Take up and read

First slide

“Mom,” my 8-year-old says as she comes in the door, “Andrea says we’re not Bible Christians because we’re Catholic.”

I look up from my computer and smile at the irony. For the last nine months, I’ve been writing Scripture studies nearly fulltime. At least this matter will be easier to explain than when my little boy came in from the backyard and wanted to know why our neighbor child was insisting that there are seven gods and none of them was named Jesus.

I told Sarah that Catholics are Christians who definitely believe in the Bible. Her friend believes that the Bible is the only authority for a Christian. We differ there. I asked her to think about Jesus’ friends after He died, to imagine St. Paul as he wrote his letters from prison. Way back before people identified themselves by the names of many different denominations. Were those people of the early Church Christians?

She agreed that of course they were. “But they didn’t even have a Bible,” I reminded her. “Those letters St. Paul was writing became a part of the Bible.” Her eyes grew wide with understanding and then they twinkled a little mischievously. “I can tell Andrea that.” I nodded.

“Also, in the Bible it doesn’t say that we have to only believe in the Bible. Jesus gave us the Church, too. So, you could tell her that Christians didn’t always have a Bible, but still they were Christian, and you can tell her that we have the Bible and read the Bible and pray with the Bible at every Mass. You can tell her that you love the Bible and you are Christian and you belong to a Church that teaches the truth of the Bible.”

Off she went to set the record straight.

The reality is that her friend’s perception of Catholics is not so different from many Catholics’ perception of Catholics. My cousin Ellie writes about her own childhood growing up in a big Italian family, “A bible the size of Utah sat upon a marble table in our living room but no one was allowed to touch it ... There was an awareness of the existence of God—but not the experience of God. Religion came up from time to time — ours was right and everyone else’s was wrong.” It is not unusual to find a Catholic who doesn’t read the Bible personally on a regular basis.

That never seemed quite right to me. I’ve always deeply believed that having a relationship with God that only exists in the physical — just showing up at Mass and consuming the Eucharist — is like being married and skipping conversation. Jesus wants to have words with us. He wants to engage in dialogue. He gave us this richness of conversation and if we never open the book, it’s like ignoring our spouses when they try to talk to us. 

Catholic liturgy is steeped in scripture, but a lot of Catholics don’t really listen carefully to it when they hear it. 

And many Catholic women don’t know how to get started, and they don’t know where to find resources to keep them going. We need to change that scenario. We need for our children to be so familiar with the Bibles open in their homes that when someone tells them they aren’t Bible Christians they know that can’t possibly be right. We need to take to heart the story of St. Augustine, who was indisputably Catholic. In Confessions, he describes how powerfully he was impacted by the Word of God. He was sitting in the yard one day, totally at the end of himself, in utter despair. He flung himself to the ground and wept — he describes sobs in big, gushing wails — and he asked God how long he’d be alienated by His anger.

Suddenly, Augustine heard voices chanting “take up and read” over and over again. So, he went to the Bible and read the first passage it fell open to. It was Romans 13:13 — all about turning away from a life of sin. And His whole life changed in that moment.

Ours can, too. Today is a really good day for Catholics to take up and read.

Foss is the founder of Take Up and Read, a ministry dedicated to encouraging women to read, to ponder, and to respond to the Word of the Lord every day. You can find her at takeupandread.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss