Faith and Life,  Scripture

The Book of Counter-Culture

Books have a way of changing things. They can reflect the spirit of a particular age and they can in some inexplicable way capture something of the zeitgeist of an era. They can change us, either by bringing out something already present but dormant within us – or they can play a part in re-shaping us entirely, changing the way we think or see or respond. Books have power.

For the most part, books are considered to be cultural;  indeed, we refer to the reading of books as a ‘cultural pursuit’. But it isn’t always like that. In fact, some books are very different – and one book in particular can be considered to be quite counter-cultural. That book is the Bible.

And this is quite interesting, when you consider just how popular the Bible is. Guinness World Records says this –

“The best-selling book of all time is the Christian Bible. It is impossible to know exactly how many copies have been printed in the roughly 1500 years since its contents were standardized, but research conducted by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 2021 suggests that the total number probably lies between 5 and 7 billion copies.”

That’s quite a few copies by anyone’s standards. Of course, ‘selling’ is one thing – ‘reading’ is something else, while ‘living by’ is an altogether different thing. Now, if everyone who has bought a Bible had both read it and was living by the message it contains, we would know about it, because our world would be transformed.

But this is precisely what Pope Francis recommends that we do.

Let us make room in our lives for the word of God. Each day, let us read a verse or two of the Bible. Let us begin with the Gospel: let us keep it open on our table, carry it in our pocket, read it on our cell phones, and allow it to inspire us daily.

Speaking about Scripture in January last year, the Holy Father said – “One of the greatest gifts of our time is the rediscovery of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church and the faithful.” He had already instituted the ‘Sunday of the Word of God’ two years beforehand, with the explicit intention of encouraging all of us – particularly us Catholics, who can be so poor in this regard – to take out our Bibles and actually read them.

Exactly one year before, Pope Francis had told us –

“The Lord gives you His Word, so that you can receive it like a love letter He has written to you, to help you realize that He is at your side. His Word consoles and encourages us. At the same time it challenges us, frees us from the bondage of our selfishness and summons us to conversion. Because His Word has the power to change our lives and to lead us out of darkness into the light.”

Indeed, the Holy Father had written a beautiful Apostolic Letter called ‘Scriptae Sacrae Affectus’ (Devotion to Sacred Scripture)to encourage us further in our love of Scripture.

And Pope Francis is not the only Pope to have encouraged us in this way – Pope Benedict had done precisely the same thing and he had written a very comprehensive Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Verbum Domini’ (The Word of the Lord), in which he links back to and then echoes one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, ‘Dei Verbum’ (The Word of God), one of the four great ‘Apostolic Constitutions’ of the Council, those documents which had the greatest import, taking precedence over all the others.

The Popes have always been very clear in noting that the Bible is not like any other book. The Bible is alive and it has great power. It is there that we come to meet and to know and to recognise the Lord, Who is the Word itself. How divine life permeates every page of Scripture. And that divine life is offered to us through the Word of God – we simply need to take it in our hands, read it and become familiar with us, as these Holy Fathers recommend us to do.

The real ‘counter-cultural’ part is, perhaps, to be seen to do so – to openly keep and open and read a Bible. That is not the same thing as those preachers who we see standing in the street and proclaiming the promise of Hell to disbelievers, and who seem to present a Word of fear, not of love, of damnation and not of mercy and peace.

I sometimes see people reading their Bibles on the bus, on the subway or metro, in the lobbies of hotels, in cafes. To me, there is something consoling in seeing this and in realising that in an era when we are expected to swim firmly with the tide of the times, there are those who are truly counter-cultural and swimming against it instead.


Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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