POWELL: Young adults must recognize Christ in the Scriptures

June 13, 2023

A man prays before the Eucharist in the Blessed Sacrament at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Clute. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. This stark judgment of St. Jerome highlights the importance of having direct and personal knowledge of the inspired books of the Holy Bible. The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful... to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (CCC #133).

To fully recognize Christ in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, it is necessary to recognize Him in the Scriptures. The Catechism teaches that “for this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body, and she never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body” (CCC #1030). College students must study Scripture to deepen their familiarity with God and his plans.

By opening the Scriptures, they are more able to recognize God’s presence in their lives and be more able to have the Holy Spirit change and transform them. So, a key priority of our campus ministry program at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) has been to engage more students in this activity. I want to share the stories of several students as they journeyed into Scripture, their initial apprehensions, challenges, experiences and outcomes over this past academic year.

One freshman had only passively experienced Scripture, hearing it read aloud at Mass or prayed aloud but not reading it for themselves.

Coming to the SHSU Catholic Student Center, he became involved with our small group Scripture study sessions. Soon he realized what he had been missing as he reflected at the end of the semester. “I realized that by only surface-reading a passage, I was missing out on a deeper connection with God.” While the readings at Mass are vital components of Liturgy, they must be supplemented with personal interaction with Scripture to experience its immeasurable benefits.

A sophomore student had grown up with many friends deep in the “evangelical Protestant” community. Whenever a discussion on Scripture arose, he felt overwhelmed by these friends’ adeptness at quoting verses and even chapters from memory.

These experiences left him feeling that getting closer to Scripture meant memorizing several verses. During the year, he recognized Scripture as more than a book to be studied and memorized but as a book to worship and pray with. For him, the practice of Lectio Divina was critical in building a stronger relationship with God and the Eucharist. As St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI taught, we are not a “religion of the book” but of the “Word.”

Other students had tried engaging with Scripture but had needed clarification. As we know, many passages in Scripture are not “crystal clear” and are open to various interpretations.

To help with this, we reminded them of the importance of the Magisterium (the Church’s teaching authority), which Jesus delegated to Peter and all popes since then. Along with the early Church fathers, saints, and doctors of the Church, we have legitimate interpretations of key verses that can alleviate most areas of confusion. It also helped to review with them the methods of interpretation used by our Church:

  • The literal sense (the meaning intended by the author at the time of writing)
  • The spiritual sense (signs of the more profound meaning)
  • The moral sense (how we act justly)
  • The anagogical sense (where earthly realities point to our heavenly goal)

The most common challenge to nearly all students was their desire to study Scripture within a small group of peers.

This method has proven highly effective as students can explore and share the meaning of Scripture together. These small groups form the basis for a strong and vibrant Catholic student community. For example, a graduating senior reflected that a “small group is where you can be yourself, share your struggles, and connect with others like you. These people are my family while at SHSU, and they push me to follow God’s path for my future!”

So, what has been the impact of these efforts? The number of students involved in Scripture study increased from three to 15 throughout the year. It is good to see growth, but we must reach more students than that.

More critical was observing in these students the attitudinal changes, hearts inspired and lives profoundly moved for good through more profound knowledge of Scripture, particularly with a renewed vigor for the Eucharist. We will continue reaching out to them where they are to introduce them to Jesus via the Scriptures.

Simon Powell is the director of Campus Ministry at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.