“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” — St. Jerome
Teaching is a wonderful vocation. To daily attempt to hand on what one has grasped or discovered or received to others eager to know and understand the truth is sheer joy. (Grading, on the other hand, is sheer drudgery!)
I am a theologian by training, with a specialty in moral theology. When I am teaching the Church’s social teaching, I often hear the complaint from my students that the broad principles that the Church proclaims, while true and challenging, lack the specifics that they want.
Whether it is the Church’s teaching on the stewardship of the environment, the role of voting, the right to health care, housing and education, or a myriad of other topics, the Church does provide essential guidelines but properly leaves it to individual Christians, working to sanctify the world through their work, to make prudential judgments on how best to apply the Church’s social teaching in their area of expertise.
For example, the admonition to care for the poor is an obvious requirement. However, how to best provide real aid to those in need leaves lots of room for prayerful discernment and creative adaptations.
Seldom does the Church forcefully and specially exhort all Christians to adopt a particular program or solution to anything. However, this is not true about frequent study of sacred scripture. Here, the Church is very specific. We should be meditating daily on sacred Scripture.
For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, drawing on the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (25), states:
“The Church ‘forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful … to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. … Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles’” (2653).
Similar teaching is found in the Catechism, Paragraph 133: We are “forcefully and specially” exhorted to study sacred Scripture.
In my own formation, I was very fortunate to have parents who loved sacred Scripture. Growing up Protestant, I guess this was expected, but looking back, I see in my family, though far from perfect, an embodiment of the communion described in the Catechism:
“The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task” (205).
Daily prayer, focused on the reading of the word of God, is such a blessing for any family. As Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, a “Venerable,” always taught, “The family that prays together stays together.”
But I was also blessed with excellent teachers who opened the Scriptures for me. One of them, Father Francis Martin, was both a genius and, I believe, a saint. He taught me in my doctoral program at the St. John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He impressed upon his students that we had to “put on the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5 — “the mind in you must be the mind that was in Christ”).
But how do we “think with the mind of Christ”? How do we begin to see the world as God sees it (i.e., as it really is!)? To Father Martin, this meant we had to “think biblically.” Historically, of course, the saints have taught us that to think with the mind of Christ is to think and feel with the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola famously taught his disciples to sentire cum Ecclesia (“think and feel with the Church”).
But as I understood Father Martin, to think with the mind of Christ, to think with the Church, and to think biblically were really just three different ways of saying the same thing — we must put on the mind of Christ.
Since the Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ extended through space and time, her teachings are the teachings of Christ. And as the Catechism teaches:
“In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God’ (Thessalonians 2:13, cf. DV, 24). ‘In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them’ (DV, 21)” (104).
Daily meditation on sacred Scripture is essential if we are to think with the mind of Christ. I recommend beginning by focusing on the daily readings for Mass, especially the Gospel. Another good approach is to choose one of the Gospels and to work slowly through it, meditating each day on a portion of it. Many have found fruitful the various books or online programs that allow one to read the entire Bible in one year. There are also many classes, parish programs and online presentations that allow one to study sacred Scripture more closely.
However we approach reading, studying and meditating on sacred Scripture, we know that the grace of the Holy Spirit will allow us to encounter Christ in each and every sacra pagina (sacred page) of the Bible.
As Guigo the Carthusian, following on Jesus’ teaching to seek, ask and knock (Matthew 7:7), taught, “seek in the reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation” (Catechism, 2654). This approach is traditionally known as lectio divina.
By reading, studying and meditating on Sacred Scripture each day, we more and more put on the mind of Christ. May we, as individuals and as communities of faith, think and act biblically in union with Christ’s mystical Body, the Church.