The growing number of “nones” — those who don’t identify with any religion — prove St. Jerome’s famous quote that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Yet many Catholics remain ignorant. According to a 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, Catholics read the Scriptures at a lower rate (25 percent) than any other self-identified Christian group, and at the second lowest rate than any religious group in general. Despite this, however, the Catholic Church has recognized the importance of Scripture, marking the first Sunday of the Word of God — to be held annually on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time — this year.
“It is fitting, then that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living Word that the Lord never tires of speaking to His Bride, that she may grow in love and faithful witness,” Pope Francis wrote in his motu proprio “Aperuit Illis” instituting the day to be “devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.”
In order to better equip Catholics to engage in this call, the Diocese of Phoenix’s Division of Evangelization is sponsoring the diocese’s first Biblical Studies Conference. The conference, scheduled March 13-14 at Corpus Christi Parish, will feature a lineup of Biblical scholars who organizers say know how to reach Catholics at all levels of Scriptural expertise.
“It goes deep. It’s not just surface level,” said Kathy Egle, director of evangelization at Corpus Christi. It will appeal to people who are newer to Scripture, as well as engaged Catholics, including those who have gone through diocese’s Kino Catechetical Institute, she said. Egle helped bring the conference to the diocese after attending the West Coast Biblical Studies Conference for well over a decade.
Speakers for the conference will present two talks, each, and include: Dr. Michael Barber, associate professor of theology and scripture at the Augustine Institute in Denver and senior fellow at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio; Dr. John Bergsma, professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville; and Dr. Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute. The conference will close with a Q-&-A panel featuring the three just prior to a vigil Mass.
“All three of them are excellent biblical scholars and they’ll be a gift to us,” said Fr. John Parks, vicar of evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix and emcee for the conference. Fr. Parks said anyone ages 13 and older capable of sitting through a series of talks can glean something from the conference.
Egle, who has been to the same conference in other locations, said she and her husband always came back “with hearts on fire.”
“Without difficult technical language, it goes deep to those who seek it,” she said.
That, innately, is everyone, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said. He quoted the prophet Amos who said God promised to send a famine upon the land for hearing the word of the Lord.
“God made us with a longing to hear His voice; sometimes we don’t even notice it; but when we do, it is a sign of His grace at work in us,” the bishop said. “The Biblical Studies Conference will, I pray, help people to recognize their famine for God’s word and then discover a trustworthy place to quench their thirst and hunger for Jesus, God’s incarnate word.”
Bergsma will discuss his introduction to the Catholic view of Scriptures on “The Catholic Conversation” diocesan podcast hosted by Steve and Becky Greene Feb. 22 on 1310AM. He said the Scriptures convey “the most beautiful possible world view” of what reality could be. “And that is that these sufferings that we undergo in this life are not meaningless, but actually sent to us by a loving God who can use these hardships that we’re experiencing to help us to become like Him.”
The Scriptures also lead up to the Eucharist and the Church, Bergsma said on the pre-recorded podcast. It’s seen at every Mass. “The readings are carefully set up to begin with the Old Testament and then show how whatever was going on in the Old Testament reaches its fulfillment in the Gospel and then is experienced in the sacrament.”
Biblical Studies Conference
“Your Faith Has Saved You”
Cost: $55 with special rates for priests, religious, deacons and full-time students
Corpus Christi Parish, 3550 E. Knox Rd., Phoenix
Organizers hope to help confirmed Catholics see faith is integral to salvation. The conference’s theme, “Your Faith Has Saved You,” is meant to help Catholics better understand the beauty of the Gospel message and what salvation does and does not entail. Other talks will focus on topics such as: what grace means, what having faith involves and overcoming modern challenges to it and how most people misunderstand the God of the Bible. It’s said to appeal to both the average Catholic and lay leaders.
“We want to offer opportunities for Scripture whether they’re a novice in Scripture or advanced,” Fr. Parks said.
The conference speakers have written an array of books among them for Catholics searching for further Biblical insight. Bergsma, for example, wrote “Bible Basics for Catholics,” Barber released “Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know” last year, and Gray has several books but more recently is known for creating FORMED.org, a digital platform of Catholic resources for adults in which many parishes offer a subscription.
A bookstore will be set up on site featuring texts written by the speakers. along with information tables staffed by the Kino Catechetical Institute and Institute for Catholic Theology, both serving the faithful of the Diocese of Phoenix.
For Catholics who prefer to start smaller by digging deeper into the Sunday readings, Fr. Parks recommends Brant Pitre’s “Sunday Mass Readings Explained” series on YouTube — a subscription might be required — or “Sunday Bible Reflections” from the St. Paul Center for Bible Theology.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale has begun sharing weekly Lectio Divina posts on its Facebook page to prepare for the Sunday Gospel. The practice of divine reading personally immerses Catholics into Scripture.
Check out “The God Who Speaks,” an initiative of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in honor or the 10th anniversary of Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation on “The Word of teh Lord” and the 1,600th anniversary of St. Jerome’s death.