Opening the Bible to the congregation

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Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell

Abstract

Although I did not learn about St. Augustine of Hippo or read his Confessions until almost a decade later, in many ways my story of being drawn to God through the Scriptures mirrors Augustine's account of the turning point of his life. Prompted by the song of a child singing in a garden, "Pick it up and read, pick it up and read," Augustine, who had been struggling against a life of obedience to God, opened a Bible and read Romans 13:13-14. "Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." His struggle was over. The Word had been clearly spoken to him, and he could no longer either deny it or run from it.


My first personal encounter with Scripture was likewise life changing. Having been raised in a Roman Catholic home and attending church and Catholic school, I was certainly familiar with the Bible, particularly with the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. I remember flip-chart art of familiar gospel scenes standing at the front of my classroom in first and second grade—Jesus of Nazareth surrounded by children and flowers, the waves on the Sea of Galilee billowing in a storm while he stood at the stern of a fishing boat commanding the waves, "Be still!"; a large crowd of men and women receiving a distribution of bread on a hillside. I remember the lector reading psalms at Mass, and the response we spoke: "The word of the Lord, thanks be to God." I remember singing songs that paraphrased the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, "I am the bread of life," and, "I am the light of the world."


With that background, something happened to me when I was fourteen . Within me grew a strange, gnawing hunger to read for myself these very familiar words and stories. Borrowing a children's Living Bible from one of my friends (there was no Bible in our home), I came home from school one afternoon and read the Gospel of Matthew at one sitting. I am not given to "single-moment" conversion stories. I have never been able to tell the exact date and time in which I was "saved." The only thing I might identify is this experience of my first encounter with Scripture. In that afternoon, and in the days that followed, my eyes and heart were opened, so that I came to know and to love Jesus Christ in a way that I had not before. I came to know a person and a presence who, up to then, had been merely a historical figure or an idea. It was like staying up all night talking to a friend and coming to know him or her in an intimate way, an intimacy never experienced in our prior, casual day to day contact.

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Keywords
Bible -- Use; Bible -- Homiletical use; Congregations; Church work; Pastoral theology
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