Growing in Knowledge and Understanding of the Word of God
As the fall season settles in, a bit of that “back-to-school” feeling stays with us long after our student days are over. There is a natural inclination to learn and to grow that is part of the human experience at every age.
With the Church today celebrating Saint Jerome, the prolific scholar who is credited with the vital work of producing the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, why not make a commitment to learn more about the word of God? Indeed, as Jerome asked of himself, “How could one live without the knowledge of scripture, through which one learns to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?”
One can read the scriptures from a historical perspective and see how in time, the story of salvation unfolded. One can also read the Bible and learn the different styles of writing that were used in each of the books. We can appreciate the poetry of the Song of Songs, for example, as being different from the letters of Paul. However, in reading and seeking to understand and apply scripture to our lives, we should always endeavor to read the written word of God – both Old and New Testaments – with and in the context of the eternal Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and in communion with the Magisterium as the authentic interpreter of the Bible (cf. Dei Verbum, 10, 16).
With this in mind, today I want to suggest that you make scripture a part of your prayer life. The best spiritual reading is the Bible, which gives us God’s Word in human words. Ultimately God is the author who, through the Holy Spirit, “inspired the human authors of the sacred books” (CCC 105-106; see also 2 Timothy 3:16).
The Bible itself tells us: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God knows how to reach into us through his revealed word.
The Church applies a special term to the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. The practice is known as lectio divina – “divine reading.” This kind of engaging in the text is not like the studying for a test you had to do as a student. Rather, it is a dialogue with God.
Lectio divina, explains Pope Francis, “consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us” (Evangelii Gaudium, 152). Pope Benedict XVI described lectio divina as “pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it . . . ‘ruminating’ on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all of its ‘juice,’ so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation” (Angelus Address of November 6, 2005; see also Verbum Domini, 86-87). Here we learn that rather than trying to read as many pages as possible in one sitting or to finish the book quickly, praying with scripture is meant to savor God’s word slowly.
God has revealed himself in Sacred Scripture. When you make a commitment to read what the Lord is saying and wants you to know, you are showing your appreciation and saying “thank you.”
There are many ways to do this. You might decide to read a particular book – even the entire Bible – from beginning to end. I think that it is best to start with one of the Gospels and read just a little bit each day. This practice helps you enter into the mind of the human author, see the dramatic development of salvation history from Christ’s perspective, and gain a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s unique concerns. In this way, the books of the Old Testament and New are opened up in a more profound way.
You might also read along with the Church using the cycle of readings for Mass each day. This link to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will guide you to a short video reflection on of the readings of the day as well.
Keep in mind that the reading is only spiritual if it is prayerful, if it responds to God’s initiative and receives him in our hearts. We should begin with prayer and close with prayer too, even if a simple Sign of the Cross.
In Divine Revelation, we learn about God and about ourselves. When we enter into dialogue with God through praying with Sacred Scripture, it really is an education that lasts a lifetime – and beyond.