Catholics have often been the brunt of jokes when it comes to the Bible. We’re often perceived as having pristine new Bibles still unwrapped and lying untouched in our cabinets. We consider it ‘sacrilegious’ to ‘blemish’ the Bible by underlining or highlighting the verses. We’re unable to match the ability of our Christian brethren in quoting Bible verses off the top of our head. Many are still unsure how many books there are in the Bible. Some are still wondering whether the stories in the Bible are factual/ historical or metaphorical. Still others say that it’s not easy to understand the Bible. And there are those who fear that too much reading would lead to them to interpret the Bible differently from what the Church teaches and subsequently lead them astray from the Catholic Church. It’s not wrong then to say that many people shy away from reading the Bible out of fear, ignorance or mere apathy. However, there are also those to make the effort to read and understand but somehow get lost along the way because it becomes dry and at times “technical”.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD) when speaking about his conversion told that it was prompted by a childlike voice he heard saying, “Tolle legge. Take and read! Take and read!” which he took as a divine command to open the Bible and read the words of Scripture which transformed his life and brought him to a true and constant conversion.
Our individual Catholic lives and the life of our Church would be infinitely improved if more of us took Bible reading seriously. Today there are many resources available online that provides proper guidance on how to read and understand the Bible. Many parishes offer Bible study classes and programmes. However, the most common excuse we hear is ‘I don’t have time’. And there are others who justify by saying that if they follow the Mass readings for the 3-year liturgical calendar, they would have read/listened to the entire (or almost entire) Bible. So once again the Bible finds itself sitting atop a shelf in the cabinet, spotless and untouched.
Our own official teachings encourage us to read, study and learn the Scriptures. Dei Verbum – a document about God’s Word from Second Vatican Council says, “…all clergy should remain in close contact with the Scriptures by means of reading and accurate study of the text …similarly the Council earnestly and expressly calls upon all the faithful …to acquire by frequent reading of holy Scripture the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8) for as St. Jerome said, ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is indeed ignorance of Christ.’”
In the past, it was considered that Scripture study belonged to the domain of the clergy only. More and more today, there has been a renewed interest among the laity to understand the word of God and that is why there is a whole array of Bible study programmes being made available. Whether it is Bible in One Hundred Weeks, The Bible Timeline, Little Rock, and others, these are meant not just to provide intellectual knowledge but to inspire a greater love for the word of God and ultimately a love for God.
So whatever our excuse, we need to understand the Scriptures better to see how our faith is rooted and grounded in the Bible. Perhaps it is about time stop finding excuses and open our ears to hear the children singing, “Tolle legge. Take and read! Take and read!”