April 1, 2011

Catholic Bible studies have grown in breadth and depth

Youths study the Bible on Feb. 6 at St. Michael Parish in Bradford in the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo)

Youths study the Bible on Feb. 6 at St. Michael Parish in Bradford in the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Bible study programs for Catholic laity started to be developed in earnest after the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965.

But according to Peg McEvoy, it has been during the past 10 years that the breadth and depth of those study programs have really begun to expand. (Related: More information is available on Catholic Bible study programs)

“The driving force has been the needs of the parishioners,” said McEvoy, the associate director for evangelization and family catechesis for the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education. “As someone learns more about the Bible, they want to know more. And they want it tied even more closely to their life.”

That description fits Lisa Roll to a T. A member of St. Michael Parish in Bradford in the New Albany Deanery, Roll, 41, said she is a part of a “lost generation” of Catholics that weren’t formed well in their faith during their childhood and teenage years.

“When I was going through high school, I was trying desperately to hold on to my faith and what bit I knew about it,” Roll said. “But then I was trying to squish my faith into a more secularized idea of what was right.”

About five years ago, however, she and her husband, Rick, became familiar with the Bible Timeline study developed by Catholic author Jeff Cavins and published by Ascension Press.

After completing this introductory study in Cavins’ series of Bible study programs called The Great Adventure at home, Roll felt like “a whole world had been illuminated for me.

“I understand why I believe what I believe,” she said. “I feel more confident about my faith. And I just love it.”

Now she is trying to pass on that confidence and love to the youths in her parish, including her 16-year-old son, Derrick, by teaching T3—a version of The Bible Timeline for teenagers, and a study for teens on the Gospel of St. Matthew in The Great Adventure.

Derrick has been excited about all the information from the Bible that he has gained through the programs. He also appreciates the support that he has received for living out his faith by doing that study with other youths at his parish.

“If you have similar problems, you can help each other out,” Derrick said. “At the same time, you can learn about your faith.”

He also likes the DVD presentations in the series in which nationally known Catholic youth minister Mark Hart helps the participants connect the Bible to their Catholic faith and everyday life.

“He’s wonderful with youth,” Derrick said. “He makes it enjoyable. It’s not like a lecture. He makes it fun and worth listening to. And he teaches you a lot about … the way God thinks.”

Lisa is encouraged for the future of the Church when she sees youths in her parish like her son gain an appreciation of the Bible and their faith at a young age.

“It gives me a lot of hope that this next generation of Catholic youths are going to be so enriched,” she said. “Maybe they’ll be that generation that people will say, ‘Look at how they love. Look at how they live their faith. Look at how much they believe.’ Maybe they’ll be that lamp on a stand in the middle of the room … just by how they live [the faith] every day.”

According to Ascension Press, 45 parishes across central and southern Indiana—nearly a third of archdiocesan parishes—have sponsored at least one Bible study program under The Great Adventure umbrella.

St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis has also used The Great Adventure in its Bible study programs. Annette Calloway, the parish’s director of religious education, said that small Church communities in the parish have also used some of The Great Adventure programs when they meet in members’ homes.

Calloway likes the series because it gives participants good information about the Bible in the context of the Church’s teachings, and also helps them apply that knowledge to their everyday life.

“It’s not just theological,” she said. “They answer the ‘so what?’ questions. Why do I want to know this? How does it apply to my life?”

She also appreciates the DVD presentations that are available with Scripture study programs like The Great Adventure.

In the past, Calloway said, in-depth Bible study programs often needed highly trained facilitators.

“Now a lot of the resources I see—like The Great Adventure—just need a good, reliable facilitator,” she said. “With the videos as part of it, it does the teaching itself.”

The Great Adventure is not the only Bible study program that is inspiring enthusiasm about exploring Scripture in central and southern Indiana.

John Jacobi, the director of religious education at St. Michael Parish in Bradford, also likes the Threshold Bible Study series published by Twenty Third Publications. Instead of focusing on the Bible as a whole or on its individual books, it uses topics in the Catholic faith as its starting point.

Jacobi particularly liked the study program on the Eucharist, which he described as a “mini-retreat on worship at the Mass.”

“It is outstanding,” Jacobi said. “It looks at the Old Testament roots and really goes back to Abraham, … and takes you through the Exodus and Passover. Then it goes into the New Testament.

“That Bible study really was a great one because you studied the Scripture and then, when you went into Mass, you saw it flowing through the way that we worship and the different patterns of the Mass. You can see the Scripture is some of the actual prayers of the priest or the responses of the people.”

And like The Great Adventure, the Threshold Bible Study is good at helping participants apply their faith to their daily life, said Jacobi.

“The Threshold Bible Study does a really good job of taking you through the Scriptures and does a little theology as far as the questions go that you discuss after you read the Scriptures,” he said. “But then it always has questions that are applicable to modern-day faith.”

McEvoy is hopeful as she sees the growing number of parishes using Bible study programs that are helping participants learn to delve deeply into Scripture and their Catholic faith.

“I think it’s exciting,” McEvoy said. “Any time people connect more deeply with their faith, and especially the word, I think there’s going to be amazing fruit that’s going to come from that at every parish and in their own personal lives. It’s critical to come to know Christ through Scripture.” †

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