I posted this in a short series about a year or so ago. I thought it a good idea to revisit it.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1)
In the last post I told of how the Holy Spirit used the Scriptures to give St. Augustine a new heart, a new life, a new destiny. We also saw how the Holy Spirit is trying to guide faithful Catholics into the same experience of St. Augustine – urging us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church to “pick up the Bible and read it.”
In this post I will suggest several aids to reading and understanding the Bible – aids I have used routinely since 1972 when I first committed my life to serving Jesus. You can also click this link to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for further (and sometimes, overlapping) information: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/
1. Pray before you read. I never open my Bible without first asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate His word to my mind and my heart. My prayer goes something like this: “Holy Spirit, open my understanding to Your Word that I am about to read. Use it to reveal to me my sins, to guide me in my day to day decisions, to make me more obedient to Your will.” Often, when I read one of the prophets or the apostles, I will add (for example), “Isaiah, please pray for me now as I read the words the Holy Spirit gave to you to give to the Church. Pray also for me that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of my heart and reveal Himself to me.”
2. Be consistent. Set aside a specific time each day for reading the Bible. Choose whatever works best for you. I prefer the morning before my day starts, and the evening before turning out the lights. Along with the time of day, set a specific period of time – ten or fifteen minutes. Whatever you feel comfortable doing. The point is, consistency. Day by day. If you miss a day, don’t stress over it, just pick up where you left off the next day.
3. Select a Bible that is easy to read. Only Catholic Bibles include the several books missing from Protestant Bibles, such as Wisdom, Sirach and Maccabees. Be aware that the commentaries included in the margins of any Bible are not inspired by the Holy Spirit as are the actual texts of Scripture. Holy Scripture is never wrong, but commentators can be – and have been – wrong in their musings.
I like the Navaree Bible and commentaries, but they are pricey. The New American Bible (NAB) is okay, but I do not like its translation of some words from the Greek or Hebrew to English. Nor do I agree with some of their commentaries regarding the dates and authorship of various Bible books. In fact, I believe the NAB is closer to liberal Protestant scholarship than historical conservative Catholic scholarship in those areas. Here is a link to Bibles approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/approved-translations/
Along with a readable Bible, buy a good Bible dictionary and a good lexicon. Lexicons aid your understanding of the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words used in the Scriptures. For free online resources, visit http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm, www.biblegateway.com and www.blueletterbible.org. I especially like the Blueletterbible site because of its easy access to lexical helps.
4. Don’t begin at the beginning. The Bible is not one book, but a collection of 73 books, written by dozens of authors over the course of nearly 2,000 years. While it is good to read the various books in their historical context (e.g. 1& amp; 2 Kings with Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel and others), I like to jump around within each Testament (Old and New). See this link for a reading plan I’ve recommended in the past: http://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2009/07/bible-reading-plan.html
If you are going to jump around, it will be important to annotate (usually in the Table of Contents) which books you’ve already read so you don’t re-read them before finishing the ones you’ve not yet gotten to.
5. Skip tedious passages. As I mentioned in my Bible reading plan (see link to my blog above), there are a number of passages, even entire chapters, filled with lists, genealogies and other tedious verbiage that will significantly slow your reading – and probably bore you to sleep. For that reason, I strongly recommend skimming those sections of Scripture. Such tedious texts account for probably less than 5% of the Bible. Do not let that 5% dissuade you from mining the deep riches of the remaining 95%. This is not to say the Holy Spirit cannot teach us wonderful things from that 5%. He can and He has. But your first few times reading the Bible, I think it important to get the bigger picture.
6. Mark it up. Expect the Holy Spirit to answer your prayer about opening your understanding of the Scriptures. He will speak to you as you read. Perhaps not every time, but you will be amazed how often He does speak to us.
Underline texts He brings to your attention. Write your thoughts in the margins. When you come across something you don’t understand, put a question mark next to the text along with the date. I’ve many question marks in the margins of my Bible, along with the date(s) the Holy Spirit revealed to me the answers to my questions.
If St. Augustine had ignored the Holy Spirit’s voice through that of a child, “Pick it up and read it” he would have never become the man of God he was created to be. Likewise, if you and I ignore the Holy Spirit’s voice through the Church to “Pick it up and read it,” we will never become the man or woman of God we were created to be.
As the Psalmist said: Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).