Because Catholic Priests Know The Bible, Backwards and Forwards

—Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle

It all seems so silly now.  Before I converted to the Faith, I believed the nonsense that Catholics were biblically illiterate. I remember being amazed at the amount of scriptural knowledge that I noticed when reading Blaise Pascal’s book. And Blaise was a layman. When I read The Imitation of Christ, I was astounded at the depth and breadth of Thomas à Kempis’ knowledge of scripture.

And Thomas even wrote parts of the book in the character of Our Lord. That is how confident he was of his knowledge of the Bible and of Catholic doctrines. The same happens in the selection below. My friend Thomas was a monk and a priest. The selection you’ll see here was also written by a priest. His name is Father Michael Müller, of the Redemptorists. He said I could call him Father Mike, to keep from having to deal with the umlaut over the “u” in his last name all the time. See how nice these priests are?

Father Mike was a well known writer and apologist in the 19th Century. What follows is the preface to a book on prayer that he wrote entitled Prayer: The Key to Salvation. It was published back in 1868, which is quite recently, if you think about it. As you will see, he can throw down scripture quotes with the best of them. And look out Thomas, because he borrowed your technique of writing in the character of Our Lord from time to time too. Take a look,

Preface to Prayer: The Key to Salvation

“The Jews, therefore, murmured at Him, because He had said: I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” (John vi. 41.) “This murmuring at the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ is,”  says St.Cyrillus, “the inheritance which was bequeathed to the Jews by their forefathers, who lived at the time of Moses.” Would to God that this inheritance had been transmitted to the Jews only; but, alas! there is no class of men which is free from such murmurers.

Our Lord’s doctrine is murmured at by infidels when they hear Him say: ” He that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16) . . . “because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John iii. 18.) The doctrine of our Lord is murmured at by Protestants, when He declares: “Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. vii. 21.)

The will of God has not been taught by Luther, or Calvin, or Henry VIII., or John Wesley, or by another man who invented certain doctrines, and founded a sect according to his own private notions, but it has been taught by Me, the Son of God, Who have charged Peter and his lawful successors to do the same. Upon him I have built My Church; to him and his lawful successors I have said: “He who heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me, and he who despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.” One who does not do this will be condemned.

“There is a way (the Protestant religion) that seemeth to a man right, and the ends therefore lead to death.” (Prov. xvi. 25.) Sinners murmur when our Blessed Saviour preaches: “I say to you that unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (Luke xiii. 3.) The rich also complain, when He threatens ” Woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation.” (Luke vi. 24.) The poor are dissatisfied when He teaches : “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Math. v. 3.) The learned reject His doctrine when he warns: “Amen I say to you: unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Math. xviii. 3.) The young are displeased when He exclaims : “Woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke vi. 25.) Those who are tempted or afflicted, murmur when He exhorts them by His words and example: “Not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke xxii. 42.) The lukewarm are displeased when He tells them : “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth.” (Apoc. iii. 16.) Finally, the greater part of men murmur at our Lord, when He teaches : “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away.” (Matt. xi. 12.) They complain with the unfaithful disciples of our Lord, “these are hard sayings; who can hear them?” (John vi. 61.)

There are still many, it is true, who will say with St. Peter and the other Apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have known that Thou art Christ the Son of God.” (John vi. 69, 70.) But how many, even among these, will murmur, not indeed at Christ’s doctrine, but at heretics, unbelievers and great sinners? How many are there who, like the Apostles, not knowing of what spirit they are, wish that fire should come down from heaven to consume them (Luke ix. 54, 55), for not believing, in spite of so many miracles and evident proofs, confirming the truth of the Catholic religion?

To all these our Lord answers with divine sweetness: “Murmur not among yourselves: no man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.” (John vi. 44.) As to all those of you, He means to say, who believe in Me and live up to My doctrine, you ought not to murmur at infidels, heretics or nominal Christians, on account of their infidelity, false belief or bad life, but you should remember that faith, especially practical faith, is a supernatural gift of God, and that no one can have true faith in Him unless it is granted by My heavenly Father. Since they are not as yet drawn by the Father, you should not feel indignant or treat them with severity, but rather pray to the Father that He may draw them sweetly, but powerfully, by enlightening their understanding to know the true faith, and by exciting their will to embrace it in practice, and thus they will be united with you in the same religion.

But as to you who do not believe My doctrine, or believe only a part of it, or live not according to it, neither ought you to murmur at Me and My doctrine or at those who believe truly in Me, because My Father has drawn them. Pray you, too, to My Father that He may draw you also, by removing from your understanding the darkness which prevents you from knowing My Church and the truths she teaches. Pray that He may remove from your heart the coldness and indifference which prevents you from loving the truth, and from your will the reluctance and resistance which prevents you from embracing it.

For this purpose, you should often say to God in all sincerity: “Our Father, who art in heaven, if there are still more truths which I must know and practise, in order to be saved, I beseech Thee, for the sake of Jesus Christ, permit me to know them in whatever way it pleaseth Thee to manifest them to me. Give me a good will that I may embrace them and practise faithfully what they command, until the end of my life.” If you pray perseveringly, in this manner, rest assured that you also will be drawn by My Father, to live and die with My true followers in the same faith.

All your unjust murmurs and complaints would soon be changed into joy, as I have promised when I said: ” Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full,” (John xvi. 24), for My Father “is rich unto all that call upon Him,” (Rom. x. 12) in My name, for the sake of which I will grant that life of which I have said: ” I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly,” (John x. 10), here by My exuberant grace and hereafter by My unspeakable glory.

This doctrine, of such vital importance for the salvation of mankind, is too seldom preached, little understood, and still less put in practice,” God thus permitting it,” says St. Alphonsus, “in punishment for the sins of men.”

“And now, brethren, as you are the ancients among the people of God, and their very soul resteth upon you, comfort their hearts by your speech” (Judith viii. 21), by explaining to them, as often and as plainly as possible, the great necessity of this doctrine on prayer, as well as the right manner of practising it, in order to derive therefrom all possible advantage.

In this book I have tried, my dear reader, to do this; wherefore, I venture to assert that the reading of it will be more profitable to you than the perusal of any other book, for the more you read it the more you will find this assertion to be true. I pray you to read it again and again with great attention, not because it is my production, but because it is a means which God offers you to enable you to attain eternal salvation, thereby giving you to understand that He wishes you to be saved. When you have finished reading this book, induce as many of your friends as you can to read it also.

You must also thank the Lord for what He teaches you in this book, “for it is a great mercy,” says St. Alphonsus, ” when He gives the light and grace to pray and to understand the importance of prayer.” “Ah, my dear brethren,” wrote Pope Celestine to the Bishops of France, “let prayer never leave your hearts, and the grace and mercy of God will never leave your souls. Rest assured that the Lord will never withdraw from you, nor cease to enlighten, guide and protect you as long as you pray to Him. You complain of the difficulty of saving your souls in the midst of a corrupt world, in which you are exposed to so many dangers. Do you wish to escape them all and to fear none? Arm yourselves with prayer. Prayer was the daily food and strength of the prophet; it was his whole delight; he understood but too well all its advantages.”

That is what I would call a tour de force. And that is just the preface? Sheesh! Bumping into guys like this made it very easy for me to consider swimming the Tiber. You can find the rest of this book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04545510194367389333 Stefanie

    Frank, I was especially encouraged by this: "Pray you, too, to My Father that He may draw you also, by removing from your understanding the darkness which prevents you from knowing My Church and the truths she teaches. Pray that He may remove from your heart the coldness and indifference which prevents you from loving the truth, and from your will the reluctance and resistance which prevents you from embracing it." In my work as director of RCIA at our parish, and as I've delved more deeply into the treasures of our Church–past and present, I've found my 'modern view' dissolving and finding great delight in the Church's 'view' of 'right living.' Truthfully, I tell others who protest against certain Church teachings, "I, too, am being constantly converted to the Catholic Church. I pray that you, too, will be converted in that same way."Can't believe how far this selfish child of the '50's, '60's, '70's, and '80's has bloomed now that I am finally allowing myself to be nourished by the Church. (This includes studying it as fervently as a doctorate student — the Church is worthy of such study.) May you and I and others never cease to be amazed at the treasure which is our Church!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    And this was neat too! The Golden Rule in action.Since they are not as yet drawn by the Father, you should not feel indignant or treat them with severity, but rather pray to the Father that He may draw them sweetly, but powerfully, by enlightening their understanding to know the true faith, and by exciting their will to embrace it in practice, and thus they will be united with you in the same religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11961792423937962991 stpetric

    I agree that it's silly to believe that Catholics generically are biblically illiterate. But I only wish it were the case Catholic priests generically know the Bible backwards and forwards. Sadly, I've met too many who don't recognize a biblical allusion when it hits them upside the head, who can't lead a Bible study to save themselves, and who rely on "Homiletical and Pastoral Review" for sermon ideas. Clearly, there are lots of priests who are profound scholars of scripture and lots who are holy contemplatives steeped in years of lectio divina, but I'm afraid we have a way to go still before we can say unqualifiedly that Catholic priests know the Bible backwards and forwards.

  • http://robert-sprung-lagniappe.blogspot.com Robert Sprung

    As a former Catholic, I respectfully find a certain aggressiveness in the article (which I appreciate) that has often been lacking in apologists or polemics. However, the following quote from the book's preface begs the question about salvation:"For this purpose, you should often say to God in all sincerity: "Our Father, who art in heaven, if there are still more truths which I must know and practise, in order to be saved, I beseech Thee, for the sake of Jesus Christ, permit me to know them in whatever way it pleaseth Thee to manifest them to me. Give me a good will that I may embrace them and practise faithfully what they command, until the end of my life." If you pray perseveringly, in this manner, rest assured that you also will be drawn by My Father, to live and die with My true followers in the same faith.""…truths to be known and practised, in order to be saved…" puts the person of faith on the hamster's wheel — always running and going no where. Moreover, the last sentence of the quote above has no basis in Scripture to warrant such a promise. Maybe the mystics of a'Kempis and others carry more weight than I had previously understood (but Luther got it right!!) I guess I would be a "heretic" per the above description — but that's okay. I still have great memories being raised in the parochial schools, and a sense of awe when I enter Catholic churches. In fact, my aunt was a BVM nun. But the "Catholicese" is often double-speak and turns upon Mt 16:18 as the grandest pronouncement of truth. An anti-Catholic – I am not — a dissenter of their revisionist history, the circumventing of the Scripture's context (especially John 6), and the fact that the Councils of Trent pronouncements are still alive and well leaves me with a sadness as the hint of institutional deceit for the "faithful" lingers. I still read Fulton Sheen and a few other older writers and gain insight into life and ways of communicating ideas, etc.I am bookmarking this as I surely will find many topics of interest and relevancy as life's journey continues. 1 Peter 1:17-20

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10188238068927761034 Wade St. Onge

    And even when Protestants know a lot of passages and can recite them word for word and cite chapter and verse, many Catholics who might not know where to find it still know what the Bible teaches and more importantly what it all "means". Also, it does not matter how much of the Bible you have read, if you do not have the Church to guide you and help you interpret its "meaning" (Acts 8:30-31), you are never going to know the Bible as well as someone who has the Church as his Teacher.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    All, thanks for your comments. And I have shared something on the situation that Wade alludes to, with a post of good ol' Father Bampfield's, on the dangers of private interpretation. Take a look.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @stpetric: My title isn't meant to be 100% accurate in the particular, but in the main.I am unfortunately colored by my experience in the Marine Corps in this regard. There are a few lousy Marines, and there are outstanding Marines in this, the smallest branch of the service. But over all, the whole is an elite group of troops with excellent training, superior marksmanship ability, toughness (both mental and physical), and highly motivated.So if, as an opposing army general in the field, you are facing three types of foes: a) roving bands of guys with rifles, and b)regular soldiers, or c) Marines, which of these three would you be more concerned about facing? And why?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    More food for thought. I spent most of my adult formation years in this type of environment:Since its inception, the Marine Corps has emphasized the importance of passing on professional knowledge to those we are privileged to lead. General Lejeune described the imparting of that knowledge "as a teacher does to a scholar." Not as a "master is to a slave."See more here. As the Church (and priests) are to teachers, so must we be as scholars.