you read or chant the Psalms, you unite your prayer to the petitions and desires of those faithful Jews who recited those very words at the temple thousands of years ago; you also pray the very words that Mary and Joseph would have taught Jesus to pray.
So get reading (I would suggest starting with the Gospels or one of Paul’s letters), and don’t ever invoke that God-awful excuse for biblical ignorance again— especially in my presence!
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.