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Q. Can you please recommend a Catholic Bible that has explanatory notes or commentaries?
A. (1) Little Rock Catholic Study Bible (Translation: New American Bible, Revised Edition), Publisher: Liturgical Press
An excellent resource. This Bible provides very helpful introductions to each book of the Bible, great footnotes as well as a variety of other tools such as maps, timelines, interesting and accessible articles and bite-sized pieces of information to nourish you both intellectually and spiritually. The Little Rock Catholic Study Bible places thorough, yet accessible, scholarship and rich spiritual insights at your fingertips.
(2) Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (Translation: Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition), Publisher: Ignatius Press. Currently only New Testament available (Old Testament version to be published soon).
Another excellent resource. Introductions to each New Testament book, extensive study notes, topical essays and word studies. Commentaries include the best insights of ancient, medieval and modern scholarship. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible also includes handy reference materials such as a doctrinal index, a concise concordance, a helpful cross-reference system, and various maps and charts.
(3) The New Community Bible – Catholic Edition, Publisher: St Paul’s Publications
This is the Bible for you if the budget is tight, but you’d love a Bible with great footnotes and concise and insightful introductions to each book of the Bible. It also offers informative introductions to each section of the Bible (prophets, Gospels etc.) and a glossary.
Q. “Can you please explain the meaning of the word ‘consubstantial’ in the Creed? There has been a family discussion and no-one seems to be able to find the meaning in the Bible or in any of our dictionaries.”
A. “Consubstantial” is a non-biblical word (it is a word derived from ancient Greek philosophy) used to express a conviction that resounds throughout the New Testament – the conviction that Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us. To proclaim that the “Lord Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father” is to proclaim that Jesus is truly, fully and eternally God, as the Father is God; the Father and the Son share the same substance, or essence.
In a way, we can thank a fourth century Egyptian priest called Arius for this word. Arius was a popular priest who enjoyed composing theological sea-shanties in his spare time. Unfortunately, however, his theology was not true to the lived Christian faith. Arius taught that the Son was a creature, not God. Arius’ catch-cry was, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Perhaps he used that line in some of his sea-shanties.
We can see then that, according to Arius, Jesus was not Emmanuel, God-with-us. For Arius, God did not get involved in our messy, sinful world in the person of Jesus. Rather, God remained forever in an utterly transcendent realm, remote and untouchable.
The Council of Nicaea was convened in the 325 to deal with Arius’ theology – as well as other Church matters. The Council dealt a swift blow to Arius’ teaching. It came up with a Creed, or a profession of faith, which – in direct opposition to the teaching of Arius – spoke of Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”
This very Creed (well, to be accurate, it was modified slightly by another Council in 381) is the Nicene Creed we proclaim at Mass each Sunday.
Q. I have some difficulty in understanding a loving God asking for the sacrifice of his son. I find it hard to imagine God allowing the horror of the crucifixion to anyone least of all his son. Can you enlighten me?
A. This reflection by Fr Robert Barron helps us to see the mystery of the cross in its true light – the light of unfathomable love.
There is a regrettable interpretation of the cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath.
But what ultimately refutes this twisted theology is the well-known passage from John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life” (John 3:16). John reveals that it is not out of anger or vengeance or in a desire for retribution that the Father sends the Son, but precisely out of love. God the Father is not some pathetic divinity whose bruised personal honour needs to be restored; rather God is a parent who burns with compassion for his children who have wandered into danger.
Does the Father hate sinners? No, but he hates sin. Does God harbor indignation at the unjust? No, but God despises injustice. Thus God sends his Son, not gleefully to see him suffer, but compassionately to set things right.
St Anselm, the great medieval theologian, who is often unfairly blamed for the cruel theology of satisfaction, was eminently clear on this score. We sinners are like diamonds that have fallen into the muck. Made in the image of God, we have soiled ourselves through violence and hatred. God, claimed Anselm, could have simply pronounced a word of forgiveness from heaven, but this would not have solved the problem. It would not have restored the diamonds to their original brilliance. Instead, in his passion to re-establish the beauty of creation, God came down into the muck of sin and death, brought the diamonds up, and then polished them off.
In so doing of course, God had to get dirty. This sinking into the dirt – this divine solidarity with the lost – is the “sacrifice” which the Son makes to the infinite pleasure of the Father. It is the sacrifice expressive, not of anger or vengeance, but of compassion.
Jesus said that any disciple of his must be willing to take up his cross and follow the master. If God is self-forgetting love even to the point of death, then we must be such love. If God is willing to break open his own heart, then we must be willing to break open our hearts for others. The cross, in short, must become the very structure of the Christian life.
Q. Why are the details about the Resurrection different in the different Gospels?
A. Our answer to this very important question is by the renowned Scripture scholar Fr Raymond E. Brown. He makes the point that the four Gospel narratives give us four precious and complementary insights into the reality of the Resurrection. Before we get to Fr Raymond, though, there are two preliminary things to be said.
The first is that the differences in the accounts of the Resurrection should not trouble us, but rather strengthen our faith. The Resurrection narratives emerged from communities of living faith and are expressions of what the death and Resurrection of Jesus meant to these communities – and what the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus can mean for us today. This is so much more credible and soul-nourishing than having just one highly-crafted and tightly-controlled account of the Resurrection!
Secondly, it must be acknowledged that the following elements form the core of each Gospel story (this is from Fr Francis J. Moloney, The Resurrection of the Messiah, 140):
- On the third day, women (in John, only one woman: Mary Magdalene) discovered an empty tomb
- A young man (Mark), an angel (Matthew [John: two angels]), or two men (Luke) at the tomb proclaimed to the women that Jesus had been raised by God.
- The risen Jesus appeared to a number of people.
- The risen Jesus commissions the disciples for their future task, in different ways promising that he or his Spirit will be with them always.
Over now to Fr Raymond Brown:
The Resurrection of Christ is at the center of our faith. The Church devotes eight days of worship to retelling the Resurrection narratives. From Easter to the following (Low) Sunday the readings at Masses present one by one the many New Testament accounts of the appearances of the risen Lord.
Our four Gospels, written 30 to 70 years after the Resurrection, tell us what happened in different ways. Each Gospel narrative should be allowed to contribute its own wealth to what we know and believe about the risen Christ.
Throughout the Gospel Mark emphasizes how difficult it was for those who followed Jesus to believe in him fully because they did not understand that suffering and rejection were an essential part of the identity of God’s Son. But pain leads to light.
The added ending (Mark 16:9-20) recognizes how an encounter with the risen Jesus brought about faith. We also hear how those whom Jesus upbraids for lack of faith and hardness of heart are entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.
These are messages pertinent to our own lives. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus’ first disciples were struggling human beings like ourselves.
As always, Matthew, although he draws on Mark, is the more skilled teacher, kinder to readers who do not always see implications.
One of the tragic elements in Matthew’s Christian experience is a hostile relationship between synagogue authorities and Christian believers. Matthew reminds us that the Christian proclamation of the gospel will not be without struggle.
Matthew describes what Mark only promised: the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. From a mountain in Galilee the risen Jesus sends his disciples forth to teach “all nations,” making them disciples by baptizing them.
Matthew is careful to show that God’s plan for Jesus was consistent from beginning to end. The revelation given about Jesus before he was born (1:23) proclaimed that he would be Emmanuel (“God with us”); Jesus’ last words are “I am with you all days to the end of time” (28:20).
Like Matthew, Luke follows Mark in the basic story of the empty tomb, but then goes his own way in the appearances he reports.
Luke sees the Resurrection as fulfilling the Scriptures. The risen Jesus teaches the Eleven about his death and resurrection by explaining the Scriptures, “All the things written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms must be fulfilled” (24:44).
Luke spotlights Jerusalem as the setting for Jesus’ appearances and ascension. For him the Gospel began with the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Jerusalem temple; it ends with Jesus’ disciples in the temple blessing God. Jesus’ return to God begins the life of the Church that starts in Jerusalem (Judaism) and extends to Rome (the Gentile world).
John’s Gospel narrates a series of encounters as character after character comes to meet Jesus and reacts to him. Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and Thomas encounter the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection.
The last word of Jesus is about the Beloved Disciple. He is given no role of authority, but he retains a primacy in being loved, which is more important in this Gospel. To this disciple is held open the possibility of being there when Jesus returns. Symbolically that would be the final fruit of the Resurrection: a believing community of Christian disciples that would remain until the last days.
What can we learn from the fact that the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection differ from one another? Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever; but the world addressed by God’s revelation in Christ is varied indeed. By the way the Church preserves the varied Gospel messages, it lets Jesus speak to the differing needs of the audiences of our times.
Source: Raymond Brown, Reading the Gospels With the Church: From Christmas Through Easter