Now approaching our 4th year of bible study, I have seen God work amazing things in the lives of those who attended. In fact, it was one of the first things that we did together as a community of faith. Each parish already had various ministries, service opportunities and small prayer groups, but neither had a bible study. While the need was certainly present, it could only be filled if they committed to join a study at one of the other Christian churches in town. Not to mention, there were a quite few who had never considered themselves called or “qualified” to study scripture outside of the readings at Mass.
God qualifies the called..
Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in approaching scripture reflection for the Catholic is the fear of misinterpretation. Not only lacking encouragement prior to Vatican II to pursue study, the more pressing concern for the Catholic lies in the absence of formal theological training. In this believer’s mindset, only a priest, religious or deacon would be equipped to interpret scripture. Yet Vatican II, notably Dei Verbum, gave Catholics an invitation to nourish their faith by participating in the active study of the Word of God.
God desires to communicate with us, in this case in His word itself. All that is required, is the action of the Holy Spirit and the gift of ourselves. For, it is the Holy Spirit that opens the heart and mind to hear God’s voice in the scriptures and to understand its relevance within our lives and world today. Does this mean that the Church’s magisterium is no longer needed? No, the Church will always remain the authoritative reliable interpreter of God’s Word. It is, rather, that we the faithful are now entreated to encounter the “living, personal, life-changing word” and to grow in our relationship with Christ.
For as long as I can remember, scripture has served as a beacon of hope, voice of discernment, and a path to the One who called me as His own. Perhaps one of the greatest witnesses to this was my maternal grandmother. Not a day passed that she didn’t spent time in conversation with God. Beginning from the beginning, she walked with God in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, sang the psalms with David, and journeyed through history with the people of Israel. The story of God’s love continued and fulfilled with Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, intended to be intimately experienced and shared with others.
To her, this time spent in prayerful study was a profound movement of her heart to God’s. Chronicling insights and comparisons within the margins had become a diary of dialogue between her and Christ. And one need but read these lines penned to know that she sought and found God daily in the illuminated revelation of the Word. Her witness is both a gift and a challenge in my own walk with Christ, as I realize that I still have much room to learn and grow.
Guidelines for Study
So what advice would I give if you are new to scripture reflection and study?
- Pray. An essential first step in all things prayer must guide both reading and reflection. This is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to open both heart and mind to what God has in store for us.
- Find a good translation and resources. There are several approved translations like the ecumenical Revised Standard Version and the New American Bible. If you are in a specifically Catholic bible study you will want a bible that has 73 books and a copy of the catechism. Or, you may choose to google the catechism reference, as I do, since it provides a ready search.
- Find a time and study that works for you. Many studies have several meeting times during the day or evening to accommodate those that work or conversely cannot travel at night. In terms of format, I have found that the bible studies through Ascension Press work well for the needs within our particular community. Providing both workbook and online video access, they are engaging and provide connection to the study if the participant is ill or away.
- Be open to sharing. Oftentimes though we have read and answered the study questions, it isn’t until we speak with others that we are able to articulate what God has put upon our hearts. Also, don’t worry about having the perfect answer but be willing to learn from others.
- If you haven’t prepared adequately… go anyway. This is a point I underscore in my group of regularly over committed study participants. Even if you simply go and listen you will have grown more than you would by skipping it altogether. Likewise, Satan can’t use your absence as fodder for abandoning the cause altogether!
Whether you go it alone, or join in fellowship with others I pray that you will begin or continue to walk with Christ though scripture. If you are curious about starting up a study check out Ascension Press or Formed.org and then reach out to everyone you know!