Sunday, Jan. 26 was set aside in the Catholic Church throughout the world as Sunday of the Word of God. This designation came about when, on Sept. 30, 2019, Pope Francis issued the apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis” instituting the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time each year as the Sunday of the Word of God, a Sunday “devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.” At Mass, we will hear the existing readings from the three-year Lectionary, as they highlight God’s word in different ways.

The Pope’s purpose in instituting this “yearly event”—which he explains should rather be viewed as “a year-long event”—is to encourage all of us “to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord.”

The new celebration thus invites each of us to consider what role the Bible plays in our individual lives and whether we dedicate enough time to the Bible. The underlying assumption, of course, is that reading the Bible is an important thing to do. Therefore, as we prepare to celebrate the first Sunday of the Word of God, a good starting point might be to review some possible answers to the question, “Why is it important for us as Catholics to read the Bible?”

First, it is important to read the Bible in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis writes, “The relationship between the risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians.” Without some familiarity with Scripture, we cannot really get to know Jesus, as the Pope reminds us by quoting St. Jerome’s famous phrase: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

On the other hand, if we open up our Bibles, we are already opening up the door to a deeper relationship with Jesus (see Rev 3:20), as the Pope explains: “Christ Jesus is knocking at our door in the words of sacred Scripture. If we hear his voice and open the doors of our minds and hearts, then he will enter our lives and remain ever with us.”

One way that we can use the Bible to deepen our relationship with Jesus is by praying daily with Scripture, meditating on certain biblical passages. This is the ancient practice of lectio divina. A medieval monk, Guigo the Carthusian, compared the four steps of lectio divina to eating: first, reading is like putting food in the mouth; meditation then chews it thoroughly; prayer involves extracting its flavor, and contemplation finally is the sense of refreshment and delight that follows. Many modern authors also suggest a fifth step — action — by which we make a resolution as a takeaway from our prayer.

Second, it is important to read the Bible in order to understand our Catholic faith better and be able to pass it on to others. That is because “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16 NABRE). By regular reading of Scripture — even five minutes a day! — we can quickly grow in our knowledge of the biblical foundations of our Catholic beliefs, for example, regarding the Trinity (Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:13); Jesus as true God and true man (Lk 1:35; Jn 1:14); the Church as established by Jesus with a special role for Peter (Mt 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-19); the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (Jn 6:51-58; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23-27); Mary’s intercessory role as Mother (Jn 2:1-5; 19:25-27), etc.

Several good Catholic study bibles are available which help readers understand the connections between the biblical passages and Catholic teaching. Of course, as the Pope points out, our increased knowledge of Scripture — of God’s plan of salvation revealed in the Old Testament and the New Testament — will also assist us in strengthening the bonds of unity with other Christians and with the Jewish people. By reading and studying Scripture, we can thus fulfill what another passage says: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).

Third, it is important to read the Bible in order to live holy Christian lives. Reading Scripture is not merely an intellectual affair but involves a response on our part. It is not only informational but transformational. Jesus himself tells us, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). By God’s grace, habitual reading of Scripture is like a light that leads us away from the darkness of sin and along the path of holiness (Ps 119:105). Gradually, we learn to live a life marked by faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13; 1 Thes 5:8); a life of virtue (Phil 4:8; Col 3:12-14); a life guided by the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2-3; Gal 5:22-23); a life shaped by the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12), and a life characterized by the works of mercy in service to our brothers and sisters (Mt 25:31-46).

By instituting the Sunday of the Word of God, Pope Francis continues the emphasis on Scripture seen in the teaching of his recent predecessors and the Second Vatican Council. Let us take advantage of this great opportunity, responding to the Pope’s invitation “to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture.” For, “the word of God is living and effective” (Heb 4:12)!

Father Gadenz is a priest and a designated Scripture scholar for the Diocese of Trenton.