Dear Brother and Sisters in Christ,
Approaching the Bible can be a daunting task. Some readers experience apprehension about their ability to understand what is contained therein, while others struggle to see how texts from thousands of years ago have any relevance to our present day. If only we understood the truth about the Bible! The Scriptures contain for us an incredible story (or history) through which God wishes to speak to His beloved people.
Let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis we read the story of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the population of the world with plants, animals, and finally, humanity. We hear about the close friendship man had with God in the beginning, so close that Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden and conversed with Him. In their act of disobedience – eating fruit from the tree which God had told them not to eat – they lose that intimacy with God, as well as with one another and the natural world (hence, they hide themselves from God, Adam accuses Eve of giving him the fruit, and Eve insists it is the serpent’s fault). From that point on, the Bible tells the story of how the human race has wandered away from the God who only desires to walk and converse with us. But in our wanderings, we find that God has never stopped seeking us out, sending messengers to teach us how we ought to live, proclaiming that we are loved profoundly and beautifully, and that there is hope for redemption and restoration in spite of the distance that seems to have grown between us and God. We read from Scripture week after week at Mass because this story of God’s desire to be united to His people needs to be told again and again, because this story never stops being relevant. Hearing this good news from Scripture fuels the way we worship God as a community.
Unfortunately, the reality of what Scripture is has not always been firmly rooted in Catholic hearts. As a result, occasionally people will ask to substitute Scripture readings with a favorite poem or chapter from literature, particularly at weddings and funerals. Poetry and great literature are all well and good. In fact, even great literature recognizes the beauty of Scripture. Think of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “The Grapes of Wrath.” When Grandpa Joad dies, the family buries him. With his body, they place a note identifying him by name. Ma insists that they include a passage from Scripture. The Joads settle on Psalm 32:1, understanding that God’s word conveys something deeper than their own ability to express. In the context of the Mass, the Church gives us the sacred Word of God for a very good reason. When the Church gathers at the altar to pray, our prayer is directed by the revelation of God’s love for us communicated to us in the Bible. Thus, at a wedding, readings from the Bible help us to see that marriage is a reflection of God’s divine, infinite love for his creation. At a funeral, reading from the Bible reminds us of God’s never-ending pursuit of a restored, reconciled relationship with His people, that God’s mercy is everlasting, that the salvation we have needed since Eden has, in fact, been won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing can take the place of God’s holy word during our communal worship!
For those who hear Scripture regularly at Mass, it can be easy to forget how much God wishes to say to us through His word. On the other hand, for people who rarely attend Mass, Scripture can seem foreign. Especially when important life moments like weddings, or difficult circumstances, like funerals, are happening, these challenges in understanding Scripture can seem insurmountable. The most important thing for us to remember is that through Scripture, God has something to say to us in every human need. On our most ordinary days, God wishes to speak. In times of greatest joy, God wishes to speak. In our time of grief and hopelessness, God wishes to speak. When we, as a Catholic community, gather to worship, the Bible provides us with a framework, a foundation, and a reminder that God desires to be close to us and to give us a future full of hope. It is hope that allows us to look forward to the fulfillment of the Scriptural story, when, at the resurrection of the dead, we will be united with God for all eternity. And so the Church will always read and reflect on the words of Scripture in every liturgical celebration, from baptism to Sunday Mass to the funeral Mass, for in Scripture we find words to inspire, correct, remind, and comfort.