Importance of reading and studying the Bible Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Written by Bishop Donald J. Hying   
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

Recently, Pope Francis designated the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, which falls on January 26 this year, as the Word of God Sunday, to honor the Scriptures and to lift up the importance of Divine Revelation given to us through the Bible.

St. Jerome, who dedicated his life to translating the entire Bible into Latin, famously said that "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." As Christians, we are grounded in the Word, confident that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write what they did as the definitive and inerrant expression of God's communication to His people.

Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the Eternal Word, consubstantial with the Father, who is the fullness of God's self-expression. As St. John of the Cross reminds us, in Jesus, God has said everything He can possibly say to us.

Traditionally, Protestants have been much more knowledgeable and familiar with the Bible than Catholics. Protestant leaders, such as Martin Luther, embraced "Sola Scriptura" as their logo -- the Bible alone as the only source of God's revelation.

Catholic Church upholds both Scripture and Tradition

In contrast, the Catholic Church has always held up both Scripture and Tradition as twin and complementary sources of God's revelation to us. God did not finish speaking to His Church when the final book of the Bible was finished; the development of doctrine, the evolution of sacramental forms, and spiritual practice show that God continues to work in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus founded a Church; He did not write the New Testament. The Church wrote the Gospels as a reflection of the preaching and activity of Jesus and the experience of the apostles. Hence, the Church has always claimed the right to interpret the New Testament, since she formulated these sacred texts.

Grow in familiarity and usage of the Bible

I encourage every Catholic in our diocese to grow in familiarity and usage with the Bible, especially the New Testament. If you don't regularly use your Bible, get it off the shelf and start reading it. If you do not own one, buy a durable copy, preferably the New American Bible.

I suggest starting to read Mark's Gospel; it is the shortest and simplest one, beginning with the preaching of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ. Read a paragraph each day in the context of prayer.

Savor the words. Let the images and stories flow through your imagination and your heart. What phrase, image or idea stands out from the text? What is the Lord saying to you in this passage? How can you put this Word into practice through action, attitude, and reflection?

Gospels written as witnesses of faith

"Gospel" means "Good News," the life-changing proclamation of salvation won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The four Gospels were written at different times, by varying authors, messaged to diverse audiences and communities; they were not written as historical documents, seeking to record every detail of Jesus' life, but rather, as witnesses of faith, seeking to lead the reader into a faith response to Christ and a living relationship with God.

As the apostles were martyred for their faith and those who knew Jesus in the flesh began to pass from the scene, it became imperative to formulate a written narrative of the life of Christ. How indebted we are to the authors of the New Testament!

Favorite Gospels

My favorite Gospel is Luke, as it contains the beautiful accounts of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation, and the finding in the Temple. The Parables of the Prodigal Son, the rich fool and the Pharisee and the tax collector stand out as transformative texts, revealing the mercy and love of God, which Jesus preached to the poor.

My second favorite is John, which is markedly different than the other three. Written last, from a Greek perspective, the Gospel of John reveals Jesus as the Incarnate Word, who was in the beginning with God and who was God, as the Prologue so eloquently puts it.

In John, we have the seven signs which reveal the identity and mission of Jesus, including the miracle at Cana. The sixth chapter of John is the great Eucharistic discourse which is the irrefutable Scriptural basis for our Catholic belief in the Eucharist and the Real Presence.

I also particularly enjoy the Acts of the Apostles, which serves as a continuation of Luke's Gospel, narrating the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the life and activity of the early Church, Paul's missionary journeys and preaching, the intense suffering of the first martyrs, beginning with Stephen, and the growth of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world.

In this important book, we realize the intensity of the suffering which those first Christians embraced on behalf of the Gospel, as well as the extraordinary fruitfulness of that original evangelizing impulse.

A blueprint for proclamation of Jesus Christ

As we look towards a greater and deeper focus on spreading the Gospel and forming disciples, the New Testament offers us a sure and certain blueprint of urgent ardor, method, and focus in the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

I joyously encourage each of us to spend a few minutes every day, reading and studying the Bible. There, we are encouraged, challenged, formed, inspired, and led to a deeper relationship with God the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures are God's love letter to the human race, narrating the ultimate story of salvation and grace.