Saint Mary's Press winner for the week of January 9, 2012!
Congratulations to Maria DeMeuse!
Maria will receive a copy of Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics, a $20.95 value.
As the title suggests, Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics highlights what happens throughout salvation history between God and humanity. God breaks through and connects with human history, thereby establishing a relationship with humanity.
Using the Good News translation, Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics was created for young people leaving childhood and entering adolescence. Its ten special features were created to help make the Bible easier for young people to read and understand.
They will learn about the great people of the Bible, and will see how God has been breaking through in human history and connecting with humanity for thousands of years. Most important, they will discover, in the Bible, how God's messages to key people of faith have meaning for life today.
Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics
ISBN: 978-0-88489-862-7, paper, 1,968 pages
Focus on Faith
I pray you had a blessed Christmas and Epiphany and are excited about the New Year. One of the things we are excited about at Saint Mary’s Press in this new year is the release of The Catholic Youth Bible® with new translation. For this reason I thought it would be appropriate to share with you over the next two weeks an article written by Brian Singer-Towns. Brian has been an editor for Saint Mary’s Press for fifteen years, after more than fifteen years in volunteer and professional youth ministry. Brian’s extensive background in theology, youth ministry, and religious education is reflected in his contributions to the Horizons and Total Faith™ programs and in his work as general editor for The Catholic Youth Bible®, The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, and Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics. Brian also leads workshops for leaders around the country on biblical literacy and other youth ministry topics. In this article Brian explains his ABC approach to biblical literacy. Next week this article will continue by exploring how biblical literacy leads to biblical spirituality. I hope this article empowers you to help the youth with whom you are in ministry develop biblical literacy skills, and as always, I pray that God will continue to bless you and your ministry.
Catholic Youth and the Bible: Moving from Biblical Literacy to Biblical Spirituality (Part 1)
By Brian Singer-Towns
As a college student back in the mid-seventies, I was invited to be part of an ecumenical student Bible study. Born and raised Catholic, I don’t think I had cracked open a Bible more than two or three times as a teenager. However, I attended Mass regularly and during high school was even a lector in my small country parish. In this Bible study, my Protestant friends had to show me how to look up chapter and verse, which books were in the Old Testament and which were in the New Testament, and how to use the cross references at the bottom of the Bible’s pages.
In many respects you could say I was functionally biblically illiterate.
I had little knowledge or experience of using the Bible itself. Even more telling, though, was my lack of biblical spirituality. Despite my hearing the lectionary readings week after week, the values I held were the values of the popular culture; they were materialistic, self-absorbed, and shallow. My involvement in the Bible study group and my own personal reading of the Scriptures were key elements leading to my conversion to a Gospel-centered way of life. But it took involvement with a group outside the Catholic Church to foster this growth.
We have ample evidence that biblical literacy among Catholic youth today isn’t much different from my experience of twenty-five years ago. Most Catholic teens cannot name the four Gospels. The explosion of interest in the Scriptures by adult Catholics since the Second Vatican Council has by and large not really reached Catholic youth. For example, in a recent Gallup study, only 20 percent of Catholic youth, compared to 60 percent of Christian youth from other denominations, claimed to have ever read the Bible on their own.
In this article I will explore the issues involved in fostering biblical literacy and biblical spirituality among Catholic youth. We at Saint Mary’s Press hope that these reflections will inspire discussions in your school communities.
The ABCs of Biblical Literacy
If we intend to affect the faith development of our young people, our ultimate goal must be to foster biblical spirituality in them, not just biblical literacy. However, biblical literacy is important because it contributes to that goal, though it is not an end in itself.
I call my guiding vision for biblical literacy the ABCs of biblical literacy. The ABCs stand for access, big picture, and context. Let me share this vision with you briefly and ask that you relate it to your own guiding vision or that of your school.
Access Biblically literate Catholic youth should have quick and easy access to the Bible text. They must be able to find a passage by themselves. They must be familiar with the names and general order of the Bible’s books. They should know the major sections of the Bible (the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom books, etc.).
Big Picture To really appreciate the meaning of the individual books in the library that we call the Bible, one needs to be familiar with the overall biblical narrative, which we call salvation history. To know how each book’s story fits into that history is the mark of a truly biblically literate person. This familiarity does not come easily, but many resources and creative techniques can help teach it. It is a knowledge that grows with repetition and review.
Context It is very possible for someone to have access to the biblical text, be familiar with the big picture of the biblical narrative, and still misinterpret God’s Revelation in the Bible. Biblical fundamentalism is the prime example of such misinterpretation. Biblical fundamentalists have not learned to put the Bible’s stories and teachings in their proper context. To help Catholic young people avoid biblical fundamentalism, we must teach them to ask the following contextual questions when reading any biblical book or passage:
- What is the literary genre of this book or passage?
- What historical or cultural situation was the author of this book or passage addressing?
- How does this story fit with the rest of the Bible’s message or teaching?
- How does the Church understand or interpret this book or passage?
In many ways Catholic high school theology courses are doing a wonderful job with the ABCs of biblical literacy. I have direct evidence of this from my own son and his friends. After taking a course on the Old Testament, they challenged me to a Bible fact competition. Displaying a wealth of biblical knowledge, they even managed occasionally to stump the “old man” (I take it as an affectionate term). I was excited and pleased to see them learning so much.
The challenge for Catholic schools is to keep our efforts at biblical literacy ongoing and not just part of one or two semesters of theology. I would suggest that for every theology course, there be a Scripture component requiring Scripture study and reflection. I would further suggest that students be required to read whole books of the Bible, not just in their theology courses but integrated throughout the whole curriculum. Why not read the novelettes of Judith, Tobit, and Esther as part of the English curriculum? How about 1 and 2 Maccabees (books found only in Catholic Bibles) while studying the Greek and Roman Empires in world history?
Make It Happen
Knowledge Competency: Know the Names and Order of the Books of the Bible
From Biblical Literacy Made Easy: A Practical Guide for Catechists, Teachers, and Youth Ministers
One could argue that this competency isn’t too important because the table of contents in any Bible will direct you to whatever book you are trying to find. But this competency is important if Catholic youth are to feel as biblically literate as their friends from other Christian denominations. A familiarity with the names of the books in the Bible and a knowledge of which books belong to which section also contribute to achieving the other two competencies of the Access goal. A minimum target to aim for is having every young person complete your parish or school formation programs knowing the names and the order of the books in the Pentateuch and in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.
- To help younger children learn the names of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, have them repeat after you: “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. Now we know some Bible facts!” Have them repeat this until they know it by heart.
- To help younger adolescents learn the names of the books of the Pentateuch, try a visual cue diagram. For each of the five books, ask the group to identify something you can draw that will remind them of the name of that book. It must be an object, not a word. It doesn’t matter how the object is connected to the book name. As they identify an object for each book name, draw the object on a sheet of newsprint. For example, you might draw the following items:
- trees (symbolize Creation in Genesis)
- an exit sign (sounds like Exodus)
- a pair of jeans (Levis sounds like Leviticus)
- 5, 9, 23, 46 (symbolizing Numbers)
- dude on a surfboard (sounds like the beginning of
After you have created your list, point to each object and have the young people call out together the book name associated with it. Repeat this at the end of your gathering. Do it once or twice each time you gather for the next several weeks. After a few weeks, the group will have the book names memorized in order without needing the visual cues.
- With young people of any age, use silly rhymes, sentences, or songs to help memorize the names and order of the books of the Bible. For example, “RC Cola, General Electric, Pepsi Cola, toilet tissue” is a way of remembering the names of the first seven letters: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians. If you need help with ideas, talk to the religious education leaders in your local evangelical churches.
Activity Idea: Bible Pictograph
Gather the following items:
- copies of handout 1–A, “Books of the Bible” one for each young person
- pens or pencils, one for each young person
- Bibles, one for each young person
1. Distribute a copy of handout 1–A, “Books of the Bible” a pen or pencil, and a Bible to each young person. Tell the group that the names of twenty of the seventy-three books of the Bible are contained in the pictograms on the handout. For example, the pictogram in the top left square stands for Matthew (welcome MAT-U). Ask the young people to use the clues to decipher the remaining nineteen names on their own (or in pairs). Suggest that they use the table of contents in their Bibles for help with the names of the books.
2. Assist the young people, providing hints as needed. When everyone is finished, go over the answers together. The answers are as follows:
4. Acts of the Apostles
6. 2 Kings
- After they have identified all the book names in the pictogram, ask the young people to identify which books are from the Old Testament and which are from the New Testament. Go further by having them identify which section of the Bible each book is located in.
- Have the young people create their own Bible book name pictograms
to test one another or to share with other classes.
Break Open the Word
The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 15, 2012
Jesus, you reward those who seek you by inviting them to come and live with you. On our journey of faith we search and search for you, desiring to be ever closer to you, and we are eternally grateful when you take us under your wings, guiding us in all that we do. We wish to serve you through our daily lives and to live with you forever in the world to come. Amen.
In this Sunday's Gospel two very determined individuals seek out Jesus to join him, to be close to him. It is important to put their actions into the larger context of the whole chapter to fully appreciate the message of this Gospel passage. Earlier, in verses 29-34, we read of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, an event that we recalled at the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated on January 11, 2009. After his baptism, according to the Gospel, Jesus inaugurates his public life by proclaiming a message of forgiveness of sins. People begin to notice him. Two disciples of John the Baptist seek Jesus out in earnest, a development unique to the Gospel of John; in the other three Gospels Jesus seeks the disciples out by calling them to follow him. John's rendering more than likely reflects the then-common practice of searching for a distinguished rabbi to hear his teachings with hopes of becoming his disciple. In this account John the Baptist gives his two disciples a little help in locating the one they should now follow by calling Jesus, the "Lamb of God" (1:36). When Jesus notices these disciples of John following him, he asks them, "What are you looking for?" (1:38). The disciples respond by addressing Jesus as "Rabbi." What they go on to ask is both interesting and revealing, "Where are you staying?" (1:38). They most definitely want to learn more about this rabbi Jesus because they want to be physically close to him. Jesus in turn offers them an invitation, "Come and see" (1:39). After being with Jesus a whole day, which for Jews begins at sunset and ends at the following sunset, Andrew, who is one of the two disciples of John the Baptist, goes to find his brother Simon. Andrew's words, "We have found the Messiah" (1:41), convinces Simon to return with him to see and listen to Jesus himself. What Jesus says to Simon upon meeting him suggests that he already knows him, "You are Simon son of John" (1:42). The Gospel writer lets the reader know that Jesus already has special plans for this brother of Andrew. In fact, Simon's role will be so significant that Jesus changes his name, "You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)" (1:42), which means "rock."
This Gospel offers us a clear model of evangelization that we can use in our everyday lives. One could call it the invitation model, that is, we bring Jesus to others by inviting them to encounter him. As previously mentioned, John the Baptist follows this model by inviting his disciples to follow Jesus. We know that Andrew employs the same model; he invites his brother Simon to meet Jesus for himself. Evangelization is encounter, that is, having a personal encounter with Jesus that sets the stage for a more intimate relationship with him.
In this Sunday's Gospel John writes of the disciple's initial encounter with Jesus, which can lead to a life-changing relationship with him. For us that encounter begins at Baptism. Through this sacrament we become sons and daughters of God. Jesus's exemplary life, which we are called to imitate, shows us the way to holiness. The endpoint for us journeying disciples is to live in the glory of heaven after our earthly lives come to an end. We hope our lives will be characterized by a true moral maturity attainable through God's abundant grace.
He who believes in Christ becomes a son of God. This filial adoption transforms him by giving him the ability to follow the example of Christ. It makes him capable of acting rightly and doing good. In union with his Savior, the disciple attains the perfection of charity which is holiness. Having matured in grace, the moral life blossoms into eternal life in the glory of heaven. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1709)
Jesus shares life in all its aspects with his disciples. We are invited to come and see where the Master lives and to enter into an intimate relationship with him. For those who believe in Jesus, this intimate union finds fulfillment in the Eucharist, in the partaking of the body and blood of Jesus. Believers have come to understand that through the reception of the Eucharist Jesus abides in them.
From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings.1 Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: "Abide in me, and I in you. . . . I am the vine, you are the branches."2 And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."3 (Catechism, paragraph 787)
In the Gospels we learn that discipleship flows from the initiative of Jesus. Even in the Gospel of John, where the disciples make the first move by seeking out Jesus, the Master takes the initiative to forge an intimate relationship with them, "Come and see" (1:39). The Gospel of John also underscores the importance of striving to know who Jesus is. The disciples of John the Baptist first address Jesus as "Rabbi," but after spending time with him come to know him as the Messiah. One of them, Andrew, wants to share what he knows to be true, and he goes off in search of his brother, inviting him to experience the truth for himself. This Gospel passage causes us to ask important questions: How well do we know and understand Jesus? What do we tell our family and friends about Jesus? Do we behave as devoted disciples by inviting others to encounter him?
The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.
The quotations labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.
The Lord's Prayer is taken from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Copyright © 1988 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved.
Endnotes Cited in Quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
1. Cf. Mark 1:16-20; 3:13-19; Matthew 13:10-17; Luke 10:17-20; 22:28-30.
2. John 15:4-5.
3. John 6:56.
Blessed Peter Donders
January 14 is the memorial for Blessed Peter Donders.
Blessed Peter Donders stands as a remarkable example of persistence and commitment to the call to priestly vocation. Born in Holland in 1809, he grew up in poverty, rarely attending school. At the age of 22, he entered the seminary, working as a servant while he studied. After ten years of working and studying in the seminary, he was ordained. In 1842 he went to the Dutch colony in Surinam, Dutch Guiana, to evangelize and minister to plantation slaves. He later went to the leper colony of Batavia to minister to the patients. At the age of 57, he joined the Redemptorists order. After making his final vows with the Redemptorists, he returned to Batavia to continue his ministry.
For more information on Blessed Peter Donders, go to http://saints.sqpn.com/saintp0n.htm.