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‘Switch off the tv and open the Bible’

At general audience Feb. 26, Pope Francis said we need the Word of God more than we need bread

Call of the Disciples, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Papal audience from Feb. 26.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey, a 40-day journey toward Easter, toward the heart of the liturgical year and of faith. It is a journey that follows the one of Jesus, who at the start of His ministry, withdrew to the desert for 40 days to pray and fast, and was tempted by the devil. Today, I would like to speak precisely about the spiritual significance of the desert. What does the desert mean spiritually for all of us, also for those of us who live in cities? What does the desert mean?

Let us imagine that we are in a desert. The first feeling would be that of being enveloped by a great silence: no sound besides the wind and our own breathing. The desert is a place of detachment from the din that surrounds us. It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God, that caresses our hearts like a light breeze (1 Kings 19:12). The desert is the place of the Word with a capital W. Indeed in the Bible, the Lord loves to speak to us in the desert. It is in the desert that He gave Moses the “ten words,” the Ten Commandments. And when the people distance themselves from Him, becoming like an unfaithful wife, God says: “So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart…. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth” (Hosea 2:16-17).

The Word of God is heard in the desert. It is like a soft sound. The Book of Kings says that the Word of God is like a sonorous thread of silence. In the desert one finds a renewed intimacy with God, the Lord’s love. Jesus loved to withdraw daily to deserted places and pray (Luke 5:16). He taught us how to seek the Father who speaks to us in silence. And it is not easy to be silent in the heart because we always try to talk a little, to be with others.

Lent is a favorable time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to switch off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to separate from mobile phones and connect to the Gospel. When I was a child there was no television but there was the habit of not listening to the radio. Lent is a desert. It is a time to give up something, to distance ourselves from mobiles and connect to the Gospel. It is the time to give up useless words, gossip and slander and to talk to and be informal with the Lord. It is the time to dedicate ourselves to a healthy ecology of the heart, to cleanse it.

We live in an environment that is polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and noxious words that the internet amplifies. Nowadays, we insult each other as if we were saying “Good Morning.” We are submerged by the empty words of advertising, of underhanded messages. We have become accustomed to hearing everything about everyone and we run the risk of slipping into a worldliness that sullies the heart and there is no bypass to heal this. Only silence. We struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord speaking to us, the voice of conscience, the voice of goodness. By calling us to the desert, Jesus invites us to listen to what matters, to what is important, to the essential. Replying to the devil who tempted Him (Jesus) said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We need the Word of God like bread, (even) more than bread. We need it to speak with God: we need to pray. Because only before God do the inclinations of the heart come to light and the duplicity of the spirit cease. The desert is a place of life not of death because speaking to the Lord in silence, gives us life again.

Let us try to think of a desert again. The desert is the place of the essential. Let us look at our lives: how many useless things surround us! We chase after thousands of things that seem necessary and that in reality are not. How good it would be for us to free ourselves from many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to rediscover the faces of those who are beside us! Jesus also sets us an example of this: fasting. Fasting is knowing how to give up things that are vain and superfluous in order to reach the essential. Fasting is not only for losing weight. Fasting is actually going to the essential. It is seeking the beauty of a simpler life.

Lastly, the desert is a place of solitude. Today too, there are many deserts near us. They are the lonely and neglected people. How many poor and elderly people are near us and live in silence, without making any noise, marginalized and discarded? Speaking about them does not increase the ratings. But the desert leads us to them, to those who were stifled and who silently ask for our help: many silent gazes that ask for our help. The journey in the Lenten desert is a journey of charity toward the weakest.

Prayer, fasting, works of mercy. This is the path of the Lenten desert.

Dear brothers and sisters, God made His promise through the voice of the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold I am doing a new thing; … I will make a way in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19). A new path opens up in the desert, which takes us from death to life. We enter the desert with Jesus and we will leave it experiencing Easter, the power of God’s love which renews life. It will happen to us just as it does to deserts that blossom in spring, suddenly sprouting buds and plants “out of nothing”. Take courage, let us enter this Lenten desert. Let us follow Jesus in the desert: with Him, our deserts will blossom.

— Pope Francis

Ways to begin Scripture reading during Lent

Think of the Bible as a mosaic of 73 books
BY JOSEPH KENNY | [email protected] | twitter: @josephkenny2

Messianic Predictions, Thomas Ingmire, Copyright 2005, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lent is a terrific time to make the Bible part of your daily prayer life. It’s a way to grow deeper in your relationship with God. Begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in your life, helping you to become more faithful.

There are many ways to get into Scripture readings during Lent, from reflecting on Mass readings to doing the readings of A Scriptural Way of the Cross for Lent.

The Bible is similar to a library. It’s is a collection of 73 books written over the course of many centuries. The books include royal history, prophecy, poetry, challenging letters to struggling new faith communities, and believers’ accounts of the preaching and passion of Jesus. Knowing the genre of the book you are reading will help you understand the literary tools the author is using and the meaning the author is trying to convey.

Start with the Gospels, which introduce us to the person of Jesus.

Here are some suggestions:

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and easiest to understand.

Read through the Gospel, but only a little bit at the time, and then take 10 minutes to reflect on it.

Pray with the psalms. The Psalms represent the encapsulation of human emotion, from the highest joys, to the lowest feelings of abandonment. They help us to pray with Scripture no matter where we’re at, even as Jesus did. Some practical ways to do this would be praying one psalm per day, memorizing a particularly appropriate psalm and reciting it each day, learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or find Stations of the Cross based off of the psalms (such as the ones from Ascension Press).

Follow a daily reflection guide for Lent, such as one from Bishop Robert Barron, which focuses on the Gospel of the day for a Lenten reflection.

Write short Scripture passages on slips of paper and keep them in a jar or bowl at the dinner table. Each night, the family pulls one out, reads the passage and prays with it together.

Read a scriptural commentary. Father Michael Grosch, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Shrewsbury, recommends a set called “Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture,” which features a volume for each book of the New Testament. The commentary is by contemporary and well-known Catholic apologists and authors, and includes the text from Scripture, so you can read a section of the Scriptures, then the commentary on that section, all in one sitting. There are also reflections with most sections.

A couple of basic books on reading the Bible, recommended by Pauline Books & Media are: “Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible” by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins; “Bible Basics” and “New Testament Basics for Catholics” both by John Bergsma; and “Ignite: Read the Bible Like Never Before” by Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers and Sonja Corbitt.

Check out The Sunday Website, a service of the Catholic Studies Program at Saint Louis University. The website lists the readings for each Sunday and puts them in context with various reflections. Sections are on Praying Toward Sunday, Spirituality of the Readings, Get to Know the Readings, Music of Sunday’s Mass, and General Intercessions. Visit liturgy.slu.edu/. Over the course of two years, those who read the readings of the Mass will hear most of the Bible. The texts usually are brief enough to allow time for meditation.

The Scriptural Way of the Cross was first introduced by Pope John Paul II. It features reflections on global and national issues. Visit www.bit.ly/2SRbmrv.

Join a Scripture study group. Many parishes have groups that go through different books of the Bible slowly to better understand them.

When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church’s complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine. The New American Bible is close to what is read at Mass daily and on Sundays.

Know what the Bible is — the story of God’s relationship with the people He has called to Himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto, but it does teach us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.

The Old Testament and the New Testament shed light on each other. While we read the Old Testament in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it has its own value as well. Together, these testaments help us to understand God’s plan for us.

Tips for this article are from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Father Michael Grosch, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury; Sister Laura Rhoderica Brown, FSP, of St. Paul Books and Media; and Father John Mayo, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.

Ways to build a habit of prayer throughout Lent:

• Attend at least one daily Mass for each week of Lent.

• Find out when and where Adoration of the Holy Eucharist is offered or stop by a church. Spend time in prayer before Our Lord in the Tabernacle.

• Begin the practice of offering thanks before every meal.

• Help a refugee family get settled. Pray for peace in war-torn regions.

• Work together in a soup kitchen and converse with persons served.

• Write a letter of faith and encouragement to someone who is incarcerated.

• Visit an elderly or sick person. Take care of an errand for them.

• Be an advocate. Write to an elected official and/or donate to a cause that provides resources to meet the needs of poor and low-income people in your community or in a troubled part of the world.

• Once a week eat meals that total no more than the daily cost allotted by government food assistance programs for your size family. (See USDA Modified Thrifty Food Plan).

• Go on a Lenten journey with Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl. During the 40 days of Lent, reflect on the challenge of global hunger and how it affects the human family. CRS Rice Bowl materials are designed for families, parishes, educators, universities and dioceses. They are available in print and on the web in both English and Spanish. Visit crsricebowl.org.

• Endorse the Faith Advocates for Jobs Campaign and download the resource for church groups, Unemployment and the Economic Crisis Toolkit at faithadvocatesforjobs.wordpress.com/.

Source: U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development

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