A story in the Sydney Morning Herald today (picked up by CathNews) reports that Australians in general - and Catholics in particular - just aren't reading the Bible.
Of those who go to church, apparently 21 percent read their Bible daily, 14 percent open it a few times a week and 6 percent once a week.
But around a quarter of those surveyed said they read their Bibles only occasionally, 18 percent hardly ever and 17 percent said they never read the Bible on their own. Catholics are the worst - 59% admitted to rarely consulting their Bibles.
OK so we like Tradition....but Scripture too!
I'd have to say I think this is a pretty woeful state of affairs! In the medieval period, even those who couldn't read for themselves often knew large chunks of the Bible off by heart - in fact the regular cycle of readings in the traditional Mass rather facilitated that. Despite all the myths about poor catechization and use of Latin being a barrier, the process of hearing God's word was taken seriously, and used as a source of meditation.
Knowing Scripture well is important - past events and people should serve as types to guide us in our actions; the wisdom texts as a formation for our conduct; and the words of the prophets as warnings. Above all, how can we follow Christ if we don't take the opportunity to encounter the Word directly?
Today, despite our missals and sheets with the propers on them, I doubt if many of us could remember what the Gospel was two weeks back, let alone give the gist of it....
And the lack of a good knowledge of the Bible makes Catholics more vulnerable to the Protestant evangelizers who are apparently about to launch a new onslaught.
The upcoming Synod
Of course there are some good reasons for Catholics to be reluctant to tackle the Bible, not the least of which is the lack of good contemporary commentaries. The Fathers of course are an excellent starting point, and I'd highly recommend reading the Gospels for example using St Thomas' Catena Aurea.
But it would be pretty useful too to have something that drew on the insights of the best contemporary scholarship, and provided useful apologetics pointers on key verses. There are a few resources around that go some way in this direction (I'm not a Scott Hahn fan, but the Ignatius commentaries on Scripture, for example, are actually pretty good if overly terse and relatively expensive).
The trouble is, Catholic exegesis is in a pretty sorry state at the moment. In fact the best read on this is really the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth.
However, hopefully that will all be fixed soon, with the upcoming Synod on Scripture, to which Cardinal Pell has been appointed as one of the Presidential members.....
In the meantime, if you aren't following the Scripture reading plan that I've been writing about from time to time (we are just about to finish Proverbs, and are scheduled to start Ecclesiastes on Friday) do consider taking up some other structured way of doing a little lectio divina, perhaps focusing on the Gospel set for each Sunday. That way, the next time they survey, Catholics will look a bit better in the stats...and perhaps be the holier for it!