The story is told of a young St. Augustine, who in the midst of his struggle to convert to the truths of Christianity, found it quite difficult
to let go of some of his more challenging sins, especially the sins of the flesh. One day, as Augustine was crying out in frustration, he
knelt in his garden to pray and wept, repeating the words of Psalm 13: “How Long, O Lord?” As he wept, Augustine heard what he described as the voices of a child, almost singing, “Tolle lege, tolle lege,” or “Take up and read” in Latin. Immediately, Augustine’s mind went to the famous African desert father, St. Anthony of the Desert, whose austere lifestyle was inspired by his reading of the great call of Jesus in Matthew 19:21 to “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me.” Feeling inspired, Augustine ran to the Scriptures and opened to the first passage he saw (Romans 13:13-14), which read: “Let us live honorably as in the daylight, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” This text inspired a great desire in Augustine to pursue true holiness of life—not just belief in Christianity, but a true living out of the Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is also a significant moment in the history of the Church, as Augustine went on to contribute in immense ways to the treasure of the Church’s theological traditions.
This story from Augustine’s life is a reminder to us of the importance of Scripture, the divinely inspired Word of God, and the role that it should play in our lives as Christians. I can honestly say that I was not a lover of Scripture in my younger years—in fact, I couldn’t help but find it difficult to understand and somewhat irrelevant to my life. Until, at a certain point, I began to open myself up to how God might be using Scripture to speak to me. If we approach the Scriptures knowing that God speaks to us here and now through these words, how differently we often hear it!
I still remember the days when the Scriptures really came alive for me. It was early in my days of seminary, and we began an introductory class
on the Old Testament. Just realizing the history that lay behind the words of the Pentateuch and the prophets was eye-opening, and considering
the history of Israel began to make the message of the Scriptures start to come alive. Later that year, when I began to study Greek, I realized
that there was so much more to Scripture than we give it credit for—there is an entire world of minutia and meaning just in the smallest of
It’s hard to put onto paper the excitement that became really studying the Word of God for me. It made me thirst to know more about the Bible, to fill the gaps of ignorance, and to ask more about the things that I didn’t understand or made me uncomfortable (which, believe me, were many!). To my surprise, there were real answers to my questions, and the realization of how our Scriptures and Tradition in the Church “hang together” fueled a deep passion and love for the Church within me. I count it one of my greatest blessings to have been given the opportunity to study Biblical Theology in my advanced coursework. And to be honest, one of my favorite parts of Mass in every Mass is simply to read the Gospel aloud. There is just something about when the Word of God is proclaimed in the midst of an assembly of believers that is truly sacred.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord speaks when we read the Scriptures aloud at Mass. So often in the Catholic world, we underemphasize the Word of God in favor of the Eucharist. But our God is truly present to us in both. It sometimes takes a little work to invest ourselves in it (even as a priest!), but actively listening during the Liturgy of the Word is something which I have found to be beyond life-giving. Perhaps a good way to prepare for each Sunday’s Mass would be to read the readings beforehand (cf. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/), so that we might familiarize ourselves with them ahead of time and be more prepared to receive God’s message when it comes to us.
In any event, the Lord calls to us, “Tolle lege!” Let us together heed His holy Word!
Keep spreading joy!