Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Few Easy Ways to Include the the Study of Scripture in Your 2011

As we find ourselves several days into the new year, there are probably many people who are struggling to keep a New Year’s Resolution or two. Perhaps some haven’t begun. In any case, the new year is a wonderful time for each person to set new goals and map out new territory for themselves, especially for their growth in union with God. One wonderful way to do this is to resolve not only to take some time to pray with the Scriptures of the Liturgy as we discussed in our last spiritual reflection, but to even spend some time studying the Scriptures in general, for our spiritual profit. The rest of this reflection will give a couple of reasons and some simple “hows” for prayerful study of Sacred Scripture, with encouragement to include this in your New Year’s resolutions for your spiritual growth in 2011.

Why should I study Sacred Scripture?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 101 - 141 and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church questions 18 - 24 clearly expound the Church's teaching on Sacred Scripture. The first criterion given by the Church for reading Sacred Scripture is that "it must be read with attention to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture" (CCCC 19). Without a knowledge of the "content...of the whole of Scripture" then, we are unable to understand particular passages of Scripture in the context of the unity of the whole. Therefore, in order to reap the richest spiritual fruits from our prayer with the Bible, we ought to invest some time in sacred study of the Old and New Testament.

Get the "Big Picture"

In order to get the "big picture" of salvation history, one needs to read the 14 books of the Bible that contain the chronological narratives which give the entire story of salvation history in sequence:

1. Genesis
2. Exodus
3. Numbers
4. Deuteronomy
5. Joshua
6. Judges
7. 1 Samuel
8. 2 Samuel
9. 1 Kings
10. 2 Kings
11. Ezra
12. Nehemiah
13. Luke
14. Acts

How to Start

In our time, there are many excellent resources available for Scripture study in the form of books, DVDs, CDs and online formats to accompany our reading of the Scriptures themselves. I am going to list a few excellent way to obtain a general knowledge of the "content...of the whole of Scripture" which are not exhaustive, but hopefully point you in the right direction if you have been at a loss for a good Scriptural companion for a more comprehensive knowledge:

1. A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn (Book) A person could read this along with the 14 historical books, simultaneously. It is an excellent guide, highly readable, and gives you the big picture. Put this outline of the books and this covenant theology outline into your Bible (complements of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Kokomo, Indiana) to refer to as you study. You will see its great importance as you move along. Even if you use one of the other resources below, you should use these outlines and attach them or write them into your Bible.

2. A Quick Journey Through the Bible by Jeff Cavins (DVDs or CDs plus student pack and leader's guide) An eight part series, whereby, in the course of four hours, you will obtain a great overview and comprehensive understanding of the "big picture" of salvation history. You can do the series with the DVDs or CDs with or without the student pack, but the student pack is very useful.

3. Our Father's Plan by Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn free audio files from EWTN or DVD (3 disc set - 13 hours in total) This excellent series gives the chronological narrative plus deeper theological mining in each session. This is an excellent follow up for the two above suggestions, or it can also stand alone, incorporating an introduction with greater depth of learning.

Handy Tips

Professor Sebastian Carnazzo, M.A., Ph.D Cand., offered some very useful advice in his course on the Old Testament given at Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College that is worth sharing:

1. Don't be afraid to write in your Bible. Make notes in your Bible; highlight theme words. Many of the ancient manuscripts were plastered with notes all over the margins. It is not disrespectful to the Word of God. If there is important information that you want to remember, or a chart or list to which you wish to refer - put it in your Bible in some permanent fashion. If you write it or attach it into your Bible, it will be near you when you want to refer to it. If your left and right margins are very narrow, use a footnote system, and put the actual notes in the top or bottom margin.

2. Get a good translation in hard cover or leatherbound. You don't want the precious notes that you make to be lost in 10 years' time, when your paperback version begins to fall apart!

3. He had us all order the Bible Map Insert from Son Light Publishers, that has excellent Bible maps, can attach permanently inside the cover of your Bible, and also has great lists. I certainly use mine a great deal and recommend it highly!

How to Continue Studying Scripture

Once you have a grasp on the overall content and unity of Scripture by one of the above resources or some other excellent course or resource, you can continue to prayerfully grow in your knowledge of Scripture in several ways.

1. First of all, you can prayerful re-read the chronological books, that now contain your notes and cross references. As we mentioned before, always remember to pray before reading or studying the Scriptures! This will help you to absorb and begin to interiorize your knowledge. Most people find, on a second reading, that they are noticing details they never noticed before, and also (happily!) realize that they have learned so much and are getting quite familiar with the "big picture."

2. Another excellent idea, which, I believe is from Jeff Cavins or Scott Hahn, is to read the 14 chronological books again, but also begin to read some of the other books from the same time period, in order to understand the context. The outline of the books linked to above will show you where all the books belong.

3. Then, after such a firm grounding, you are ready to launch out into other Scripture studies on particular sections of the Scriptures, to which you may be particularly drawn. Again, there are many excellent resources for such studies. Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom by Michael Barber and The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn (regarding the Book of Revelation) are just two examples of many fine Scripture studies that a person can use. One can also use excellent Scripture commentaries and dictionaries. There are some great study Bibles from Ignatius Press with notes by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch already inside as well. So, indeed, there is no lack of resources and we have not yet mentioned the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church available online!

What If I Don't Have Time?

Yes, it takes time to study Scripture. But you can fit it into your schedule if you really hold that it is important. Here are several different ideas; hopefully one of them will work for you!

1. Set aside an hour on Sundays.

2. Pick a month (or time period of the year) where you will prayerfully study Scripture for a period of time each day. Lent is an excellent time for such an endeavour, or some month when your duties are not so intense.

3. Devote one Saturday morning of each month to studying Scripture!

4. Set aside a small amount of time each day to study Scripture (e.g. 10 minutes or even 5 if that is all you have).

5. Plan a Scripture Study at your College/University and invite your friends!

6. If you do a lot of driving, get an audio Scripture study you can listen to in your car.

We hope that you feel inspired to make the study of Sacred Scripture part of your 2011. May it bring you to a greater knowledge of the Father's loving plan through His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit and thus to a greater love of the Trinity. May Our Lady, who pondered everything in her heart, teach you how to lovingly ponder God's Word and respond as wholeheartedly, with your "fiat." Happy New Year to you all!

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