Arm yourselves

Years ago, shortly after my husband and I returned to the Catholic Church, we heard a great Lenten message from our pastor, who told parishioners to think of the word “Bible” as an acronym: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It caught our attention, and I am sure the attention of others in the pews. It made a lot of sense.

He explained how important it was to be in God’s word every day so we could not only learn more about Scripture and our faith but also put our faith into better practice. The word of God, when read daily, he insisted, could help us discern and decipher good versus evil and truth versus fiction. He mentioned in the same presentation how reading the Bible was for everyone, not just religious or Scripture scholars; it was accessible and understandable for the average Catholic. As he explained, we didn’t have to worry about picking and choosing or trying to summarize or understand the Scripture verses on our own; the Church was there to guide us.

His comments made such an impression that my husband and I began to set aside time each morning before heading off to work, usually reciting the daily Mass readings from our favorite Catholic devotional — another suggestion from our pastor. That was more than 20 years ago, and to this day, we rarely miss our daily Scripture and reflection time. The practice has done exactly what our now late pastor had promised it would do — and then some.

That’s why I’m hoping more Catholics will follow the sage advice of another shepherd, Pope Francis. I have lost count how many times since he began his pontificate two years ago that the Holy Father has encouraged his sheep to read Scripture every day. Just recently, after a Sunday Angelus message, he encouraged Scripture reading once again. He stressed it was particularly important to be in God’s word during the Lenten season, which he referred to as a time of “spiritual combat.”

“Always have the Gospel in hand,” he said. “The Lenten desert helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to the ‘idols’; it helps us to make courageous choices in accordance with the Gospel and to strengthen solidarity among the brothers.”

The pope went on to show pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on the first Sunday of Lent just how serious he was about Catholics taking full advantage of all we have in the Church, saying we need God’s word to help us through the challenges of Lent and beyond. He had a group of pilgrims hand out 50,000 free copies of a special prayer booklet entitled “Custodisci il cuore” or “Guard Your Heart.” The booklet contains writings on the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“Each one of you take a booklet and carry it with you as a help for spiritual conversion and growth that always starts from the heart — the place where the match of daily choices between good and evil are played, between worldliness and the Gospel, between indifference and sharing. Humanity is in need of justice, of peace, love, and will have it only by returning with their whole heart to God, who is the source.”

Pope Francis reminds us that during Lent, we are not only crossing through a spiritual desert, but we are entering into a spiritual combat zone; we are not talking about a carefree stroll here. Christ engaged in close combat and was victorious.

If spiritual victory is our goal, then, like Christ, we need to be prepared for engagement. So, man those battle stations by picking up your best weapon: the Bible (or, the Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth).

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.