There are a lot of Catholic stereotypes that don’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve never understood the concept of Catholic guilt when Catholics have a corner on absolution. Nor have I seen any Catholic worship an idol. But the accusation that Catholics don’t read the Bible rings rather more true.
Oh, we hear the Bible, certainly — four readings every Sunday, and more throughout the liturgy. And we recite the Bible, though we may not realize that’s what we’re doing when we say our Hail Marys and Our Fathers. In fact, most everything we do as Catholics is shot through with Scripture. But when it comes to reading the Bible, actually sitting down with God’s Word and letting it speak to us — well, the vast majority of us leave that to our Protestant brothers and sisters.
But what a difference it makes! Reading past the end of the chapter to see how it all connects, or stopping at a verse that strikes you or actually — gasp — memorizing Scripture so that what runs through your head is a little more Baruch and a little less Beyoncé. It’s life changing.
Aside from daily Mass and a commitment to silent prayer, the most important spiritual practice I’ve adopted as a Christian has been spending time in Scripture every day. Last week I finished my 14th time through the Bible. The next day I began again, pencil in hand. It seems that the author of Hebrews wasn’t exaggerating when he said “the Word of God is living and effective.” I’m always finding new insights, being shown new connections and falling more in love with the Lord as I come to know him better. For me, it’s not enough just to read the books that I enjoy or the readings offered me by the liturgy — I need to wrestle with the hard stuff and find meaning in the boring stuff. And I need to know it all — not just so I can argue with it but so I can live and breathe and love it. The only way that’s going to happen is if I’m in the Word every day. So that’s what I do.
The first time I read through the whole Bible, I started at Genesis and read until Revelation. It took me five years. Every subsequent time, I’ve managed it in a year. The problem with my cover-to-cover approach (among others) was that I’d get bogged down in Leviticus or Ezekiel and it was hard to motivate myself to keep going. You may have tried this yourself. Almost everyone I know who’s picked up the Bible at Genesis has put it down before Joshua. You need something to break up the cubits and begats, something to keep you going when Ezekiel’s watching wheels in wheels or when prophets keep spouting oracles against various nations you don’t know. Not that it’s not all inspired; I’m just not in a place where I can always find it inspiring. What I need is a schedule, something that mixes in some of the easier books while still leading me through the harder ones.
This schedule does just that. It takes you through the whole Bible in a year (and the Gospels twice), going chronologically through the Old Testament (more or less) with New Testament books, with fun books like Ruth and Jonah interspersed throughout to mix things up. It also gives you a chapter of some poetic stuff every day along with half a chapter of a Gospel.
Click here for printable schedule.
I will warn you: I didn’t start with the easy stuff. I can ease you into the Bible by giving (relatively) simple, pleasant stuff first. My approach here wasn’t to leave the hard stuff for the end but to put it in an order that made sense. So if you’ve never read the Bible before at all, you could take two days for each day on the schedule or start with just the Psalms and the Gospels. The important thing is to start.
I know we’re a little late for New Year’s resolutions, but now’s as good a time as any to defy this stereotype. St. Jerome says, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This year, resolve to know him better by reading the love letters he wrote you. Whether it’s your first time through the whole Bible or your 50th, you’ll find the Lord speaks love and mercy and conviction and glory every time you open this book. Scripture is, as Pope St. Gregory I tells us, “a river, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” Let’s dive in.
(If you print this schedule double-sided, you can fold it up to fit in your Bible. And when you print it, do yourself a favor and print out my Bible timeline too. It’s one piece of paper that I keep in my Bible at all times — a quick explanation of how everything in the Old Testament connects to everything else. So when you’re reading Hosea, you can take a quick look and see that Hosea was prophesying to Israel before the Assyrian Exile. And you can even see that there are two kingdoms in the Old Testament, a fact that I missed until my third time through the Bible.)
Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog “Held by His Pierced Hands” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.