When I was a freshman at Kennedy Catholic High School, I had freshmen religion with my favorite teacher of all time, Fr. Schrieber. It was a sacred scripture course meant to introduce freshmen to the person of Christ in the scriptures. Going into the course, I was overly confident in my biblical knowledge. Coming from a good Catholic household, and having a competitive academic desire, I knew a lot of the Bible stories. As I went through the course, I confidently got an A/A- with little study outside of the classroom (I didn’t study much in High School in general, and religion wasn’t going to be the exception). With this being said, I did learn many biblical facts in the class. But for the most part, they remained just facts and did not affect my heart. However, one statement that I will always remember from Fr. Schrieber’s class was the common Catholic adage of “No Bible, no breakfast – No Bible, no bed.”
The statement is a simple one. It reminds us to engage with the Word of God before we do the things that are most essential to our survival. Just as eating and sleeping are needed for the body to function, so is the Word of God essential for the soul to function. In addition, putting reading the Bible in primacy of place before our bodily needs shows its necessity in our existence. As Fr. Schrieber instructed us: St. Jerome says, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
So I tried it. I got my Bible out and attempted to make sure I read everyday, twice a day. I think I picked 1 Samuel to start reading, because it was pertinent to what we were learning in class. It was probably less than a week before I was maybe reading once a day. By two weeks, I had given it up completely, assuring myself that I knew the Bible. Even as I began forming a personal relationship with God as a junior in high school, the draw of reading the Bible was not there. I graduated, went to seminary twice, left twice, and still the Word of God did not take hold of my heart. Obviously, I heard the readings and Gospels each week and studied the scriptures, but it was mostly head knowledge that I filed away. I was introduced to praying the Psalms when we prayed communal morning and evening prayer at seminary, and there were times that these touched my heart. But just as many, if not more were times that I could not relate with what the psalms were relaying which caused me to become disinterested.
Even in my early years of teaching religion at North Catholic High School, the scriptures did not have primacy of place in my class. Sure, they were referenced and visited when it was the subject of the lecture, however, most of my early teaching career relied on my knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church rather than letting God speak through Word. Then my head of department, Eric Campbell, gave me two things to read that changed my perspective and truthfully my life.
The first was “Are We Really Teaching Religion” by Frank Sheed. There were many excellent thoughts, yet the one that cut right to my heart was, “The teacher of Religion should be absolutely soaked in the New Testament, so that she knows what every key chapter in it is about; knows the line of thought of every book of it, could find her way about it blindfold.” I could not do that. I knew the stories, but I did not have a mastery of scripture in either the Old or the New Testaments. But I had assured myself that I was fine because I knew the stories. I walked away from the article still assuring myself, but now with a nagging feeling.
The second was the Word on Fire Bible Volume I: The Gospels. I was so excited to receive this book, because I had always wanted accessible commentaries on the Gospels. So I read the gospels, cover to cover for the purposes of the commentary. Yet, it was the Words of Christ rather than the commentary that spoke to my heart, convincing me to be honest with myself. Had I given up everything for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:44-46)? Did I have radical trust that God would take care of me (Matthew 6:33-34)? Was I truly laying down my life and picking up my cross (Luke 9:23)? The answer I usually came to was, ‘sorta,’ and as Christ tells us in Revelation, lukewarmness has no place in Him (Revelation 3:16).
I kept rereading the WOF Gospels and Volume II: The New Testament when it was released, and I read the Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz. Suddenly, my heart started to shift. Allowing the Word of God to form my thoughts on a daily basis deepened my trust and conversation with God. By sitting with His Word, I understood the Christian life in a deeper way and desired Him more. But in juxtaposition, life became more mysterious. The journey of life became more adventurous. The Psalms became alive. The wisdom of God made itself known. I began to sit with the Word of God more than just twice a day. Yet, to this day, there are still greater depths that can be revealed in my life in God’s time.
Other than Fr. Schrieber, and maybe a random sermon, I do not think I understood the importance of allowing the Word of God to change my life. Sure, I was told the Bible was inerrant and important, but knowing the stories of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus only checked the box for me. I had ears, but could not hear (Jeremiah 5:21). This is the mistake that many Catholic Schools/CCD programs make. Knowing the stories of the Bible is different than interacting with the living Word. We must commit ourselves to not only reading the Word, but applying it to our daily life. We must read as if God is speaking to us in the here and now, rather than an old dead, possibly out-dated history document.
I would never have said it three years ago, but It is my firm belief that all Catholics need to read the whole Bible at least in their lives with the continual reading of the gospels. We need to submit ourselves to the interpretation of the Church and allow the Holy Spirit to guide our personal interpretation. If we do this, more Catholics will understand the joy of living life with the living Word of God, and true freedom. It is hard, and it is a time commitment. But the riches and depths of the Word are greater than any treasures to be found in material form.