Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Reflection on Scripture Memorization

This past Saturday was the feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.  Paul, from Theandric, has graciously provided a short reflection concerning his attempt to memorize Scripture.  I think you will enjoy it.   
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
Earlier this year the Lord issued me a challenge to start memorizing the Word of God, starting with the Gospel of Matthew.  I had discerned that He wanted me to be more mindful of the time I spend during the day, especially in terms of my use of the internet and social media.  Like many of us in this age of “smartphones”, I’ve developed what could be described as a compulsive routine in which I’m incessantly checking my phone for new updates, whether they be in the form of news, emails, “likes” or “tweets.”  Amidst this constant stream of information there remains a “still, small Voice” that is waiting to be heard. 
Before I share a bit about how the memorization of Scripture has affected my spiritual life, let me mention a bit of teaching from Pope Benedict XVI, taken from his Message for the 46th World Communications Day:
Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives. It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things.
It is this “neglect of the inner life” that the Lord was warning me about, but thanks to His grace I took up the challenge to create some room in my mind and heart for the Word to dwell.  So far I have been able to memorize chapters 1 through 7 of Matthew’s Gospel (although I skipped Matthew’s lengthy genealogy, so as not to be overwhelmed at the outset!)  In doing so, I have experienced an increased sense of connectedness to Christ, even while I still struggle with keeping the right balance in terms of my use of new media.  There is a great feeling of peace and joy that I feel that comes from knowing that I value the Word of God enough to give it a primary place in my heart and mind.  For those of you who may feel God is calling you to something similar, I think you’ll find that it serves as a form of “active lectio divina” – a way to meditate on God’s Word even amidst all the daily tasks and roles we have to fulfill. 
Let me share just one recent instance of a powerful moment which resulted from committing scripture to heart.  This is a good example of the way that the Lord can break through to us through His Word even in the most mundane moments.
One evening I was emptying the dishwasher, which in our house is both an act of charity (since my wife hates doing it) and an act of penance (I hate it too, especially since it seems we have hundreds of sippy cups.)  In order to distract myself from this chore I decided to recite to myself the portions of Matthew’s Gospel that I had memorized thus far.  Before long I found myself recounting aloud the visit of the Magi:
“Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage…”
And then in that moment of saying those words out loud, “they prostrated themselves and did him homage,” I found myself unexpectedly in tears.  There was something beautiful that stirred in my soul without being aware of it.  In an instant the Lord shared with me something beautiful about the visit of the magi.  He showed me that before offering their gifts, the magi in fact offered a more precious gift – the gift of themselves, in the form of adoration.  Consider how far the magi traveled to participate in Eucharistic Adoration!  And furthermore, the Lord pointed out to me that He is pleased when we offer him our gifts and talents, but what He first wants us to give Him is our very selves.  As Blessed John Paul II so often reminded us: “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”  How blessed are we, that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the gift of Himself, in both Word and Sacrament!  
So for those of you, whose hearts may be stirred at the prospect of growing in your knowledge of the Gospel, consider if the Lord is inviting you to take up a similar challenge.  If we have the time each day to check social media, news, and yes, even blogs again and again and again -  we certainly have the time and space to devote ourselves to being truly and deeply familiar with the Word of God.  And then we will be able to experience more fully what St. Paul assures us: “the Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” 


Russ Stutler said...

Back in my Protestant days, memorization was the norm, and most people I knew had chunks of the King James Bible committed to memory. Then as various new translations became popular, many of us tried to re-memorize the old verses in the new translations. Then those new translations were updated and we found that parts of our newly memorized passages were no longer published. I wish we had a translation of the Bible that we could rely on to be in print and used by everyone in Church at least for the duration of our life time! Maybe Bible memorization would be more popular again.

Timothy said...


Thank you for your comment. I think you bring up an excellent point. With so many updates and revisions, where is one to turn for a standard Bible translation. My guess would be to select one like the RSV or NRSV.

Jason Engel said...

I doubt there could ever be ONE unifying Bible translation in English that all English speakers can accept if not love. Instead of worrying about the latest popular translation, stick with the one that speaks to YOU.

I have no ability to memorize anything. I can commit entire chapters to memory for a day or two, sometimes three, but never more than that, it always vanishes from my mind if I try to keep something longer than that. So I really respect anyone's ability to retain a lengthy passage permanently.

Russ Stutler said...

Retaining permanently is the real challenge.

In my "young Turk" Protestant days I memorized over 500 Bible verses plus the entire first letter of St. John.

I reviewed these systematically and kept them in my brain for a number of years, but life got busier and the review system ended, and now I might be able to quote less than a dozen of those verses.

I could revive the system (I still have all those little handwritten cards), but those memory verses were all from the 1970's New American Standard Bible (before they updated that version in 1995) and I feel funny about devoting so much energy to re-claiming memory verses from a no-longer-published Protestant Bible!

I bet there are lots of folks in the same predicament, especially Protestant converts.

Christy Harrill said...

I love using Scripture Typer to keep verses current. Just wish there was a similar website with the full Catholic Bible. I'm reading through the Bible and Catechism and creating a Bible outline by assigning a verse or two per Old Testament story. I've found that just typing one verse can bring to mind an entire passage and allow me to reflect on it deeper.