When I began my Bible study last Monday, I introduced a quote from one of the great doctors and biblical scholars of the Church, St. Jerome. St. Jerome lived in the 4th and 5th Centuries, and is known for creating the Vulgate, a translation of the Scriptures into Latin. In his commentary on one of the prophets, he writes, “Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” We need to be well versed in the Scriptures if we are to take seriously the call of Jesus to preach the Gospel message to the whole world, as we need to understand that how that Gospel message lives in our lives.
We can see St. Jerome's maxim in practice in the Gospel today. The two disciples were very familiar with the texts of Sacred Scripture. As Jews, they knew the stories of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were intimately familiar with the Exodus and Moses receiving the Law. They heard the words of the prophets proclaimed regularly during synagogue and temple services. They knew the texts of the Scriptures, but they didn't understand how these sacred texts pointed towards Jesus, especially that he must suffer, die and rise again.
As they were walking, Jesus joined them, but they didn't realize that it was him. Maybe they were deep in grief, maybe Jesus had the ability to mask awareness of himself, but either way they didn't know they were speaking to Jesus resurrected from the dead. As Jesus broke down the Scriptures, making the connections between the Mosaic Law and the prophets that pointed to him, they began to become aware that Scripture had foretold Jesus' death and resurrection. They still weren't aware that Jesus was speaking to them until the breaking of the bread, a phrase commonly used to refer to the Eucharist. At that point, the Gospel tells us that their eyes were opened, and they realized who was speaking to them. In joy, they rushed back to Jerusalem to share with the Apostles and other disciples their incredible experience.
When we read the Bible, do we feel this desire to share what we've read? Probably not. For many of us, the Scriptures are hard to understand. There are concepts and phrases which are foreign to us, with good reason. The Scriptures were written in different times for different cultures. While we may not understand the literal texts that we read, there are still truths that are conveyed to us today. This truth may be hard to find, but there are tools and opportunities available to us that lead to understanding.
Probably the most obvious opportunity that we have is the one that we are using right now. Every time we attend Mass, whether weekly or daily, passages of the Scriptures are proclaimed. At every Mass, the Church asks that a homily be given on the Scriptures so that all present might understand the passages that were just proclaimed. This is usually done by the priest, but obviously deacons can fill this role as well. The homilist should dig deeper into the Scriptures so that he can show how they relate to people's daily lives.
Another way in which we can find the truth within the Scriptures is through daily immersion into them. Daily reading and reflection on the Scriptures is not something that is reserved to those who are ordained or professed religious, but is highly encouraged for all Christians. All of us should be opening the Scriptures daily. This can be as simple as reading a verse or two before bed, but can also include reading commentaries and reflections on the daily Mass readings. There are many good resources online and in libraries and Catholic book stores to provide clarity and understanding, especially for those passages that may seem a bit murky or confusing.
For the third way to understand the Scriptures, I'm going to do a little self-promotion. A fantastic way to really dig into the Scriptures is through a Bible study, which I just happen to be leading on Mondays at 6:30 PM. Through a Bible study, whether in a class format as I'm running it, a group study using a guidebook, or even on an individual basis with a good study bible, the Scriptures are broken down so that the beauty and truth can shine through more clearly. Group studies are particularly beneficial, as difficult questions can be explored and bring clarity to hard to understand passages. Likewise, individual insights can help the entire group to really appreciate the Gospel message and Christ himself who speaks to us through the Scriptures.
Through these tools for understanding the Scriptures, may we draw closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ and be drawn to do His will. As we reflect on the Sacred Scriptures and join Our Lord at the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, may be able to say with the disciples, “Were not our hearts burning within us as [. . .] he opened the Scriptures to us?”