A connection that’s not getting made as it was with post-conciliar adults or perhaps youth of a previous generation, according to a piece on a CNS page focusing on next month’s synod on the Word.
(T)he same enthusiasm that sent adults in droves to parish Bible studies and discussion groups did not catch on with Catholic youths. In the 1990s, nearly 30 years after “Dei Verbum,” the council’s document on divine revelation, only 20 percent of Catholic young people in a Gallup Poll said they ever read the Bible on their own, compared to about 60 percent of youths from other Christian denominations.
Brian Singer-Towns, editor of the Catholic Youth Bible, published by St. Mary’s Press in 2000, wants to see that change. For starters, he said Catholic youths need to become biblically literate.
In other words, they should be able to pick up a Bible and know how to explore it, for example, being able to find a particular book or a certain passage. He said they should also know the big picture of the Bible, such as its historical and cultural context and how certain books or passages have been interpreted by the church.
I remember being assigned to read Jonah and Nahum in the eighth grade back in ’71 and ’72. High school was more spotty from what I recall, but that could just be that the religion assignments were less memorable. Part of that may be growing up under a Baptist mother who kept a few Bibles around the house. After I became a Catholic, we had a large NAB hardcover in the living room. I had a paperback RSV for my own use. We also had a Good News paraphrase I didn’t like.
In dealing with Catholic school students the past twenty years, biblical literacy is shockingly low, and that’s just from a liturgist’s view–not a biblical expert–of what I’d like to expect from kids between the ages of seven and fourteen.
At some point before they go off to college (or before Confirmation) a Catholic should be able to identify a named book by category: Torah, prophets, epistles, wisdom literature, gospel, historical book. They should have an overall picture of the Gospel structure, know a few major themes of Paul and the major prophets. Big events, too: the Exodus, the Exile, the Monarchy, and the like.
The CNS page for the synod looks like it will be a valuable collection of news items. Cardinal Ouellet has ecumenical hopes. Check out the USCCB delegation, announced this past February, including the overworked Cardinal George.
While Catholic catechists seem to have a heightened interest in this synod, it will also treat the Word of God proclaimed and preached in the liturgy. Worship-minded Catholics may want to follow how the synod touches on the Mass.
Even devout Catholic youth don’t have an interest in scriptures. I think most of the problem is in how it’s presented: here’s a bunch of stories and funny names you have to memorize. Catechists and priests have to teach the underlying reason and overarching story. Why does it matter that Jonah was in the fish for 3 days? Follow that with Christ’s “sign of Jonah” discourse. Follow Jonah with Nahum, which continues the story of Nineveh. And give the kids a large dose of ancient near eastern history to put it in context. Good teaching will go a long way to make sure the Bible gets pulled out more often than baptisms.