A few weeks ago America Magazine, where I used to work, published an article about biblical literacy in the Catholic Church. The general thrust of the article is something I think most of us have heard many times: Catholics don't know the Bible. Maybe they read it (maybe they don't), but even if they do, they don't really understand what it is that they're reading -- what it is, how different books were intended, their context and subtext.
Reading the piece, I wondered what can we do to improve this situation. The article itself turns to the obvious scapegoats/solutions -- overwhelmed/uninformed priests who need to preach better, and weak catechists who need a fuller handle on their material.
The thing is, we've heard these solutions a thousand times and don't seem to be changing the situation terribly, whether because no one's actually doing the hard yards to change their preaching/catechizing or because it's not the right diagnosis.
And personally, as much as I agree wholeheartedly that our Church needs to work on its preaching, and in fact would love to go from parish to parish helping priests evaluate their own preaching, I'm not sure the preaching issue is necessarily about a lack of scriptural explanation, as much as it is about whether or not the presider is actually using his homily to help invite people into new insight and an experience of God. These are not mutually exclusive, by any means, but they're not always connected, either. I've heard great, important homilies borne out of just a word or phrase from scripture. And I've heard (okay, I've given) some dreadful ones that were filled with biblical hey-didja-know's.
All of which is to say, maybe we overestimate the place of an 10 minute homily in solving the issue of biblical literacy. Maybe we have to think much more broadly. What if we tried to figure out ways to put the Bible at the center of everything we do in a parish? When we have meetings, let's begin not only with prayer but with a brief breaking open of scripture, or some sort of relevant contextualized insight. With members of our parish council and its committees, with parish ministers of all kinds, let's have days devoted to biblical education - the parish equivalent of lawyers going to conferences to continue their certification.
Currently, many places are beginning to have bible study, book clubs and other forms of adult education. But let's also have its leaders come and give little reflections after communion to interest congregations, and have its groups put together some sort of presentation, day of reflection or show for the parish after they've finished a given book from scripture. Let's take advantage of our high holy days and sacramental celebrations like baptisms or weddings, where we get a lot of people that don't come to Church that often, to slide in some interesting and inviting scriptural insights. And yes, let's have some regular homilies that are grounded in proper understanding of scripture, and others where the presider leads the congregation in a discussion of an important biblical theme or idea.
Those are just my ideas. If we really want a thousand flowers to bloom, why don't we have a committee of the parish dedicated to this issue of bringing scripture into every element of the parish's life, and see what it comes up with? Many brains means many ideas, and that's what we need.
I'd love to hear your ideas. And if this little brainstorm of mine resonates for you, please, pass it along to your friends or parishioners. Maybe it can help trigger something useful for us all.