word on the goThe big picture

We might all have a copy on our shelves, but the Bible is actually a book for everybody, where we meet together. Benefiting from the wisdom of other Catholics – saints and scholars, popes and parishioners – will help you to see the bigger picture and appreciate the message of Scripture more deeply.

There’s no two ways about it; as the Bible itself says, some of its contents are ‘hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:16). While some of Scripture is reasonably straightforward, it does also contain complex ideas, puzzling passages and unfamiliar cultural references.

As a result, we could all do with a helping hand when it comes to making sense of its meaning.

This ‘helping hand’ can come in many forms. First and foremost, we can benefit from the perspectives of the Pope, the bishops and priests. After all, part of their ‘job description’ is to help us to understand Scripture and our faith in Christ. We can also turn to what Scripture scholars have to say about the meaning of particular books or passages.

On top of that, we can also look to the thinking of saints and scholars from centuries past. Catholics all over the world have read, prayed with and commented on the meaning of Scripture for almost 2,000 years. To get the hang of the Bible, we would be wise to benefit from this bank of wisdom.

But there is another, more important, reason to understand Scripture within the context of the overall Tradition of the Church. And it’s this: the Holy Spirit inspired people to write the Bible in the first place, to help us to understand its authentic meaning today.

The Holy Spirit guides all of us as we read the Bible. Catholics also believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Pope and bishops in a special way in their role as teachers. This is because Jesus gave Peter and the apostles – and their successors (the popes and the bishops) the authority to teach in his name. (Matthew 16:13-20; 28:18-20)

In this sense it’s their responsibility to teach us the whole word of God. This includes all of the ‘traditions’ received from the apostles - not just those written down in Scripture (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 John 12). These traditions include the Creeds we say at Mass, the decisions of Church Councils, and the contents of the Catechism of the Church. Getting a handle on this bigger picture will help to shine light on some of the puzzling passages and tricky texts.

Finally, when interpreting the Bible it’s important to remember the Church beyond our country. The word ‘catholic’ comes from the Greek and means universal. Catholicism is a universal faith with a universal Church. Today there are more than a billion Catholics in the world from across all six continents. All of us have things of value to share with each other. This includes resources, different perspectives and interesting ways of engaging with Scripture.

Case Study‘We hold a drop-in Bible Hour after work’

Carmel leads a regular Tuesday evening Bible Hour in her parish. ‘Each week we get together as a group to pray and to explore different aspects and themes of Scripture,’ she explains. The group reflects on the Bible for an hour and people can either actively participate or sit back – depending on their energy levels.

Carmel sees real value in group study. ‘It’s not always so easy to understand the Bible by yourself’ she says, ‘but when we’re a group together, we can open up and bounce ideas off each other.’

So what do they talk about? ‘Recently, we’ve been focusing on the Twelve Gifts and Seven Fruits of the Holy Spirit’, she says. ‘We’ve been discussing what it means to live out gifts such as patience in everyday life.’

 

Here are some other ideas on how you might connect the Bible with different aspects of the Church’s faith and tradition:

Start with a prayer

God of history and tradition,
may we proclaim your name around the world,
and rejoice at your Gospel hope.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
guide us in life and death
and bring us gently home.
Amen.

Every Sunday in St Peter’s Square, the Pope shares a short reflection on the day’s gospel reading, followed by the ‘Angelus’ prayer. It’s then translated into several languages and published on the Vatican website.

A number of easy-to-read guides on the Catholic faith will help you understand how Scripture fits in the wider context of our faith. These are ideal for reading on the bus home or while waiting for a friend. Consider YouCat (a summary version of the Catechism) The Christian Faith: A mini catechism for Catholics by Fr Stephen Wang or The Catholic Faith by Fr Roderick Strange. Or try Making Good Sense of the Bible Together is an accessible group resource.

Since a hallmark of the Catholic Church is its universality, it’s worth taking a look at what’s available across the globe. The Christian Community Bible, published in the Philippines, is available free online and comes with helpful notes. For Christmas time - German, Spanish and Italian nativity scenes can be particularly striking. And lastly, the Irish Jesuits offer a range of biblical reflections.

There are many readable, reasonably-priced Catholic commentaries that will help you to understand and apply the individual books of the Bible. Sources include the Catholic Truth Society; The Navarre Bible series and Baker Publishing.

We say the Creed every Sunday - but how many of us have ever thought about what it really means? One fun way to find out is to challenge a friend to a ‘Creed Quiz’ over coffee. To prepare, each of you could read I Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed by Richard Maffeo or watch The Creed for Robots, a fun video on YouTube.

Since the Holy Spirit is the original inspiration for the Bible, getting to know the Spirit better will enable us to appreciate the meaning of its message. The Holy Spirit: a Bible study for Catholics, by Fr Mitch Pacwa includes seven sessions to enable us to grasp the importance and role of the Holy Spirit in living and understanding our faith.

The Big Picture course is a 12-part journey through the Bible designed especially for Catholics. The course, which will help you find your way around Scripture, can be done individually or in groups. It includes biblical reflections, discussion questions and even a DVD.

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