Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

06 January 2011

"Glad I asked..."

Patient Reader:

Below is a slightly-edited email reply to a parishioner.  The subject matter is evident from the opening paragraph, and if you can get through the rest, the response is, I suggest, germane to everyone who is understandably discontent with his parish.  Names have been changed.


You have touched upon a subject that is perennially sore, and therefore most worthy of address--actually two subjects: (1) the dearth of Catholic bible study in general and in most (not all) parishes; (2) the dearth of activities (Bible-related or otherwise) for our youth, whom we somehow expect to remain faithful without giving them very many incentives.

The earlier matter of a non-Catholic participating in a non-denominational Bible Study is easy enough to address.  Nobody is forbidden from such activities.  Furthermore, the fact that this particular study group does not proselytize for a particular denomination lends it some credence.  There seems to be no danger of a Catholic losing the faith--or for that matter a Lutheran or Methodist or whoever.  Considering the basic, common threads in Scripture is a worthwhile endeavor that promotes Christian unity and nourishes the soul.  Of course, if any suspect opinions are offered, it would be good to bounce them off the Catechism and/or someone who can help you discern the truth.  But for generations (and you [a recent convert; Ed.] wouldn't necessarily know this), Catholics were, I'd almost say, afraid of Scripture study.  Before my time, some priests and nuns actually discouraged it on the strange and illogical grounds that "You don't know enough about the Bible to study it by yourself."  The understandable concern was that people would encounter some of the paradoxes and historical quirks in the Scriptures and feel that the Catholic faith was being threatened by it; unfortunately their solution--benign neglect and prolonged ignorance--"threw the baby out with the bathwater." 

The Catholic Church encourages Bible study, especially as it helps Catholics to see the richness of their faith, which is steeped in Scripture.  This was a major point of the Second Vatican Council nearly 50 years ago, but like many things, it takes generations for such realities to sink in.  And again, so many things vary from one parish to the next, such as opportunities that each particular parish may afford.  HGA has no formal opportunities at this time.  Priests and parishioners have initiated such studies for a several-week session; as a result of their sparse attendance (interpreted as lack of interest), they were discontinued.  One attempt was made since I've been here, 2 days short of 3 years already.

Does that mean we shouldn't try?  Of course not.  Like the Mass itself, it has to be offered regularly, week in and week out, no matter what.  It takes time for such things to grow.  Many factors are involved: advertisement, personal invitation, orthodox content, freedom and safety for open discussion, warm atmosphere, etc.  The "Mass production" of many Catholic parishes appears to stifle such initatives, as well as lack of firm support to start and sustain them.  We all have priorities, and the unforeseen often forces scheduling conflicts, and discouragement sets in like a virus, or rather like cancer.

And then there's the youth: when they are "seen and not heard" as the saying goes, they eventually aren't even seen.  My generation is living proof.  We tend to blame our society with all of its sporting, artistic, and just-plain-fun events for children: with all the running around, who has time for church?  Of course, blaming society is an "easy out" from having to actually do anything about the matter.  Again there are many factors behind a good program; the ones cited above for Bible study are relevant.  The Church (i.e. our parish) doesn't offer anything  for our young parishioners over and above Sunday Liturgy of the Word (and many parishes don't even have that) and Youth Group (grades 8 and up).  But children are most impressionable and spiritually malleable at Agnes' and Martin's age [both under 10; Ed.].  That's where we spark their interest and start to fan the flame, for by the time that the perfumes and car fumes set in, if they don't yet have the interest, they may not get it until they're much older and life has started to happen--life with all its twists and turns and tragedies. ... ... ... ...

... ... ... ...Now that we've articulated the problem, it's time for a stab at the solution.

Doris, would you be interested in initiating and/or assisting in an initiative for Bible Study and/or youth faith formation in your parish?  Note that the Knights of Columbus, which started just over a year ago and has garnered much interest from our Catholic men (your own Oscar notably among them), started when a parishioner, a Knight in his previous parish's council, asked us if HGA could start a council.  Msgr. Hartgen and I warmly approved of the idea, the parishioner got hold of the necessary human resources, and the rest, as they say, is history in the making, to tremendous effect!  We priests can't do everything, and frankly we shouldn't be micro-involved in every program that a parish offers, except to lend our necessary support however possible.  It's the people who make the parish in many ways, and I know that we have scores of faithful, dedicated, well-organized, engaging people like you who see needs and respond to them with courage and wisdom.  Your email is one such example; if God is calling you to do something (and I dare to be a channel of God's calling, even as I was called), He will equip you and others whom you enlist to get it moving. 

There are many solid Catholic resources available, so that one need not have to pick up a Bible and plod through it willy-nilly--although that's better than nothing.  Having a Catechism and a Bible dictionary at hand is helpful.  As for a format, the readings for the upcoming weekend are always a good and relevant point of departure: studying these would help parishioners to get more out of the Mass when they go.  All we need is one or more interested people and the Holy Spirit.  Ask around.  Be prepared for dashed expectations, but don't let them deflate you.  I prayerfully await your response.

And I await yours as well, patient reader.  "Blessed are they who perceive needs and respond to them with courage and wisdom, for they shall be busy." (2 Malachi 14:4, Old Parochial Version)


  1. It is an interesting piece. I a product of parochial education from the '50s - 60's, can say that the bible was not studied. The focus was on the Baltimore Catechism and its memorization. I remember it was a time in this country when Catholics were distrusted. This changed after the election of JFK.
    My education in college included Classical Greek, which eventually led to the Koine of the New Testament. I believe that any Bible study should begin with How The Bible Came To Be. How the list of included books were finalized, etc. The differences of the Old Testament versions used Greek vs. Hebrew. The significance of the Dead Sea scrolls in correlation to the OT versions, etc.
    Once this groundwork has been laid, the group will have confidence pertaining to the scriptures.

    Scripsit Veritas

  2. Sign me up Doris! How about a "Bible summer school" when mom-taxi demands are lessened a little?

    As a child, we weren't encouraged to read the Bible - it was read to us on Sunday - so no need. As an adult - I'm left intimidated. My 8 year old knows more about the Bible than I do. I remember the most I ever "studied" the Bible was at non-Catholic vacation Bible schools.

    I like the above poster's idea of starting with the "who, how, why.."

    Oh, and Father, step away from the coffee pot! : )