Blame it on these unusual times. Several weeks ago, I came upon a Facebook ad inviting me to the Bible in a Year Podcast with Father Mike Schmitz.
The invitation came at the end of January, that dead-of-winter time when we all need something special to keep us going.
My own church wasn’t meeting in person, and still isn’t. During this on-line time of COVID, I don’t have a lot of places to go or people to see.
So I pondered the offer: Free daily podcasts from a Fr. Mike, campus chaplain at University of Minnesota in Duluth, who would read, pray and discuss Scripture installments from Genesis to Revelation.
I signed up, and this is where it got frisky. Me, a Presbyterian elder, following a Roman Catholic priest for a year through the Bible—not just any Bible, but the Catholic one.
Many aren’t aware that the Catholic Bible includes books Protestants have never read, namely Tobit, Judith, I and II Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and Sirach plus parts of Esther and Daniel. All were scratched from the Protestant canon centuries ago because they mentioned doctrines that the Reformers found problematic, such as purgatory, praying for the dead and salvation by anything other than grace alone. References to these practices were forbidden, vamoose, gone, thanks to a priest by the name of Martin Luther, who had serious beefs with the Roman church. Luther had also considered Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation to be “disputed books.” These were included in Luther’s translation, but placed separately at the end in his New Testament published in 1522.
Luther’s ideas on what should constitute the Bible were picked up by other reformers in the 1500s, and we all know what that led to.
I wish I could tell you what Fr. Mike has to say about Luther’s edits, but we’re still wading through Numbers and the Psalms. Tobit and Judith and the rest are a way off.
Until last month I had no idea that Ft. Mike was a thing. He’s a prominent personality of Ascension Press of Exton, PA, an organization with an evangelizing mission. Prior to COVID, Fr. Mike appearrf on panels and keynoting at conferences, unraveling thorny topics such as purgatory, same-sex marriage and the immaculate conception of Mary.
His podcasts are among the top-rated downloads of the Apple store and understandably so. He has a friendly, common-sense presence. He explains complex ideas in easy-to-understand language. If Hollywood were to cast a priest in the church of what’s happening now, they’d tap this guy–a cross (no pun intended) between Father Ralph of The Thornbirds and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
I know I’m dating myself, but I remember when my mother purchased an assortment of Christmas cards endorsed by Bishop Sheen. It was a bold step over the religious divide in the 1960s.
Though a lifelong Protestant, I am no stranger to Roman Catholicism. I was born in a Catholic hospital. Our next-door neighbors were Catholic. My best friend growing up was Catholic. Five out of eight college roommates were Catholic. I have Catholic relatives by marriage. Early on I learned to agree to disagree without being disagreeable–unlike, I suspect, my ancestors who hailed from places like Northern Ireland.
Rifts over religion have brought the world a lot of heartache: the Irish Troubles, the Thirty Years War, the English Civil War, and one exceptional example of sectarian violence, the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, which involved Catholic mob violence in the wake of a Protestant royal wedding. As many as 30,000 were left dead across France. That was in 1572. Apparently kerfuffles over royal couples are nothing new.
It has taken me decades to get around to reading the this version of the Bible that so many know, but it’s better late than never. The Bible in a Year Podcast has already shown me how Catholics and Protestants have more in common than we are often willing to admit.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ascension Press