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For The Bible Tells Me So: Remembering Rev. Lawrence Boadt

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By Phyllis Zagano
Religion News Service

(RNS) Mid-summer Manhattan is a sticky sultry town--lazy in a way unlike, say, October, when cool breezes chase visiting diplomats up and down the avenues. New York in July is, well, beastly, and no one wants to be there.

But we were all there on a recent morning, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, to celebrate the life of the Rev. Larry Boadt, president and publisher of Paulist Press, a teacher and scholar, publisher and priest.

On that hot July morning, about 400 people--including a large chunk of the people who comprise American religious publishing--gathered in the huge stone church in the shadow of Lincoln Center that's run by Boadt's order, the Paulists.

The Paulist Fathers were founded by Isaac Thomas Hecker in 1858. Hecker championed an "American" spirit in preaching and teaching, and the order is best known for its work in communications. New York's archbishop handed over St. Paul the Apostle to Hecker and his cohort.

The Paulists started with four men, and there have never been very many of them. As their band of traveling preachers grew, they carried with them a dedication to spreading the word of God. Hecker--now officially a "servant of God" and on the road to sainthood--was an indefatigable traveler and speaker until leukemia slowed him down.

Boadt's life was much the same. He was a champion of interreligious dialogue, and only stopped after a 15-month battle with an intractable cancer slowed and then stopped his teaching and writing, his publishing and preaching.

Like Hecker, Boadt was in his late 60s when he died. Like Hecker, illness slowed down his travels toward the end. Like Hecker, he thought everybody had the right to know about Christianity.

Boadt thought the best way to understand Christianity was to understand Judaism, beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures right through to contemporary Jewish prayer and practice. He was an acknowledged expert in what Christians call the Old Testament--the law, the prophets, and the writings--and he wrote an introductory text book 25 years ago that's sold nearly 300,000 copies to date.

Boadt knew what he was doing. He said he wrote for 'Christians, who are often woefully ignorant of the Jewish roots of their own Christian faith," and who would profit by exploring Judaism. His goal was not dry academic interreligious dialogue; he recommended Christians get themselves invited to Jewish worship to really understand the faith.

He wrote books and taught scripture for 21 years at Washington Theological Union, all the while serving as scripture editor for Paulist Press, which The New York Times calls "one of the country's most distinguished religious publishing houses, producing books by writers of all faiths." For the past 12 years, he was its president and publisher.

That was the point of Larry Boadt's life. Scripture was not for the intelligentsia; it was for everyone.

As he began his career, the Second Vatican Council recommended the ancient Christian practice of "lectio divina"--sacred reading. His final project, "The Catholic Prayer Bible," teaches the process step by step: read, think, pray, act. It's a lesson that can be applied to the sacred writings of any religion.

And it's not a bad idea. Too much divides us in this sullied world. Would that we, all of us, search out each others' scriptures and traditions, and better understand each other--and perhaps ourselves.

(Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and author of several books in Catholic Studies.)

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