A few years ago a friend of mine wrote a book about a priest who suffered amnesia as a result of an accident. He forgot who he was and where he was from. He even forgot he was a priest. The entire plot revolves around his quest to rediscover his true identity and vocation. Something like that once happened to the Chosen People.
At a critical time in the history of Judah, while renovating the Temple, laborers discovered scrolls of the Law. Having forgotten God’s commandments contained in the Law, the people of Judah had adopted false gods of the worst kind together with everything from child sacrifice to temple prostitution. After hearing the scroll’s contents, Josiah the king renewed the covenant with God and destroyed the temples to Moloch, Baal, and Asherah. (See 2 Kings 22-23)
Spiritual amnesia is bad news. The scary thing is that it can happen to an entire people. We can forget who God is.
Unfortunately, to most Catholic ears, citing bible verses sounds Protestant. After all, what Catholic can back up what he believes with scripture? A well catechized parishioner might be able to talk about John 6 and the Eucharist or the story about the keys of the Kingdom and the pope (Mt 16), but as soon as anyone starts giving you bible verses, most of us think he must be Protestant. Catholics just don’t do that.
Despite the fact that half of the Mass is dedicated to listening to, meditating on, praying, and unpacking the Word of God, Catholics would never call themselves Bible Christians. Even religious, seminarians and priests at times give the Bible little attention beyond the four gospels. No wonder then that at times our ideas about God and how he acts don’t seem to match up with what happens in our lives.
Jesus is not a benevolent hippie. God the Father is not just the omnipotent version of Santa Claus. My dad, a former evangelical pastor who entered the Church after studying the early Church fathers, always used to say, “To be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew.” In other words, to understand Jesus and the significance of what he said and did, you have to understand his context–the history of Salvation.
Jesus is the same God who called Abraham to leave all his securities in search of the Promised Land. He is the same God who commanded him to sacrifice his only son. He is the same God who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3). He is the same God who sent the ten plagues and rescued his people from Egypt. He is the same God who punished David for his sin. He is the same God who allowed his people to be scattered in exile and then brought them back. As St Jerome insists, “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.:PL 24,17B)
The Good Book, in fact, is Catholic. It was compiled by the Catholic Church. It is our book. It is the revelation of our God. And it really isn’t that arcane. For some reason there is this idea out there that reading the Bible requires a great deal of preparation and study, as if it were beyond most lay people’s grasp. But God’s Word is addressed to all of us, and like a good dad, he enjoys telling stories to his kids–stories about himself and the way he interacts with us.
Picking up the Bible and getting to know that person (those persons!) who is God is really not that hard. Sure, there are some difficult passages. Granted, there are stories that are hard to interpret and prophecies whose meaning escapes us. But the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah and the rest are the great drama of real men following our true God. They are stories for you and me. They are the stories that YHWH tells his children about himself.
Getting to know who God is–YHWH, Adonai, that person who is He Who Is–is not beyond our grasp. Perhaps understanding the events in our lives would be easier if we understood what he did in the lives of his other followers. For that we have Abraham and David to turn to.
If you can’t describe God’s personality, if you aren’t sure what kind of things he asks of his children, if you don’t have patterns to look to to see how to respond, go get your Good Book. Start reading.
Resources that may help:
- stpaulcenter.com — This website has phenomenal Bible study material for free!
- Here you can find a reading plan for Catholics.
Photo Credit: ashley.adcox