Like many a Catholic, I’m not good at reading scripture. Picking up and praying with my Bible has always been a rare occurrence for me, and from what I hear, it’s the same for many other Catholics. There is much truth in the old joke that “Catholics don’t need the Bible—we have the Catechism!”
Recently, however, I’ve tried to change my Bible-reading habits. For the past six weeks or so, I’ve started my mornings with a cup of coffee and Luke’s Gospel. My 15 minutes of caffeinated lectio divina started out in a straightforward manner: I’d sit, sip, and read. That was it. It was as plain a practice as a bagel without butter or cream cheese, let alone lox or jam. At first, I didn’t feel any particular movement intellectually, spiritually, or emotionally; I even considered stopping the practice altogether after a few days.
Thankfully, the desire to pray with scripture and see its fruits outweighed my short-sighted willingness to quit the practice (I believe that was an infused inspiration of the Holy Spirit and not my own desire). With the help of grace, I persisted in this new devotion. I did my best to check my oft-inflated ego at the door and let God do His work.
I have to say that God has done and continues to do His work.
I’ve grown to not only like reading scripture daily, but I’ve been surprised with some unexpected graces.
First, I’ve come to realize that reading scripture is not about what we get from it; rather, it’s about letting the Divine Word dwell in you. I tend to read both fiction and nonfiction from a primarily subjective framework. What can I take from this? What lessons from this book can I apply in my own life? As these questions are not wholly without merit, reading scripture is not and cannot be a solely subjective project.
God, in His Divine Word, is the one who is ultimately at work when we read scripture. Reading the Bible is about letting the Divine Word take His time and write on the canvas of your mind and heart. This takes time and usually occurs not by our own efforts. There is grace to be found in giving up the time to read the Bible and letting God speak to you—in our case, write on you. If reading affords one the opportunity to see inside the mind of the author, so reading scripture gives us the opportunity for insight into God’s mind and heart.
Second, in reading the Bible, particularly the gospels, I’ve re-learned a truth about prayer: prayer is about God working in you. This truth is so basic that it’s easily forgotten; it’s so fundamental that we can quickly breeze by it. How often do we go to prayer with the intention that we’ll change God rather than humbly asking for God to change us? I know I’m guilty of that! In reading the Gospels, we come across Jesus’ words to us. That’s what it’s ultimately about: listening to and responding to Jesus’ words and not our own.
Third: reading scripture is a respite for our eyes and minds. In a world that’s saturated with images and advertisements, often with a partial or complete disregard for human dignity and the human body, scripture lets our eyes rest on the words that are full of charity and truth. The words of scripture are truth and love in a world plagued by lies and indifference.
News headlines and social media comments address current scandals, tragedies, and deaths. Yes, we need to know what’s going on in the world, but that cannot be all we read. A culture of death, to use Pope John Paul II’s words, cannot be all our minds read about. We need to be in the world, but not of the world—this must be true for our reading too. Our reading must be other-worldly.
I invite lax Bible-readers like myself to pick up the Scriptures. Spend a few minutes of your day with God and meditate on His word. Don’t seek to get something out of your reading. Instead, ask for the grace to encounter God in the Scriptures, meditate on His word, and let the Holy Spirit take residence in you. And, the next time we hear the old joke that Catholics don’t read the Bible, be quick to say, “I beg to differ!”