This weekend at the National Catholic Bible Conference in Houston, I spoke on “The Word of God in the Life of the Disciple.” Scripture plays an important role in helping us ENCOUNTER Jesus and grow in RELATIONSHIP with him, and it fosters the TRANSFORMATION that is the hallmark of true disciples.
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.'”
The question I heard most often at the conference, was “How do I start?” Here are some practical suggestions related to growing in those three aspects of discipleship: encountering Jesus … growing in relationship with him … and being transformed from the inside out.
1. ENCOUNTER — The Bible is a place to meet God. Take advantage of that!
One easy way to start is by being more intentional about how you hear the word at Mass. You’re there already, hearing the Scripture proclaimed. Think of Jesus’s parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15. What’s one way you can prepare the soil of your heart, ahead of time? Then how can you carry the Word with you and “water” it during the week? 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.
You may find one of these blog posts helpful. The first is more general; the second helps you build a plan:
2. RELATIONSHIP — Reading the Bible is a way to get to know God. Take advantage of that!
Get to know the storIES in the Bible and the overall storY, as well. I don’t know how to trust God without getting to know him. Reading the Bible is how you hear in God’s own words what he says about himself, and also read about the things he has done throughout history 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.”
I have tips for doing this as well as tools for Bible study and reading the Bible as a Catholic on my website under the “Dig In” tab.
If you already have the overview of Scripture, 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. Receive it and water it!
Today it’s common to think that as long as you know how to access information, that’s enough. But it is NOT enough with the Scripture. The Bible is not information, to the disciple: it’s the living word of God.
Don’t let that word fall on deaf ears. Take Mary as your model. Allow the word to penetrate your heart. Nurture it there. Meditate on it. Frequency is important, as is repetition. Get familiar with the word, even memorize it. Get it planted where the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind and speak it into your life.
Christians have done this for centuries with what Catholics call lectio divina. 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 completed when you live our 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’” (VD 86).
If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to learn it and put it into practice. See the “Take it to Heart” page on my website for more information.
In closing, here’s something I often pray before reading or studying the Bible:
Blessings on you as you read His word!
© 2017 Sarah Christmyer
The full talk on which this post is based, “The Word of God in the Life of a Disciple,” should be available from Ascension Press along with other talks from the 2017 National Catholic Bible Conference.