A few years ago, there was a commercial during football games with folks gathered around a bar, or on a couch in a living room, or tailgating on the parking lot. As the groups watch their favorite teams on the TV, they turn their bottles labels out, or they wear the same non-matching socks, they rub their friend’s bald head, or they always grill the same nasty “veggie burgers.” They believe that these little things are directly responsible for their team’s victory. The tag line: “It’s only superstitious if it doesn’t work.”
It seems only appropriate that we encounter Moses in the First Reading engaged in what appears to be the same sort of superstitious behavior. As his arms are raised, Israel prevails; down, Israel loses. I am sure that we all have done something like this at some point. I know I have.
Once, I was looking for confirmation of a big decision. So, I turned to my Bible and thought, “I’ll open to the first passage I find, and there will be my answer.”
Now, while Scripture is always good to read, there are good and bad ways to use it. Writing to Timothy, Saint Paul says this: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” He tells him this as a means of strengthening and confirming young Timothy’s faith, which itself is rooted in Scripture. Proper use of Scripture is a means of preparing us for the good works to which God calls us.
As Christians, the Bible is the story of God’s love affair with His people. In it, we read of the grand story of salvation – from God’s creation of the world, to His choice of Israel as His holy people, through God’s care of them in the midst of various trials, and culminating with the Incarnation and our redemption by Jesus, followed by the establishment of the Church as the continuation of that saving work in the world.
We should all know Scripture; there should be a Bible in every home. It is The Book teaching us how to find God and to live as He wills. When we read Scripture, we are communicating with God – or better, He is communicating with us. It is the Word of God.
As Catholics, we have not always been strong on reading the Bible. In fact, we were at times discouraged from reading it ourselves. However, in the recent past, there has been a renewal Scripture reading by the Catholic faithful, and this is a great thing.
There are a lot of “versions” of the Bible out there, and often people wonder which one is “correct.” Well, I will side with St. Paul on this and say that all Scripture is great for us. However, there are what we could call “approved” Catholic versions. These are the New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and the Jerusalem Bible, to name a few. The “Catholic” versions contain certain books that the so-called “Protestant” versions do not, such as the Letter of James, and Maccabees and other books of the Old Testament.
Another question that folks may bring up about Scripture is “How do I go about actually reading it?” Has anyone ever tried reading right through the Bible? It’s tough, and usually by the time you hit Numbers or Leviticus, you’re baked. Reading the Bible does require a plan.
I recommend an approach that reminds us of the heart of Scripture –and of our faith: Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Jesus should be the key to reading and understanding Scripture, since, as we believe, He is the fulfillment of the Word of God, because He is the Word made flesh. So, here’s a brief suggestion:
Start with one of the Gospels – I recommend Luke, since it contains it all – the Christmas story, Jesus’ preaching and mission, through His Passion and death and resurrection. Then read Acts, which is actually the second volume of Luke’s work. Next, try reading the first five books of the Bible – what we call the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Then, return to the New Testament and read Romans. Go back and forth, then between Old and New Testament, and you will begin to build a hunger for Scripture, which will lead you closer to God. If this plan is too involved, another great practice is to read the readings for Sunday Mass in preparation for your participation.
Finally, remember to pray before and after reading. The Bible is the living Word of God, and as we read God speaks to us where we are. Scripture is never the same every time we read it because we are never the same.
Jesus is looking for faith, as He asks in the gospel, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will He? Our faith must center on Jesus, and here at Mass we are centered on Him. We hear the Word of God in the readings, and then we receive the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist. Nourished by these two sources of strength, we are truly prepared for a fully Christian life.