Pope Francis has declared this Sunday, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, as “Word of God” Sunday, an annual Sunday on which we will celebrate the Word of God, the Bible, and its central importance in our Christian lives, in the life of the Church.
This importance cannot be over-stated. Perhaps the best way to state it is the humble way, the way of personal testimony. I can say in all honesty that apart from the grace of God working in a million ways, it is the Bible that has kept me standing firm in faith and in hope, that has kept me on the path of Dominican life that I have chosen, that has carried me through the darkest, hardest times of my life. I have been carried for months, sometimes for years, by a single, powerful verse of Scripture. Verses like “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, Lord, God of truth.” Ps 31,6 And so I am here to tell you, from personal experience, that the Word of God has the power to redeem you, as it has me.
But we don’t access the redeeming power of Scripture lightly, without effort. The Word of God is much like a person, or like a painting in an art gallery. People don’t reveal their inner selves lightly. You have to spend time with them to discover, slowly but surely, one aspect at a time, their inner beauty, their inner truth. Paintings are the same. When I was in university in Ottawa, I worked part-time as a security guard at the National Art Gallery. And I made a beautiful discovery. As I walked around the section of the art gallery that I was supervising, I would look at the same paintings a million times, and they were just paintings. Then one day, I would glance a painting that I had seen a million times, and it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. It would open itself up to my gaze. I really saw it. I saw its beauty. From that moment on, I could have gazed at these paintings that had revealed themselves to me in their own time, indefinitely.
The Scriptures are like that. You have to spend a lot of time with them. You have to visit them again and again. You don’t have to read the Scriptures for hours on end. You don’t have to read the Bible in its entirety. But you do have to read it often, regularly, carefully, attentively. Also, let’s be honest, some books are more inspiring than others. So which books should you read? Short answer: trust the Church. The Church has made a careful selection of the most important, most inspiring passages in Scripture, and has committed them to our mass lectionary, such that by simply reading the mass readings of the day, you are in the right place. We also have the liturgy of the hours, the Church’s daily prayer, almost entirely Biblical in content. Again, if you pray the liturgy of the hours on a regular basis, you can’t go wrong. The beauty of the liturgy of the hours is that it is repetitious. We read the same Bible texts, especially the psalms, over and over again. This is precisely the kind of reading that yields fruits. Another important fact about Scripture is that it comes alive for us when it is shared in the Christian community in a way in which it does not when it is simply the object of personal reading. Countless times has a verse from Scripture which I knew well for having read it personally many times, come alive for me upon hearing it proclaimed at mass. Just one of the many aspects of the reality of how regular attendance at mass nourishes our faith and our hope.
Bottom line, the Bible truly is “a lamp for our feet, a light for our path”. But in order to become that, it has to be to us as a long-time, very close friend. It yields its light to us only over time. By the grace of God, may we all be inspired to consent to the Bible the time and the attention we would consent to a close friend, and may we all reap the benefits of our fidelity to this friendship.