Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why Catholic Churches Don’t Do More Organized Bible Studies

This is totally what it looked like when we left La Porte.

Since I moved out of the Catholic Ghetto and into the wide, wonderful, wild world of small town Indiana, I’ve started getting lots of questions on why we Catholics are such a quirky bunch. Back in La Porte, where my entire social group was “Catholic Homeschoolers,” I never really thought about how we appeared to our Protestant friends and neighbors. Probably because I didn’t have any Protestant friends. (See: Catholic homeschoolers.)  

So, without further ado, here’s my take on why we Catholics don’t do more Bible studies.  Note that this is OPINION ONLY.  If anyone has arguments, questions, or insane, unhinged diatribes on the whore of Babylon and its embrace of space aliens, please put them in the comments.

1. Our Parishes are Really, Really Big. 

Father's morning walkthrough is practically a marathon.

I live in a small, barely populated county in Southern Indiana. We have 9 parishes in the county.  I go to the smallest parish. We have 100 families. Not people, families. And that’s only registered families, not people who attend Mass there but don’t want to commit. Our church holds about 200 people when it’s packed to the gills. (Luckily, we have 2 Masses). When the whole parish gets together at a single Mass, people have to sit outside.   

The biggest parish has 1000 families. This is still considered ‘small’ by Catholic standards. Many parishes have 3-5,000 families.
Meanwhile, I don’t think I can count the number of Baptist churches in our county. But a lot of them are tiny.  You can do a whole-church Bible study (or even men’s, women’s, and children’s studies) when there are only 20-40 people in your church.  When you have 300-400 people? That’s not a Bible study, that’s a weed-out lecture course at a big state university. 

2. We see the Bible as devotional reading. 

Do you mind? It's my quiet prayer time!
Catholics are supposed to read the Bible every day. It even SAYS that in the beginning of our Bibles.  Now, that doesn’t mean we DO read the Bible every day, because we’re fallible human beings and dishes and laundry and “Good grief! Not on the Living Room floor! If your stomach hurts go to the BATHROOM. What have you been eating? Are you possessed or something?” tend to get in the way of an organized prayer life. 

Celibacy improves prayer life, because monks seldom steal each other's Lego guys.

Except for the Monks. Those guys always seem to find the time.

However, for a lot of Catholics, Bible reading is a PRIVATE devotion. You know Matthew 6:6, where he tells us to pray in private, where no one can see us? Somehow, we all know that verse REALLY well. And we take it to heart. Which also may be why we look shifty and uncomfortable when we’re in mixed company and the praying gets really loud and in your face.  It seems all weird and unbiblical to us.

Anyway, we like to read scripture alone. In silence. 

She's about to start screaming and lock herself in the bathroom.

 Unless we have kids, and then we do the best we can. 

Actually, it’s not really accurate to say that we just ‘read’ or ‘study’ the Bible. Really, when Catholics pull out the Bible, we tend to pray the Bible. We say the Psalms as prayers. We pray chunks of the Gospel –not just the Our Father (Matthew 6:9-13) , but also the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), and The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79). Heck, even the much-maligned Hail Mary takes most of its text from the Gospels. (Luke 1:27-31, 42). So for us, Bible=Prayer, and prayer=private.

We even have a special way to pray the Bible, called Lectio Divina. And then, there’s the Ignatian Method. We’re all about praying with scripture. But all of these methods also mean going slowly, listening to what God is telling you, and applying it to your own life. That’s not really a great model for a group study.

3. We’re Subsidiarian 

He's got the Holy Spirit on Call!

I know, I know. You think we’re all about hierarchy, right? Pope ->Bishop -> Priest ->Laity and all that. Heck, if the Church really cares about the Bible, why doesn’t he just order a gigantic, worldwide, Catholic Bible Study? (Actually, I guess he sort of DID do that back in the Year of Paul. Heh.)

The thing is, our church embraces subsidiarity. That is, we do things at the lowest practical level. So, for (exceedingly silly) example, imagine the lady in the next pew is coughing and snorting loudly and TOTALLY ruining my quiet, prayerful experience at Mass.

Do I call the pope and ask him to make her be quiet? How about the CDF? She’s probably a heretic too, right? 

Definitely a Heretic.

Can I complain and have my pastor deliver a lecture on ‘noisy old ladies’ from the pulpit?  No. I need to politely ask her to stop bugging me ON MY OWN. (Actually, no, wait. Pretty sure that would be a sin. I probably just need to pray that she’s healed quickly, and that she didn’t catch that cold from my snotty toddler because then I’d feel really bad..)

The subsidiarity thing kicks in on the Bible study front. So, you want to have a moms’/mens’/teens’/Washington  Senators’ fan Bible study? Start one. 

I take it back. Avoid the Washington Senators' Fan Bible Study. Those people are sketchy.

Need a place to have it? Father will probably let you use the parish hall. He may even advertise it in the bulletin. But subsidiarity means that he’s not going to set up your Bible study for you, any more than he’s going to run your Vincent De Paul food pantry or teach your Religion class for you.  (Unless he’s really, really nice, and you’re really, really desperate.)  Look, he’s too busy running around giving last rites to all the people who touched my toddler’s snotty hand during the sign of peace.   If you're a convert and miss the closeness of Bible studies at your old church, remember: Subsidiarity means “Just Do It!”

4. Here Comes Everybody.
See that lady in the fourth row with the red shirt? We're involved in a blood feud.

If you’re not Catholic, you may have trouble picturing the typical Catholic parish.  At Sunday Mass, you can expect a nice mix of charismatics, Benedictine Oblates, Jesuit fans, women in chapel veils praying for the return of the Latin Mass to the area, women in Birkenstoks praying for women’s ordination, rabid Republicans, rabid democrats, rabid distibutionists, rabid libertarians, and some people, like my children, who are just plain rabid.  

 It is very, very, difficult to organize a parish Bible study that won’t end up looking less like the upper room and more like the coliseum.

I told you we should have just stuck to the Rosary!

In the Protestant church, all these exciting, pungent, kind of rancid flavors of humanity all form their own churches and denominations. That doesn’t happen in the Catholic Church, because

5. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our worship.

My Lord and My God!

We’re all about the sacraments, and especially about the Eucharist. Sure, we could get together and argue or emote about scripture, but we can do that at home. When we get together, we tend to be all about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  Sure, we could sit around and talk about Jesus for an hour, but… every single day, all over the world, we have the chance to actually RECEIVE Him, 

Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  We can go to Mass EVERY DAY.  So when we want to get closer to Jesus and learn more about what he wants for us, our first thought isn’t “I should start a Bible Study!” It’s “I should go to Mass more often.” 

When we want to get more adults into church, we don’t have classes. We expand confession times and invite people to Mass. Because Mass is where the action is. And once you’re receiving Jesus and spending time in his actual, physical presence? You’ll probably want to pray more, and study the Bible, anyway.


Ann said...

Exactly. How can you hear what the Holy spirit is saying if someone else is talking?

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm so cranky that, if I'm at a Bible Study and someone else is talking, I'm probably resisting the urge to thwack them across the head with a Catechism.

Unless the study is lead by a theologian and there's no time for 'personal sharing and witnessing,' I'm probably going to spend most of smiling politely and checking to see when the next Confession time is!

Elizabeth said...

Bravo, I wasn't sure where this was going, but well said. Also we read the Bible at every mass. We have readings from the Old testament and the New and the Gospels, then a homily. And we can do this daily. The mass is taken from the Bible.
Check out the Catholic Biblical School, a great 4 year study offered by the Augustine Institute in Denver. The mass will become even richer!
God Bless!

Kate said...

You MUST blog more. You have an awesome voice. And the asides about your kids had me cracking up!

So, yeah. I totally get how you get paid to write. I bet you make boring things fun to read about.

New American Catholic Bible said...

I have read clueless where the topic would lead me to. Surprisingly, I really loved your thoughts. Catholic church's must conduct thorough study of bible and spread the message of God to everyone else.