Sunday, July 10, 2016

How to Get Catholics to Read the Bible

Daily Bible reading and memorization will change a person's life for this life and for eternity. One of the first verses I memorized as a 4-year old was "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee." (Ps 119:11 - KJV).

Here are some ideas I presented during a panel discussion at a Catholic Conference on New Evangelization back in 2008. One of the topics was how to get Catholics to read their Bible more often than simply to listen to the readings during Mass once a week.

The ideas grew out of a television documentary project I had proposed titled "BEST PRACTICES OF FAITH FORMATION."

Because humans learn best through experience and action, these ideas are rooted in role modeling and physical activity.

1. The Mass rubrics should allow for a real Bible to be used during the Mass Readings.   Role Model what you want people to do. Simulate. Congregants do not have The Lectionary or a separate gold trimmed book of the Gospels at home. And age old rule of communication is SHOW THEM, don't just TELL THEM. So, if Catholics are serious about people reading the BIBLE, model it.

2. Instruct people to bring their Bibles to Mass, or put Bibles in the pews. Do both. When it comes time for the Mass Readings ask congregants to pick up their Bibles and turn to the passage about to be read. Wait for and give instructions to the  people to help them find the passage. Don't just say "A reading from the book of Genesis," but rather, "Pick up your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis 1:1. We will read through verse 8." Then wait for people to find the passage before reading continuing:  "A reading from the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verses 1-8. (Pause) 'In the beginning..."

3. Structure Sunday mornings so that while Mass is celebrated in the church, Sunday School Bible Classes are being held elsewhere in the facility. Platoon Mass and Sunday School. Get families in the habit of coming to church and attending both Mass and Sunday School, EVERY SUNDAY THROUGHOUT THE  YEAR. There's more to this suggestion that Evangelicals have perfected. But for the sake of promoting Bible reading, many of the Sunday School classes should be classes taught on a particular book in the Bible, or Biblical theme, led by instructors who are interesting, prepared and are good speakers.   There should be Sunday School Bible classes for every age group.

Small group Bible studies are good and should be encouraged. Such small groups can meet at anytime during the week that is CONVENIENT for those attending. But because of the difficulties of adjusting schedules around work and school, few can commit to a regular time, unless they are retired. Consequently, such short (or even long term) Bible study groups are minimally attended.

SUNDAY MORNINGS however, do not have general conflict with school or work. The family can come together and attend Sunday School classes and then Mass, or the other way around. Sunday School Bible classes also establish relationships, since Sunday School classes become the small group and personal connections necessary for a vibrant Christiana life, which Mass does not provide.

4. Use Bible Sword Drills in Sunday School and Religious Education classes. Here's a starter document I found on the Internet. It will be enthusiastically embraced by young and old alike:
SWORD DRILL ACTIVITY. Pam and I grew up with Sword Drills every week as small kids. As a result, by the time we were teens we could find any Bible reference quickly and the Bible became to us well known and familiar.

5. Start an inter-parish-diocese Teen Bible Quiz program. Bible Quiz is a discipleship ministry geared for teens in sixth through 12th grade. Each year a different book or books of the New Testament are memorized by students. Several times during the year students attend meets within their district in order to test their ability to memorize and understand God's Word. District and Regional meets take place in the Spring of each year with the top teams advancing to Nationals. Each year thousands of dollars in scholarships are awarded to students for their hard work. There are many Internet sites to help a diocese get started. Here's a general description at Wikipedia.

6. From the pulpit, priests should remind congregants EVERY WEEK of the importance of Family Devotions where the Daily Bible Readings are read by a family member, some short discussion about the reading is conducted, and prayers are offered. The term "DEVOTIONS" to many Catholics may denote something different from what I mean here. I do not mean a person's or a family's devotion to a saint or a member of the trinity. To some the term "QUIET TIME" might be better, but that is poor as well. Perhaps FAMILY WORSHIP. Whatever you call it, it should be a STRUCTURED time with the WHOLE family for Bible reading, exhortation, and prayer...and the responsibility for all three of those things should rotate between members of the family.

7. Start a parish Bible Memorization Program with different age divisions and difficulties.  Offer certificates of achievement and public recognition for those that succeed. The programs should be a  year long with weekly recitation standards to encourage habit forming life.

Some of this is described in my Faith Memoir GROWING UP CHRISTIAN: Searching for a Reasonable Faith in the Heartland of America.  While I left Evangelicalism to become Catholic, these foundations in Biblical literacy were critical to my Christian faith, and I have NOT found them in Catholicism. And, I believe their absence in Catholicism is one reason so many young Catholics leave the Church. Thus, while Protestant Evangelical theology is lacking, their faith formation practices and instructional methods should be benchmarked by Catholics. 

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