I was standing in a bookstore with my mother; we were looking at Bibles. Who knew there were so many? I expected to find “The Bible.” The choices between “leather” and “leatherette” alone were enough to confuse me. We also had to consider paper and hardcover, red-letter and family, amplified and…I don’t know. Quiet? And there were also “translations” to choose from.
At least there, I was on firmer ground. Sister had told our seventh-grade class that if we didn’t already have a Bible at home, to buy the New American Bible translation. Mom and I found an inexpensive paperback and headed for the checkout lane.
The next day in class, Sister showed us how to find the New Testament. We spent the next several weeks reading and discussing passages from the Gospel of Matthew. Even though no one in my family had ever owned a Bible before, I knew many of these stories. I had been hearing them at Mass all my life.
It’s common to hear people say that Catholics don’t know the Bible. Sometimes that’s true. But for those of us who participate in Mass regularly, we do know many of the stories in the Bible. We just don’t always know what part of the Bible they come from.
The Bible for lunch
After seventh grade, my Bible didn’t get much use for a few years. Then, during my junior year in (public) high school, I met some Evangelical classmates. They carried their Bibles to school with them, which I thought was very weird. They would sit together during lunch and discuss passages from the Bible, much in the same way we had done during those weeks in seventh grade. Pretty soon, I was bringing my Bible to school and sitting with my new evangelical friends during lunch. By the end of that year, I could find my way around the entire New Testament—not just Matthew’s gospel.
For a few years after, I soaked up as much as I could about the Bible. I went to workshops sponsored by the Catholic diocese. I took a course in Old Testament my freshman year in college—taught by a Southern Baptist. I listened to cassette-tape courses by big-name biblical scholars.
Scotch Tape Bible teaching
And I began to train lectors at my college Newman Center. Many Catholic college students in the 1970s had grown up without reading directly from the Bible. And they grew up without any courses or workshops about the Bible.
As I would talk with the lectors, I realized they had no clue about what their readings meant. I was no expert, but I did want the lectors to understand what they were proclaiming. At that time, there were no lector guides. There were no quick, simple resources.
So I improvised. I used the introductions in my scotch-taped, yellow-highlighted, seventh-grade Bible to teach the lectors about their readings.
All that has changed now. Catholic children are often reading Bibles in grade school or parish religious education programs. Almost every Catholic teenager—if they are active in their parish—owns a Bible. Many have even read significant portions of at least the New Testament.
I’m no expert, but…
Even so, there are still a lot of people who want to know more about the Bible. I know a little more about Scripture now than I did in college, but I’m still no expert.
What I am is an active Catholic.
What I am is a person who loves Scripture.
And I’ve learned a few things over the years that have helped me understand what the church teaches and that have helped me to live more faithfully. (I still don’t get the difference between “leather” and “leatherette” though.)
You don’t have to be an expert either
Even if you think you know very little about the Bible, I hope you will share a story with us about your experience with the Bible. Do you remember buying your first Bible? How did you learn how to use it? Do you still use it? What is your biggest question about the Bible? By sharing, you will help others think of things they might also want to share.
3 thoughts on “What a Catholic nun and a group of Evangelical teenagers taught me about the Bible”
In the 70’s I volunteered to be a catechist for Special Ed. I was trained with the Sisters of Nortre Dame in Washington,DC at the Kennedy Institute. I had never read the Bible and Sister asked us to come with our favorite Bible verse and I was so embarrassed I opened the bible to a verse about the desert and I really do not remember anything else, except Sister asked why I liked that particular verse, ” I said because I love the desert it is so peaceful and calm and warm” I wanted to hide under the table. I was afraid to read anymore. Years later I have taken a course from Loyola/Marymount In Los Angeles,, their Bible Institute and love the Bible and teach it to all my students,.
I was taken back to my Catholic high school years in New Jersey when I read this article. My older sister and two older brothers shared our first New American Bible for religion classes from 1973-1977. I was amazed when during my freshman year a lay woman teacher actually had us read the Gospel passages about Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey and being able to answer the question about why Jesus was riding a donkey. From then on I realized that the bible was for our reading and understanding and not only for writing the family geneaology in.
Short devotionals, with a short Bible passage and then an author’s reflection, were a staple of my childhood breakfasts, along with OJ and corn flakes. From this, I grew familiar with navigating the Bible and comfortable reading from it. Another help was memorizing the books of the Bible as a 2nd or 3rd grader. I don’t remember them all now, but a few sections are still stuck in my head and help me around the minor prophets.
Two huge developments in my use of the Bible were learning the practices of Ignatian contemplation and Lectio Divina. I was exposed to Ignatian contemplation on a 5 day silent retreat in college. Later, I learned Lectio Divina from Archbishop Nienstedt in St. Paul, MN. Every month he would visit the university of St. Thomas and lead a group in Lectio Divina.
As these are central to my prayer life, I teach these practices to my candidates and catechumens. A neophyte recently came up to me and said that since her Sacraments of Initiation, reading the Bible is completely different. Words just jump off the pages too her. Sounds like the Gift of Understanding to me! I’m so encouraged to see that the Sacraments are fruitful in her life.