Also, regardless of how well I know a particular passage or individual in the Bible...I always find myself updating my understanding every time I hear a homily or read someone else's take on the same passage. Regardless of how well we know the Bible, I don't think the Bible is something that the vast majority of us can do on our own. I know what you're thinking now... "HERESY!" Before you cast any stones...let me share a true sola scriptura story...just so you understand where I am coming from.
I was a resident assistant throughout most of my undergraduate life. I had a few uber-Christian kids on the floor (as well as every other religion you can imagine). They used to hold bible studies in the hallway of my floor. It was kind of cool, to some degree, seeing all these college kids reading the Bible and living their faith (denominational or non-denominational). A good number of these kids could probably quote the Bible in their sleep....that's how learned they were in terms of reading scripture. In terms of interpreting scripture...it was hit or miss. One example of this occurred when I was outside of my room one night, working on a painting (the lighting in the hallway was GREAT for painting). I overhear an argument and next thing I know, I'm listening in. At first it was just to make sure everything was okay...but then I could not help but keep listening. You see, it was one of the uber-Christian boys getting dumped by one of the uber-Christian girls. He was, as you can imagine, heart-broken and wanted to know why she had broken up with him. She replied that she had opened up the Bible and seen his name in the passage.
I don't know how she did it, but she somehow quoted the passage and manipulated its meaning in a way that made it sound like this chance Bible reading was a message from God....that she should break up with the guy. Mind you, these two kids weren't just some Bible-illiterate shmucks. They probably read the holy book more often than I've cracked open my Molecular Ecology book (which has more Post-its and hand-written notes in it than printed text....so this is saying a lot). However, I feel that this whole situation was a Catholic-facepalm-inducing-mother-of-all-epic-failure case of how Sola Scriptura is not for everyone because not even a few weeks went by before this girl was with another guy...much to the chagrin of the other fellow (and my lack of surprise).
If you have a theology degree, thoroughly researched the history behind each book of the bible, are fluent in Aramaic (as well as ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew), graduated top of your class from a seminary, and have spent your entire life in a library researching the meaning of every word and passage in the Bible...then Sola Scriptura may work for you. However, you are an exception in a growing population of people who simply do not know how to read the Bible. Let's face it, not all of us are born to be philosophers or theologians. Not all of us really have the time (or the guts) to pull a Saint Benedict and escape our worldly lives in pursuit of a contemplative life as a hermit. Some of us, myself included, fall into all of these categories. We may not have the mind to find all the answers we need. We may also lack all of the time needed to figure out all of the questions we have. We may have a variety of other reasons that would ultimately lead to Sola Scriptura failure.
Fortunately, however, we have a few options. As you may have guessed, one of these options is mass.
Before I continue about mass, I will briefly talk about the other option...which I like to view as the "Cliff's Notes" to better understanding everything from the Bible to the Holy Trinity. Consider this...there are people out there whose profession is centered on the Bible and all sorts of other theological goodies. There are people out there that HAVE spent most of their lives in contemplative prayer. There are people out there that HAVE a better understanding than we do about what it means to live a holy life. More importantly, there are other people out there that have sought the answers to the same questions we have today...and published their findings. There are Theological Cliff's Notes written by countless people over the course of the past 2000 years (and beyond). These religious folk devoted a great deal of their lives and genius to figuring out some of the passages of the Bible that are too difficult for the common lay man to understand. It's almost unbelievable just how much theological gold you can find out there if you are willing to read the works of a few saints or saints-in-training.
Think about it, a rich history of religious folk that have already figured out a lot of the hard stuff for us already...whether its difficult Bible passages or any one of countless complicated doctrines...Talk about a sweet deal! Call me crazy or just plain lazy, but the thoughts and research of other people who share my faith has certainly worked wonders when it came to improving my faith. A few of my favorites (finished and unfinished) are JPII's "Theology of the Body," C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," and Gabriele Amorth's works. For some extremely uplifting, uber-Catholic, and very lightweight reading, I also recommend "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith." Based on some of the paper's my sister's written about Papa Benedict's work...I would also highly recommend his stuff as well. I highly recommend Theological Cliff's Notes to anyone out there that is willing to improve their faith.
Okay, back to mass. Don't get me wrong, the Bible has plenty of answers. However, I tend to use it more as a supplement than the sole teacher for my faith. Truth be told, I get more out of going to mass than I do cracking open the Good Book. I do read the Good Book when I get the chance and the idea to do so. However, I get much more out of it with mass....and some GREAT homilies. There are some homilies I have listened to that I will never forget...they were that good. I've had so many AHA!!! moments during mass after a padre or a deacon commented on one of the passages we had read during mass.
Don't worry, regardless of how awesome a homily may be, it never ends there. I often find myself looking up a saint that was referenced, a particular passage, or a historical, factual tidbits that I had previously not known. I also end up going back to...you guessed it...the Bible. However, I usually go to the Bible more informed and better able to read and interpret it...almost like the padre has highlighted what needs to be highlighted, written some comments in the margins, and bookmarked where I need to go. Do I end up viewing everything in an identical fashion as the priest? No. However, I usually do come to appreciate everything I read a lot more...and understand everything a lot better
One of the reasons I like going to mass is the homilies because every time I think I understand a particular passage, some padre gets me thinking about it in a new way. He may may introduce me to something that I had overlooked or deemed too insignificant to consider. Sometimes the padre introduces a particular passage in a new light. Sometimes he gives a completely different or more detailed version of the passage than my drained PhD brain could ever come up with. In my opinion, these are typically the best homilies because tend to give me something new for my Catholic brain to chew on.
I have come across so many great priests in my lifetime and each one has had an effect on my religious life. In my experience (and I have listened to A LOT of priests), priests tend to know what they're talking about when it comes to the Bible...and they should know what they are talking about considering how much schooling they get and their life commitment to Christ. They know what they're talking about because they have to know...and because they were called for it. Not everyone is called to be a priest...and those that are, well, they're pretty special individuals. God called them because they had the capacity for it. God called them because He WANTED THEM to speak for HIM. He wanted them to spread the good word and to understand the "why" and "how" behind every word they preach. Talk about responsibility. Yet, there are so many great men who are more than willing to devote THEIR ENTIRE LIVES to God and to His words.
Believe it or not, priests have to go through A LOT of schooling before they get to stand up there, in front of the church, and deliver a homily. They've studied for Bible-centered exams like I have studied for a biochemistry exam. They've spent countless hours eating, living, and breathing scripture as they sought to become priests. Considering how little they make and how much crap they get from the media (and the world in general) due to a few crooked padres over they years, they certainly don't do this for themselves. They do it for people like me and you. They dedicate so much of their own time, brain power, and other talents to us...the people who sit in the pews. They also do it for the people who don't sit in the pews.
|"From the moment in which you proved yourselves to be unworthy of the Word of the Lord, look, I turn to the fish, to further confound your disbelief".|
Who knows, you may even come across a padre whose homilies could rival those of Saint Anthony. Now here's a guy who knew what it was like to preach to a crowd that refused to listen. Thankfully, everyone eventually saw the error of their ways...after seeing how awesome a homily Saint Anthony could give a school of fish. Don't miss out on a homily that could change your life!!! ESPECIALLY if you, like me, know you pretty much stink at Sola Scriptura.
If you do know some good priests....what better way for you to thank them for all of their hard work and dedication...than attending mass? What better way to thank them for their commitment than paying attention to all the theological gold they wish to share?
If you don't know some good priests, keep searching and feel free to email me if you are willing to move to Jersey and listen to some very great homilies. If you can't move to Jersey, but still want a few great homilies...well, I do know a great padre who gives a great homily and tends to post them on his blog.
Pray for Norway.