the problem? a loss of Catholic identity
What’s behind our apostolate? It’s no secret that biblical literacy is sorely lacking among lay Catholics. Very few of our Catholic brothers and sisters can quote chapter and verse for more than a small handful of Scripture passages. Of more concern, very few can summarize the history of our salvation or relate the role that figures such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, or David played in that story. With the loss of this context, the scriptural roots of the doctrines of our faith have become obscure. As an extreme example, we’ve heard of a catechist who taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary died of a snakebite, based on the portrayal in popular religious artwork of the protoevangelium or “first gospel” found in the book of Genesis 3:15 . When knowledge of the Bible comes second- or third-hand, such misconceptions are inevitable.
With the loss of the scriptural context of our faith, we lose touch with the reality that is Catholicism. The Catholic faith is and always has been deeply rooted in Scripture. Our doctrines, our Mass, our prayers, and our very way of life are steeped in the Scriptures. In a very real sense, the loss of scriptural competency among lay Catholics is the loss of our Catholic identity. If we don’t know Scripture, how can we understand what we believe, what we practice, and what we pray?
Of more concern, however, is that when we lose the ability to engage the dynamic Word of God, we lose the ability to know and to relate to Jesus Christ. St. Jerome famously wrote: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” For contemporary Catholics, ignorance of Scripture poses an insurmountable obstacle to connecting with our faith and with our God. Jesus Christ speaks to us today in the living Word of God as clearly as he spoke two thousand years ago to his disciples. The question that lingers is: “Are we listening?”
Turning to God’s Word offers an approach to Catholic Bible study refined over the course of many years. It seeks not only to help develop understanding about how Scripture enlightens and shapes the Catholic faith, it also seeks to open dialogue between the participants and the living Word of God. This approach is rooted in the centuries-old Catholic method of reading and studying the Bible and is known as lectio divina. It relies on the assumption that truly to engage with and understand the living Word of God, one must read and focus directly on the Bible rather than relying on intermediary explanations and commentaries. It’s our sincere hope that by providing a gateway to lectio divina, Turning to God’s Word will help readers to find a more engaging and dynamic approach to encountering Jesus Christ in the revealed Word of God. For more detailed information, see lectio divina: a dialogue between God and man, or watch our Living Word of God video.
what’s in it for you?
Unless we as Catholics learn to pick up and to engage the Word of God directly, we never will be able to fully realize or share in the great gifts our holy Church provides in the Mass, prayers, and doctrine, because we’ll miss the most important element of Christian Bible study, the ability to enter into dialogue with the living Word of God. Through such dialogue, we not only learn to listen to what God is saying to us but also to offer a suitable response—and thereby to participate in the life-giving conversation that God desires to have with each of us through his most Sacred Word.
We at Turning to God’s Word owe a special debt to the Order of St. Benedict, and in particular to the monks of Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri. These men who have given their lives in service as Benedictine monks tirelessly dedicate themselves to the practice of lectio divina, and to studying and proclaiming God’s Word in all facets of their lives. The witness of their daily way of life, deeply rooted in the Word of God, has made a lasting impression on each of us.
We also have been blessed with inspiring Bible study groups, whose members have walked with us as we have worked to develop study materials truly based on lectio divina. Without our group members’ patience and their understanding of our eccentricities, and without their openness to experimentation, Turning to God’s Word would not be possible.
Finally, we are deeply grateful to the Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, bishop of Des Moines, for his ongoing support and encouragement.