Does the Bible Really Say That? (Paperback)
Saint Jerome, one of the Catholic Church’s greatest Scripture scholars, once remarked that “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ [St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.: PL 24, 17b]” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 133). That is bad enough. But to be ignorant of one’s ignorance is even worse.
And yet many Catholics do neglect to read and study the Bible. Too often Sacred Scripture can be reduced to a mere prop, a religious symbol of God’s authority that has little to do with one’s daily life.True, most Catholic households have at least one Bible on hand; but it’s also true that, generally speaking, it goes unread.
This is what Saint Jerome meant when he warned about the danger of being ignorant of Scripture. When through laziness or some other excuse we ignore or neglect to study and ponder God’s written Word, we find ourselves cut off from a major source of information about Jesus Christ—who he is, what he did for us and why we should have faith in him, love him and obey his teachings (Luke 6:46). Sacred Scripture reveals all these things for us.
Each Sunday, in Catholic parishes everywhere, an interesting ritual plays out at Mass. At the proclamation of the Gospel, the priest or deacon processes to the pulpit with great solemnity and drama, holding the lectionary aloft. Often, incense is used to show forth the sacred importance of the Gospel reading. The congregation then stands when the Gospel is proclaimed. And this is all as it should be. The holding aloft of the lectionary, the incense, the standing to show reverence—these are all outward signs of an inward reality: namely, that what is contained in Scripture is extremely sacred and important and should be given the utmost attention.
But here is the great irony. Is it not true that, apart from that ceremonial moment at Mass when all the outward signs betoken Scripture’s importance, many, if not most, lay Catholics pay very little attention to the Bible outside of Mass?
The good news is that this sad and needless ignorance of Scripture among lay Catholics can be overcome, for the most part swiftly and effortlessly, simply by reading the Bible every day, even for just a few minutes.
Not only will reading Scripture daily enrich and nourish your soul, but it will provide you with solid answers to many of life’s most urgent questions. Reading Scripture will deepen your prayer life and strengthen the effects of the sacraments in your soul; it will help you understand and get along better with others; it will encourage and assist you in curbing your appetites and controlling your emotions. When questions and challenges come your way, as they inevitably will, Scripture will prepare and equip you to speak about your beliefs as a Christian more clearly and confidently, without agitation. Best of all, reading the Bible regularly will dramatically deepen your love for and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
And so, with these marvelous goals in mind, I present for you here a series of biblical discussions on a variety of issues that Catholics everywhere face. My hope is that this book will help you jump-start the process of becoming familiar (or simply more familiar) with the truth of Christ as it is unfolded for us so beautifully in the pages of Scripture.
My only advice is this: Never forget that reading this book about the Bible should never replace reading the Bible itself.
Chapter 1 Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?
Bob Hope used to say, “If you don’t have charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” With that astute observation in mind, let’s consider Scripture’s teachings on charity toward our neighbor in the form of giving. All too easily, a kind of creeping selfishness can invade our hectic lives without our even knowing it, crowded as our days are with a multitude of “me-oriented” busyness. How often do we go out of our way to help others? True, most of us donate here and there to “worthy causes,” but don’t we usually give to organizations that send us a “love gift” in return or, at the very least, provide us with the ever-popular tax deduction? Few of us give alms to people who can do nothing for us in return.
Christ’s exhortation to “do good” to our neighbor is person-specific. Yes, we should contribute to worthy charitable organizations, and of course we must do what we can to assist the local Church financially (parish and diocese), but we’re primarily called to help people—the poor and disadvantaged, the homeless and friendless, strangers, unwed mothers—indeed, anyone who lacks the physical necessities of life. In Matthew 25:31–46, Christ says he will return as Judge to reward the “sheep” and condemn the “goats” based on how they (meaning you and I) assisted or failed to assist the “least” of their brothers and sisters with food, shelter, clothing, water and other basic needs. Ask yourself: On that day, will you be one of the sheep or one of the goats?
Let these Bible passages animate your zeal for helping others, especially through almsgiving—giving money to those who legitimately need it more than you do:
Tobit 4:7–11 “Give alms from your possessions to all who live uprightly, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; and for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.”
Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
2 Corinthians 9:10-12 “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.”
Hebrews 13:16 “[D]o not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Being generous is the first part of true charity that pleases God. The second part is just as important: to not be showy or self-serving in your giving. Christ said, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men.Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1–4).
Saint James said, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14–17).
And in Acts 20:35: “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
In Luke 10:29–37 we find the parable of the Good Samaritan, who gave aid and comfort and alms to a total stranger. It’s a story you surely know by heart, but has its meaning sunk into your heart? Read that passage prayerfully, and remember Christ’s command to “Go and do likewise.”
Further Reading: Sirach 3:30–31; 17:20–23; 40:14; Tobit 12:8–10; Psalm 37:21; Matthew 5:38–42; Mark 12:38–44; Acts 10:1–2; 1 Timothy 6:17–19; James 1:27