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Today’s first reading reminds us that reading the bible is different from reading any other book. Why? Because reading the bible demands that we pray as we read it. While certainly the bible can be read without faith, and even valued without faith, when we read the bible we should do so in prayer. It is, after all, the Word of God. Today’s reading poses two questions: Do we read the word of God, the bible? Do we pray before we do so and do we view reading the bible as a relationship? We hear the word of God, after all, directly when we read the bible.

This is not to say that we should not seek to understand the bible by academic study. Whether this is formal study in a college or high school, or using one of the many tools available to help us to learn more about the bible, like Jeff Cavin’s podcast The Jeff Cavins Show, or other places like Word on Fire, or Dynamic Catholic, you can grow in what you know about Jesus and the Church. We’ve also suggested another podcast, The Bible in a Year Podcast, where Father Mike Schmitz not only reads the bible for us, but helps us to break open the Word so that we can understand it more fully. But academic knowledge alone is not sufficient.

Why? Because we need to reach out to know Jesus. And we do this in prayer. We offer our hearts and souls to Jesus, and when he touches them, we change and grow. It is this prayerful relationship with Jesus that helps us to know what to do with and what to do about the knowledge we gain. It inspires us to make those tough choices not because they are easy, but because they are right.

This is why I am so strongly committed to silent prayer. It is quite easy to say, well, we are good people. I believe many people are good people. Is being good enough? Or does Jesus ask more from us? I do think it is important, especially for people who claim faith in Jesus to reflect on what Jesus wants us to do. And to think about whether or not Jesus would ever ask us to do what we do not want to do. And to ask ourselves when was the last time Jesus ever did so?

For if Jesus does not appear to ever ask us to do what we might not want to do, maybe we have not really heard the voice of Jesus. Maybe Jesus is simply a “teddy bear” designed to make us feel better. But a relationship with Jesus should challenge us. An authentic and powerful relationship with Jesus should make us feel uncomfortable at times.

When I pass that homeless man, perhaps I should be made uncomfortable about whether or not he is Jesus for me. When I am called to make a sacrifice for someone I do not like, even if it is only praying for their well-being, can I do that? Is it ever the case that I can ask, when I disagree with someone, where in what they believe is Jesus speaking to me? How might Jesus be using them to help me to grow spiritually?

Too often, we live in a world where we simply dismiss others. We can easily find ourselves embracing a faith that asks nothing of us. Or embracing a faith where we are so convinced our way of seeing faith, our way of viewing faith practice is the only way to view it. We can easily be unwilling to challenge ourselves to discern, to seek to test the spirits that lead to our decisions about how to live. That is why it is so important to spend silent time with Jesus. It is why it is so important to pray before we read the bible. It is why it is important to think carefully about those times when we pray the Our Father and ask that God’s will be done. But, when we do these things, we embrace that enthusiasm we saw in the man who at the first sight of water longed to be baptized.

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