what happens when a Catholic starts reading her Bible

For far too long, I thought daily scripture reading was something done by people who were either more religious, more pious, or just generally smarter/better than myself.

This year I realized: that's a stupid way to live my life.

On nights when I've given up on my life, I escape for 14 minutes to go pick up Thai food for dinner, and I listen to the Sunday homilies of Fr. Larry Richards who, in my opinion, is one of the best preachers we currently have in the American church. He's not everyone's style, I'm sure. But the man speaks the truth. No--actually, he YELLS THE TRUTH at the faithful in his parish every Sunday. I love it.

I usually come home with chicken satay, fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce, pad thai, an affirmation of my sinfulness and a resolve to live a holier life. Thai food and contrition. It's a win-win.

He preached one particular homily on June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist, which is one of the few solemnities, he says, whose feast is still celebrated on a Sunday.

He says:
"We were all baptized to be prophets. But does anybody read their bible? What, four people in this church? Ah, well the rest of you are going to purgatory for a long time. We're all called to be prophets. A prophet is one who hears God's holy will and proclaims it to the community. You were called to be a prophet. The first thing you must do: listen to GOD. So the first thing you must do--you must PRAY with the scriptures! Most of us don't listen to God because we don't read the Bible every day. This is who God chose you to be! You are called to be the prophet of God! And if you don't act on this, you won't go to heaven the way you need to go to heaven! 
I've screamed about this for many years--I don't know why I scream about it now; nobody listens. We are ALL called to share in this prophecy. We're all called to share it with the people we live with, and work with. We say we're a prophets for God, but we fail to hear the Word of God first. You can't hear it if you're not spending time with him in his Word every day."
Well. That was a compelling enough rant for me. I came home with the pad thai and looked at Sean over the dinner table.

Me, very seriously: "I think we need to start reading the scripture together every day."

Sean: "AWESOME!"

He's always game for devotions, that guy. But even when you want to start reading scripture every day, where do you start? I had already bought a big study Bible (more on that in a minute); did I need a scripture study kit too? Did I need DVDs? Did I need a day-by-day plan to finish it in a year? WHAT WAS THE PLAN????

In a bold move indicative of his inner tendencies toward setting and achieving goals, Sean took the reigns and said, "Let's just open to the New Testament and... start reading it." Ok.

Back up the bus: Five years and two babies ago I thought I could spend a super holy Lent by reading the whole New Testament. I bought the revered Ignatius Study Bible, certainly in part because I trust Ignatius Press and anything they publish, but mostly because I was convinced that I needed Catholic scholars to explain scripture to me. [See the note above about feeling stupid.] I was convinced that scripture was just like Shakespeare--and reading Shakespeare in high school involved reading a book that had, on every spread, the Bard's words on the left page, and line-by-line commentary and contextual explanations on the right page.

When the Ignatius Study Bible arrived before Ash Wednesday, I questioned both my Lenten practice and my sanity.

Clocking in at 720 pages and more than a couple pounds, this was the definitive Biblical study guide (for the New Testament at least) for Catholics--definitive meaning it is a thoroughly cross-referenced work of exegetical genius, containing commentary, extensive footnotes, and indexes and charts. And more.

So I put it up on my mantle, set a flower vase on it. Then swore off chocolate til Easter and just called it good.

Fast forward to this summer, when I finally unearthed said study Bible from our book stacks. Sean grabbed our big hardback family Bible, and suddenly, there we were, prophets reading the Word of God, sitting together in the living room.

We've been reading every night together after the kids have been tucked in bed. We read 5 chapters at a time out loud, alternating who reads each chapter. We went through Matthew (who, I now know, was writing mostly to the Jews), Mark (author of the "secret" gospel who used the word "Immediately" 40 times in his 16 chapters!), Luke (the doctor/author who beautifully recounts Christ's earthly life including the beautiful infancy narrative, and shares this good news with the Gentiles), and John (the poet author, whose chapters repeatedly made Sean and I pause our reading and say, "Wow.").

And that brings me to now. Last Sunday, a crazy weekend with a work crisis for Sean meant that I snuck out for a Saturday vigil Mass by myself. And what did I hear at the Gospel? Ah, yes:

"The Gospel according to John."

Hey, I thought. I just read that.

"... So they said to him,
"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat."So Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."

So they said to him,
"Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them,
"I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

The end of the Gospel reading found me with tears running down my face.

I didn't know that if I read the scriptures straight through, like I would a book--instead of solely hearing it in bits and segments as we do as Catholics at every Mass--I would begin to hear it differently. I didn't know I would start to recognize what I'd hear as parts of a greater whole, a story with centuries of context, and generations upon generations of hope. 

I didn't know that when you read the Word of God--when you read it outside of Mass, when you read it without beautiful, squirmy little babies crawling all over you, you then hear it differently.

I didn't know that spending time reading the Gospel every day is a better use of my time than reading any novel, ever, period.

I didn't know that Jesus lets Lazarus die so that he may perform the miracle of bringing him back to life, thereby converting many to believing in Him--but this miracle would, in turn, set the events of his arrest and execution in motion. And that He weeps. He stands and weeps.

I didn't know that what made Jesus' new covenant so radical was that it was available to every single person with deep, unquestioning faith in Him--every single person in the world--and that THAT was impossible for the scribes and pharisees to accept.

I didn't know, truly, what a pivotal role the Holy Spirit played in the nascent Church. And what role He still plays today.

I find it to be a miracle, a true turning point in my life, that I listened to Fr. Larry's homily.

Let those who have ears, hear. And let those Catholics who have Bibles... read them.


  1. This gave me goosebumps! I too have recently picked up my Bible after a long time and it's been life-changing already. Funny how I've heard the stories over and over throughout my life, but somehow they still affect me in brand new ways.

    1. Yes exactly! Amazing how it all sounds different when you read it or hear it at a new time in your life!

  2. Dr. John Riccardo will blow your mind too- so happy for you two!

    1. I'll have to look him up! Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Wonderful Mary! I have been doing a Read Through the Bible in a Year plan. I started keeping a note book of verses that meant a lot to me. I’ve filled up one and am on a second. When I’m in need of encouragement or am looking for a word of encouragement for another, my notebooks have come in handy to remind me of those soul satisfying my words of our Lord! Blessings to you!!!