How I Learned to Read The Bible

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The Bible can be an intimidating book!  I’m willing to bet that, at one point or another in your life, you have made a sweeping declaration to attempt to read it from cover to cover.  We are supposed to know the Bible, after all.  Why not just dive right in?

I think this graphic from The Divine Communion web series may speak to why that sweeping declaration you made in your teens perhaps didn’t pan out as you had hoped:

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“The Scriptures do not surrender their meaning by the bare text; they surrender it to a mind that is living in the conditions of the covenant.” (Yves Congar)

For me, understanding this was the key to understanding the Bible.

Like any other book, it is best to approach the Bible knowing what you’re reading.  If you read a science fiction novel as if it were a newspaper, you would be doing it wrong–plain and simple.  When approaching Scripture, it is important to understand, first and foremost, what kind of book you are reading.

Questions to know the answer to before reading anything:

  • Who wrote it?  
  • To what audience were they writing?  
  • Why were they writing?

Here is what the Church teaches the Bible is (from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, Providentissimus Deus):

The God of all Providence…has bestowed upon man a splendid gift and safeguard – making known to him, by supernatural means, the hidden mysteries of His Divinity, His wisdom and His mercy…This supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal Church, is contained both in unwritten Tradition, and in written Books, which are therefore called sacred and canonical because, “being written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author and as such have been delivered to the Church.”

According to the Catholic Church, The Bible is a book written by God, for the Church, and in order to reveal God to man.

These are your starting points for reading the Bible.  If you are approaching the Bible as a book to convince skeptics of God’s existence, or as a science textbook, then you’re just not reading it the way it was intended to be read.

[This is also why people who try to use “one-liners” from the Bible usually end up looking foolish.  We see this from non-believers (“Ooh the Bible is against gay marriage, huh?  Well it’s also against wearing polyester so you’re going to hell!”), and believers, alike (“God is love, which means you can’t tell people what they are doing is wrong, ever”).  That is just not the way the Bible works.]

Furthermore, the Bible contains within itself a handful of books, written by various human authors, in various genres, for various audiences, throughout history.  So even within the Bible itself, it is helpful to know that the book of Psalms– for example– is a collection of poetic writings, as opposed to a book like Leviticus, which contains instructions for ritual worship.

With so many books, authors, and genres, spanning hundreds of years of human history— is it any surprise that trying to read the Bible as one, cohesive book can be difficult?

One major interpretive key for understanding the Bible, as Congar says, is the covenant.  

Covenants are weaved throughout Sacred Scripture. From Adam, to Abraham, to David, and culminating in the everlasting covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper—covenants are the way God relates to His people, inviting us to unite with Him in a personal way, not merely as servants but as members of His family.

If all of this sounds intimidating, it really isn’t!  I can assure you, understanding the Bible as one, cohesive book is most certainly within your reach.  For a great overview of how the covenants make sense of Scripture, I encourage you to check out Dr. Scott Hahn’s classic,  A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture.

(I grew up with this book on my family’s bookshelf.  I’m convinced that it should be on every Catholic’s bookshelf.  If you have never read it, do yourself a favor a get your hands on a copy!)

And keep an eye out for The Divine Communion web series, currently in production.  You can check out their promotional trailer here:

It is so important for us as Christians to be in the habit of regularly reading Scripture.  It is the best way to grow in personal relationship with God.  Be assured of my prayers for your study, and please pray that I will grow in my love for Scripture as well!

God Bless,

 

 

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I’m Catholic, But…

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I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception.

I think same sex marriage is fine–it’s not like it’s hurting anybody.

I don’t think I need to go to mass every Sunday.

If you have ever found yourself beginning a sentence with the words, “I’m Catholic, but…” I’ve got an idea for you.

(And to my already “all-in” readers, I want to know what you think of it)

That teaching you have beef with—whether it’s marriage, confession, divorce, etc.— Have you really given it a shot?

Here is my proposal.

Set aside a month.  One whole month where you give that teaching a fair shot.  By giving it a shot I don’t mean look up the arguments for and against it in your spare time.  I’m talking one month where you are all in, full throttle, 100%, totally Catholic.

No buts.

Here are the terms:

Your month should start with confession.

Not because you’re a horrible person but because you are a Catholic, and Catholics go to confession.  Make it a good confession, and bring up the teachings you are struggling with.  And then struggle with them.  For at least a month.

By struggle I don’t mean lie to yourself and pretend you believe them when you really don’t.  I mean humble yourself before God and say, “Look, this teaching doesn’t make sense to me.  I even am tempted to think that your Church may have gotten this one wrong.  But because I love you, and because I want to believe you were telling the truth when you established your Church, I’m going to try to do my best to live it out.  Please help me when I stumble.”

You need to go to mass every Sunday (At least).

Full throttle.  All in.  100%.  Why would you believe any of the teachings of a God you won’t even offer your worship?  Mass during the week is not required but is encouraged.

Bring your Bible, your Catechism, and every Church document you can find on the matter to adoration.

If adoration isn’t available, then the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, or just a Catholic Church will do.  Failing that, go into your room and close the door.  Invite Jesus, He will meet you there if you ask Him.  Study the teachings of Jesus while asking Him to open your heart to receive them.  Even if you have read them all before.  Read them again in His presence. Take a journal and a pen and write down your thoughts in the form of a letter to God.  Do this at least twice a week, for at least 30 minutes.

(This isn’t the time to read from “Catholics” who erroneously try to align heretical teachings with the faith.  For at least just this month, stick to official Church doctrine.)

Pray an Act of Faith every morning and every evening:

You will fail in this struggle without prayer.  Since what you are after is faith, pray the act of faith!

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.  Amen.

To My Already No-Buts Catholics: What Do You Think?

The rigorist voice in my head is saying,

“Mary, you can’t tell people they can put  time limit on living out the faith.  If they go in thinking it’s just for a month, God won’t honor the struggle because they’re not truly taking it seriously.”

On the other hand, I want to think that just cracking the door open—even if you set a stopwatch while doing so— is better than continuing life with the door shut.

So what do you think?  Is the one month struggle something worth suggesting?

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Love Hurts Sometimes

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Last Friday morning, I watched somewhat numbly as article after article filled my social media feeds, some in celebration, others decrying a national tragedy.  After the Supreme Court issued their ruling legalizing same sex marriage nationwide, the world of social media seemed to become a haze of rainbow profile pictures, name calling, and both sides of the “debate” co-opting the “LoveWins” hashtag to draw two conflicting conclusions.

I say I watched numbly as all of this unfolded because my heart had already been broken several hours before the Court issued their ruling, and I frankly didn’t have a whole lot of emotion left to care about what the Supreme Court said about marriage.

Thursday night around 9pm, my father in law passed away after a ten month battle with esophageal cancer.

“Battle.”  Personally, I think I am beginning to dislike the term in its association with cancer.  Or at least I don’t like the typical implications of it.  I don’t like the characterization of my father in law “losing” the battle because he died.  Cancer didn’t win.  Even in death, God is victorious.  Isn’t this the message of the cross?

This was certainly what my father in law believed.  My family was blessed—yes, blessed— to be able to witness, over these past few months, a powerful example of suffering and of embracing the cross God gives you.

It also sucked.  Watching someone you love suffer is painful.  For my father in law’s part, allowing those who love you to watch you suffer is painful.  In our being there for one another, we also added to one another’s pain.  But you know what?  That’s what you do for love.

Sometime over these past few days, a friend on Facebook shared an old blog post of Jennifer Fulwiler’s.  It was about “the whole gay marriage thing,” but I found something she said in it to be a comfort in my grief.  She said:

“I have converted to the religion of the crucifix, a belief system that promises joy in exchange for losing it all. Most people don’t want to sign up for that. I get that. I hope they consider it, for their own sake, since their lives would be better if they did — but it doesn’t change how I feel about them if they don’t.”

“Joy in exchange for losing it all.”

The message of the cross.

The witness of my father in law’s life.

Yes, sometimes love hurts.  We don’t go seeking pain in the name of love, but when the pain inevitably comes, it doesn’t mean it’s not real love.  It just means that the time to witness to the depth of your love has arrived.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
-Jesus

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Has The Cross Made Me “Flawless”?

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I heard a song on the radio the other day making a pretty bold claim…

“No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is: The cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.”

(The song is called, Flawless, and it’s by the Christian band MercyMe)

It’s a bold claim sung to a catchy tune.  But is it true?

Has the cross made me flawless?

I think that any Christian–Catholic or otherwise–will be the first to admit we are not perfect.  We are all sinners!  That’s why we need a Savior.

The song isn’t disputing this.  As a Catholic, I believe that apart from Jesus and apart from the cross, I’m toast.  I believe when the Bible tells me that apart from Jesus, I can do nothing– NOTHING!  So when I “get it right,” it’s only by God’s grace.  And when I get it wrong, it’s God’s grace that calls me back.  I think the song and I are good on this front.  All is grace.

Where the song and I hit a rough patch is its explanation of what that grace actually looks like in daily life.

The song continues:

“Could it possibly be that we simply can’t believe that this unconditional kind of love would be enough to take a filthy wretch like this and wrap him up in righteousness? But that’s exactly what He did.”

 

I think the music video for this song does a good job of illustrating this point further.  In it, the band begins covered in gooey-gunk, and as the song progresses the gunk flies off of them until their suits are as white as the wall against which they are performing.

This is interspersed with images of Christians juxtaposed with phrases describing their “flaws.” Examples of these flaws include:

 “prone to selfishness”

“Lives with guilt from reckless living”

“often puts work as priority over family”

etc…

Towards the end of the song, as the band gets cleaner and cleaner, these “flaws” are covered, one by one with, the word, “Flawless,” as the people smile from ear to ear.

The cross has made them “flawless.”

Is Jesus “Enough”?

The song’s claim is that what Jesus did on the cross was “enough to take a filthy wretch like [me] and wrap him up in righteousness.”

It’s a really nice thought, and I mean that wholeheartedly.  The idea that Jesus loves us so much that He died for us, and that His love for us is so great that He doesn’t even care about all of the horrible ways in which we hurt Him, ourselves, and others.  He just wants to wrap us— filthy and wretched us— up in His righteousness and welcome us into His Kingdom.

It really is a nice thought.

But it actually stops short of what I, as a Catholic, believe Jesus did—and continues to do— for me through dying the cross.

Not There Yet

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name”

(John 1:12)

I’m prone to selfishness.  I can be a little judgmental.  I often have trouble trusting wholeheartedly in where God is leading me.  These are just some examples of my own flaws.

Because of the cross, I know that I am not defined by these flaws.  However, I also know through personal experience that these flaws didn’t suddenly go away the day I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  I love Jesus and I want to be like Him, but I still find myself struggling with selfishness.  I still find myself struggling to trust.

That’s what I believe the cross did, and what the cross continues to do in my life.  The cross gives me the grace for the struggle.  The cross gives meaning to the struggle.  It gives me the grace to unite my struggle to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus doesn’t need for me to pretend my struggle doesn’t exist simply because I believe that He died for me.  He actually wants me to struggle with Him, so that I may one day be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

I believe that the cross is still in the process of making me flawless.  I pray that one day I will be able to sing along with the joyful refrain of this song as I behold my God face to face in Heaven.

Until then, I’m still a work in progress.

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Grace For Today

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“…So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

(Matthew 6:31-34)

If you’re like me, then occasionally little anxieties will creep into your mind.

I’m talking about the, “What-If’s,” the, “I’m never going to be able to get all of this done’s,” and just a general sense of feeling overwhelmed by not knowing what the future might have in store for you.

The above verses from Matthew have always been a comfort to me when dealing with feelings of anxiety, and recently, something I heard in a podcast from Fr. John Riccardo helped drive the point home.

God is always with us.  We know this.  But God doesn’t give us tomorrow’s grace today.  He gives us the grace we need in the moment we need it– not before and not after.

So if you have ever found yourself wondering how you would manage if horrible scenario x,y, or z happened to you, and then subsequently found yourself freaking out because it made you realize, “I have no idea what I would do if _____ happened to me!” Rest assured!  Of course you don’t know what you would do.  God doesn’t have you there right now, which means He hasn’t given you the graces He would be giving you if it were happening to you.

We will have what we need when we need it.  

And isn’t it a relief that we don’t need contingency plans for every possible turn our life might take!  Rest in the grace that God has given you for today.

Do not worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.

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