I wish Catholics were as devoted to reading the Bible as frequently as some Protestants. Granted, many active Catholics do read the Bible regularly, or a daily devotional of Scripture. And to be fair, not all Protestants are pouring over the Holy Book all of their time. But recently, while walking through the taxi garage at work, I stumbled upon a scene in the wee hours of the evening that inspired me.
Charlie, who pumps the gas, and another Haitian that is a driver were passionately yelling at each other in their language. Charlie picked up his well-worn Bible that was on the table, slammed it down and then whacked it with the palm of his hand. I quickly figured out that the other driver was also religious, and that they were quarreling about the Good Book.
Another taxi driver that everyone at work calls “The Preacher” was sitting quietly at the table reading his gray Bible. He is an evangelical from Jamaica. I asked him what Charlie and the other driver were arguing about.
“They are not arguing,” he said, “they are having a discussion.” When I noticed he was reading the Bible, I asked him what chapter he was reading.
“It’s from the Gospel of John where Phillip is asking our Lord to show him the Father.” (John 14:8-9) I told him I recognized that passage, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” He smiled at me. Then Charlie broke away from his discussion and responded, “That’s right, my brother, when you see Jesus you see the Father!” I agreed, and replied, “Jesus is God come in the flesh and when you see him you see the image of the Father.”
Then “The Preacher” offered a prayer, “Let’s pray for all the brothers. Lord, keep all the taxi drivers safe tonight…”
I couldn’t hear the rest of what he said over the thunder of the “N” subway train clattering overhead on its way to Midtown, so I silently finished his prayer with one of my own. I thought of what a blessing this was to be praying with others at work, and what a powerful example of people reading the Bible publically.
“The Preacher” and I have talked a little about Scripture over the years. A few times, we have disagreed such as when he said that Christians do not sin, referring to the passage “No one born of God commits sin”(1 John 3:9). I politely told him that Christians are not supposed to sin if they are following Christ, to which he said, “No, it says in the Holy Scriptures that Christians do not sin!” That statement was then followed by a five minute recitation of Scripture quotes from the Old and New Testaments that had little or no bearing on what we were discussing and then trailed off onto another subject. I just let it go, which is what I have learned to do when I hit a stone wall.
One time, “The Preacher” was complaining about a woman speaker in his church. As he put it, “she had her hair all done up fancy and was wearing a fancy dress and all kinds of jewelry.” I gently told him not to be so critical, and reminded him that it was good that she was in church at all. I don’t think I changed his mind. Ironically, I also thought that his complaint isn’t one you are likely to hear these days about Catholics. People not dressing up for Mass, wearing t-shirts and jeans have pretty much become standard fare.
Despite our different approaches to Scripture, I still greatly admire his passion and conviction. He will come into the garage and raise his arms to the heavens and proclaim in his sonorous voice, “What a blessed day the Lord has given us!” I like his spirit of ecumenism. One day, I heard him say to a group of drivers, “The Lord loves all of his children; Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu.”
Now, Charlie and I have never had any disagreements. Charlie is Methodist and plays the saxophone in his church. Our religious discussions never get very deep, but are sure a nice way to end every work day. He reminds me of the G.K. Chesterton quote, “[T]hanks are the highest form of thought.” We just reinforce each other. Every night for seven years, he has gassed up my cab at the end of the night. He often reads his Bible into the predawn hours. I am impressed. I often greet him, “Hello my brother in Christ. How are you?”
He responds, “Okay, thank the Lord.” And I agree, ““Yes, thank the Lord.”
Charlie will sometimes offer affirmation by saying, “That’s right, thank the Lord for everything, everything, good and bad. He created everything, everything.” Usually, I may quote a Scripture that pops into my head such as “…Nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8: 39). He enthusiastically replies, “Nothing, nothing can separate us from Jesus Christ.”
This week I asked him about his Bible reading and he said, “Always good to read the Bible, always. And try to memorize the passages.”
As I witnessed these men’s devotions, I can’t help thinking Wow, we Catholics could sure learn a good lesson from them. What if Catholics read the Bible like that and spent all night at work talking about Scripture? Yes, and what a grace it would be if these men had the fullness of the Catholic Faith to instruct and clarify Scripture for them. What a gift that would be to them.
Many practicing Catholics do read the Bible often. And although they may be very pious, unfortunately only 41% of Catholics attend Mass weekly according to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center. Certainly among the practicing Catholics that are my friends they are enmeshed in Scripture, but many others have drifted away. Among the seven Catholics that I know at work only one goes to church regularly, five never, and one attends twice a year.
I often reflect on my own failures and weaknesses in making better inroads in trying to evangelize them. It is sad, but with the Lord’s help I will keep trying. In the meantime, I am thankful for my Protestant brothers who have inspired me to read the Bible more. I thank them for building this little island of holiness in the hard-hearted city.
I think of the quote by Saint Jerome that ‘ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’, and this quote by Saint John Chrysostom who died in exile in 407:
“Moreover, if the Devil does not dare to enter into the house where the Gospel lies, much less will he ever seize upon the soul which contains such thoughts as these, and no evil spirit will approach it, nor will the nature of sin come near. Well, then, sanctify your soul, sanctify your body by having these thoughts always in your heart and on your tongue. For if foul language is defiling and evokes evil spirits, it is evident that spiritual reading sanctifies the reader and attracts the grace of the Spirit”. (Homily 32, On John)
While there are important theological points that these men at work and I disagree upon, they have attributes of passion and Bible study that I find admirable and inspiring. Also, I think that if more of us, Catholic and Protestant, read the Bible more what a Christian force we would become.
Meanwhile, let us continue to inspire those who have fallen away from the Church to come home, and all others to come to the fullness of Truth. Let us pray for them in the Lord’s own words:
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21)