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Worth tucking into your pocket… or into your heart

Katharine Barrett | Thursday, September 13, 2012

I have just finished hanging up one of my favorite new birthday presents in my office. A dear friend gave me a framed print of her Scriptural “life verse,” a small, valuable nugget from the Bible that she carries in her heart and tries to shape her approach to life.

The Catholic Church hasn’t focused its efforts on encouraging people to memorize Scripture as clearly as have other Christian traditions. There’s no reason why we can’t start, though and choose a line or a few that help us hear the voice of God speaking to our hearts.

Most of us probably don’t have the ability or perseverance to memorize the entire gospel of John or one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, but, in the end, that’s just fine, because nothing steers a person toward clarity like having to make a choice. Would you pick cookies and cream or mint chip? Pepperoni or sausage? Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync? More importantly, though we think about it less often, Matthew 25:40 or Luke 6:37? Sure, you can just scroll through any – or every – book of the Bible on your smartphone, but try this instead: take the time to think about, to listen for, what God might want you to hear as you go about your days.

Do you need patience or generosity? Humility or courage? The Word of God speaks to all these needs and more. Wouldn’t it be worth the time to select a verse or two that we really need to keep in our hearts and turn over in our prayers each day? If the Bible feels a bit unfamiliar, start with the familiar: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23), or “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Listen during Mass and try to carry away a phrase from one of the readings, the psalm or a hymn that particularly speaks to you. Later you can plug it into Google and find where it comes from.

Maybe most of us won’t have one “life verse,” but several that speak to us at different times in our lives. My husband and I, believing that God would bless our marriage and wanting to keep Him firmly in the midst of our lives together, chose Psalm 40 for our wedding Mass: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” I think back on that choice and it reminds me to try always to be open to following God’s will in our family. Now, with three teens and a “tween” in the house, Psalm 141, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch at the door of my lips,” has become more helpful than I ever dreamed! My 14 year-old nephew recently made his Confirmation in the Lutheran Church. As part of his preparation, he wrote a Faith Statement and included his favorite verse, which comes from 2 Samuel: “My God, my rock of refuge! My shield, my saving horn, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior.” Who knows which of God’s words he will grow into as he continues to live out his faith, but he has chosen the Lord to be his rock.

My friend’s verse, now hanging on my wall facing the South Quad, comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It reminds me of her and the gift she has for encouraging, for “building up,” everyone around her. It also reminds me that, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “the word of God is living and effective,” full of mercy, wisdom and strength for any of us who desire to hold it in our hearts.

And as for Matthew 25:40 and Luke 6:37, I can only pass on what my dad used to say: “Well, go look it up.”

Katharine Barrett can be reached at Katharine.S.Barrett.28@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.