As a young man sixteen hundred years ago,
sought meaning and purpose in his life. He had been raised by a Christian mother, St. Monica, and although he had drifted away from the Church, he was still fascinated by Jesus. That’s why, in his quest for truth, he early on turned to the Bible. But as he read it, he felt disappointed. In its pages, he didn’t find the scholarly philosophy he was used to reading. He found instead, especially in the Old Testament, tales of conflict and very imperfect people. It didn’t help that he was reading a poor translation. Augustine concluded that the Bible was of no use to him, so he put his copy aside to gather dust. St. Augustine
Years later, in
, he encountered the magnificent preaching of St. Ambrose, the local bishop. Ambrose’s homilies led Augustine to view the Bible in an entirely new way, especially the Old Testament, which he had previously found so unsatisfying. Augustine came to appreciate that the Old Testament shouldn’t be approached as a philosophy textbook, but as a reflection of the great sweep of God’s plan in human history, culminating in Jesus himself. All of which the Old Testament spoke, was but a journey toward Jesus. Milan, Italy
The real turning point was when Augustine, sitting in a garden, heard what sounded like a child’s voice urging him to “take up and read.” A Bible was nearby. Augustine opened it, and his eyes came to rest on words that cut him to the heart. At that moment, he knew that not only was Jesus the key to understanding the entire Bible, but that Jesus himself could speak with him through the Bible. In other words, the Bible wasn’t simply a resource for understanding God; it was instead a book in which one could encounter God.
’s conversion story echo the experience of many people today; perhaps it strikes a chord with us. Like Augustine, so many of us are looking for meaning, purpose, hope, something that makes sense. And again like him, so many of us raised in Catholic households have turned to the Bible from time to time, looking for a clue or inspiration. But then we found it to be confusing or overwhelming or unhelpful or a “turn-off.” Perhaps, again like Augustine, the Bible we’ve picked up is a poor translation for our needs; that Gideon’s Bible in the hotel dresser was translated 400 years ago, after all. So we’ve written off the Bible as irrelevant, and our copy, should we have one, gathers dust. St. Augustine
But that need not be the final word.
ultimately met Jesus in the Bible, and we can too. How? First of all, like he did, we need to “take up and read”- something not all Catholics are especially used to doing. There was a time not all that long ago when Catholics weren’t necessarily encouraged to read the Bible, and many Catholic homes probably didn’t have one anyway. But times have changed. A few years ago, Pope Benedict led a meeting in St. Augustine , called the World Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. Our own Cardinal Wuerl was there. The synod concluded that every Catholic should have a Bible – a good Catholic translation, of course- and read it regularly. We should read the Bible in the same way we would approach Jesus if we were to meet him face-to-face: humbly and prayerfully, so we can be transformed into more loving, faithful, generous, and compassionate people. In a word, to become more Christ-like. Something to think, as we consider what we’re going to do this Lent! Rome
When we read the Bible, we should try to understand it as the Church understands it, because the Bible can’t be completely understood outside of the Church. Remember: When he ascended into heaven, Jesus didn’t leave behind a book; he left behind a Church, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible sprang from the Church as part of its living Tradition; for us to fully benefit from the Bible, we need to be immersed in the Church and its teaching.
St. Augustine, for instance, only began to comprehend Scripture when he listened to the homilies of St. Ambrose in church, at Mass.
And that raises another good point. Although we Catholics don’t always read the Bible as much as we might, we do hear it regularly proclaimed at
Just moments ago, we heard a selection from the Old Testament, a psalm, a New Testament reading, and a passage from the Gospel. We refer to this as the “Liturgy of the Word.” Think back to today’s gospel. Jesus himself was teaching God’s people as they worshipped on the Sabbath day. Jesus taught with authority- and the people were astonished! We can have the very same experience in our Sabbath worship. We too can be astonished- especially if we make an effort to pay close and careful attention during the “Liturgy of the Word.” Hearing Jesus’ voice in his word at Mass can especially prepare us to receive Jesus under the forms of bread and wine, when we receive Holy Communion. Mass.
Indeed, Holy Communion and the Holy Bible should go hand-in-hand. It used to be said that Protestants were all about the Bible while Catholics were all about the sacraments. But it’s not an “either/or” situation. It’s “both/and,” because Jesus gave us both. In Communion, Jesus feeds us with himself; in Scripture, Jesus reveals himself. In the Bible, we hear him speak; in Communion, we share his life. Moses, in today’s reading from Deuteronomy, foretold of a prophet whom God would raise up to speak his word and tell his commands. He was speaking, of course, of Jesus. “To him you shall listen,” said Moses. And that’s the challenge for us: to turn to the Bible and listen to Jesus, that we might become more like Jesus. Today’s psalm put it well: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”