God bless librarians.
When you walk into your local branch and say, “I want to find a book I’ll like,” they don’t answer, “We have a bunch of books. Help yourself. Happy hunting.”
No, no, no.
It’s: “What are you interested in?” “What have you read that you enjoyed?” “Do you have a favorite author?” “Is this for work, for learning, for fun?”
It just makes sense that stepping into a building that houses thousands and thousands of books, you may need some direction and suggestions to narrow your search and find the right one for you now.
Now — when you’re this age, with this experience under your belt, with this amount of education, with this much time to spend reading.
Ditto with the Bible. It’s a library with 73 books, a lot of different authors and a variety of styles and purposes.
Well, one author: God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out:
“God is the author of Sacred Scripture. ‘The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’” (No. 105).
“God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. ‘To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more’” (CCC, No. 106).
Some of those writers have a style that will appeal to you, and others don’t. Some have a particular message or slant that will hit home for you. And some have a way of writing that may be really hard for you to understand right now without further research and study. Or they may present material that seems beyond you because of when, or for what historical purpose, it was written.
So how, in the face of all that, can you find a book that becomes a favorite? Hit or miss? Open, point and hope for the best? Eenie, meenie ... ?
A few suggestions
1. Think about a passage or a verse you like. One that touches your heart or your imagination. Maybe it’s a favorite parable. A bit of a psalm. A line or phrase. Then find out where it came from. Where is it in what book?
In days gone by, that would have been a daunting task for most of us. Not so much anymore if we have Internet access or can ask for help from someone who has it. A quick web search and — boom! — there you are.
Then read that parable, psalm or phrase. Pray with it. Check out what came before it and after it. Do some exploring and see if another gem pops up.
It’s the same principle as finding the chunks of chocolate in a carton of mint-chocolate-chunk ice cream. Odds are the book isn’t going to be all chocolate chunks. No, wait. Nothing but gems, but there may be enough that you like it, that it will become your favorite. For now.
2. Do a little homework. (Don’t whine. Just a little.) Some Bible basics. What are the different sections? (Old and New Testaments, right? Good for you.) Like those many books on a public library’s shelves, there’s an order to them. Different “divisions.” In the Old Testament, some tell history, some talk about laws, some offer wisdom and so on. In the New Testament, as you probably know, it’s the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, letters (epistles) and Revelation.
What interests you? What sounds exciting? What seems helpful?
How do you find those basics?
Use a “librarian” — that is, take advantage of the Catholic books, websites and DVDs; the parish- or diocesan-sponsored classes and presentations; these can help you get a better handle on the Bible’s structure and particulars of each book.
It wouldn’t be surprising to have a book or writer spark your interest. It wouldn’t be unusual for the Holy Spirit to give you a nudge because he wants you to better get to know what he has to say to you. Yes, to all humankind. Yes, to the Church. But also, yes, to little old you.
3. Keep in mind choosing a favorite book isn’t some kind of a test (oh no, a pop quiz!) that reveals how smart you are and/or how good a Catholic you are. For example, there’s no “failing” because your sibling or friend likes the Gospel of St. John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).
While you may lean more toward the story of Mary and Joseph, going to Bethlehem and no room in the inn, and angels and Magi, and ...
In other words — even though you may not be familiar with this word — you prefer the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. They record Jesus’ time on earth in similar but not identical ways.
4. Think some more about food. This time, a sample platter. You may not know you like something until you have a little taste. You may have had no idea you’d like sushi or artichoke-chicken pizza or hummus until you took a wee bite of sushi or artichoke-chicken pizza or hummus.
A bit of Genesis. Abraham and Isaac. A smidgen of Psalms. Maybe the one with the Lord being a shepherd. A dab of Sirach. (Not to be confused with splash of sriracha hot sauce.) With ancient tips for living wisely in the 21st century. A smattering of Luke, and what do you know, he wrote the Acts of the Apostles, too. Like his style in one? Give the other a shot.
5. Here’s an easy way: Ask a friend what his or her favorite book, parable or verse is. And ask why. Check it out for yourself.
6. Take comfort in the fact you can have more than one favorite. And that your favorite may change with time. Then, too, it’s OK to not have a favorite. There’s no rule against that in the Ten Commandments.
Say, where are those talked about? (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. You’re welcome.)
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.
“Divine Scripture is the feast of wisdom, and the single books are the various dishes.”
— St. Ambrose (340-97)
Perfect for saints, mystics, scholars ... and the rest of us
“The Bible is a stream wherein the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade.”
— Pope St. Gregory the Great (r. 590-604)
A 20th-century explanation of the two testaments
“The Old Testament is like a radio with its hidden voice announcing the One to come. The New Testament is like a television because the Word became both audible and visible.”
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979)
You can’t go wrong with a Gospel
“It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Savior.”
— Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), No. 18
Thank you, biblical scholars!
“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.
“To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to ‘literary forms.’ For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse.
“The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture.
“For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.”
— Dei Verbum, Nos. 11-12