|A page from the Hungarian "Biblia Pauperum"|
Recently I spoke with a priest about the disintegration of society and how this fall is confirmed more in the collapse of many small things than in any one major collapse. The inability of people to keep their appointments, the apathetic rudeness of drivers, and the loss of basic reading comprehension are all indicators of a culture falling apart. Signs of the times. I observed that my Protestant grandfather, a long-passed farmer from an immigrant family, used to read the Bible every day and share reflections about his reading at the dinner table. He was not extensively educated, and his bookshelf was small, but the books he did own were of good quality and well-read.
Later that night I began to grieve the loss of Bible-reading, not just in the larger culture, but in my own regular habit. In a time when practicing Catholics obsess about hearing the voice of God in their religious practice and in the discerning of life-altering choices, very few of us read the Scriptures often enough to call to mind the words of Christ, the apostles, or the prophets in times of trial. (I was recently complimented by a Catholic on using the metaphor of straining a gnat out of a cup of soup, while swallowing the camel which had been bathing therein. He did not realize it was actually a dominican aphorism from the Gospels.)
Even a basic literary acquaintance with the Gospels and the Psalms is lacking. Familiarity with the Psalms can be obtained by regularly praying the hours of the Breviary. Familiarity with the Gospels and Epistles is usually begun by attentively listening to the daily Mass readings, but one will not gain any depth here without regular, intentional, extra-liturgical reading. The Old Testament is a magnificent beast that can only be tackled by habitually cracking open that dusty Bible in the quiet of one’s own home.
When King Josias heard the words of the Mosaic law for the first time, he realized how greatly God’s anger had been kindled against Israel for their willful ignorance (cf. II Kings 22). The hearing of God’s word is not the softly consoling feather bed of a weekend retreat, but a chastisement: “The great wrath of the Lord is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book, to do all that is written for us.”
Likewise, when St. Augustine was inspired to pick up the Holy Writ and read by some nearby playful children, it reoriented his soul in irreversible ways:
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (bk. viii)Take up and read.