Scripture 101: Where to BeginRead Now
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” –Colossians 3:16
How do you get to know Jesus the person? How do you get to know God? The Holy Spirit?
As Catholics, we are called into an intimate relationship with Christ. Jesus wants for us to know him, and so he left us with the gift of the Eucharist so that we would never be without his physical presence. God can reach us in the silence of his presence. Even so, sometimes it is hard to know what God is saying to us, and it can be difficult to interpret God’s will for our lives.
One way of building an intimate relationship with God and interpreting his will is by letting the word of Christ dwell richly within us (cf. Col. 3:16). It is in Scripture that we can get to know Jesus the person: his thoughts, his stories, and his deep love for us. The Bible is important because it is where we can study God, get to know him, and understand his will for our lives. He has left us with words of instruction, comfort, welcome, prayer, and love. Knowing the words of God, his Son, his prophets, and his saints can guide us through life’s joys, trials, and periods of stillness. In the Word of God, we can hear God speaking to us in ways that answer our prayers and help prepare us to be apostles.
St. Paul told Timothy that knowing Scripture was essential for living a life of faith:
“From infancy you have known [the] sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:15-17
By “letting the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly,” we can better know Jesus and become more fully “equipped for every good work.” I think about this and my relationship with Christ, and I realize that Christ knows me better than I know him. I lament to him unceasingly, but I don’t always run to Scripture. As I have been taking the time to study God and his Word, I find that my trust in the Lord has strengthened, and I see his love more fully. When I find Scripture that speaks to me and I cling to it – whether it’s through memorization and praying it to myself, setting a verse as my phone background, or making it visible in my apartment – I am filled with patience and peace because I know I have the Word of God and his Spirit with me.
I want to challenge you to get to know Jesus better through Scripture. I once witnessed a talk where the speaker reminded us that the Spirit of God speaks to us in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). In addition to prayer, the sacraments, or Christian community, Scripture is where Christ himself reaches out to us. If we took just five minutes a day to read from a Gospel, that would be over 30 hours of quality time with Jesus in a year. We could read 10 minutes a day, and that would be over 60 hours with Jesus in a year! Even by starting with baby steps, we can build a relationship and truly call Christ our friend. Jesus himself tells a parable of a sower planting seeds, where he explains “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). For the seed that fell within rich soil, “it produced fruit a hundredfold” (Luke 8:8) and they “are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15). May your heart be open and receptive to the Word of God so that it may bear much fruit in you and in the world!
In Scripture, Jesus says: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Today, I am asking Jesus to let me know him better through his Word as I commit to five minutes of Scripture reading a day. It will require me to be vulnerable and take action, but in doing so, I open myself to the transforming love of Christ that enables us to become better apostles.
If you are not sure where to start, there are many great resources for reading the Church’s daily readings or the Divine Office, which is the Church’s daily prayer comprised of Scripture. When all else fails, just open your Bible and start reading! You can even start by reading the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:4-15!
I pray that God will give you the grace to know his Son through Scripture. May your reading of Scripture lead to a deepened friendship with Christ, creating fruitful soil that bears much fruit!
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, or to read the Daily Mass Readings, please click here.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
Chant Without CeasingRead Now
The first time chant roused my senses occurred on a 5 day Ignatian Silent retreat. I remember being entranced by the music—the repetition, the words, the rhythm. We were allowed to sing only for Mass and during the Stations of the Cross. It was a small chant from the ecumenical Taizé community that mesmerized me as we walked in the candlelit night from station to station. I remember singing it to myself over our winter break and in the weeks after.
What was this Taizé community? I researched Taizé online and, to my surprise, was bombarded with YouTube videos and hundreds of songs from the community located in the Burgundy region of France. I ordered two of their CDs online and soon listened to nothing else.
I grew more and more in my love for anything monastic: silence, routine prayer, chant, the Divine Office. I began starting my days with silent prayer, going to daily Mass and listening to chant rather than my usual list of Top 40 Hits. The music had a way of easing my heart, elevating my soul, transporting me to a higher world. I remember telling my bewildered roommate once as I got ready for the day, “You just don’t hear music like this anymore. This brings you to contemplate something bigger than yourself!”
I continued to intersperse monastic spirituality into my days throughout the rest of my college experience and thereafter. While in Paris the summer after graduation, I stopped into the Church of St. Gervais for evening vespers and got lost in the beauty of the chanting of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, an order which entered the old church in white robes that glimmered underneath the stained glass windows. From there, I spent a week at the Taizé community I had come to love. My spiritual quest continued that summer after I flew back to the United States and spent a month at a Benedictine monastery who chanted the Divine Office in Latin. The music became the breath and heartbeat of my prayer life, an easy medium through which I could converse with God. The chants enabled me to praise and thank God with phrases that frequently came straight from Scripture, giving me words often better than my own and breathing new life into Word of God.
Gregorian chant takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose feast we celebrate today. Though historians argue over his precise role in the history of chant, Gregory the Great has been named a Doctor of the Church—joining St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Gregory, who entered a Benedictine monastery in Rome and eventually became an abbot, was the first pope to be elected from a monastery. During his life, he founded 6 monasteries on his estate. Though Gregory’s association with Gregorian chant is disputed, his love of the monastic life cannot be. (American Catholic)
I can’t help but connect with Gregory’s monastic background; and I understand his love of it. I spent much of my summer after graduation as a pilgrim or guest at several spiritual havens because my soul yearned to spend time with God amidst nature, the sacraments and routine prayer. The music and chant were the glue that held these beautiful pieces together during my journeys—adding an almost mystical quality to my prayer life. As a result, I learned what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess. 5:17). The words of chant often stuck in my head, I learned how to sing, to pray, unceasingly without ever having to open my mouth. Chant has a way of ingraining itself into your very heartbeat.
We can learn much from the monastic life, which has guided thousands of men and women like Pope Gregory the Great towards holiness. By incorporating silent prayer into our days, we are better able to dialogue with God. I invite you this week to start or end your day with 5 minutes of silence in the presence of the Trinity. Rather than asking God for anything, try instead to simply thank, praise or accompany Him. Below is a link to one of my favorite songs from the Taizé community. May it help you in your journey towards praying unceasingly.