The past few months have been a challenge to everyone, and Catholic laity have been obliged to face these uncertain days without the continuous grace of the Sacraments. It has been at once an opportunity to grow in holiness and devotion, while perhaps also a threat to our steadfastness. If there were any weaknesses in our faith, any cracks in our charity, we may have found them uncomfortably exposed during these periods of long isolation and social upheaval.
The past three months are the longest stretch of road I have traveled without the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist since my conversion nearly eight years ago. A dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a Fellow of the Word on Fire Institute, knew that I was struggling, and she shared with me her advance copy of their new study Bible. It has been a balm to my soul, and I must share it with all of you.
If you are engaged in the long work of raising a family in the faith, you have likely encountered seasons when even reading the Bible regularly seemed a Herculean chore; never mind brushing up on the finer points of theology. And yet you need to drink deeply from the well of Sacred Scripture and Church teaching, for you are evangelizing daily within your home. You are a primary catechist of the future Church, both militant and triumphant. Your vocation requires personal holiness and instruction. I believe a Bible like this would foster both.
This inaugural volume of The Word on Fire Bible features the Gospels, and is the first installment in an ongoing project. It is a fitting beginning, and one that shows promise of more good things to come.
If you first open this Bible in the middle to seek out a favorite passage, as I did, you’ll be met with a magnificent array of notes, articles, essays, and artwork interspersed amid the text. It is breathtaking, and then perhaps almost staggering. Back up, and open this volume as most readers open a book: begin at the beginning.
It is worthwhile to read the introductory notes, and discover why this Bible was developed and how it was meant to be used. Self-described as “a Bible for restless hearts”, it was – perhaps surprisingly – created for “those with far more questions than answers”. Not just for Catholics, it assumes no prior exposure to the Gospel, but introduces Sacred Scripture with all the wonder and grandeur that the story of our redemption deserves.
At the conclusion of the notes are two key pages illustrating the “Features of the Word Fire Bible”. Here the format is clearly delineated, so the reader can easily decipher the wealth of commentary. It is explained that the Biblical text itself is presented in a single-column format (like a regular book) to encourage deeper and more comfortable reading, while the notes and commentary from Church Fathers, more recent saints and scholars, and Bishop Barron himself are marked by lightly shaded backgrounds and a two-column format. Once described, the layout is quite easy to follow; but seeing that the commentary frequently covers half or more of each two-page spread, a reader accustomed to the typical two-column format of a Bible might be disoriented trying to find the Gospel amid the notes.
The essays themselves offer tremendous insight alongside the associated biblical text. As an adult of the Age of the Internet, accustomed to reading articles in quick succession without having to dig too much to find them, I find this format very helpful. The themes are wide-ranging, but all point to understanding the mystery of our God. And He is, as the writers readily admit, an equally enigmatic and captivating figure.
Perhaps what stands out most to me is not just the exquisite material beauty of this Bible, but the obvious importance of true beauty in the minds of the team that designed it. The addition of fabulously-reproduced fine art, with detailed explanations of their symbolism, is brilliant. The whole volume is imbued with an awe of the transcendent majesty of God, and a fascination with our participation in his grand design.
By having a trove of brief, readable, enriching homilies available on any passage in the Gospels – written by some of the finest minds and greatest saints in Church history – you can readily benefit from their wisdom as your own time and circumstances allow. You will find yourself freshly immersed in the Gospel, discovering the writings of St. Cyril and G.K. Chesterton, and studying a detail you never noticed before in a painting by Caravaggio. The inspired response of the holiest hearts to God’s love for them is found in these pages, for you – and your children – to explore.
My own children have each been instantly drawn to the gleaming cover of this exceptional book. It is the art that charms them; and by reading to them the explanations and symbolism of the pieces that catch their eyes, I begin to realize just how much we will all benefit from this gift. Their hungry eyes are delighted to discover so much meaning, and I love the way they light up when they recognize some attribute or characteristic. As my own eyes scan the corresponding exegesis, I know that our daily Bible readings will become much richer, and our awareness of God’s constant presence much fuller, for having done so.
I usually read the daily Mass readings from the USCCB website, and we keep the Ignatius Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition on the shelf with our Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, as prescribed. The children refer to it often; those who have made their First Communion also have their own Bibles, and we use My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories with the little ones. But this new one will take its place by my bedside, where I can retreat within its pages and enter into a deeper relationship with the great Lover of humankind. And then, having known and loved Him, I might the better share Him with my family.