Today is the feast day of St. Jerome, who lived during the first century of the Church. A man of brilliant mind, he lived as a hermit for years, in order to deal with his many sins. However, God needed his intellect and gift of language; thus St. Jerome is credited with translating Scripture into Latin under direction of Pope Damascus.
St. Jerome famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” That thought alone should send us all scurrying for our Bibles! So, why should Catholics make regular Scripture reading and study part of their daily lives?
- It is the living Word of God. There are many ancient texts in the history of the world. Many of us, in high school and college, read The Iliad, I Ching, and the Tao de Ching. They are all worthy of study, but what sets the Bible apart? It is the living Word of God. It has no equal, and it is as relevant today as it was when Jerome labored over its translation. Further, the Word of God is Christ: In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (Jn. 1:1 ) Thus, every encounter with Scripture is an encounter with Christ.
- Sunday isn’t enough. Indeed, the Mass is full of Scripture. We hear the Word proclaimed from the Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospel. We hear the Word sung in our hymns. The prayers at Mass are full of Scriptural quotes and references. And yet … it’s not enough. It’s easy to miss parts of the Word as it’s proclaimed as Mass: we get distracted, the Word is not proclaimed well, we don’t quite hear it. In order to prepare well for Mass, we should “read ahead:” find the readings for Mass and read them prior to Mass. How are they connected? What is God’s message for His people today?
- God’s Word keeps us grounded. It is very easy, in the midst of our sloppy, busy, stress-filled days, to lose touch with who we are: God’s children. Taking time to read Scripture every day keeps us grounded, reminds us of who we are. Reading Scripture helps us to recall, every day, that Christ is with us – even in the sloppiness, the busy-ness, the stress.
- Scripture reminds us of God’s covenant. God made a promise to our forefathers in faith, the Jews. He told them, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Even though the Jews (like us!) did many things that should have destroyed that covenant, God’s promise is eternal. A covenant is unbreakable, because it is God’s truth. Then, with the coming of Christ, we received a new covenant: “This is My Body and this is My Blood. Whoever eats and drinks of it shall have eternal life.” The Bible, from start to finish, is the story of God’s unbreakable promise to us. That’s pretty important.
- Reading Scripture helps us to pray better. Every one of us needs to pray better. Prayer is our lifeline to God. Scripture can help us to pray better. We see ourselves reflected in the sorrow, pain and faithfulness of Job. We understand Jonah’s reluctance to do the job God has set before him. We rejoice, laugh, cry and challenge God with the psalmist. We understand the shame of the woman about to be stoned. We tremble with fear, abandoning Christ, just as most of the Apostles did when He most needed them. To enter into God’s word helps us to see, hear, feel and understand basic human responses … and then do better. We rise above our fears, our sorrows, our shame, because we know God is with us. Always. He never abandons us. Scripture is the story of God’s eternal love and faithfulness.
St. Jerome knew all this. He spent his life carefully and faithfully translating God’s word. He did it not because it was yet another text that smart people wanted to read in their own language. No, he understood that Scripture is the living word of God, as relevant to us as it was to the Jews in their many triumphs and struggles, as it was to the earliest Christians during St. Jerome’s life, and now, in a world where we have so much information at our fingertips it would make St. Jerome’s head spin. But there is no website, no book, no podcast, no Facebook post that equals God’s word. Do not be ignorant of this word, lest you be ignorant of Christ.