More Than Just a Book (Part 1)

Apologist Jeff Cavins on the Bible

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By Karna Swanson

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, OCT. 20, 2008 ( 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, 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.

Part 2 will appear Tuesday.

Q: You have created 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. 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.

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The Great Adventure: or


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