I’ve been journeying with the Scriptures for quite some time. When I began to read the Bible regularly in junior high, the pastor of the parish in which I grew up was alarmed, concerned, perhaps, that at the public school I attended I might fall prey to the arguments of Protestant friends that the practices and doctrines of Catholicism were out of step with Biblical teaching.
Though I did have a few heated discussions over the next few years with friends who came from Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Pentecostal backgrounds, the Scriptures became for me more of a springboard for prayer than a source for polemics. I wasn’t yet familiar with the term “lectio divina,” but that was the way I approached the writings of the Bible: in a spirit of prayer. Its varied texts challenged, comforted, questioned me, and in prayer I brought my own questions and reflections back to God.
That initial experience with the Scriptures proved to be God’s way of preparing me for what would come next: university studies, where I encountered critical approaches to the Bible for the first time. In having to deal with the Scriptures in a more academic and less devotional way, I experienced the shock that many of us feel when we discover that something familiar isn’t quite what it seemed. But I was spared the fate of fundamentalists who perceive Biblical criticism as an attack on their faith by the simple reality that for me, the Scriptures were a catalyst for prayer, not a textbook for science or history. I found that I could let go of erroneous judgments I had made about the sacred text without letting go of God, for God had already got under my skin and shown me that He’s real.
Whether at Notre Dame, in Jerusalem (for one semester at the Hebrew University and another at the École Biblique), or in Rome (where I studied for the licentiate and am now pursuing doctoral studies), I’ve found that the study of Scripture has served both to purify and to deepen my faith. Again and again I’ve had to re-think previously held beliefs and opinions, but the older I get, the less that perturbs me. The commandment against making graven images is there to remind us that no image we have of God can possibly be “true,” for God alone is Truth, and we ever remain its seekers.
From study and from experience I’ve learned that the Bible teaches less by pounding us over the head with facts about God than by guiding us, as we explore its varied landscapes, through different experiences of God. When we wrestle with its texts, as Jacob wrestled with the one who came to him by night and emerged, hobbling, as Israel, the living God breaks through to us and makes of us a new creation.
Ordained a Holy Cross priest in 1991, Fr. Russ McDougall, C.S.C., spent many years as a missionary in East Africa. Currently, he is doing doctoral studies on Sacred Scripture in Rome. He is one of over a dozen Holy Cross priests in the United States Province pursuing advanced degrees to better serve as educators in the faith. Read Fr. Russ’ vocation story and learn more about the work of Holy Cross in education, as well as hear from some of the other Holy Cross priests in advanced studies.