The Second Vatican Council stressed the essential need in the Church for “stirring up a hunger for holiness” (cf. Lumen Gentium). What is the meaning of this “holiness” the Council calls for? One can wonder why God seeks a contact with human beings in the first place. What is He pursuing in us? We are told that God seeks something more from us than submission and reverence. We’re told that He wishes to be loved. Indeed, He desires to be loved above all things. Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (cf. Luke 10:27). I sometimes found myself asking, “Was God lonely? Is God lonely? Does God need humans?”
And then, on the other hand, Therese of Lisieux stated: “Oh, how little God is loved on this earth, even by priests and religious. No, God isn’t loved very much.” A writer nameaway J.H. Leuba pointed out that “God is not known; He is not understood; He is used.” For the average person it can seem that God is Someone the person never thinks of save in exceptional circumstances.
Still, we are told that we can have a personal relationship with one’s Creator. Is it possible for two beings so far apart to love one another? Can the Origin and Sustainer of the universe be the object of a relationship to be cultivated? Moses’ intensifying relationship with God is fascinating. Moses, the frightened shepherd, “slow of speech and slow of tongue (Ex.4:10) ends up speaking to God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex.33:11).
There was the God I grew up with. He had lots of rules and He was looking on approvingly or disapprovingly. He seemed prone to take offense. As I remember it, religion was occupied with saving one’s soul, avoiding hell, shortening purgatory. And there was a multitude of devotions (nine first Fridays, novenas, etc.). I made offerings to God of duties performed and devotions attended. It was a quid pro quo piety—I made deals with God. My view of God was essentially as Scorekeeper and as Spoilsport.
Eventually, a reshaping began to take place silently. The old things that used to satisfy began to lose their luster, their vitality. I could no longer see them as serving for a mature, adult spiritual life. My image of God began to change. So much of what was familiar began to fall away. That which was good for me yesterday was not right for me today. That which I had come to yesterday no longer helped me to mature, to grow and deepen.
I began to feel the need for something more in my spiritual life. For me, it was mainly Bible Study that led to a deeper and more mature spirituality. As Jeremiah 15:16 puts it: “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart.”
There is the sheer poetry and beauty found in the Scriptures. Now many of my happiest times take place in the study of the Bible. The Bible never grows wearisome or stale. I even enjoy slogging my way through the scholarly commentaries. When one studies the Scriptures, what one leaves behind is much more than what one takes away. Christian spirituality needs to be rooted in the Scriptures for its nourishment and sustenance.
St. Augustine insisted that “soaking oneself in Scripture” is a part of holiness. The Second Vatican Council called for a return to the Scriptures as the primary source of Catholic spirituality. After the Reformation, Catholics were officially discouraged from reading the Scriptures owning to the emphasis given to Scripture by the Reformers. In 1692, a man named Pasquier Quesnel published a book in which he asserted that “the reading of Sacred Scripture is for everyone.” That comment became one of the propositions in the list of Quesnel’s “errors” condemned by Pope Clement XI in his constitution “Unigenitus Dei Filius.”
Today, many of us Catholics agree with the Scripture scholar Daniel Harrington, S.J., who said: “I find God largely in and through the Bible. Most of my spiritual life revolves around the Bible. It is for me the most important way to know, love and serve God.”
Bible Study needs to be accompanied by other kinds of reading. A spiritual life needs to be nourished by sustained reading. When we read, God can talk to us. Unfortunately, many modern people no longer read serious books.
There is a desperate need in our Church today for the recovery of spiritual depth. Spirituality is the hook back into the faith for many young people. They’re not turned off to spirituality. As we know, they talk of being “spiritual but not religious.” It is possible to be “religious but not spiritual.”
(to be continued)