A Pastoral Reading of the Bible

By Lucy Cardenas
November 3, 2011

Reflecting on Life Experience in the Light of the Word of God

Lucy Cardenas lives in Peru and conducts the Bible Study Programs in Columban Parishes

Twenty years ago I began to go to weekend workshops to learn about new Bible study methodology. We now call our program, “A Pastoral Reading of the Bible,” and it is aimed at Christian communities among the poor of Latin America and the Caribbean. We call it pastoral because it is designed to help articipants take on the responsibilities and challenges of their lives with courage, love, compassion and deep faith in Jesus Christ.

The program runs in a communal setting, which facilitates sharing of problems and insights among participants; in fact, it is a community builder as it generates friendships and an attitude of mutual care. The main beneficiaries are the grassroots church communities of Latin America, and it can function quite well even with those who cannot read or write. However, most participants have the basics of literacy.

Lucy with Bible study participants

Our program is educational in that it helps participants grow into a method of interpretation that helps them find their own way with the Bible but always reading and reflecting on the text in community. All reflection begins with the way the participants are living and eventually returns to that subject, helping the readers see with greater clarity their way in life according to the Word of God.

Fr. John Hegarty with the group

The 2007 Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) in Aparecida, Brazil, were most encouraging of our work:
“248. …Disciples of Jesus yearn to be nourished with the bread of the Word: they want to have access to proper interpretation of the biblical texts, to use them as mediation of dialogue with Jesus, and that they be the soul of evangelization itself and of proclamation of Jesus to all. Hence, the importance of a biblical
ministry’ understood as a biblical impetus to pastoral ministry,…This demands that bishops, priests, deacons, and lay ministers of the Word approach sacred scripture in a way that is not merely intellectual and instrumental, but with a heart ‘hungry to hear the Word of the Lord.’ ” (Am 8:11)
“249. Among the many ways of approaching sacred scripture, there is one privileged way to which we are all invited: Lectio divina or the practice of prayerful reading of sacred scripture. This prayerful reading, when well practiced, leads to the encounter with Jesus-Master, to the knowledge of the mystery of Jesus-Messiah, to communion with Jesus-Son of God, and to the testimony of Jesus-Lord of the Universe. With its four moments (reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation), prayerful reading fosters the personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the manner of so many figures in the Gospel:
Nicodemus and his longing for eternal life (cf. Jn 3:1-21), the Samaritan woman and her yearning for true worship (cf. Jn 4:1-42), the man born blind and his desire for inner light (cf. Jn 9), Zacchaeus and his wish to be different (cf. Lk 19:1-10), and so forth. … They did not [merely] open their heart to something of the Messiah, but to the Messiah himself, route of growth in ‘maturity according to his fullness’ (Eph 4:13), process of discipleship, of communion with brothers and sisters and commitment to society.”

More small group participants

For one year, about ten people from our parish went to the training workshops each weekend and one evening during the week. We replicated a shorter version of the sessions with communities in the parish. They liked it so much that they kept coming! The methodology encouraged participation, so the meetings
were not boring. The educational approach differed radically from what participants had known during their time at school. Maybe they were also surprised to find that they were learning a lot in such a simple way. Together we learned to approach both life and the Bible text in a critical way, not to undo the good that we knew and did, but to see how to act even better.

For me, it was a place to meet and create dialogue with others. It was in that encounter that I felt that I met God.

I grew stronger in my calling as a lay person. What I learned, I applied in my work as a nurse in the police hospital and the nurses’ training school. Perhaps one of the most important things that I learned was to approach others as one person to another. There is a lot of class and racial discrimination in our Peruvian society and our Bible study program helped me question and act contrary to this discrimination, especially in its more subtle forms. I realized that I did not feel or act either superior or inferior to others, regardless of who I was dealing with.

I believe that I learned to be a faithful link, or bridge, between life and the Word of God in the Bible, being both faithful to the person looking for enlightenment and also to the Bible text. All that we had shared in our community over the years stood me in good stead when, along with a group of senior nurses, I was transferred from the nurses’ training school where I had been working for 21 years. The government had made major budgetary cuts, and I found myself in limbo for three long months.

Being moved in this way from the job I had dedicated myself to for years really shook me up. It was as if my whole professional career had collapsed from one day to the next. I was not married and did not have a family, so my job in the nursing school had become a very important part of my life. Possibilities of professional advancement in this area were eliminated. After three months of uncertainty they transferred us to a new unit where we worked on investigation, prevention and control of infections within the hospital. All this happened in 2002 and in fact, not long after that, in 2006, I retired from nursing. My Dad became quite sick at that time, and I helped look after him until he died that same year.

The problems of my life did not make me feel more or less of a person, as my dignity does not hinge on whatever position I may be occupying; rather it stems from knowing that I am one more daughter of God.

More recently, our Bible study teams (there are now two working in two parishes) have been running workshops for new team members offering pastoral workers and members of parish communities not only methodology and theoretical knowledge, but an experience of meeting the Lord. In each community, we would like to see these meetings for biblical reflection given ever greater importance. We would like pastoral workers to apply what they learn in their pastoral work so that catechetical meetings, other activities and Sunday celebrations may become experiences of meeting the Lord. All of this should strengthen the life of the community and the everyday life of each person.

We meet every Thursday, and it’s always a special moment in my week. For me it’s all about dreaming, imagining and believing that another kind of world is possible. Now I also do Bible study with my Mum. At 7:00 a.m. each day she is there with her Bible open at the text we are to discuss according to the “see-judge-act” method that has served me so well for over twenty years.