I grew up on American TV shows like Little House on the Prairie where the kids went to bible class or bible school before church or after church or at some point on a Sunday. I grew up in a Roman Catholic world where Protestantism had yet to expand in my vernacular to include Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, and Wesleyan. In my limited view of life, there was the Church of England and the Church of Ireland; I was never sure where the Presbyterians fit.
I remember a Sunday in Glasgow when I ended up in what I thought was a Roman Catholic Church for mass. It turned out though that it was an Anglican Cathedral. Most of the words were the same so I could be forgiven my mistake. Later, I was surprised to find that Anglican and Church of England were all the one, making CoE not unlike RC. It was all a little confusing for this teenager so I decided to go back to the root of all Christian religions – the bible.
Every night I’d read a passage. I liked the stories. I was taken with the idea that I was studying the bible. But I wasn’t, of course. I was simply reading it.
As I grew older, I became increasingly frustrated at the lack of real connections between the bible and real life. I stopped going to mass for a while because the priests spoke of stuff that didn’t relate to my world. The gospels weren’t relevant. I couldn’t relate.
When I was in London, there was one priest who packed his church to the rafters every Sunday because his sermons were relatable, light on the theology and heavy on the realism. I’d take three buses across town to hear him speak. He always left printed copies of his sermon for parishioners to take home and revisit.
I came across another in Bangalore, India, who also valued relevancy. I went to mass to hear him every day for the two weeks I was there. Relevancy. That’s what I was looking for.
For one whole year, I wrote the sort of sermons I would give were I a priest. For a while there I was watching daily reflections from the USCCB – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – but when the Biden/Communion brouhaha broke, I figured they’d nothing to say that I wanted to hear.
I know people who study the bible. They can quote chapter and verse (something else I’ve always associated with American Christians who seem to be altogether a different lot to the ones I grew up around). I always fancied being able to pull out a relevant quotation from my biblical basket and drop it into a conversation without sounding pious. I never got to test the piety part as the only bible quotation I can remember is ‘The stone which the builders rejected turned out to be the cornerstone.’ That kept me sane during the years when I felt I never quite fit in. I couldn’t tell you which gospel it’s from though, so I’m missing the citation.
People pray in different ways. I suspect that even those who say they don’t pray at all have conversations with some higher self. There is no formula. No right way. It’s all very personal. I have regular conversations with my God but lately, they’ve seemed to be pretty much one way. Or maybe I’m too anxious to listen.
Then himself sent me a link to a site he was working on and I clicked. And something clicked. It has a daily prayer, the Gospel reading, and crucially, inspirational questions that make it relevant. It also has guidelines for those who are wondering how this bible study stuff works. It’s an Irish site, available in 20 languages, that has been on the go for 21 years.
I’ve been accused of being a pick-and-mix Catholic. Like Joe Biden, I think abortion is wrong on so many levels but I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I have my issues with the exclusionary forces that swell the ranks of the indoctrinated. I have serious doubts about the politics of institutional religion. My religion, though, my beliefs and my faith, are prefaced with that possessive pronoun for a reason – they’re mine. And as the wonderful DMcH SJ reminded me once, the church is a man-made institution.
I’m grateful for the timing of this link and for the teaching behind it. It will become part of my daily routine. While I know religion isn’t popular these days, if even one person reading this blog finds solace in it, too, then it’s been worth the time it took to write.