All over the world this week, Scripture is being specially celebrated by Catholics in the first-ever “Sunday of the Word of God.”
Parishes will mark the day in various ways. Many will enthrone the Bible in their churches. They will honor and pray for people who teach and translate and study and proclaim God’s word. And they will look for other, ongoing ways to highlight and celebrate Scripture and encourage people to read and study and pray with the Word in order to draw closer to the Living Word, Jesus himself.
Pope Francis marked the feast of St Jerome, 30 September 2019, by declaring the third Sunday of Ordinary Time to be “Sunday of the Word of God.” He established the annual feast as a way to officially promote the value, study, and dissemination of God’s word. Read the full decree, Aperuit Illis, here. St. Jerome, who is known for translating the Bible from the original languages into what we know as the Vulgate, is the patron saint of biblical scholars.
What does that mean for you and me?
If you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ, it means a lot. Scripture plays an important role in helping us encounter Jesus and grow in our relationship with him while nurturing our spiritual growth and making us more like him. No wonder Jesus told his followers that the way to truly be his disciples is to remain in his word (John 8:31).
As Catholics, we have a powerful encounter with the Word (made print AND made flesh) every time we go to Mass. But Jesus wants to be with us always! And as St. Jerome said, “the Bible is the means ‘by which God speaks daily to believers.’”
In honor of this Word of God Sunday, here are some practical suggestions related to growing in those three aspects of discipleship: encountering Jesus … growing in relationship … and being transformed into his likeness.
1. ENCOUNTER — THE BIBLE IS A PLACE TO MEET GOD
One easy way to start is by being more intentional about how you hear the word when you are at Mass. You’re there already, hearing Scripture proclaimed. That’s God speaking to you! Think of Jesus’s parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15: whether what he says is received and “activated” depends on how receptive your heart is.
- What’s one way you can prepare the soil of your heart before you listen at Mass? Do you need to clear out distractions? Confess sin that’s clouding your vision? Read it ahead of time, maybe look up some of the context so you will understand it better?
- Then, how can you carry the Word with you and “water” it during the following week? Is there one word or phrase or thought that particularly spoke to you, that you can write down and come back to in prayer? Even a few minutes a day can make a difference.
Here’s a simple suggestion from Pope Francis: “read a passage of the Gospel every day. Remember it well: read a passage from the Gospel every day, and on Sundays go to Communion, to receive Jesus. […] There is always a Word of God that gives us guidance…; and through our weariness and disappointments there is always a Bread that is broken that keeps us going on the journey.”
We need them both: Word and Eucharist at Mass, but also the Word at home. Disciples need that one-on-one time with the Lord. The easiest way is to make it a habit. Set aside a set time every weekday, 30-60 mins if you can but even 10. Put it on your calendar. And keep your appointment with Jesus. To do this, you may find one of the following blog posts helpful. The first is more general; the second helps you build a plan:
- Build a Bible Reading Habit (3 “Ps” to Get You Started)
- Our Daily Bread: 3 Steps to Daily Bible Reading
2. RELATIONSHIP — READING THE BIBLE IS A WAY TO GET TO KNOW GOD
To get to know God, get to know the stories in the Bible … and the overall storY, as well. How can you trust someone you don’t know? Reading the Bible is how you learn what he has done throughout history, things that give proof of his character. It’s hard to get that by cherry-picking bits and pieces of the text. You really have to get the “big picture.”
There are tips for doing this, as well as tools for Bible study and for reading the Bible as a Catholic, under the “Resources” tab of this website.
If you already have the overall biblical narrative in mind, and know the important people and main events, don’t stop there. That would be like me telling my husband, “enough of the family stories: I already know where you came from!” There is always more to discover, and the more you know, the richer your relationship will get with the One who wrote it and Who it is about.
3. TRANSFORMATION — THE WORD IS A SEED WITH POWER TO TRANSFORM YOU AND MAKE YOU FRUITFUL
It’s common to think that as long as you know how to access information, that’s enough. That may be true with geography or history or even science; it is NOT enough with the Scripture. The Bible is not just information. It’s about transformation. The Bible is the living word of God. The Lord longs to meet you there and speak directly into your life, with love.
Don’t let God’s word fall on deaf ears. Take Mary as your model and allow the Word to penetrate your heart. Nurture it there. Meditate on it. Frequency is important, as is repetition. Get familiar with Scripture, even memorize it. Get it planted where the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind and speak it into your life. As St. Jerome wrote once, “Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you.” (Letter XXII, to Eustochium, 25.)
Christians have entered this intimate, back-and-forth conversation with God for centuries with what Catholics call lectio divina, the “divine reading.” That’s a fancy Latin phrase for a very simple process:
—READ a small portion of Scripture to find out what it says in itself;
—REFLECT on it, listening for what it says to you.
—RESPOND — another word for talk! — pray to the Lord about what you hear
—REST in his presence, asking what change or conversion he might be asking of you
Finally, your “lectio” is complete when you live out what you’ve heard, in your life.
Pope Benedict wrote of lectio divina that it is not only “truly ‘capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God’” (Verbum Domini, 86).
If you’re not familiar with lectio divina, I encourage you to learn it and put it into practice — both alone and together with others. You can get more information and instructions here. I’ve also written two “lectio journals” to help people pray with the Psalms. Create in Me a Clean Heart: 10 Minutes a Day with the Penitential Psalms is particularly suited to prayer during Lent.
In closing, here’s something I often pray before reading or studying the Bible:
Blessings on you as you read His word!
© 2020 Sarah Christmyer
This post was adapted from one published 7 May 2017, “Read the Bible Like a Disciple.”
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If you’re looking for practical ways to promote Scripture engagement in your parish or ministry (or if you want a few reasons why doing that is essential!) join me for this free webinar, sponsored by Ave Maria Press and its partners: