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When I was growing up, the Bible in our house sat on the highest shelf of our family room—prominent, but inaccessible. The only time it was brought down was when Monsignor McGuire came over for supper or when one of my four brothers or me misbehaved. Then sometimes, my mother would banish us to a corner and hand us the Bible to read as a consequence.
That was my introduction to God’s word. We were an Irish Catholic family of six kids, long on parochial schooling but short on a vibrant personal prayer life. We always said grace and bedtime prayers, never missed Mass, and observed every Holy Day. But when it came to breaking open Scripture, it never happened. In the generations before me, priests had dissuaded my family members from reading the Bible on their own—an admonition that passed down to my own parents.
Meeting the Divine Author. This left me with little desire to find guidance from Scripture when I entered high school. But it certainly would have been helpful! I was questioning my purpose, my future fulfillment, and God’s role in all of it. I prayed and heard only silence in return. It never occurred to me that God could “speak” through the Bible!
I began to find my identity more in my academic and athletic achievements than anywhere else. It was at that time, in the midst of my shallow and self-involved existence, that God decided to make his presence known, unexpectedly.
It was summer break—a wide-open summer with not much going on. The new youth minister at my parish had invited my friends and me to a Bible study. The opportunity to get out of the house paired with the offer of free food was an enticing combination. It wasn’t God’s word that inspired me, but the idea of eating pizza with cute teenage girls did.
Opening the Bible that day was a new experience. The youth minister guided us through passages that described God as a Father who knew my name (Isaiah 49:16), heard my prayers (Jeremiah 29:12), and had a plan for my life greater than anything I could dream for myself (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11). He presented a positive image, very different from the authoritarian judge I had always associated with God and his Church, and it struck me deeply.
I probably struggled with the Church’s authority because it was actually telling me the truth. Authority literally means “author’s right.” In other words, I struggled with the fact that God, the “author of life,” had any claim over me (Acts 3:15). But I didn’t need to struggle that day—we were face-to-face.
Uncovering God’s Character. Right there in black and white, I read of a God who knew me and loved me unconditionally. From what I read, his love wasn’t based on my grade point average or my stats after a sports game. God’s love wasn’t based on my sins or on the number of Rosaries I’d prayed. It was somehow fatherly. His mercy was evident. His acceptance of people’s failings was clear. I was drawn to this God. I couldn’t believe that in all my years being a Catholic, I had not understood the true character of God. Without opening up his word, perhaps I never would have.
In the weeks that followed, I began to read the Bible on my own more. I made my way through the Wisdom books, Proverbs, and Sirach. I read one psalm daily. I waded through St. Paul’s letters one by one. The fire had been lit, but now it needed to be stoked. I had the desire to know God deeply, but I continued to need a guide. I found evangelical Protestant resources that gave me sincere content but lacked Catholic and sacramental context.
I began to seek that context from my youth minister, catechists, and my pastor. The more I learned, the more I hungered to share what I was learning. I wanted to help Catholics like me understand the word of God and make it part of their daily walk.
My Part in God’s Story. The Holy Spirit began to open doors. Although I was far from being a Scripture scholar, I began to reach out to some and forge friendships with them. Eventually, I started writing my own weekly e-mail devotional under the pen name “Bible Geek.” Aided by a theological editor, a stack of books, and a well-worn Catechism, I went to work. Over time, the e-mail list grew to well over forty thousand. Soon after, I started a free podcast in which I talked about the upcoming Sunday Mass readings.
I began my Bible experience in time-out, but now my love for Scripture was helping parents to develop their own time-out and to share it with their children.
Once I discovered God in his divinely revealed story, my place in that story began to make sense. I saw my teenage confusion as darkness that he has shed light on and rescued me from, as the psalmist described (Psalm 18:28). I sensed that by guiding me to people who loved Scripture, he was taking me by the hand, as the prophet Isaiah talks about (Isaiah 4:10). Many other images and stories from Scripture have come to life for me, as I let God speak to me through them.
Going Deeper. It is such a gift to know the Lord intimately not only through the sacraments, but also through Scripture. I’ve found that Catholics rarely lack the desire to know God’s word, only the guidance. But when they find the right guidance, the payoff is huge. They learn to recognize and follow God’s voice. It speaks to them personally and provides guidance they didn’t even know they needed.
Before Jesus performs the miracle of the huge catch of fish, he tells Peter to take his boat and “put out into deep water” (Luke 5:4). If the disciples had given up and kept their boats close to shore, they never would have discovered the school of fish that Jesus would lead them to. My prayer is that we can all put out into the deep and spend a little more time seeking and following Jesus in the Bible. It’s possible, especially with the right guide and a willingness to turn a new page in your story.
Mark Hart is the executive vice president for Life Teen International and an award-winning author.
A Guide for Scripture
When you become immersed in Scripture, it starts to form your mind and heart. In his new book, Unleashing the Power of Scripture, Mark Hart shows readers why Scripture should be central to their life with the Lord. It’s a perfect introduction to the Bible for Catholics. The book considers how Scripture connects to the sacraments and liturgy. It introduces the practice of lectio divina and includes a ten-step plan to establish the habit of reading Scripture.
Unleashing the Power of Scripture: A Guide for Catholics is available from The Word Among Us online at www.wau.org and amazon.com.