The Bible study group at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda has grown to 52 people, pleasantly surprising even those who began the venture. Jane Brown takes care of the administrative work and leads hospitality for the group. Experienced facilitator Harriette Hoebel has been sharing about the Book of Daniel during the latest session.
Hoebel has a name for such interest in Scripture. She calls it "Holy Spirit curiosity." Every Thursday morning, participants come to St. Amelia's carrying Bibles and notebooks. Starting with a dozen members more than 10 years ago, Hoebel said that she is amazed with the burgeoning interest.
"The Lord just puts that hunger in your heart, for understanding of the Word," she said.
More than 40 years ago, members of Precious Blood of Jesus Prayer Community at St. Amelia's incorporated a Bible study into their activities. Eventually, a full-fledged weekly study group took off.
"Everybody kept asking, they wanted more," Hoebel said. "So I asked Father Tom (Msgr. Thomas Maloney, pastor), and he said okay. So that's where we started. I did the first five books of the Bible, and we did the Psalms, and after that, we went into the New Testament."
Hoebel said she began personal study of the Bible in 1972, and has learned much on her own. She took classes whenever she could. Some classes were presented in local churches, others at conferences at the Franciscan University at Steubenville. Adult Bible study featuring author Jeff Cavins have also been very instructive for Hoebel.
"I think in the last 10 years, there have been more Bible studies," Hoebel said. "You know, you have to know your own Catholic faith, but it's okay to listen to others if you know your faith. You learn a lot."
Hoebel decided to teach the Book of Daniel this year in response to repeated group requests.
"We did Revelation two years ago," she said. "A lot of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel are very similar. Daniel is kind of a precursor to Revelation. It was written to convey the faithfulness of God, which inspires hope."
For any typical Bible study, Hoebel might prepare as much as five hours, using six different translations. She added that although she teaches from the Revised Standard, participants may use any Catholic Bible.
"The Bible needs to prove itself," she said. "You find something one place in the Bible, and you need to find it somewhere else. I like everything based on Scripture. I have many Bibles at home, six near where I study. Each one has something specific to it, like special commentaries, names and their meanings. So I use them all."
Hoebel said Bible commentaries are another good resource.
"My favorite at home has all the references written down at the bottom of the page," she said. "Easy as can be."
As part of the Bible study, Hoebel will read from the Book of Daniel. She will also provide historical and political background, and reads passages from Isaiah for Biblical context.
"There is a great thirst in the people of God for Scripture," Hoebel said. "I just feel we need to make teaching available to them. We have 14 different parishes represented here, and I'm hoping that some of these people will begin to take it back."
Hoebel said a Bible study works well as a Lenten devotion. She suggests any of the Gospels and said the best way to start is to say a prayer before beginning any Bible study.
"Anything we read, understanding that the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, will help us," Hoebel said.
She recommends people read a complete passage through, and then go back for a closer study, open to the messages of the Holy Spirit.
"You never know when something's going to jump out," Hoebel said. "I taught Hebrews here and I had read something I don't know how many times. All of a sudden I read it again, and I said, 'Where was this?' You keep growing, and learning, and it's always more meaningful. You never get tired of the Bible."
St. Amelia Bible Study is held Thursday mornings from 10 to 11:30 in the parish hall. For more information call Jane Brown at 716-837-2679.