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The scriptures are meant to bite

When I was a lad, we had a family bible. There were pages in the back where my mother entered dates of births, baptisms and confirmations. There were pictures. Though it was obviously a book—in fact that’s what the word bible means—I have no recollection that I or anyone else in the family ever read it.
 
We were good Catholics, but bible reading was something Protestants did.
 
It is not that we had absolutely no idea of what was in the book. I learned bible stories in our parish school. Noah’s Ark. Creation, with its two stories homogenised into one. Likewise, the Nativity with the two versions merged in our school Christmas plays.
 
On Sundays, after it was read in Latin, the gospel passage for the day was reread in English, though preaching often had nothing to do with the word of God.
 
Catholic life focussed on devotions, like novenas, scapulars, medals and First Fridays. Rather than the word of God, piety was motivated by dedication to Mary in her various guises, or saints.
 
Devotion to Christ was often, as in the case of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, an adjunct to Marian devotion. There was Eucharistic devotion, but it was divorced from its biblical and historic roots.
 
Of course, people went to Mass, but except for the altar boys, no girls in those days, who had no role, the main communal aspect was the collection.
 
That was the Catholicism of the laity. For the clergy, it was apparently not too different. Their basic spirituality was the same devotionalism with an overlay of mediaeval philosophy and a heavy veneer of moralism.
 
Scriptures, more often than not, were mined for proof texts to bolster positions derived from philosophy.
 
In other words, we had a Christianity that tried to do without the word of God. After my eight years of Catholic school education, it was an atheist Jew who first got me to actually read the scriptures.
 
But, even then things were changing. Steps were being taken that would eventually restore the word of God to its central place in Catholic life and thought, a transition that is still in its early stages.
 
On 30 September 1943, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Inspired by the Holy Spirit, encouraging modern biblical scholarship. Of course, that did not mean that on October 1 the Catholic Church suddenly embraced and was embraced by the insights of the previous two centuries of biblical scholarship.
 
It takes decades to train biblical scholars and more time for their insights to filter down to seminary professors, pastors and, eventually, the majority of the people of God. In some ways, we are only now reaching those last two groups.
 
Possibly the first fruit of the encyclical was Vatican II. The council restored the centrality of the word of God to Catholic life and worship. In addition, its other teaching was shaped by scripture.
 
For Catholics who had only known a non-scriptural faith, it was a radical shift to be embraced, rejected or pondered in confusion.
 
We are still in the midst of that process. For some, even some young ones and clergy who hold a nostalgia for what they never knew, Catholic identity remains linked to a style of being Christian that has little or no basis in scripture.
 
They may be afraid of what an encounter with the word of God may demand of them. 
 
In fact, we all should be, but we should also be confident that the word, Jesus Christ, will be with us in the encounter. He promised that. He had less to say positively about following the traditions of the ancestors.
 
Father Bill Grimm MM