St. Jerome, the 4th century Church Father best known for translating the Bible into Latin, is frequently quoted as saying, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Not one to mince words, this powerful (and somewhat harsh) statement from the ancient saint isn’t just meant to be stitched on throw pillows or painted on distressed wood signs to be hung in your office or kitchen . . . they’re words meant to prompt action in our lives. We are meant to actually throw ourselves, wholeheartedly and without pause, into the study of Sacred Scripture. Not reading the Bible is not knowing Jesus, plain and simple. If you don’t read the word, how can you possibly know the Word?
I think sometimes we Catholics shy away from reading the Bible. Whether for fear of being “too Protestant” or not exactly knowing where to start, we let our Bibles sit on night-stands and coffee tables, making reference to it as needed. But we sometimes forget that the Bible is not a reference text so much as something meant to ground and guide us. The Word of God is meant to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). It contains the countless wonders and works of Jesus Himself, and far more books could’ve been filled had there been time to write it and enough ink to spill (John 21:24). We are meant to hear the Word and then live according to it (Matt. 7:24).
But, and this is often our greatest struggle when it comes to Scripture: we don’t know where to start. Do I just pick it up and start from Genesis 1 and try to read straight through? I might make it to Leviticus, and when I reach all the ancient laws given to the Israelites wandering the desert, I may lose that passion and gusto. Should I just go “Bible hopping,” picking a random book each day and reading until my eyelids become heavy? I’m a Christian, so why not just focus all my energy on the New Testament alone – that’s where all the cool miracles are anyway, right?
There’s nothing keeping you from doing any of these, at all. Reading the Bible (even sporadically, or while bored) is better than not reading it. Attempting to steep yourself in the word can never be wrong, but, perhaps developing the habit of reading Scripture regularly would be more fruitful. Allowing yourself to strengthen your “Scripture muscle,” and allowing the divinely inspired Word of God to embed itself in your mind intentionally and with purpose, will give new meaning to the Bible that you may have become unfamiliar with over time.
One of the best (and easiest) ways to develop this habit of reading Scripture, and letting it begin to really mean something in your life, is by reading the daily readings assigned for the celebration of the Holy Mass. Fear not: the Church tells us exactly where to go each day – a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and then a passage from the Gospel. No tricks, gimmicks, or confusion at all: just hop on www.usccb.com, find the date on the small calendar on the right hand side of the screen, and you’ll be taken right to the page with the day’s readings. Better yet, find an app (there are literally tons) that gives you access to the readings right on your phone. My favorite is the “USA Catholic Church” app, which has an entire section with the daily readings, along with relevant Catholic news, articles, and meditations. Other convenient options include Laudate, Catholic Calendar, and iMissal (to name just a few).
Reading these daily readings, and letting the words that will be read at every Mass celebrated around the world that day wash over you, can give direction and purpose to the things you are doing. The daily readings can give a theme to your day, helping you stay focused on practicing a specific virtue or avoiding a certain vice. The words from each reading can help slowly introduce you to the regular practice of reading the Bible, especially since you’ll be getting a nice smattering from both the Old and New Testaments. You’ll become familiar with the language, recognize patterns, and perhaps even be reintroduced to parts of Scripture you remember, but haven’t thought about in a while. Ask yourself simple questions when you read the daily readings, such as
- What does this passage mean to me right now? What’s going on in my life that allows me to relate to these passages?
- What questions do I have about these readings? What’s confusing to me? What do I need to learn more about?
- Who am I in these stories? Where do I see myself in these passages?
- How can I let these readings affect my day-to-day activities? What can they do for me right now?
We shouldn’t ever want to be ignorant of Christ Jesus. Ignorance is not knowing—it’s being completely unaware, and thus unaffected, by whatever is not known, and that’s my loss. I can blame no one but myself for my lack of awareness and knowledge. If we are ignorant of Jesus, we are saying that we do not know Him—that we are unaware by the very Savior of the world who stepped into time to be with us. Ignorance God’s written Word means we are, of our own volition, completely unaffected by the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. If we do not know the Sacred Scriptures—and do not read them, study them, and let them become part of our day to day existence—then we do not know Jesus. And when we don’t know Jesus, then we won’t be with him someday in paradise. He tells us that, in the Scriptures. Go ahead: go read about it. And then make it a habit to do that – read the Word of God – every single day from here on out.