The Bible Forbidden? Or Just Forsaken?

Last week I visited one of my favourite people. Kay McLeer has been a committed member of the Solid Rock Church in Drogheda for many years. An intercessor, she has been on missions trips with us to Eastern Europe. But these days Kay can rarely attend church as she waits for a hip replacement operation.

We talked about Kay’s husband. Jim was never a member of our church – he lived and died, like most Irish people, in the Roman Catholic faith. He didn’t have much time for preachers either. Any time I visited he would politely greet me, then quickly disappear to the field behind the house saying, “I just need to go and check on the horses”.

But some years back, Kay noticed that Jim hadn’t been to Confession for several years. At that time the Catholic Church taught that it was a mortal sin to miss Confession for more than a year. So Kay asked Jim about it. He replied, “I don’t need to go to Confession. I pray and confess my sins to Jesus when I’m out with the horses and I talk to God. I don’t need any other middle-man.”

Kay stared at him. “So where did you learn that?” Jim went on to explain that when he was a boy in the 1930s, growing up in the same house where Kay now lives, his Auntie Maggie had read the Bible out loud to him. The truth that “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) had stayed in his heart for over 70 years.

In those days many Catholics in Ireland were forbidden to read the Bible for themselves. They were only allowed to read Scripture in the presence of a priest who could explain it to them (and, of course, to prevent them picking up any ideas that might challenge Church doctrine). Auntie Maggie knew that if any of her neighbours saw her reading the Bible, then they might report her to the priest – so any time anyone knocked at the door, she would quickly hide the Bible in a little cupboard (a ‘cubby hole’) in the kitchen.

Even though Jim and Kay remodeled and modernised the house over the years, the cubby hole is still there. She pointed out to me where Auntie Maggie used to hide the Bible.
kay mcleer
Such attitudes to the Bible lingered on for a long time in some parts of Irish society. In 1988, while recovering from an operation in a public hospital, Kay was accosted by a nun who angrily rebuked her, in the presence of other patients in the ward, for having a Bible beside her bed. “You should know better,” She was told, “Than to think you can understand that book without having a priest to explain it to you.”

Thankfully those days are gone now. Irish Christians can read the Bible whenever and wherever they like without fearing the wrath of the established church. Yet how many of us follow the example of Auntie Maggie and read the Scriptures out loud in our homes? Sadly, many Irish Christians would have no need of a cubby hole, since they don’t open the Bible from one Sunday to the next! They aren’t forbidden to read the Word, but they have forsaken it anyway.

I am a great believer in the power of systematically reading the Scriptures out loud. In our church in Drogheda we follow a practice of reading the Word of God out loud, from Genesis to Revelation, several times a year. My wife and I follow the same practice in our home each morning after breakfast. On many occasions God speaks to us through the least-expected passages of Scripture – passages that we might never have read if we had simply turned to those parts of the Bible with which we are most familiar.

Jim McLeer died three years ago. As I’ve said, he never became a part of our congregation. But Kay and I have no doubt of Jim’s salvation and eternal destiny. One day, in that same kitchen where Auntie Maggie had read the Bible to him all those years previously, Jim turned to Kay and said, “You know that prayer that your church prays when they want to receive Jesus? I think I’m ready to pray that prayer.”
Kay still misses Jim terribly. Not a day goes by without her grieving the loss of her husband. But she knows that one day, in the not too distant future, she and Jim will be reunited in the presence of Christ. All because Auntie Maggie, in a society that offered her no encouragement whatsoever, discovered the redemptive power of reading the Bible out loud.