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Want to encounter Christ? Read your Bible

Q: Archbishop J, is the Bible really the Word of God?

The Mass is an invitation to feed at three tables, the table of the Word, the table of the Eucharist and the table of service. Each of these is a portal into the mystery that is Christ. Each offers the disciple a way to encounter and become more deeply conscious of his or her union with Christ.

This portal, this offer of encounter, is not always seen or recognised, which does not mean it does not exist. It just means we need help finding entry into this sacred mystery.

Have you ever gone to the fridge to look for something which you knew was there? You opened the door, looked inside and did not see what you’re looking for.

Then someone came by and pointed it out and you realised it was there all the time. We do not need secret knowledge or esoteric thinking to find the portal. We do need to understand the Bible and the Eucharist for what they are—an opportunity to encounter Christ.

Catholics do not read the Bible!

There are many misconceptions about the Catholic Church and the Bible. The most frequent misconception is that Catholics do not read the Bible. The opposite is true. If you go to Mass every weekend, you will read all of St Paul and the four gospels every three years. If you go daily, you will read most of the Bible in two years. If you do the morning and evening prayer of the Church, you will read all the psalms every four weeks.

We understood bible-reading plans long ago. The Church broke the text into bite-sized passages and offered it to us as a way of reading the Bible continuously. We are also offered a guide with the homily to point us to the deeper meaning of the passage and how to read it as an encounter. The Liturgy of the Word is supposed to be an encounter with the living Word, requiring a mature relationship with the word.

A magical reading

In my early years, we had a picture Bible at home, and I remember flipping through its pages, fascinated by the pictures. The stories of Daniel and the lion, Moses and the basket, and the burning bush are all early memories. Our family also had a Bible given to my great grandfather in 1895. It was huge and in a place of prominence. It was always there.

As a teen, I acquired a Good News Bible, my first. It was easy reading and used modern terms. It spoke, for example, about the police arresting Jesus in the garden.

At Fatima College our RE teacher read Bible stories that were written in a dramatic way. It was captivating. I was part of youth and prayer groups that helped me to see the Bible as important.

My grandmother had read Bible stories to us, but now I began reading the Scripture in small doses. I began dipping into the Bible. The custom was to ‘cut’ the Bible: to pray for a word and just open the book randomly. Whatever your eye fell on was what God wanted for you. This was a hit or miss affair.

Sometimes, the words answered my quest with incredible precision; at other times they seemed to bear no relation.

There was an assumption here. The Bible is God’s Word and if you pray and believe it will speak to you and shed light on your current situation.

A Sacred Portal

One weekend a group of us went on retreat at Mt St Benedict—four or five of us, young men on our own, for two days of prayer. By then, at 21, as a young adult, I had graduated to the Jerusalem Bible, with notes.

I prayed and opened the Bible as was the custom. My eyes fell on Isaiah 49. I felt like someone had ripped out my insides and turned me upside down! The Word came alive and hit me as it had never done before!

The words on the page became a living Word that has shaped the course of my life. This was the second time God proposed vocation to me. It had happened once before, at the end of Mass in the Fatima College chapel when I was 16.

On that day, at the Mount, I understood the Bible was not a toy or a trinket to be played with for amusement. It was indeed the Living Word of God that He used to speak to the heart of His people.

Then the Word of God became “…a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). No longer was it a matter of cutting the Bible, but devouring it, chewing portions in small bites at a time but relishing the Word and savouring its sweetness.

I learnt that the words on the page were a portal that opens us to encounter with the Word who became flesh and lives among us.

I learnt that Sacred Scripture was a way of prayer, and God speaks today if we have ears to hear and hearts disposed to listen. I learnt that Scripture is the Word of God.

Reading Scripture

A recent survey by the Centre for Bible Engagement, which poled 40,000 people, found that the lives of people who engaged Sacred Scripture four times or more a week were significantly different from those who did so only once, twice or three times a week. People who read Scripture most days of the week have experienced dramatic change in many areas of their lives: feeling lonely drops 30 per cent; anger issues drop 32 per cent; bitterness in relationships falls by 40 per cent; alcoholism drops 57 per cent; feeling spiritually stagnant drops 60 per cent; viewing pornography declines by 61 per cent; sharing the faith jumps 200 per cent; and discipling others jumps 230 per cent.

Encountering Christ through Scripture is a life-changing experience. I invite you to pick up your Bible and experience this invitation to deep transformation.

Key Message: The Bible is the Word of God, a portal to the encounter with Jesus Christ. The words open us to encounter the Word who became flesh.

Action Step: Enthrone a Bible in a prominent place in your home. As a family or alone read stories from the Bible.

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:8–13