Take & Read is a major new publication from Alive Publishing. The series has been developed as a follow up to the document The Gift of Scripture published by the Bishops of England and Wales and of Scotland. Fr Adrian Graffy, the Editor of Take & Read explains the story behind this innovative, exciting, and dynamic new initiative.
Some years ago I came across the passage from St Augustine’s Confessions in which he tells of the moment of his conversion to faith in Christ. He is in the garden with his friend Alypius. He is much distressed and in great turmoil. He goes off alone into the garden, and suddenly he hears a child’s voice singing out: “Take and read! Take and read!” Augustine returns to where he has left a copy of the New Testament, opens the book, reads some verses from the Letter to the Romans, and knows he must turn to Christ. His conversion is now assured.
This passage stayed with me, with its playful chant of Take and read! I suspected that it would make an excellent title for a book on the Bible, or a series of books. At about this time, while I was teaching Scripture at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, I was asked by our bishops to attend meetings of the Catholic Biblical Federation, the international organization which promotes understanding and love of the Bible throughout the Catholic Church. I met colleagues from various countries and they shared their experiences and the resources they had produced. I was determined to produce something similar for our own countries.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, then in Birmingham, put me in touch with Anne White, who worked at the Bishops’ Conference. Anne shared my passion to create material for people who wished to deepen both their knowledge of Scripture and their prayer life. Anne convened meetings of those involved in adult religious education throughout England and Wales. Take & Read took shape due to their commitment and enthusiasm. Anne’s role was subsequently taken over by Anne Dixon, and then by Sister Vicky Hummell.
|Dom Henry Wansbrough, Fr AdrianGraffy, Ian Boxall
and Fr John J. Henry
My thanks go to my colleagues, Ian Boxall, Fr John J. Henry and Dom Henry Wansbrough, who produced material for the other three Gospels to join my own book on the Gospel of Mark. I am delighted that Alive Publishing has now produced the four-book set of Take & Read: the Gospels. Mike Conway and his team have taken on Take & Read: the Gospels with great efficiency and enthusiasm, and produced a really beautiful set of books.
My long training in biblical studies was a great privilege. Having completed my doctorate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, arguably the most prestigious Catholic centre for biblical learning, I spent many years teaching Scripture to seminarians and lay students at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh. As time went on I became more and more convinced of the need to make the findings of scriptural scholarship accessible to more people, and I began to write books and articles designed for people in the pew, or in the high street. There is a need for good Catholic material on Scripture for use in groups or by individuals. There is a need to foster the ancient practice of lectio divina. Alive Publishing has long since recognized this need and seeks to respond to it.
The prophet Amos spoke long ago of a ‘famine for the word of God’. I wanted to help feed people’s hunger. Reading the Bible is not easy. While the texts have an incredible power to inspire and encourage us, they can often perplex us as well. I wanted to make my contribution to help people know and love the Bible. I have been privileged to be able to take this forward.
Each of the volumes of Take & Read takes a separate Gospel and leads the reader through that Gospel. Twelve passages are selected, but the reader is urged to read the intervening passages and complete a reading of the whole Gospel as they go through Take & Read. Every Gospel is different, offering its own particular riches and its unique presentation of Jesus. In their document on the Bible, The Gift of Scripture, the bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, wrote: ‘The mystery of Jesus the Messiah and Son of God is so profound and difficult for human minds to fathom that no one portrait of Jesus will do him justice. The Church provides for us four trustworthy accounts from the testimony of the apostles and the developing understanding of the early Christian communities.’
Each session of Take & Read begins with ‘Hear the word of God’. This is an opportunity to read the text in question, which is included in the book in the New Revised Standard Version translation. People and groups may wish to read the text more than once, and to use silence to allow the text to sink in. The second part of the session is ‘Understand the word of God’. This is where we find all the explanation, all the meat of the commentary. Every page has a margin, in which you will find quotations from church writers and from documents of the Church, as well as more detailed explanations of points in the passage. The beauty of all this is that it is not burdensome. There is no obligation to read everything, let alone remember it all. The reader can return again to the session and pick up things never noticed before. The experience is constantly enhanced by the pictures and photos found throughout the book. The last part of the session, ‘Live the word of God’, offers suggestions for reflection and prayer.
Of course, the Gospels are just a start. They are the heart of the Scriptures, but we are also fairly familiar with them. There is a need to cover less-known parts of the New Testament, particularly the Letters of St Paul and the Acts of the Apostles. The Old Testament too needs attention. The fleeting glimpse of it afforded by the lectionary readings invites us to go deeper. We must ‘take and read’ these books as well.
Many centuries ago, off the coast of north-east England, the monastic community at Lindisfarne on Holy Island produced a beautiful illuminated book of the Gospels, now known as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Love of the Scriptures inspired a work of great beauty. It is the same love we all need to develop and foster. The Take & Read books on the Gospels carry on the cover the portraits of the evangelists from the Lindisfarne Gospels. It is as if the evangelists themselves, along with the Christians of past centuries, are urging us to take and read, to receive once more the message of the gospel.
Take & Read sets out to give readers a deeper understanding, a taste of scriptural scholarship, a taste which feeds both mind and heart, a taste which is not onerous, though some effort is always required to understand ancient writing. We need to grow in confidence in reading and hearing the Scriptures if these words are to nourish us and teach us. Consider the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who speak of the power of the Word of God: ‘In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes to meet his children with great love and speaks with them; there is such strength and power in the word of God that it becomes the sustenance and energy of the Church, and for the Church’s children it provides the strength of faith, the food of the soul and the pure and eternal source of spiritual life’ (Dei verbum 21).
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