I have always enjoyed looking at maps. Even as a young boy, I loved raiding the glove compartment in my father’s car, unfolding those huge paper road atlases, and studying them intently.
They opened me up to places I had yet to discover and showed me where our home fit inside our town, county, and state. I loved dreaming about trips I could take and new horizons waiting for me to explore. Even today I can spend hours at a time on the Google Maps website, zooming in and out of different cities, plotting alternate routes for my daily commute, and pondering faraway places I have yet to visit. There’s something about a map that both helps me figure out where I am right now and ignites excitement over all the new things I have yet to learn.
Maybe that’s why I am so happy that The Word Among Us Press has published The Quick Reference Guide to the Catholic Bible. Don’t let the title fool you. This book is no skimpy collection of bullet points and bits of biblical data. It’s a full-fledged map! Written by Scripture scholar Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, the guide takes you on a tour of the Bible that gives you the big picture even as it zooms in to offer important and fascinating details.
Information and Inspiration. Just as a map doesn’t give you the history of every landmark or the hours of operation for every store on Main Street, Getty-Sullivan doesn’t offer a verse-by-verse commentary on the Bible. Rather, she presents the lay of the land so that you can plan your own journey through the word of God. Her guide is divided into sections, each with its own introduction: “The Major Prophets,” for example, or “The Wisdom Books” or “The Gospels.” Within each section is a short chapter on each biblical book in that category. So if you want to learn more about Genesis, you have all the information you need in that chapter, but you also have an overview of the Pentateuch, the part of the Bible where Genesis is found.
I was impressed with how much material Getty-Sullivan was able to pack into such a slim volume. You will find clear explanations of scholarly questions like “When was the Song of Songs written?” and “Who were Timothy and Titus?” But you’ll also learn why the prophets were such outspoken advocates for the poor and how the Book of Numbers applies to your life. Each chapter is divided into sections that explain the who, what, where, when, and why of a book. It also discusses the major themes and includes a “Food for Thought” section with points for meditation and action.
It’s this balance of information and inspiration that makes the The Quick Reference Guide helpful for study and for prayer, for individual reflection and for group discussion. For instance, in her chapter on the Gospel of Mark, Getty-Sullivan explains that this was probably the first Gospel written and that it focuses on Jesus as both Israel’s Messiah and as the Son of God. Then, in addition to this basic information, she opens up new avenues for reflection by delving into one of Mark’s most important themes: “We need to experience the resurrection before we can understand the full implications of our faith.” Yes, information is necessary, but experience is crucial!
The Path to Illumination. Full disclosure: I am the editor of The Word Among Us magazine, and I work for the company that is publishing The Quick Reference Guide to the Catholic Bible. But this isn’t just a case of my shamelessly promoting one of our books—at least I don’t think so! Here’s why. As soon as this book came out in print, I snatched up a copy for each of our meditation writers. I don’t do that with every book we publish, but I knew that this one would be an invaluable resource as they study and ponder the passages I assign them.
It can be an invaluable resource for you as well. Of course, it won’t take the place of the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring these texts to life for you. But it will give you a good background for when you do sit down with the Scriptures and ask the Spirit to speak to you. Like a good road map, the book will point you to the right paths and guide you to a place of insight and illumination so that the Spirit can shine his light into your mind and heart.
Knowing and Growing. Every passage that we hear at Mass is part of a much larger world, a world that we are not very familiar with. Each reading belongs to a certain historical time and place and was written, under the inspiration of the Spirit, by a particular person with specific needs, inspirations, and concerns. If we can see this broader, deeper context and come to know the world that gave rise to the Bible, we’ll discover new insights into the love and wisdom of God. We’ll discover how much we have in common with the ancient writers and their world—and how God’s word to them can speak to us. Filled with both information and inspiration, Getty-Sullivan’s book shows once again that the more we know, the more we can grow.
Leo Zanchettin is editor for The Word Among Us magazine. The Quick Reference Guide to the Catholic Bible (softcover, 320 pages) is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 and www.wau.org. To read an excerpt, visit our online bookstore.