“If an earthly king, our emperor, wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with great rejoicing and careful attention.” This is the way the Russian Saint Tikhom of Zadonsk (died in 1783) urges his people to become more familiar with the Scriptures.
“You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven… Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him.”
We Catholics do not usually spend time reading the Bible. The irony is that the Church exhorts, urges, pleads with us to read Sacred Scripture – there was even an Indulgence granted for doing so.
I recently received a rather odd email that asserted that if we treated the Bible the way we handle a cell phone, then things would run better in our lives!
“What if we carried the Bible around in our purses or pockets? What if we turned back home to get it if we forgot it? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we gave it to kids as gifts? What if we used it in case of an emergency? What if we upgraded it to get the latest version?” And, “… one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.”
While other books were written for information, the Bible was given to us for transformation. Three persons were talking about the recent translations of the Bible. One said, “I like the New English version of the Gospels. It’s easier reading than the older versions.” The other differed, “I prefer the Jerusalem Bible. The notes in it are really superb and helpful.” To which the third person replied, “I know an even better translation. I like my mother’s translation best. She translated the Bible into life!”
The problem is that we need a key to really enter into the beauty and the practicality of the Scriptures. We need to understand that this book does not contain just past history. It basically speaks about our lives. It describes the way God acts with His children, unraveling in a very descriptive way, the pedagogy God uses to train us to become real men and real women. Reading it on a daily basis thus becomes enriching, because it offers “a postgraduate course in the richest library of human experience”.
In the words of an early ascetic writer in the Christian East, Saint Mark the Monk: “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” We are to ask not just “What does it mean?” but “What does it mean to me?”
Scripture thus becomes a personal dialogue between Him and myself – Christ speaking to me, and me answering. However we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church.
In fact, the power of the Bible is unleashed when celebrated with others. Suddenly it becomes an agent of interior conversion. As the Oriental Fathers used to say, even if you do not understand it, the demons inside you understand it and run away. How many times this happened to me! I enter the weekly Celebration of the Way within my Neocatechumenal community in anguish, and I come out consoled. Celebrated in a community, the Scriptures become flesh. They become a person.
Once a new Torah (the basic core of the Old Testament) scroll was being dedicated in the Synagogue. Rabbi David Moshe held it in his hands and rejoiced in it. But since it was large and obviously very heavy, one of his followers went up and wanted to relieve him of it. The Rabbi refused excitedly. “Once you hold it”, he said, “it isn’t heavy anymore!”
Hillel was a famous Jewish religious leader who lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod. One of his famous assertions was, “Do not say, I shall study the Torah when I have time. And what, if you never have the time? Remember, if you increase your riches, you increase your worries. If you increase your knowledge of the Torah, you lengthen your days and acquire eternal life…”
Take it up and read it. Better still, find a community and celebrate it! There are catechesis going on in different parishes in Guam for the formation of new Neocatechumenal communities. Go!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.