Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jeff Cavins on Reading the Bible

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More Than Just a Book (Part 1)


ST. PAUL, Minnesota, OCT. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Bible isn't just any book, and as such, it has to be read, studied and approached differently than other books, says Catholic apologist Jeff Cavins.

The Catholic author and speaker told ZENIT that the starting point for approaching Scripture has to be one of faith.

Cavins is president of The Great Adventure, a practical interactive Catholic Bible study system used in 2,400 parishes throughout the United States that enables students to understand the chronological flow of Scripture.

The Great Adventure currently hosts ScriptureSynod.com, a site dedicated to providing the latest news and information on the world Synod of Bishops.

The assembly, under way in the Vatican through Oct. 26, is reflecting on the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

Cavins, who is also the director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, discusses the synod in Part 1 of this interview, and its usefulness for the average Catholic.

Q: You have created ScriptureSynod.com to help the faithful follow the synod on the Word of God. How important is it for Catholics to have knowledge of what is going on at the synod?

Cavins: I think it is very important for the laity to know what the Church is focusing on during this historic synod for two reasons:

1) Sacred Scripture speaks to how we live our lives. The laity's response to God's divine revelation is what the Catechism calls, "the obedience of faith": "By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God" (CCC 143).

Whatever the outcome of the synod, laity should be predisposed to respond in some way to the Holy Spirit's lead.

The synod's title itself, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" should interest the laity, because the life and the mission of the Church is our life and mission. As Catholics we do not separate ourselves from the Church when determining the direction of our own lives. What happens in Rome will manifest in our home.

2) Knowledge of what is happening now in Rome offers the laity the ability, along with the synod participants, to contemplate, render thanks for, meditate upon and proclaim the Word of God. Our awareness of the happenings of the synod will enhance our participation through prayer.

The task of the interpretation of Scripture has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. As laity we can pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to assist those who are meeting in the synod.

Q: The assembly has a week to go. What have been the highlights to this point?

Cavins: The first half of the synod has focused on Scripture in the life of the Church. One highlight is the relationship between theologians and exegetes [interpreters]. The Pope felt that a new direction must be given to Catholic biblical scholarship.

We must move beyond the post-enlightenment perspective of treating the Bible like any other book. The Catholic scholar must make the starting point as the Church's Faith. This is contrary to the common approach of some leading Catholic exegetes who talk about adopting a so-called "neutral or objective" view and claim that historical criticism is to be a theologically neutral and free enterprise.

In sharp contrast, the Holy Father's intervention in the synod called for the starting point of Catholic scholarship to be the Church's faith. Faith has to be our starting point because we believe Scripture is God's Word, and so it has to be handled in a manner far different than how we read, study, and approach any other book.

Another highlight is the reverence for sacred Scripture. Everything flows from the mystery of Scripture being not only human words with human authors, but above all, by the mystery of God's inspiration, Scripture is God's sacred Word. This is the first principle of understanding Scripture.

The great privilege of hearing God taken up by the venerable tradition of "lectio divina" -- another recommendation being made over and over by the synod fathers -- depends on Scripture being his Word. Here too, we heard that the focus of homiletics should be centered on hearing and proclaiming the Word of God that we hear in the liturgy as God's word.

It would appear that the second half of the synod will move more of its focus to the role of Scripture in the mission of the Church, where a call for a new evangelization will be a vital part of the conversation.

Two keys here are: First, the new evangelization must bring renewal to current Catholics and the Church by a living encounter with God through his Word using disciplines such as "lectio divina." Then, we have to be able to share with the world God's story of salvation history that has been revealed in Sacred Scripture. The world is desperately searching for a plan that makes sense out of life.

Second, people need to be introduced to the Bible in a way that gives hope of understanding the basic message. For the laity this has been very difficult, as many have been introduced to the Bible from an academic perspective rather than a pastoral one. Often times they are left with literary analysis, void of spiritual exegesis.

Due to time constraints and the basic questions of life, laity want to obtain answers to life's daily issues. In short, they are looking for a plan. Paragraph 1 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that God has a "plan of sheer goodness" for humanity, whose destiny is the Beatific Vision, life with the Trinity forever. The 73 books of the Catholic Bible contain the outline of God's plan.

The difficulty that many encounter is that the Bible is not written in chronological order. Bible studies such as "The Great Adventure: A Journey Through the Bible" utilize a narrative approach by guiding the laity through Scripture in such a way that the plan becomes clear. The Scriptures suddenly become not only a source of direction for daily living, but also a roadmap we can offer to those who are seeking the true meaning of life, including former Catholics or non-Catholics.It is often difficult to invite the uninitiated to Mass, which is for the converted, but it is much easier to invite them to a Bible study. A Bible study is a common entry for us all to God's plan of sheer goodness.




More Than Just a Book (Part 2)

Reading Scripture has the power to change lives when people are able to see their own story in the story of salvation history, says Catholic apologist Jeff Cavins.

The Catholic author and speaker told ZENIT that "after discovering God's plan of sheer goodness in the Scriptures," the faithful are led to greater participation in the sacraments and in the life of the Church, even taking on leadership roles.

Cavins is president of The Great Adventure, a practical interactive Catholic Bible study system used in 2,400 parishes throughout the United States that enables students to understand the chronological flow of Scripture.

The Great Adventure currently hosts ScriptureSynod.com, a site dedicated to providing the latest news and information on the world Synod of Bishops.

The assembly, under way in the Vatican through Oct. 26, is reflecting on the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

Cavins, who is also the director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, discusses "lectio divinia" in Part 2 of this interview, as well as the faithful's growing interest in the Bible.

Q: In the synod there is much talk of "lectio divina." What is "lectio divina" and how important is it for the average Catholic?

Cavins: "Lectio divina" -- divine reading -- is the ancient art of praying the scriptures in a contemplative way. It first begins with reading and listening to a scripture passage. The discipline of listening was the center of the spiritual life of the Hebrew people as seen in Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel."

Second is meditation upon the Scripture. When a particular passage gains the attention of our heart, we begin to meditate upon it. Meditation is best understood by the image of a cow chewing its cud. We linger and ponder that which has arrested our attention.

The next is prayer, which is a loving conversation with God where we allow his word to deeply touch our heart. Finally, "lectio divina" concludes with contemplation, a quiet wordless rest. As a husband and wife can enjoy each other's presence without saying a word, so can the Christian enjoy the presence of God.

"Lectio divina" is important for Catholics because it is an accessible means of not only fostering a deep relationship with God, but of personalizing the love letter written by their heavenly father. It is simple, intimate, and fruitful.

On ScriptureSynod.com, we have an entire page dedicated to "lectio divina" where one can find not only detailed descriptions in both print and video, but also videos and podcasts that guide the viewer through "lectio divina."

Q: You talk of the Bible as a story. How effective has this approach been to helping people connect with the contents of Scripture?

Cavins: It has been extremely effective as evidenced by the thousands of studies currently going on in the United States. People who have grasped the narrative story of the Bible have discovered the narrative thread to their own lives. They have come to know their story in his story, which is the true history of the universe. We have heard so many testimonies of lives that have changed. We hear of husbands and wives who are discussing the Bible with each other for the first time in their marriage.

There is a dramatic increase in Church life both in sacramental participation and volunteerism. We have observed that many people have become leaders after discovering God's plan of sheer goodness in the Scriptures. These are people who would otherwise not have stepped in to leadership roles. It was the sheer joy of knowing God's will that moved them to serve others.

In addition, once Catholics understand the basic story of salvation history, the systematic and organic presentation of the faith as outlined in the Catechism becomes accessible.

Q: Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, said at the beginning of the synod that biblical images are no longer a part of popular culture. What effect does this distance from Scripture and its stories have on the faith of Catholics?

Cavins: When we lose the narrative thread of salvation history, we also lose the ability to communicate to the next generation the critical signs and symbols of faith. With an absence of biblical images, people are forced to search for and adopt new images, which most often are secular and unrelated to their true calling to be sons and daughters in a covenant relationship with God.

These secular images are popularized by a host of TV celebrities and books. Because these secular images often seem accessible and easily understood, they are adopted. Consequently the Christian images that our grandparents understood now seem foreign and old-fashioned.

Q: On the Great Adventure Web site one sees hundreds of Churches throughout the United States involved in Bible study. What has led to this renewed interest in the study of Scripture?

Cavins: While humanity has made great strides in the area of medicine, technology and communications, our spiritual growth has not kept pace, and people are feeling the effects of it with a palpable void in their heart. It is not a surprise to me to see our heavenly Father drawing people to the Church, the pillar and support of truth.

Now that there is a growing number of Bible studies offered in the Catholic Church, people are responding with eagerness to see what God has for them. With the incredible growth of the Bible studies that we are experiencing, our attention will be given to leadership training. Most of growth comes from one person telling another about their experience.

Q: Are Catholics catching up with Protestants in their knowledge of Scripture?

Cavins: From the perspective of a former pastor, the issue of biblical illiteracy and lack of understanding is not solely a Catholic problem. It may appear that our Protestant brothers and sisters understand more of the Scriptures than Catholics, but I have found that many of them know specific verses, but not the entire narrative, which leaves them with a pocket full of promises rather than a comprehensive plan.

In fact, many non-Catholics who have gone through The Great Adventure came to an understanding of the Catholic faith as they saw the plan of God revealed. They have a deeper appreciation of the Scriptures when they realize that Scripture comes from within the Church, and it is to be read and interpreted in the context of the Church.

Jeff Cavins Fall 2008 Courses in the Twin Cities Area
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