Meditations for Layfolks - The Scriptures

Though for a Catholic there is much other teaching than can be found in the Scriptures, yet these are always the written Word of God. He is their author, in the sense that He inspired the thoughts and fashioned them into language, while He adapted to His purposes the personal and contemporary circumstances of the human scribe. But it is obvious that there are many passages, indeed whole chapters, that seem to have nothing to say that is likely to be at all helpful to us. We can read through descriptions of the tabernacle, with the detailed injunctions as to how every part of it is to be constructed, and yet feel when all is finished that we have learnt nothing at all that can be said to carry warmth to our souls. So, again, the long lists of warring captives and the settled estates of the several tribes leave us cold. Yet we are bidden to search the Scriptures, for there is to be discovered the enlightenment that God wishes to shed upon His people. The trouble probably comes because we make the confused mistake of supposing the Bible to be a book. It is not a book, but a literature. Each separate portion has to be understood in the light of its own meaning, and we cannot, therefore, suppose that each chapter or each book will be equally illuminating or even illuminating at all. Though all must be treated with reverence, not all need be read.

In fact, we may suppose that as each part of the Bible has its different human author, with his own different style and different message, so each part will also appeal differently to different souls. Merely to take the various commentaries written by various hands is to see clearly the totally different concept which each writer brings to his study of the Scriptures. We have, therefore, to single out the particular part from which we can manage to learn most. Solidly to read through the whole text would not be conducive to much profit, and, since the Scriptures were written for our instruction, it would be foolish to continue what experience tells us will give us no benefit. For the majority, therefore, it will be the New Testament which will be the most frequently and hopefully used. Nor can I very well excuse myself on the ground of dearth of copies: the Gospels have been brought out at one penny each by the Catholic Truth Society; and there are plenty of cheap editions published by Catholic firms. I must try to understand the purpose for which each book was written, the audience for which it was intended, the point of view which governed the selection of certain portions of the Sacred History and the omission of other portions. For this, again, there are various introductions and aids to the study of the Bible.

I must study carefully, if I really wish to make the Bible my own; not, indeed, in detail, but the main lines of the writer's intentions, what he chiefly wishes to prove or to emphasize. This must precede my meditation, if my meditation is to be intelligent. It means some trouble on my part, but once I have taken the pains to understand even a little, I shall find that the interest will grow and that there will follow constant food for my soul. I should read just enough to provide myself with a thought for the day, in no hurry to get to the end of the incident or parable, but calmly stopping at some sentence or phrase that brings with it a sudden illumination. Then I can afford to put aside all other books of meditation and prayer, and cleave to the Word of God, consulting from time to time some work of doctrinal exposition lest my own interpretation err in any way: but the staple food shall be the New Testament, for there is none that can be better for my soul. No better advice, no more healing comfort, no more piercing devotion can be found than in the Life of the Master. It may take me long to find that volume alone sufficient for my spiritual life, but that should be the ideal towards which I climb.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.