Monday, January 5, 2015

Liguori Catholic Bible Study - Introduction and The Gospel of Mark (Liguori Publications)

With the start of a new year, people make lots of resolutions. Some they end up keeping. Others not so much. One popular resolution among Catholics and other Christians is to read through the Bible in one year. If you have never done this before, I will testify as a survivor that it is doable. I use the word survivor, because it feels like a war of attrition. You have to average approximately 4-5 chapters a day, and books like Leviticus or Numbers can really weigh you down and make you question your decision. I do believe that everyone should read through the Bible once in their life (albeit not in the span of a year), and I believe the best way to do that is slowly. This year I am using the commentary series Liguori Catholic Bible Study. It isn't new (been around since 2012), but it is new to me! Today, I will be featuring two of the books from this series.

Introduction to the Bible is a 100 page book which not only serves as a guide to the Bible but is also an excellent jumping off point for the Liguori Catholic Bible Study. Before diving into the meat of the book, there is an introduction to the Bible study series and Lectio Divina. Fr. Anderson then begins by describing what the Bible is. A lot of people mistake it for one book, but it is in fact a whole library of books bound together. There are history books, prophetic books, wisdom books, etc. He then explains coventantal theology, talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and addresses different translations of the Bible. He seems to encourage use of the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), which I agree with, because that is what we hear at Mass every Sunday.

Chapters Two and Three walk us through the books of the Old Testament, providing summaries, key figures, key events, and/or historical context. The remaining chapters focus on the New Testament, but in a different way than the Old Testament was focused on. First, we see a chapter dedicated to what life was like in Palestine during the time of Jesus, which included politics, religious groups, and religious feasts. Next, we see a chapter that explains what life was like after Jesus' death and when the books of the New Testament were written. This chapter, like the previous one, again touches on the political rule of the time, but it also talks about the different sources the writers used when composing their New Testament book(s). The last chapter talks about the message from Jesus and the New Testament and how the ways we receive the message, study the message, and interpret the message have changed.

Overall, this was a very brief, but thorough introduction to the Bible. It was simple enough that anyone could understand it, but it waded into the deep end occasionally to keep the more advanced reader interested enough to continue reading. I appreciated that every chapter had review and reflection questions. These types of questions are vital for small group leaders, especially those lacking experience in leading a Bible study. The only thing that I wish would have been different is the end of the book. It felt like a very abrupt ending. I would have preferred a couple of closing pages that point you in a direction on what to do next. Perhaps, the author could have said something like, if you're completely new to reading the Bible, start with The Gospel of Mark, or if you have studied the Synoptic Gospels before try The Gospel of John. That gripe aside, I still recommend this book as you need some background before embarking on Bible study.

The Gospel of Mark is the first commentary from the Liguori Catholic Bible Study that I decided to study. It is approximately 150 pages, like most of the commentaries in this series and also includes an introduction to Lectio Divina and a how-to guide for both individuals and group study. There are eight lessons total with all of the lessons containing sections for group study and individual study, with the exception of Lesson One, which only has a section for group study.

Both group and individual study have ample review questions and opportunities for Lectio Divina with the individual study dividing the readings up into days of the week between group studies. The thing that surprised me most was that the individual sections didn't invite you to study Scripture passages from the group sections more deeply but instead focus on  passages that were not covered. It took a bit of getting used to, but I defer to the wisdom of those more experienced than me when leading Bible studies. The other surprising element was that the Scripture was not provided in the book. You have to have your own Bible. This is a pro (the book is smaller) and con (less convenient having to remember two books).

The aspect I enjoyed most about this book is that in addition to providing commentary on the passage you just read, there is also a guided reflection to ponder for Lectio Divina. I don't know about you, but my biggest stumbling block with Lectio Divina is that I never really know what I'm supposed to focus on when reading a Scripture passage and can oftentimes miss the forest for the trees. I have not completely worked my way through this book, as I am trying to go through it slowly, but I felt the need to share my positive experience with this book. It is very practical and provides you with an insight into how it was during Jesus' day and what message we can take from it presently. I look forward to continuing with this book as well as others in the series, so stay tuned as I plan to feature another one in the coming months.

These books were provided to me by Liguori Publications in exchange for an honest review. If you found them helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!