Today, I continue my ongoing series of conversations with published authors as I’m joined by the incomparable Mark Hart. When it comes to discussing Mark’s work, I’ll admit that I’m biased. I am blessed to call him a friend and role model. When Mark publishes anything new, I pay attention! But his latest project was of special interest to me. One Sunday at a Time, newly released by Ave Maria Press, is part scripture study, part spiritual journal. As the title implies, this book will help us journey ever closer to Jesus by focusing on the Gospel message for each given Sunday. While “New Year’s” is still weeks away, our new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent on November 27. So now is the time to begin planning how you’ll fulfill those “pray more” and “read the Bible” resolutions that tend to come up each year. I’m already aching to make One Sunday at a Time a regular part of my Sunday worship time and to pray with it throughout the week as I prepare my heart for Mass. I hope you’ll check out One Sunday at a Time and that you enjoy this conversation with Mark. Lisa
Q: Mark, congratulations on the publication of One Sunday at a Time! This is the type of project that can truly make a difference in our lives. What prompted you to create this beautiful companion to the Liturgy of the Word?
I think, just sitting in Mass and realizing that so often, as Catholics, we judge our experience of the Mass solely on the homily or the music, and we have a tendency to relegate the Mass to the second half: Communion. We forget that the whole first half of the Mass is intended to be a word of wisdom from the Father to His children. We forget that it’s intended to prepare our minds and hearts to receive Him fully – body, blood, soul, and divinity.
I’ve come to realize – over the years – the more I learn about Scripture, the more I want to learn about Scripture. But, as a cradle Catholic, I never read Scripture growing up, and I don’t think I’m unique in that way. A vast majority of us as Catholics do not really read the Bible in a rhythmic or systematic way. We were never taught to do so. It doesn’t make us bad. But it’s a missed opportunity.
My hope in creating this book is to help Catholics of all ages and backgrounds to better prepare themselves for the liturgy in the 167 hours a week outside of the Sunday Mass – to better prepare our hearts and our minds in receiving what God is trying to teach us. With just a few background hints and some thematic insights, we arrive to Mass having already heard the readings and knowing what to listen for, so that our entire experience of the first half is not based solely on how good or, perhaps, lacking the homily may or may not be.
Q: Along with an opening prayer and overview of the Mass readings, the book has some recurring features like “Behind the Scenes”, “Word Play” and “Challenge for the Week”. Tell us a bit about these elements and how reflecting on them prior to Mass makes a difference.
In Scripture, oftentimes, we are hearing stories from 2,000-4,000 (or even more) years ago. And there are a lot of cultural idioms, phrases, references, and words that are completely lost on us in 21st-century culture. The idea with the “behind the scenes” or “wordplay” is to try to give some cultural and chronological context to what we are reading. With that context, the modern mind can better appreciate and understand the weight of some of these words and phrases, and the etymology of why certain words are being used.
Pope Benedict XVI talked about this in great depth. We often read Scripture incorrectly. We do what’s called “eisegesis.” We read into the scriptures with our own modern misconceptions, misperceptions, and preconceived notions rather than doing proper Scripture study, which is “exegesis:” the reading out of the Scripture, what the Holy Spirit’s intention was through that specific author. So, we must read Scripture through the lens it was intended contextually (whether that’s the time period or the type of writing).
And so the behind-the-scenes, the word play, those really are intended to give us just some basic understanding of different words, phrases, idioms – different sort of cultural influences – to help us understand readings in their proper context and not get lost in a mindset of reading Scripture with our own preconceived notions. You can get lost very quickly in doing so.
The challenge is in taking the themes from the readings and actually applying them to our life in a practical way, asking what are some small things we can do to really live out the wisdom of the Sunday readings in a practical way Monday through Saturday? Doing so allows the Word to actually come to life in our life and doesn’t just get left behind in the pews.
Q: A lot of us will be using this book as individuals, but how might a family with young children adapt it for family use?
This book is designed to be used in a plurality of ways. You can use it on your own as an adult or you might sit down with your spouse or study group over a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) and move through the readings together each week.
It can also be used as a family with young kids. Now depending upon the age of the kids (if you have littles) this book might be just for the parents to develop a better context and understanding of the themes they’re in. All the themes and challenges can be adapted to be done as a family. It could be small, practical acts of service or affirmations – things that you can do on a weekly basis to help your kids enter more deeply into the readings.
And certainly, if your kids are middle school or high school aged, these can be read and done as a weekly Bible study as a family – maybe by setting aside one night a week during dinner or one hour over the weekend before Sunday Mass.Join @LisaHendey in conversation with @lifeteen's own @LT_TheBiblegeek about his brand new @AveMariaPress book One Sunday at a Time – the one book you need for the new liturgical year! Click To Tweet
Q: How about groups of friends or bible study groups?
Absolutely! Groups of friends, Bible study groups. One Sunday at a Time is designed to be used by and for anyone, regardless of their scriptural prowess or lack thereof. This book, however, is not intended for people who have a minor in theology, but rather for Catholics who do not have necessarily any scriptural backing.
So, this could be by anyone and utilized again, whether in a women’s group, a men’s group, couples’ groups, family groups, homeschool, faith sharing groups at the parish, in the home, over coffee, or over a drink. This is really designed to be a companion, to walk with people more deeply into the Sunday readings.
Q: You’re known as the “Bible Geek.” Did you learn anything new while preparing this book?
Even though I’ve been reading and studying Scripture for over two decades now – in active ministry – I was reminded again of two things while preparing this book. Number one: there is great beauty in the Church’s wisdom of the cycle of readings – readings and passages that we hear every year. Whether that’s the Baptism of the Lord or the Transfiguration, there’s always something new to be gleaned and gained from Scripture. Because while Scripture does not change, our lives change and our seasons of life change. And you can tell that these are not the words of men, these are the words of the Holy Spirit through the pens of men. So, regardless of how many times you hear a reading, there’s always something new to be taken from them. Scripture is ever ancient, ever new, and God is constantly pouring out wisdom based upon not just His wisdom, but the seasons of life and how we receive them.
Number two: I was reminded again of how much the Word of God has changed my life and how much the Word of God means in our lives, and it is one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. This is our great family heirloom as Catholics, and the world really owes the Catholic Church gratitude for compiling the scriptures and prayerfully discerning which scriptures would end up in the Bible, in the canon of Scripture.
I sit in gratitude – overwhelmed by God’s mercy, overwhelmed by His wisdom, overwhelmed by gratitude for the Church and for the Church’s fathers and saints who have passed along the scriptures, and given us commentary on the scriptures. It really is just a powder keg of grace.
Scripture is a diamond in the rough that – for many of us as Catholics – we have yet to discover. But once you discover it, you can’t put it down.
Q: Are there any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
For many years, people would come up to meet me at a conference or after a talk and just say, “You know, I’ve always wanted to start reading Scripture. Where do I start?”
Certainly, there are a plethora of resources now that did not used to exist – there are podcasts and books, and video series. There is so much available to Catholics now to help us grow in our scriptural literacy and our love for the Word. But what I always tell people is the exact same thing: Begin with what you’re already doing. You’re already going to Sunday Mass. Lean into the rhythm of the Church. Begin with reading the Sunday readings ahead of time. Use a book like One Sunday at a Time to help you enter more deeply into those readings. Once you start reading those Sunday readings, then start moving into reading the daily readings – whether that’s on a Bible app on your phone, with your own Bible, periodicals, or whatever it may be.
But the key is to do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re never too old to start. We can always learn. We can always grow. God will continue to speak to us through His timeless words. Scripture is unlike any other written work in the history of creation; it’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us; It’s our great family heirloom.
I’ve seen personally, and I’ve seen anecdotally – through friends and loved ones and strangers I’ve met – start reading the Sunday scriptures ahead of time and it changes their life for the better. It will bless you. It will bless your Sacrament. It will bless your family. It will bless your friends. It will bless your enemies. It will bless your coworkers and your neighbors. God has never outdone in generosity. There’s always an excuse. I don’t want to look Peter in the eyes one day and explain why I didn’t have time to read the Word of God, because I was searching for something else to watch on Netflix.
There’s always something else to do, something else to read. But when we actually make the time and make His Word the priority as a daily part of our lives, there are measurable graces that will be poured out to us and to our loved ones.
A question for you: How do you prepare for Sunday Mass or your sacred sabbath worship? What would you like to do differently in the New Year to feel more prayerful on Sundays?