Key to letting the Scriptures change our lives is not just reading them regularly but actually experiencing them—allowing the words and motifs of the Bible to shape our hearts and minds in lasting ways. To get the most out of the Scriptures, we need to allow the Word of God—Jesus Christ—to speak to us through them. As St Jerome famously said, ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Every celebration of Word of God Sunday (observed in Australia on the first Sunday of February) is an opportunity to reflect on what room we make in our lives for the Bible, and Pope Francis has recently invited us all to return to the Word of God anew.
In his recent homily for Word of God Sunday, he acknowledged that it can be hard to stay focused on Scripture, saying, ‘This is a risk for all of us: overwhelmed by a barrage of words, we let the word of God glide by us: we hear it, yet we fail to listen to it; we listen to it, yet we don’t keep it; we keep it, yet we don’t let it provoke us to change.’
So here are three ideas that might lead us into a deeper experience of the Word of God in 2024.
Project of Love seeks to bring the Bible to life through song. Some of the project’s music is featured on Hallow, the Catholic prayer app, particularly renditions of the psalms and of passages from the Prophet Isaiah. But the rest you can find on YouTube.
The founder of Project of Love, Xander Stok, is a Dutch professional singer and songwriter who experienced some dark times in his life. ‘I never felt at home in this world,’ he says. ‘Had addictions to fill the hole in my soul.’
One day, while seeking consolation in the Scriptures, he heard the Holy Spirit move him with these words: ‘Grab your guitar and sing what you’re reading.’ That is what he’s been doing ever since.
From the psalms and the prophets to the New Testament epistles, Xander does an incredible job of putting the Word of God into song. The sound of Project of Love is fresh, contemporary and original, a hard thing to accomplish in a crowded music market. Listening to Project of Love’s music is a great way to experience the Word of God, and to let it become the true ‘soundtrack’ of our lives.
The Divine Office (otherwise known as the Liturgy of the Hours) is, after the Mass, the prayer that is given the highest place of honour in the Church.
As Sacrosanctum Concilium explains, ‘It is the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father’ (§84). When we pray the Divine Office, it is not just us praying; it is Christ praying through us and with us, offering praise to God the Father.
Morning prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) are ‘the two hinges on which the daily office turns’ (§89) and are therefore the most important. But Night Prayer (Compline) is also a lovely way to end the day. There are other prayers throughout the day and night as well, since the whole liturgy is designed to help us ‘sanctify the day’ through prayer, nurturing our relationship with God.
What makes the Divine Office so perfect for laypeople—who are often busy with work and family and other important duties—is that it organises our experience of God’s Word for us. We don’t have to pick up the Bible and pick a passage at random, wondering what we might pray today (though that is also a perfectly acceptable practice). Instead, it organises the psalms and other Scripture readings into a coherent reading experience, with the Old Testament always being read in light of the New, and vice versa.
Christ prays through us and with us, offering praise to God the Father.
The Office also includes daily intercessions, ensuring that when we pray, it isn’t just for our own benefit. Through these intercessions, we are praying with the heart of the Church and the heart of Christ ‘for the salvation of the world’ (SC, §83).
The Catholic Bookshop offers an affordable pocket-sized edition of Morning and Evening Prayer for anyone wanting something small to carry around with them.
Otherwise, there are several apps that do the work of putting the day’s prayers together for us. Universalis is possibly the most well known, but there are other free apps like Laudate and Magnificat.
When it was first launched in 2021, the Bible in a Year podcast, hosted by Fr Mike Schmitz, became one of the top podcasts in the world. On Apple Podcasts alone, it ranked number one within the first two weeks, achieving a million downloads in its first five days, and 3.5 million by 12 January.
Based on the Great Adventure Bible Timeline created by biblical scholar Jeff Cavins, and in episodes usually no longer than 24 minutes, the listener is taken on a tour through salvation history. The purpose is to help people see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, connecting themes and stories throughout the Old Testament with what takes place in the New Testament.
The podcast is running again in 2024. There’s still time to catch up, or you can just go at your own pace. And Ascension Press have enhanced the podcast experience this year with the launch of their new Ascension App.
This free app (which comes with some additional features as part of a subscription) includes not just the Bible in a Year podcast, but also the whole Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) of the Bible, with easy, built-in cross-referencing functionality so users don’t have to flip through endless pages in order to read the bits of the Catechism or Bible they are looking for.
It also provides transcripts of the episodes and an interactive reading plan to help users track their progress, as well as highlighting and note-taking functions, and a tonne of extra content tackling the difficult questions that may come up when reading through the Bible.
With this new app, journeying through salvation history becomes not just a listening experience but a truly interactive and educational experience too.
Melbourne Catholic04 October 2023
Andrea Cano Botero24 January 2024