Monday, January 26, 2009

The Meaning of it All

I'm a stubborn person, and it takes a lot to change my mind. Growing up, my friends would thrown down scripture and force-feed me personal dogma until I finally shouted at them to stop. I went to youth group during high school and learned that it was up to me to interpret everything in the Bible for myself. Ugh. On one side, I had friends telling me what everything meant, and on the other side a pastor is telling me to figure it out on my own.

That's a big thing to Protestants from what I can tell. Every church I've gone to (including the Catholic Church!) encourages people to read the Bible on their own. I have one or two around here, and I have access to every version imaginable online for free. I can compare side-by-side an NLT to a NKJV to an NAB to a DRV. Phew! One word different on that line, but a whole book missing in that one, and what were they thinking in that one!? It's confusing. Reading the Bible isn't hard. I love reading and do it every single day, mostly nonfiction but sometimes other stuff like the back of a cereal box or my bills... reading isn't the hard part.

What I can see now that I've been to Mass and listened to the homilies (sermons) is that sometimes there is more to scripture than what the Bible offers. The Church wasn't created to support the Word, the Word was handed down to support the Church. As much as humans can read and interpret scripture, the Church has the final say in what the Word means. Realizing that, seeing it, and finally understanding it was a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Though my friends may read their Bibles every second and breathe scripture like dragons, I'm not obligated to listen to them. I can, just like I can read the Bible for myself and get whatever I want to out of the text. I don't have to rely on them or myself for understanding though. It's the Church's responsibility to educate the laity in dogma, sacred Tradition, and other religious topics (in addition to my own if I choose for me).

Let me put it another way: if some people believe that they can read the Bible and interpret it for themselves, why do they go to church and listen to a minister on Sunday? Why do they go to church at all? Community or the social factor? Wanting to belong to a like-minded group? Needing validation for their way of having faith? Does the minister simply enforce what you already read, or do they add information that isn't there already? I don't understand.

Growing up, I wanted to be the one that would read and interpret everything for myself. I thought, I'm smart enough to put two and two together, I'll figure it out without any help. Now, I realize just how daunting that is when it comes to my faith. There's no way I could have all the answers, nor could any human. The Church, however, is superhuman--it was created by Jesus! And it says I don't have to worry about knowing it all. I don't need to do anything, in fact, beyond listening and loving. Wow.

Reading the Bible is not a bad thing. It's wonderful, and I support reading anything you enjoy (literacy is freedom, people, read on!). If you can read a book and get something out of it, that's fantastic. Sometimes I sit down and read a few passages and feel like I got something out of it that the Church hadn't explained fully but that now makes sense to me. It's grand. The Church can't replace individual reading, but to say that reading on your own instead of listening to the Church isn't how I'd go about things. For me, I'd rather have the Church tell me what passages mean instead of garbling them up on my own. Unfortunately, I'm pretty good at not getting the "right" meaning out of what I'm reading, and messing up God seems like a pretty bad idea. I can and do read the Bible! But the meaning isn't really up to me to decide.

Maybe that's part of having faith: trusting in the Church to inform us of the Word as He intended... oy, the Mysteries of Faith! I have so much to learn...

1 comment:

Michael said...

Don't get into the trap of thinking that the Church will explain it all and you can quit thinking!
True, in the past, it used to be that priests would interpret the Bible and it was thought infallible. Laity were not deemed smart enough to think for themselves. However, the Church grew, and we treat faith now as a continuous pursuit of "growing in God".
In the Catholic faith, Priests serve as teachers, and the Mass serves as a classroom. One of my favorite priests would always remind us that we were listening to God's teachings. A good teacher does not dictate and tell you to shut off your brain once the lecture is done. As a good student, you are more than a tape recorder, and you are supposed to discover for yourself what the message is trying to tell you. A simple passage in the Bible can be read many ways - taking a historical perspective, an emotional perspective, or even sitting down and even analyzing word-by-word.

Just a few days ago the priest was discussing John the Baptist, who I always thought of as some crazed guy who wandered around like a bum. However, our priest brought up the point that John was well educated and was possibly far more respected in his time than what we traditionally give him credit for. Thinking on that, how does this change in my view of John change the passages for me, passages that I thought I had down-pat for decades?