“… This is not a childhood story. This is the story of God. This is the story of how we’ve come to know God in his written word,” Father James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, said Jan. 29 at the onset of a 100-hour, outdoor Bible-reading on the seminary’s front lawn.
His 20-minute recitation began at 2 p.m. with the first book of the Bible – Genesis.
Through Feb. 2 at 6 p.m., there were 375 opportunities for hundreds of community members – seminarians, their friends and teachers, lay Catholics and approximately a dozen different Christian denominations – reading the Bible from cover to cover.
Brother John Joseph Bourque, studying for the priesthood for the Community of Jesus Crucified in the Diocese of Lafayette, coordinated this Bible marathon as a public witness of the Catholic faith, “knowing that this would be an opportunity to glorify God and also to sanctify the community as well as ourselves.
“We are proclaiming the word and hearing the word – both opportunities to be sanctified,” Brother John Joseph said. “We also wanted to create an ecumenical opportunity for our Protestant brothers and sisters, as well as those in the Jewish community to participate.”
He had participated in the St. Martinville, Louisiana, Bible marathon – originally coordinated by his religious community in 2016 to close the Catholic Jubilee Year of Mercy and expanded, in 2018, from 88 hours to 100 hours, during the Diocese of Lafayette’s 100th anniversary. He said it had an overwhelming impact on the faith of the community.
“I think one reason is it allows so many faithful people the opportunity to express that faith,” he said. “The Bible is God’s word to us that we can speak back to him. All Christians and Jews believe in the importance of this word, and the Bible Marathon shows how we believe this together.”
Way to unite community
Father Wehner was familiar with the St. Martinville Bible Marathon in the town square and worked with Notre Dame seminarians to bring it to New Orleans. He says it follows Pope Francis’ example of the church’s need to be in dialogue with every aspect of culture and society.
He sees the marathon not as a program or a way to proselytize, but as a way “to proclaim God’s word and let God’s grace be able to permeate the community around us.
“We believe in this fractured world that God can unite (us) authentically,” he said. “And, when we are able to receive that word of God, there is a unity that can be brought to our neighborhood, our families, our cities and throughout the world. … It is our hope that as believers from around our city gather … as this word of God is proclaimed starting now through Saturday, it might be an opportunity for us to be nourished by this word.”
The local marathon ended on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple, 40 days after his birth, a special day at the seminary.
“We always process with candles into a dark church (on Candlemas, 40 days after Christmas) accentuating the mystery of Christ coming into a dark world,” Brother John Joseph said. “There is a stark contrast with the glory of the Lord entering his temple, and yet Mary receives the first direct prophecy of Christ’s ‘passion’ from Simeon.”
He said once the marathon is completed, it will be evaluated in hopes that this celebration of God’s word becomes an annual event to ease division in society.
“For people of faith, God’s word is always a word that unifies,” he said. “After all, it is God’s word that created it, God’s word that redeems it, and God’s word that will unite us as a people. So, the simple proclamation of this is reflecting that whatever divisions we have in our culture today, what unites us is God. We certainly hope to bring this to people’s attention as this proclamation occurs.”
Brother John Joseph has a second aspiration for the marathon – to nurture a love for God’s word.
“The Bible is dramatic in many ways, but it is also tremendously human,” he said. “It speaks to all of our hearts, even nonbelievers, because it is the cry of the human heart. I hope that our community can see that the Bible does not have to be a source of contention, but a principle of unity.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.