Tag Archives: New American Bible

The Pentateuch

This week we’re beginning to read from the Book of Exodus, the second of the five books of the Pentateuch. They’re important, so let’s step back and see the big picture they reveal.

Until the 17th century, the common opinion was that the five books of the Pentateuch–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy– were written by Moses to tell the story of Israel from its origins at the creation of the world till the entrance to the promised land of Canaan. Since then, scholars say that many hands created the books of the Pentateuch– the Torah.

Rather than figuring out what hands they are, it might be better to keep the big picture before us. God creates the heavens and the earth (Genesis), he creates human beings, male and female. Then God says to Adam and Eve, “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” “Let there be more of you, and take possession of the land I’ve created for you.”

Human beings, we know, resisted God’s plan through sin, and so after Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood and the destruction of tower of Babel, God turns to Abraham and Sarah, a landless, childless couple, and God makes them the promise made to Adam and Eve­–many children and a land of their own. Through them, God will bless all the peoples of the earth. This, then, is our story too.

Land and children. A fruitful land, a multitude of children. Yet, the promises seem to elude Abraham and our ancestors as they go from place to place. When Jacob arrives in Egypt, it seems the promises might come true. Egypt seems an ideal spot for children to flourish; their numbers increase, they settle on good land and become a powerful group in Egyptian society.

But this isn’t the place, the Book of Exodus says, and so Moses leads them out through the desert where at Sinai God promises to be their God; they’ll have a law to guide them, bread to nourish them. It’s not an easy journey and they’re not an easy people, but God  guides them on their way.

Scholars today say Moses didn’t write the books of the Pentateuch. The final compilation of earlier sources was made after the Jews lost their homeland and were driven into exile in Bablyon in the seventh century BC. The compilers wanted the exiles to know their history. They were children of Abraham. The God of their ancestors was their God. They had a law to guide them, bread to nourish them, a desert to journey through. Most importantly, they would reach a fruitful land and have a multitude of children.

The commentary from the New American Bible claims the editor made a substantial change to the ancient narrative to emphasize that last point:

“The last chapter of the ancient narrative—Israel dwelling securely in its land—no longer held true. The story had to be reinterpreted, and the Priestly editor is often credited with doing so. A preface (Genesis 1) was added, emphasizing God’s intent that human beings continue in existence through their progeny and possess their own land. Good news, surely, to a devastated people wondering whether they would survive and repossess their ancestral land. The ending of the old story was changed to depict Israel at the threshold of the promised land (the plains of Moab) rather than in it. Henceforth, Israel would be a people oriented toward the land rather than possessing it. The revised ending could not be more suitable for Jews and Christians alike. Both peoples can imagine themselves on the threshold of the promised land, listening to the word of God in order to be able to enter it in the future. For Christians particularly, the Pentateuch portrays the pilgrim people waiting for the full realization of the kingdom of God.”

Thoughts to hold onto in a changing world and a changing church.

26th Sunday: Knowing Jesus

To hear the audio of today’s homily please select the audio below:

Religious education programs begin in most parishes this month. Many of the programs involve young people, of course, but we are all called to grow in faith, no matter how old we are.

Unfortunately, adults often see faith as something you learn as a child and that’s it.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed once said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience. 

As children we may see the world with two eyes; but as adults we may see the world only with the eye of experience, losing the focus that faith gives, another dimension. Faith helps us to see.

Jesus said to his disciples “you are all learners.” Not only children learn, all of us learn. We’re lifelong learners, lifelong believers, even till the end.”

I was talking to a man last week who said “You know, I go to church pretty regularly; I try to live a good life, but I would like to know Jesus.”

I told him that’s what we’re trying to do all our lives–to know Jesus.

I told him to get a good bible, like the New American Bible, and start reading it. Listen to the readings in church that tell us what Jesus said and did. This is a time he reveals himself to us, as one of the Eucharist prayers says it so well:

“You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, who love the human race and always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by his love, and when as once for the disciples, now for us, he opens the scriptures and breaks the bread.”

From what we know of Jesus, he bravely faced the issues of his time and its questions and challenges.  Knowing Jesus, then, means that we face the issues and challenges of our time as bravely as we can. 

Let me point out one of today’s challenges– our changing climate.  Last Tuesday evening at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change,  the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin brought a message from Pope Francis.

He said that after thirty years of study we have to admit there are critical days ahead. We know that “the entire international community is part of one interdependent human family…There is no room for the globalization of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis,”

Our faith “warns agains the risk of considering ourselves the masters of creation. Creation is not some possession that we can lord over for own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift, it is the marvelous gift that God has given us, so that we will take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 21 May 2014).

It’s not just a matter of some technical changes like emission reductions, the cardinal continued. We need “ to change our lifestyles and the current dominant models of consumption and production.”

Knowing Jesus means living as Jesus would if he were with us today.

We’re all learners. The consoling thing is that we can start anywhere, anytime to know Jesus. The gospel readings for this week and last week tell us that. The workers going into the vineyard and two sons in today’s reading tell us the invitation is always there, so let’s take it.

Spiritual Childhood

peaceable kingdom copy

This evening at the Catholic Chapel at Dover Air Force Base I spoke on spiritual childhood, an important part of the spirituality of Advent and Christmas. “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Isaiah saw a child at the center of the Peaceable Kingdom.

In the short catechesis as our service began, I recommended the bible as a way to know Jesus Christ as a teacher of faith and prayer. I like the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) because it’s the version we use in our liturgy and it’s got great notes. Its recent revision takes into account newly discovered biblical manuscripts, the latest archeological finds and historical and biblical scholarship.

The New Jerusalem Bible and the RSVP translations are also good.

Many still use the King James version of the bible, one of the great literary treasures of the English language, but it has drawbacks. It hasn’t benefited from the advances in biblical scholarship that have taken place since its creation in the 16th century.

According to a recent survey of Catholics in England, most English Catholics still don’t read the bible much; usually they only know it from Mass on Sundays. That’s also true here in the United States, I think.

It’s important that we take our direction from the 2nd Vatican Council which sees the bible at the heart of our spirituality and a bridge to better relationships with other Christian churches.

Pope Benedict offers a fine example of how to use the bible in his three volumes entitled Jesus of Nazareth. His last volume, on the infancy narratives, was just published before Christmas.

I spoke in my main presentation about the spirituality of childhood, reflecting on a description given by St. Leo the Great. To be a child means to be free from crippling anxieties, forgetful of injuries, sociable and wondering before all things.

How to Read the Bible

We’ve been blessed in recent times with a better understanding of the bible, thanks to scholarly studies of the last century or so.  Historians, archeologists, linguists are giving us a clearer picture of these ancient books, their meaning, when they were written, their historical context. New discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, have increased our knowledge of this book, which is really a library of Christian spirituality.

We know more about the scriptures today than we’ve known for centuries. Our new knowledge helps us to know Jesus Christ better, of course, so shouldn’t we be more acquainted with these readings? Unfortunately, Catholics are still slow to go to the bible for their spiritual nourishment, even though our liturgies have been enriched by readings from scripture since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

What bible should you read? Visit a book store like Barnes and Noble, go to the section where they’re selling bibles and you’ll find a bewildering collection of editions available today, going back to the old King James version.

The King James Bible is still the most popular bible read in the English-speaking world. For some fundamentalists it’s the only “Word of God.” But the King James version, for all its historical and literary qualities, has serious drawbacks. Since the time it was published in 1611, scores of ancient versions of the bible have been found, earlier than those on which this translation was based, and significant progress in biblical studies has also been made.

Because of this, many new translations of the bible have been published which take advantage of the new biblical resources. There are at least 30 new translations on the market today. In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, a revision of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version, was published enlisting scholars from the major Christian denominations and authorized by these denominations. A fine translation.

In March 2011, a revised edition of The New American Bible (NABRE) was published. It’s a bible sponsored by the Catholic Church and it provides the readings found in its liturgies.  The last edition published 20 years ago was revised to take account of the new resources.

I like this bible myself for a number of reasons. For one, it’s available online free, so it’s always available if you have a computer, iPad, or iPhone. I appreciate especially the notes and introductory material, which may not be found in other versions of the bible. They are concise, clear and based on the latest scholarly research.

Another bible to take a look at is The Jerusalem Bible.

Catholics and other mainstream Christians hear the scriptures regularly from the lectionary during worship. The lectionary breaks down the books of the bible into parts, but there’s one drawback to reading the bible this way, I believe. We can read these parts in isolation, without enriching our reading with a fuller, more complete view that comes from reading the entire gospel or epistle, or prophet.

This month’s Sunday gospels from the 6th chapter of John, which begins with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, is an example. On the following Sundays we read sections of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd, which is triggered by this powerful sign. Separated as they are from this key event, the readings can become disconnected from miracle and the overall themes that surround it.

There’s something to reading  from the bible itself, rather than settling for selections in the lectionary.

We Go to God Through Questions

I’ve been talking to a number of people lately who have questions about their faith. I emailed this to one of them today:

Here are some sources you might find interesting as you look again at the faith you learned long ago.

Just a few months ago a new Catholic bible was published called the New American Bible Recent Edition. NABRE. The last printing was 20 years ago, but since so much new archeological material and textual discoveries have become available since then, they thought a new edition was due. Part of what we are experiencing today is an explosion of new knowledge in these fields and in other fields of human knowledge. I’m going to pick up that new bible soon myself. It has wonderful notes and introductions to the books and it’s also the translation we read in church.

I was in a Barnes and Noble store yesterday and looked at the section of bibles, but I could hardly locate the New American Bible among the other editions. With the decline of Catholic book stores it’s hard to get the books we might be looking for. The media don’t help either with some of their sensational productions on religion.

The pope’s two new books, “Jesus of Nazareth”. are also good to read. I’ve been reading his last one about the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and I find it stimulating. He’s using much of the latest scholarly materials and offering some wonderful insights. and he’s not afraid to take on tough questions.  We are all doing the same thing: learning and learning again.

I like a recent catechism published by the American bishops: The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. You can get it at Amazon.com. It approaches the different aspects of faith simply and offers a person, whether a canonized saint or not, who exemplifies that aspect and tells their story. Faith is better seen when it’s lived by people.

Since you were impressed by your recent visit to the Holy Land you may be interested in some entries I did for our pilgrimage from St. Mary’s from October 16 to November 20, 2010. You can find them on Victor’s Place, my blog, at https://vhoagland.wordpress.com/

I think I told you what one of my theology teachers told me long ago. “We go to God through questions. You find one answer and ten more questions are there waiting to be answered.”

Questions are part of our search for God.

Mission, Plainville, Ct. April4

Jesus, our Teacher

Catechesis: Monday evening

Our church says Jesus Christ speaks to us through the scriptures, so to begin with, get a  good bible and use it.

My suggestion is the New American Bible. A good translation, good notes and it’s the version we read in church. The bible is going to be our ordinary catechism. Let’s learn from it.

We used to have a number of Catholic book stores where you could get some help in buying Catholic resources, but many are closed today. You can easily get lost in the big chains like Barnes and Noble and the online stores like Amazon.


Try to read some good commentaries on the scriptures. On line, the Passionists have daily reflections on the scriptural readings at www.thepassionists.org

I already mentioned the US Bishops site http://www.usccb.org/nab/

There’s a growing list of good commentaries available online and in print.

Try to learn as much as you can about biblical times and culture. But I have to say a few words of caution about some of the biblical programs you see on television from The History Channel and National Geographic. Sometimes these programs use sensationalism to attract viewers and are not always accurate.

Meditate on the gospels. Don’t be afraid to reflect on a story and become part of it. Some of the most beautiful insights into the gospels have come from ordinary people praying from the scriptures. I think of Brigid of Sweden, whose reflections on the Passion of Jesus gave us the Pieta, the image of the dead body of Jesus cradled in his mother’s arms beneath the cross. The gospels say nothing of that, but Brigid said it had to be.

You can meditate on the scriptures using a traditional prayer like the rosary. Recently, Pope John Paul suggested we meditate on other mysteries of Jesus’ life besides the 15 traditional mysteries. Spiritual writers in the past often suggested we join Mary, who “treasured all these things and kept them in her heart,” when we reflect on Jesus and his times.

Pope Benedict’s new book. Jesus of Nazareth, is an example of someone reflecting on Jesus in the light of the scriptures.  Some may find it difficult to read– the pope is a theologian, after all,  and he thinks like a theologian– but he’s giving the church an example of someone reflecting and praying about the mystery of Jesus Christ.