About 15 years ago, I decided to read the Bible cover to cover. Not that I hadn’t read the Bible before: of course I had – in spurts. In fact, the Bible that my Mom gave me when I left home at 16 is almost all underlined, with scribbles on the margins and falling apart, so much so that I don't really use it anymore. The Bible I got after that one is also now almost all underlined and highlighted, and starting to lose some pages. But, even though I had read a lot of the Bible, there were whole books that I had not even opened.
I committed to reading one chapter a day – and when that was not possible I would make sure I read five to seven chapters a week. I made it through Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers (they say that if you can make it through Numbers, you can make it through anything). And I continued. I read Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1 and 2 Samuel. Then I started slacking, although I did take a trip through the Book of Acts and Paul’s Letters, to get me into the Year of St. Paul in 2008.
What helped is that my friend and former Salt + Light TV editor Marc Boudignon was also reading the Bible cover to cover. We would talk about what we read and encourage each other.
That year I began formation for the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Archdiocese of Toronto. The academic component of this program required that we study Scripture: our first course was Introduction to the Old Testament. And so, I was renewed in my efforts to continue reading. I read one chapter a day and made it through 1 and 2 Chronicles before having to read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the Minor Prophets for our Introduction to the Prophets assignment, and then through the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, for our Intro to the New Testament assignment.
I'm not sharing all this to toot my own horn, but to encourage all of you to read the Bible. Catholics are, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, a people “of the Book.” And the Hebrew Testament is as much our Book as the Christian Testament. Remember the Hebrew Testament was Jesus’ Bible
In fact, if anything, in reading from Genesis to Chronicles, I found new meaning and depth in reading the New Testament. To give you a very basic example, in Matthew 19:8 when Jesus is responding to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, he says that “in the beginning it was not so.” He had just said, “in the beginning God made them male and female….” (19:4) and then, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (19:5). Well, if you flip back to Genesis (the beginning), it says the same thing: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). Knowing this, and in the context of the Genesis creation narratives, adds a whole layer of meaning to Jesus’ words.
But this added meaning goes far beyond understanding certain Old Testament quotes or references in the New Testament. So many Old Testament passages have echoes in the New. After Abraham tells Isaac that “God himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8); and the angel tells Abraham to spare his son, and Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket, can’t you hear John Baptist as he see Jesus, proclaiming, “there is the lamb” (John 1:29)? We then hear about “the Lamb” almost 30 times in the Book of Revelation. Also, try reading the Book of Revelation after reading Daniel’s vision in chapter 7, or reading the Last Supper narratives after reading the Exodus story. The Old Testament feeds into the New and the New echoes the Old in many and sometimes surprising ways.
When we hear that the Bible is the “Living Word of God,” wow is that true! The Word is alive and as relevant today as it was when it was written. It is truly the greatest book ever written.
At the close of the Synod of Bishops on The Word of God in 2008, Pope Benedict said the synod had helped the Church focus on the importance of Scripture, and he urged participants to return home and launch a program of Scriptural renewal in their dioceses and parishes. This is so important because – and we forget – our Mass has two equal parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. So often do we emphasize the latter, but in fact, the Mass is pretty much one Scripture quote after the other!
I've been thinking about this because, first, I'm always reading Scripture and there's never a bad time to talk about Scripture. Second, because this week is the Week of the Word of God
, an initiative from the dioceses of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
, Chicoutimi, Joliette and Montreal. It is inspired by the fact that Pope Francis instituted the third Sunday in January as the Sunday of the Word of God
, established so that it can be "devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.
What a great opportunity to begin our practice of reading Scripture!
So I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read it. If the idea of cover to cover frightens you, then start with the Gospels (a good one to begin with is Mark), or St. Paul’s letters. Maybe read the Psalms or start with the Prophets. It's good to learn a bit about the book you are going to read so that you understand who wrote it, the historical context etc. If you want to start with the Gospels, take a look at Deacon-structing the Gospels
and maybe that will set you on the right path. (I also wrote Deacon-structing the Prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah
and Ezekiel and Daniel
and the Minor Prophets
You can also pick up a daily Missal and read the daily readings. That’s a good way to be sure you are reading Scripture in communion with the universal church, as at every Mass all over the world, they would be listening to the same readings. I use one that offers a reflection each day that explains some things, so I'm not just reading something I may not understand. You could try to read the whole Bible guided by a resource like Fr. Mike Schmitz's Bible in a Year Podcast
. I would also highly recommend that whatever you do, you do so with someone or something to guide you: a bible study group, a study Bible, biblical reflections, a Lectio Divina guide, or a Bible reading guide. Having someone else doing it with you is also helpful.
If you don't have a Bible, I would suggest you get one that has good footnotes or annotations: study Bibles are great for those. So many passages are hard to understand without help.
The key is to read it prayerfully and read it regularly. Make a point of reading a little bit every day - read it, study it and pray with it. You won’t be disappointed. And – if you’re having difficulties, write to me
– let’s help each other!
Come back next time and we'll see what Scripture itself has to say about reading Scripture.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org