IMAGE: NS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World
By Colleen Dulle
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When Deacon Joseph
Jensen entered Our Lady of
Good Counsel Passionist Seminary in Warrenton, Missouri, in the late
1950s, he realized he was the only student in his class who had read the Bible.
Deacon Jensen, now a lecturer in
biblical studies at Georgetown University in Washington, credited his Seventh-day Adventist
grandfather with exposing him to Scripture. Largely though, he said, “I
grew up with the idea that Catholics didn’t read the Bible.”
Such a common misconception could be
A new State of the Bible Survey by the
American Bible Society found that 77 percent of Catholics want to read the
Bible more often. Although the percentage has fluctuated in recent years, it
reflects an 8 percentage point increase since January 2013, just before Pope
“There’s come, I think, some very
encouraging data on Catholics” thanks to the so-called “Francis
effect,” Jason Malec, U.S. mission director for the society, told Catholic News Service.
The American Bible Society has responded
to Catholics’ growing interest in Scripture with new resources such as digital
“lectio divina,” an online version of the traditional Catholic method of praying
with Scripture. The society uses the survey results to develop techniques to
increase engagement with the Bible.
The society’s staffers also developed the Build
Your Bible trivia app and a second app so that Catholics can follow along with World
Youth Day, set for July 26-31 in Krakow, Poland.
“I think it’s both looking forward
and reaching back into the past to find new ways and rediscover ancient ways of
engaging with the Scripture for an emerging generation,” Malec said.
Cackie Upchurch, director of Little Rock
Scripture Study in Arkansas, the largest provider of Catholic Bible study materials in the
U.S., said that modern technology provides a “smorgasbord” of
opportunities for Catholics to engage with Scripture.
Even if Catholics do not join a Bible
study group, she said, they can find the daily Mass readings on the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website at www.usccb.org, have them sent directly by email from
the USCCB or find daily reflections across the internet, including Creighton
University’s Online Ministries’ website at onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/daily.html.
She said that there are many options for
Catholic Bible studies. Some individuals and groups adopt an academic approach
while others use “popular scholarship,” a blend of critical study and
prayer. The prayer-focused “lectio divina” style of study also is widely used,
Upchurch pointed out that biblical
studies are for learning Scripture, so Catholics should not be embarrassed to
join a study group because they feel they know little about the Bible.
Deacon Jensen said that whether Catholics study
in groups or individually, “the guided reading of the Bible is
“The Bible is an anthology of the
literature of an ancient people that reflects their faith and their time and
their culture and their environment, so trying to read it as a modern work
without understanding the cultural and historical background easily allows for
misinterpretation and confusion,” he said.
He recommended the New Jerome Biblical
Commentary, written by three Catholic priests and published by Prentice Hall,
for historical criticism. Deacon Jensen also recommended the Catholic Prayer Bible,
which he helped translate, for “lectio divina.”
No matter how Catholics engage with
Scripture, though, Deacon Jensen said he is excited about the growing passion for the
Bible he sees in the church, especially in the Bible study group at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament
in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at which he occasionally speaks, the weekly Bible study
he leads at the Carmelite monastery in Towson, Maryland, and in the courses he
teaches at Georgetown.
He described how students often begin
his classes simply wanting to satisfy their religion credit requirement but end
up “getting wrapped up in how cool this is.”
“There is a real hunger for the
word of God that I just really relish and enjoy,” Deacon Jensen told CNS.
The American Bible Society has worked
for more than 200 years to engage people with the best-selling book of all
time. Several notable U.S. historical figures, including John Jay and Francis
Scott Key, founded the society in 1816. The Philadelphia-based society produced
the first Braille Bible, developed the Good News Bible translation in
contemporary English and launched the Digital Bible Library to house various
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