In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

The Gospel of John by memory

By Bob Sullivan

My friend Wayne Ringer read that memorizing things is good for your brain. Wayne thought about that for a bit, then he picked up the phone and started calling his friends, asking them if they were interested in reciting the Gospel of John from memory.

Luckily, Wayne has a lot of friends, and 22 of us said we were interested in doing so. There are actually 21 chapters of John, but the 6th chapter is pretty long, so that chapter was divided between two guys.

I was one of the guys Wayne called. One thing about being Wayne’s friend is that you get to talk to Wayne quite a bit, and it is commonly about doing something fairly spiritually challenging in the near future. Everyone needs a friend like that, don’t they?

In this case, my challenge was to memorize John chapter 20. I can’t even punch in a phone number without looking at the number three times as I dial. Therefore, this was a big challenge for me. I started in July. The deadline was Dec. 16, when we would all gather at the John XXIII Diocesan Center in Lincoln and recite our chapter.

Chapter 20 is John’s account of the resurrection, Christ’s institution of the sacrament of reconciliation and His apparitions to the disciples. I found that it was a fascinating chapter to memorize, and I chose it because I often reference verses 21-23 in apologetics. Those are the specific verses where Christ gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins (as well as the authority not to forgive sins).

I memorized the chapter by breaking it down to four separate but interrelated stories with a brief statement at the end of the stories. I don’t know how the other guys did it, but this process worked for me.

Over the course of the summer and fall, I would occasionally run into other guys who had agreed to memorize a chapter, such as Mike Foley and John Crotty. We would ask how the other guy was doing and admit that we were struggling with certain transitional phrases such as, “then He said,” as opposed to “Jesus said.” But we seemed to be pretty positive about being ready for the Dec. 16 event.

In spite of that, I half-expected that I would eventually receive a call from Wayne, telling me that he could not find enough guys, that some guys had backed out, or that he had to cancel it for some other reason. That call never came. In fact, whenever we talked about it, Wayne seemed untroubled about the whole thing, and clearly expected that it would take place. Because of that, I practiced more.

I drove to Lincoln Dec. 16 and joined the other guys at the John XXIII Center. A pot-luck meal was part of the evening, and everyone (except me) brought delicious entrees, salads, and deserts.

We recited the Gospel in the chapel. I did not count, but there were well over 100 people there for the recitation. Each guy had his own style. I could tell that some probably used a technique promoted by Kevin Vost in his book, “Memorize the Faith!” in which you visualize things which prompt your memory. I had once tried Vost’s method, but it didn’t work for me. Others seemed to have done it the old-fashioned way, like I did.

Wayne had done a good job of recruiting guys from all ages and from all walks of life. A couple of the guys were in their teens and one or two of the guys were about 50 years past their teens. All in all, most of the guys were able to recite about 99% of their chapter without turning to the Bible which sat on the podium nearby.

As I watched the 20 guys before me, I decided I wasn’t going to let myself go anywhere near that Bible, as I would have become glued to it if I would have so much as glanced at it. I’m weak.

Finally, my time arrived, and I stood and recited the second to last chapter. I stood before those who were patient enough to stick it out to the very end, and with all of my synapses firing I proudly said, “John Chapter 20.” Then I sat down, very proud that I had remembered both words as well as the number.

No, I’m just kidding. I actually recited every word of the 20th chapter of John.

It was a great experience. It forced me to think deeply and frequently about chapter 20, and on Dec. 27, when the Gospel reading was John 20:1-8, I was very drawn to the Word as it was read.

The Dec. 16 recitation was an uplifting event in which Catholics gathered together as families and friends and we did so to glorify God and His word. Even though Christians can thank the Catholic Church for compiling Scripture, then eliminating errant and uninspired writings in order to establish the canon of Scripture which consists of 73 separate books, we often get criticized for a perceived ignorance of Scripture.

While this isn’t a fair criticism, it is true that Catholics can and should spend more time reading and praying with Scripture. Sure, the Church protected Scripture from vandals, heretics, natural disasters, and scrivener’s error for centuries. The Church read Scripture at Mass to a highly illiterate population for centuries, and the Church translated Scripture into the common language for those who could read. But we can’t just point to history and say that the Bible is Catholic. Scripture is for every day, not just for Sunday Mass. Daily prayer with Scripture helps keep God’s Word alive in our heart as well.

Wayne may be calling you soon. Just make sure he isn’t suggesting you recite the chapter in Greek before you say yes.

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