The Bible Marathon: How It Began and Where It’s Going The Purposes and Products of Reading The Word of God at NDS

By: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans

Melinda and John Sanford signed up to read the end of Psalms, but because the Bible Marathon was an hour ahead of schedule, the mother and father from Baton Rouge instead read from Proverbs.

Which is interesting, in and of itself, because Proverbs contains familial admonitions such as, “Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching.”(Prov 1:8) Also, domestic adages like, “A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.”(Prov 10:1)

During the 1st Annual Bible Marathon on the front lawn of Notre Dame Seminary, in which the entire Bible was read, night and day, from Tuesday, January 29th to Saturday, February 2nd, a captain sat next to the readers. The captains job was to make sure readers showed up and read at an appropriate speed.

Melinda and John’s captain was their son, seminarian Taylor Sanford. So, the Sanford family got an unforeseen reminder from Proverbs about how to be a family when Melinda and John traded off readership responsibilities on Thursday evening. Taylor said his mother shot him a loving smile every time she read “my son” or “my child.”

Sanford, from Baton Rouge and in Second Theology, also helped the marathon by inviting his contacts at local Protestant churches to sign up. Readers from eight different Protestant churches participated.

Sanford and the marathon’s main organizer, seminarian Brother John-Joseph Bourque, had three goals for the marathon, and one of those was it being a uniting event, where Jews and Protestants could celebrate their common heritage with Catholics.

“Our hope as we move forward is to have this be truly an ecumenical initiative as well as an interfaith experience with our Jewish sisters and brothers,” said The Very Rev. James Wehner, Rector/President of Notre Dame Seminary.

The second goal was the glorification of God and the sanctification of man through reading and listening to the Word of God. Dr. Tom Neal, NDS Director of Intellectual Formation and Professor of Spiritual Theology, reflected on his experience reading and listening at the marathon.

“The times I have taken the last few days to just sit and listen, and then in proclaiming myself, there was a real sense of Christ’s presence. It was very peaceful. A sense that the Old Testament texts were making present to me now the ancient cry for God to come and save us. Wow. To live now, in the time of fulfillment–that was my greatest sense in this marathon.”

The third goal was the physical reading being a public witness of the faith, an effect of the New Evangelization that brings that witness into the public square. Across Carrollton from the seminary is a less affluent area, and Bourque would walk over and invite people to cross the street and attend.

Fr. Wehner also spoke of witness. He said the marathon acts as an additional way for the seminary community to witness to the Word of God.

“In the Fall of each year, we have a Procession of the Sacrament(Eucharistic Procession) which has no other goal than to bring the Sacrament into our neighborhood streets,” Wehner said. “This initiative(Bible Marathon) is a Procession of the Word in which our reading of God’s Word is intended to bring God’s blessings to our City and neighborhood.”

Bourque is a member of the Community of Jesus Christ Crucified(CJC), based in the Diocese of Lafayette. Wehner was inspired to bring forward the idea of a bible marathon to seminary leadership after the CJC hosted their own bible marathon in St. Martinville, where they are based.

“The expectation of this(bible marathon) is to assist our seminarians in a ‘mission formation’ that allows us to use what is in our great Tradition as a means to give witness to our faith as well as ask God’s blessings on our seminary and neighborhoods,” Wehner said. “We see this as an annual event.”

A final word on the scriptures from Dr. Neal: “The Scriptures really make Christ present, alive, active for those who hear with faith. When you hear the Word with an open heart, it opens new vistas, comforts, afflicts, heals, purifies, transforms, grants peace, joy, longing and love for God and neighbor. It makes you long for heaven, cherish earth, intones a new song in the spirit. It paints my imagination with new colors and changes the way I experience life.”

About the Author: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans

Jason is a seminarian in Second Pre-Theology.


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