5 Reasons to Know Scripture by Heart
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
The Scriptures sync with the Incarnation; in a mystery hidden to our eyes, the eternal dwells within the temporal without the former destroying the latter. God said everything He wanted to say to humanity in the Word Made Flesh, Jesus (John 1:14). When we pick up a bible, we hold the infinite in our hands! As incredible as that is, the Word of God was meant not for our hands but for our minds and hearts. By memorizing Scripture, we make it a part of our innermost selves.
“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)
Memorized Scripture verses are a good tool for contemplative prayer, especially ones that focus on Christ. Here are some good examples of verses on the love of Christ:
• “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20)
• “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)
• “And Jesus looking upon him, loved him” (Mark 10:21)
• “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:9)
Try committing one to memory, and then starting your prayer time by repeating it over and over. Let the words sink in and settle in your heart, and let your imagination picture Jesus sitting beside you.
Memorizing verses also aids in understanding Scripture better. Although most of us don’t know the parable of the Prodigal Son verbatim, most of us could still tell the story. There are some passages in the Bible that lend themselves to a simple understanding. Some are less obvious—the parable of the dishonest steward is a tough nut to crack. Even the “easy” passages have deceptive depth to them. St. John Paul II used two of those stories as launching points for two encyclicals. First, he started his treatise on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor, with a reflection on the story of the rich young man (Matt 19:16-22). In an earlier encyclical, St. John Paul II expounded upon the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in Dives in Misericordia. Whether a passage/story is easy or difficult to grasp, sitting with it and praying with it opens up new levels of understanding. There are great things to be found for those who put their nets out into the deep.
Refuge in Temptation
“I can do all things in him [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
In the spiritual war that engulfs humanity, our training consists of prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, cultivating virtues, fasting, and more. The purpose of that training, just like basic training in the military—is two-fold. First, it is meant to build up the soldier so that he/she is stronger than they were before. Second, the training is there to stabilize the soldier when things start blowing up. We can’t just put a crisis situation on hold while we sort everything out. The spiritual life is no different! Spiritual training builds discipline, and solid discipline gives strength during adversity.
When (not if) adversity comes, it’s too late to train. Try to get as many scripture verses in your arsenal for when adversity arrives, for all sorts of issues. We don’t get to pick the things that weigh upon us, for example:
• the world is getting too much (John 16:33)
• accepting forgiveness for past sins (2 Cor 5:17)
• losing hope (Heb 10:23)
There are many more verses that would uplift in trials. The pattern here is Jesus Himself. When Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus used only a single weapon: Scripture. By having a verse already memorized, it serves as both a distraction and a focus at the same time. Temptations can be overwhelming sometimes, and Scripture is the very thing to break one’s mind out of that feeling. It helps create distance between the temptation and the one being tempted. Once that distance is in place, the Scripture verse provides a new focus for thought. It’s not enough to turn away from evil to overcome a temptation; we need to fill our hearts with good so there’s no room for evil.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5:16-18)
St. Paul ends his first letter to the Thessalonians by teaching them to stay ready for the day of the Lord. It will come like a thief in the night (5:2; see also Matt 24:43, 2 Peter 3:10) and it is only those that are prepared that will not be taken aback. How exactly were they to stay prepared? He answers in 5:12-22; among the prescriptions was to “pray without ceasing”!
Don’t dismiss this as something only for monks, nuns, and priests. St. Paul was writing to the entire community! Scripture verses lend themselves easily to spontaneous prayer, especially psalms and St. Paul’s salutations. For example:
• “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all Thy wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in Thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:1)
• “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:3)
This can be done while in the car, mowing the lawn, waiting for the doctor, at work, or in an endless number of situations! Reciting a verse of Scripture is a quick, easy way to lift the soul to God.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Apologetics has grown to a position of great prominence in the Catholic Church in the United States, thanks to Catholic radio, authors like Karl Keating and Tim Staples, and the conversions of the likes of Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, and Steve Ray. Thanks be to God, the list is a very long one!
We don’t know when an evangelist from another faith will show up at our door, or when a conversation with a coworker will turn to religion. Preparing responses to common objections—and having certain verses memorized—will give a Catholic a leg up when the conversation hits. I haven’t had a door-to-door missionary stop by for a while, but I remember the last one vividly. More to the point, I remember feeling caught off guard on a Saturday morning, frustrated that I couldn’t express myself well enough, and ultimately disappointed that I likely sounded like another Catholic uneducated in the Bible.
It might help to memorize lists of verses as opposed to all the verses themselves. A good starting topic to get familiar with is the Eucharist. Jesus’ famous Bread of Life discourse is the best teaching on the Eucharist in the New Testament, found in John 6:30-66. St. Paul teaches on the Eucharist and warns on receiving it unworthily in 1 Cor 11:23-29. And, the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper (Matt 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20) have the words of Jesus as He instituted the sacrament.
The challenge with apologetics conversations is the need for understanding. Memorizing verses and knowing where to go in the Bible is a key piece—along with that, the Catholic needs to interiorize the Word and always respond in charity. Without charity, we risk becoming “a noisy gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor 13:1).
“Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 95:2)
Thanksgiving starts in Eden, actually. Not just that Adam and Eve likely were the first to thank God—but because “gratitude is possible only in the realm of freedom.” God created us with a body, soul, intellect, and free will. How else could we ever love Him? Gratitude also needs mutual respect between two people (Romano Guardini, “The Virtue of Gratitude”). Ponder that: the infinite, omniscient, omnipotent God respected our freedom so much that He gave each person free will. Starting from that point, there isn’t an excuse not to offer thanks to God.
The Psalms are a perfect place to start for prayers of thanksgiving. They have been prayed for thousands of years: some go back to King David, who lived around 900 B.C. By memorizing psalms or passages in the psalms, we unite our hearts to those that have praised God over the last three millennia—not the least of which to Jesus Himself, who prayed the Psalms as a devout Jew. The Liturgy of the Hours is composed primarily of the Psalms, and it is prayed by priests and religious every day. There’s a variety of Psalms for nearly any type of occasion or emotion. Psalm 89 is a mini-course in salvation history, praising God for the mighty works in preserving His Chosen People. Psalm 51, although very penitential, ends with the praise of God. Psalm 136 uses a refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” repeatedly. Psalms 34 and 40 pray for deliverance from enemies. With enough repetition, the Psalms are surprisingly easy to memorize.
Memorization might appear intimidating. Yet we memorize things all the time—songs, phone numbers, dates, and lines from movies or TV shows. If those things are worth our time, how much more should the Sacred Scriptures be worth? Pick up a bible, pick a verse, and start depositing the Word into your mind and heart!