His Kingdom Will Have No End

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 29A

They say there are just two things guaranteed in this life: death and taxes. Most people are not too thrilled about either one. While we live this short life, we are called to “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” to serve well as citizens of a kingdom that is passing away. Even this well-known phrase from the Gospel illustrates how temporary kingdoms of this world tend to be. “Render unto Caesar.” Well, there aren’t any Caesars around anymore, or at least the names have changed because their kingdoms do not stand the test of time. It may not even be too much longer before Congress or the presidency is rendered inconsequential by a panel of unelected judges in our own country. In fact, this has already happened many times before. And the laws of the land really have no effect on roving mobs of looters and arsonists when there’s no one willing to enforce those laws. The kingdoms of this world are not built to last, and the United States is no exception.

Even so, it’s important that we do uphold the law, pay our taxes, and respect lawful authority, authority that God Himself has entrusted to those who rule. This authority can be and often is abused by those who hold it in these earthly kingdoms, but God intends it for our good and the good ordering of society, for the blessings of peace and tranquility. In our first reading, the title “Messiah” or “Anointed One” is given to someone who’s not even Jewish. The secular emperor Cyrus is called “Messiah.” Even though Cyrus is a Gentile, he becomes an instrument of God as he gives the order that the Jews be allowed to return to the Promised Land and brings an end to their lengthy Babylonian Exile. All authority ultimately comes from God, and when it is exercised wisely, even secular rulers cooperate with God’s plan for His creation. Still, the political approach that many of us often have—especially during an election year—might be summarized more accurately in a line from the Fiddler on the Roof. Someone asks the Rabbi if there is a proper blessing for the emperor, for the Tsar of Russia. The Rabbi replies, “Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!”

If we owe respect and obedience and the aid of our prayers to those who rule in earthly kingdoms that are passing away during our short stay in this life, we owe much more to the One whose kingdom will have no end, to God Himself, who exercises authority only and always for our genuine good. To Jesus Christ, who “died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Give “to God what belongs to God.” Give to Him that which bears His image and His inscription. Each of us was made in God’s image and likeness, and so we must give our entire selves, our life, our death, everything we are back to God. And God’s inscription is on our hearts and our minds, where God has inscribed His own Law through the Holy Spirit given to us, deserving our full obedience, a Law that is higher and far more perfect than any law of the land (cf. Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 1:22).

Each one of us is given only a short time in this life, the blink of an eye against the backdrop of eternity. Death—like taxes—is a guarantee. The mortality rate of human beings is still 100%. Make friends for yourselves with false and fleeting wealth, so that when this life is over, the Saints may welcome you into eternal dwellings (cf. Luke 16:9). In this Eucharist, God gives us everything in giving us Jesus Himself, but how often do we fail to respond to God’s great generosity? Or we respond half-heartedly, giving God only what’s left over. How often are we so set on spending our short life on our own small plans and trivial goals that we never open ourselves up to God’s designs for us?

The one purpose of our life on this earth is to become part of God’s heavenly and everlasting kingdom, safe from the rise and fall of so many earthly kingdoms. We only get one life, and no one knows how long it will be. God alone can satisfy our infinite desires. God alone is worthy of our unconditional allegiance. Why not let God be in charge of your life? His reign will never come to an end, and those who have served Him faithfully in this life will also reign with Him forever in the life to come.

Valued at 1000 Words

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 29A

One of the most striking features of Rome besides the thousands of years of history is the beauty of its art and architecture. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad, and even after just a few months, one of my classmates commented on that as being one of the things he would miss most. Walking down pretty much any street, even the regular buildings were beautiful, often with stylized framing of each window. Many churches still have the original works of some of the best artists of all time.

We are blessed to have very beautiful churches here in these parishes that hopefully help us to raise our minds and hearts to God. I often think visual aids to prayer are often overlooked. Eastern churches tend to have a much stronger tradition of using icons when they pray and worship. Definitely closing our eyes and making use of our imagination can be a valuable way to pray as well, but if our imagination is undisciplined, it can also lead us straight into distraction.

I know as a more visual person myself, I’ve often found it helpful to have an image—a statue, or painting—that I can return to if I find my attention starting to wander. Even if it’s just a crucifix or an image on a holy card that I use as a bookmark or in a small pamphlet on the Rosary, having an image with me is a great help against distractions. They might be a little big for this purpose, but I often think those collections of religious art that serve as coffee table books would be excellent aids to our prayer.

St. John of Damascus and many others were fierce defenders of sacred art, that as the invisible God became visible and revealed His Sacred Face to us in the features of Christ’s human nature, so Christians have not only the right, but the sacred duty to reveal His Face not only in words but also in the visual arts. We are not angels. We are body and soul, and all our physical senses can be either a help or a hindrance to prayer and meditation. Why not use them to our advantage to help us lift our minds and hearts to God and to contemplate the mysteries of our redemption in Christ? If you’ve never or only rarely attempted using images as aids to prayer and as safeguards against distraction, I cannot more highly recommend the practice.

Wedding Garment from God

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 28A

If you’ve been to a Baptism recently or even if it’s been a while, you may remember that just after the person is baptized and anointed with Sacred Chrism, there’s a comment about the white garment that the newly baptized wears. The priest says, “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment an outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Of course, this white baptismal garment is reminiscent of the “wedding garment” mentioned in today’s Gospel. 

The reaction of the king to the guest who is found lacking a wedding garment can seem rather harsh and startling to us. “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” What’s the big deal? Should he really have been cast out just because of what he was wearing or not wearing? Especially since we were just told that those who were originally invited rejected the invitation, and many others were invited unexpectedly at the last minute, probably with very little time to prepare themselves properly.  

Well, one thing about weddings at the time is that as you entered the feast—as you entered the king’s house, the palace—the servants would be handing out wedding garments to any guest who needed one. If you didn’t have a wedding garment of your own but still came to the feast, you’d be given a wedding garment from the one hosting the wedding. That’s why, in the parable, when the king asks the guest why he’s not wearing one, the guest makes no reply. He had no excuse, and so “he was reduced to silence.” 

God Himself gives us everything we need to be found worthy of His Son’s wedding feast, but we often neglect the graces and mercies of God. We say, “No thanks, I’m good. I’m comfortable in my sin.” The wedding garment, just like the baptismal garment, is really a symbol for the gift of God’s sanctifying grace. The one thing that’s going to matter at the end of our lives, and what’s going to determine where we spend eternity is whether we persevere in the state of grace or in a state of mortal sin. Each of us was given a wedding garment as we entered the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism. How well have we kept our Christian dignity unstained through the years? Even when we do fall into mortal sin, God freely gives us the opportunity of being washed clean once again through the Sacrament of Confession. How often do we take avail ourselves of such a great opportunity to receive the mercy of God? God also gives us every grace we need to overcome temptation and persevere in His grace, to be faithful in attending this Wedding Feast of the Eucharist every Sunday and day of obligation. To avoid drunkenness and sexual immorality. To avoid every mortal sin. But we often say to God, “No thanks, I’m good. I’m comfortable in my sins.” 

But at the end of our lives, there’s just going to be basically one question: What will it profit a man to gain the whole world but to forfeit his soul? Maybe just to gain a couple more hours of work or relaxation on Sunday but to forfeit his soul? To gain the very temporary pleasures of this passing world in exchange for unrelenting torments in eternity? And just like the guest in today’s Gospel, we’ll have no excuse and be reduced to silence. 

If you’re in the state of grace right now, do whatever you need, to remain in the state of grace. If you’re not, get to Confession, and make whatever change in life you need, to get right with God. There’s really nothing else that’s going to matter as much in 100 years, when all of us are gone from this world. If we’re not ready to enter God’s wedding feast today, what makes us think we will be by the end of our lives, especially considering that none of us knows the day or the hour when the Lord will call us? Prepare yourself for eternity today, and every day, and you will have no regrets. 

Spiritual Multi-tasking

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 28A

Some of us are definitely more skilled at multi-tasking than others. You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “He can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time.” I’ve also heard that women are generally better multi-taskers than men. Perhaps that’s why the Blessed Virgin Mary was able to “store up all these things in her heart,” reflecting on all that God had done even while going about the rest of her day. She is, of course, a model of prayer for all of us and especially as we pray her Rosary.

October is the month of the Rosary. While almost all of us learn the mechanics of the Rosary and the different vocal prayers involved, there are far fewer that really engage in meditation or mental prayer focused on each of the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary as we pray each decade, each set of 10 Hail Mary’s. The very repetition of the prayers is to help foster meditation. The names of the mysteries are not announced at the beginning of each decade just to be forgotten as we start into the vocal prayers, but the real soul of the Rosary is to enter into those mysteries as we pray.

I can already hear the replies, “But Father, I get so distracted as I pray. Most of the time, all I can manage is to say the words.” I am well aware of the problem of distractions, as is pretty much everyone who has ever attempted prayer and meditation. The most important thing is to persevere through the distractions, not to get upset at ourselves which only tends to give the distractions more energy, but simply and gently to turn our attention back to God whenever we notice our minds and hearts straying from His presence.

If one decade of ten Hail Mary’s involves 50 attempts at turning our minds back to the mystery at hand from every other distraction, that’s 50 times we’ve made a conscious effect to express our love for God and His mighty works in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Don’t get discouraged but remember how pleasing every small effort is to our loving Father, who knows that all of us are His restless, rambunctious, but very, very dear children, incapable of anything without His help which He delights to give.

Good News for Good Fruit

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 27A

There’s an old familiar saying that “You are what you eat.” The basic idea is that if you eat healthy foods, you’ll be healthy and feel healthy, but if you eat a lot of candy and junk food, you’ll end up feeling like junk. And today, there’s no end to the variety of diets that people observe, sometimes very meticulously, and for some especially with food allergies, there’s very good reason for that. But even people who are disciplined in observing very strict diets when it comes to the food that they consume are not nearly as picky when it comes to other things that we consume, not with our mouths and stomach, but with our eyes and ears, into our thoughts and minds.

St. Paul urges us in our second reading, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Now, how many of us when we go to see a movie or when we turn on the TV or computer to watch a show, or to get on Facebook or Twitter, or to watch the news—in this election year—how many of us come away from the experience saying, “Oh, how lovely, how gracious, honorable, just, pure, excellent, and worthy of praise is that which I just saw and consumed”? Or are we far more often moved to anger, frustration, anxiety, envy, lust, and every other disordered passion by so much of what we consume in the media? In fact, that’s usually the exact intention of those who produce it, to focus on what’s sensationalized, scandalous, jarring, and weird. What often makes for riveting entertainment and news casting today is hardly ever what’s going to make us into better people, better equipped to deal with the stresses of our everyday lives, and the problems that are close at hand that are actually within our area of influence and personal responsibility.

St. Paul understood what every good Christian and what every good psychologist understands: that what we consume through our eyes and ears makes its way into our thoughts, and our thoughts affect the words that we speak or the words we don’t speak, and our thoughts and words affect the actions that we take and the actions that we put off. Usually far more important than the food that we eat, when it comes to the state of our soul and spiritual life how discerning and disciplined are we in the kind and quality of the media that we consume? You are what you eat. You become what you consume. If we’re constantly filling our minds and thoughts with bad news, with gossip, falsehoods, and exaggerations, what affect does that have? And in comparison, how often do we ever consume the Word of God by reading and reflecting upon Sacred Scripture? By consuming the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And how does our time spent on Good News compare to the amount of time we spend consuming bad news?

Now I’m not suggesting going off the grid or burying our heads in the sand, but just as we can commit the sin of gluttony when it comes to food and drink, there are definitely major excesses and lack of temperance when it comes to our being informed citizens. If we want to bear good fruit in God’s vineyard, we need to have good nourishment for our spiritual lives and proper balance. Now if you’re already reading the Good News, the Gospels and the Scriptures for just as much time or more than what you spend on other entertainment and media, you might be in a better place, but I know that’s certainly an area where I can still grow and be more disciplined in my spiritual diet, and I’m betting I’m not the only one.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” During this month of the Rosary, we have another opportunity to recommit ourselves to meditating often—hopefully daily—meditating upon the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and His Mother Mary. There is nothing more excellent or worthy of praise, no better news than all that God did in Christ His Son and in the Blessed and Glorious Virgin Mary. There’s no better nourishment for our spiritual lives than to allow what we see and hear in Jesus and Mary to guide and direct all our thoughts, all our words, all our actions, that we may bear good fruit for God at the proper times, fruit that will last.

In Days Gone By

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 27A

There are only a few times each year that most of the priests and deacons of the diocese get together in one place. Because of the pandemic this year, relatively few were able to attend the ordinations last spring. The August Workshop and Picnic didn’t happen, and Zoom calls just aren’t the same. I’m also disappointed that the priest suppers in Aberdeen still haven’t resumed. But the biggest gathering will happen this week at our annual Clergy Days.

One of the most memorable parts each year is the reading of the necrology, which lists the names of all the members of the clergy who have died after serving in the Diocese of Sioux Falls since the time of its being established in 1889. After more than 130 years, there are obviously a lot of names on the list, and I only begin to recognize more of them as we reach the last few decades. It’s a good reminder to be grateful and to continue to pray for those who went before us and handed on the faith to previous generations. We can also marvel to consider how many winters people survived out here on the prairie before electricity, and how they continued to proclaim the Gospel through the Great Depression, two World Wars, and many other difficulties and cultural revolutions.

We might often think we’re living through the most critical point in the history of our country or of the world, but this is mostly because we don’t have a very broad view of history. It’s important to keep perspective and not overestimate the challenges we’re facing. On the other hand, we are always at the most critical point in history at least in one important sense, as the present moment is the only one that we can still affect and influence, while everything else is beyond anyone’s reach.

God continues to call us as He called those of all previous generations to become Saints, to make the most of the time and opportunity He has entrusted to each of us in the concrete circumstances of our lives. Sometimes that involves voting and political activism. Most of the time it involves things like brushing our teeth, replying to emails, staying awake in class, staying on task at work, taking time to speak with God every day. Making the world a better place only ever starts with striving for excellence in all our daily tasks, especially the most mundane.

Shameless for the Gospel

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 26A

This past Monday was the Feast of St. Matthew, who is the most famous tax collector or IRS agent of all time. And it’s worth asking the question, What did Jesus see in Matthew, sitting at his customs post, that prompted Jesus to say to him, “Follow Me”? To call Matthew not only to become an Apostle who would carry the Gospel to ends of the earth in his own lifetime, but also to be an Evangelist, one of only four to leave an inspired written account of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gospel according to St. Matthew is probably the single most widely-read book of all time. And it wasn’t just Matthew. In the Gospel passage we just heard, there were many other tax collectors, and prostitutes, who Jesus tells us were some of the most receptive and responsive to the message of repentance proclaimed by Jesus and by John the Baptist. They were among the first ones “entering the kingdom of God.”

So what was special about tax collectors and prostitutes at the time of Jesus? What did they have in common? Well, unlike “the chief priests and the elders of the people, tax collectors and prostitutes were both groups of public sinners. Everyone knew and could recognize them as sinners. Tax collectors were notorious as collaborators with the Roman oppressors of the Jews. They were seen as traitors to their own people and nation, and they were known to collect more than was necessary, to increase their own wages. And they collected taxes in person. At that time, it wasn’t just an impersonal process of having a portion of your income withheld each month to be sent by your employer to some government office far away, but your local tax collector had a face, and Matthew’s would have been a recognizable one. Prostitutes were also well-known in those communities and had a recognizable way of dressing.

Tax collectors and prostitutes weren’t able to hide behind any façade or bother pretending to be great and admirable people in their own communities. There was an authenticity and sincerity about them. They knew that they were weak, they knew themselves to be sinners—and were constantly reminded of that by the people around them, even on a daily basis—and they knew that they could not save themselves. So when they encountered the mercy of God, it was able to actually reach to their hearts and transform them, instead of meeting resistance from so many false fronts and the masks of self-sufficiency that so many of us tend to hide behind.

This sort of rough and unrefined sincerity, humility, authenticity that so many tax collectors and prostitutes had, that allowed them to be so receptive and responsive to the Gospel, we might also refer to as a sort of shamelessness. Now shamelessness is not always a good thing. It can often be very bad. There are healthy forms of shame that hopefully keep us from engaging in sinful activities. But the tax collectors and prostitutes of that time must have had a certain amount of shamelessness, of not caring what other people thought or said about them. St. Matthew was used to being hated by the people around him, so then when He encounters this strange preacher from Nazareth and begins following Him, and hears Jesus say things like, “Blessed are you when they insult you, and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you.” “You will be hated by all because of my Name.” St. Matthew must have been thinking to himself, I’m way ahead of you.

There is a certain shamelessness for the Gospel that every Christian needs to have, especially today. To care far more for what God thinks of us rather than what the people around us might say. Because along with healthy forms of shame that hopefully keep us out of too much trouble, we know all too well of so many unhealthy forms of shame, peer pressure, and societal standards that can steer us very wrong. Without a shamelessness and a real fortitude for the Gospel today, it’s only going to be a matter of time before we cave to the mob, whether that’s the mob that’s burning down our cities and using threats to circumvent our own justice system, or the social media mob that threatens to “cancel” and “de-platform” anyone who doesn’t have all the most acceptable opinions about everything.

If we’ve never had much practice at holding a different opinion from the prevailing culture around us, and actually being willing to make that known, to not just be silent about what’s happening in the world; if we don’t develop a shamelessness for the Gospel, and a spine, and develop these soon, we won’t be willing to stand with God against whatever mob that threatens, when things actually get difficult. St. Matthew—once a tax collector shameless in his pursuit of wealth—would eventually lay down his own life in witness to Jesus and His Gospel. Don’t be so naïve as to think that the same thing might not be demanded of some of us one day. Prepare yourself now for the trials that lie ahead. Learn to stand with God here on earth, so that when you meet Him in death, you will not blush with shame.

Unseen Guides and Guardians

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 26A

With Michael as my middle name, I’ve always had some devotion to the Angels, whether the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, or our Guardian Angels. Both of these Feastdays fall during this week: September 29 and October 2. Besides the Angels and Archangels, the nine choirs of Angels also include Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim.

From different artistic depictions of Angels, including chubby baby faces of Cherubs, we might get the impression that these are just sweet and gentle spirits, but this is a very far cry from the witness of Sacred Scripture. Throughout the Bible, human beings who realize that they have actually come into contact with Angels are terrified by the experience, hence the Angels’ almost constant refrain of, “Do not be afraid.” They’ve also been known to wrestle with Jacob, wage war, and release plagues upon the earth.

But these terrifying creatures also tremble in the presence of Almighty God. The Angels are mentioned in almost every Preface of the Mass, as it is the hymn of the Seraphim that we repeat as we cry, “Holy, holy, holy…” (Isaiah 6:3). Several Prefaces confess to God that “the Angels praise your majesty, Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.” I wonder at what the Angels must ‘see’ at Mass. Without physical senses, they are perhaps more tuned in to what is really happening. The Angels see bread and wine offered upon the altar, but as the priest pronounces the very words that Jesus used at the Last Supper, “This is my Body,” and, “This is the chalice of my Blood,” the bread and wine vanish from their sight. Taking their place, the King of all the Universe, Jesus Christ, is then the only One seen upon the altar by the Angels, and seeing, they tremble in His Presence. God grant us that same spiritual vision, to know by faith what Angels and Saints know by sight—to know, and to tremble.

Pope Francis, as a good Jesuit, has also highlighted the activity of the enemy of our human nature and the other fallen angels and evil spirits that strive to lead us away from the Path of Christ, even as the Angels do all that they can to guide us into the Truth. A spiritual battle rages for each of our souls. Which side will we choose?

The Final Hour

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 25A

The most common immediate reaction to the parable in today’s Gospel is, “That’s not fair,” similar to the reaction of those in the parable who were hired first. It’s not fair that the owner of the vineyard payed the same wage to those hired in the final hour as those who had worked all day. It especially doesn’t seem fair to us if we think of ourselves as being among those who have worked for God all day, those who have tried to be faithful throughout our lives, showing up to Mass every Sunday and holyday, and striving to follow God’s Law even from our youth. Then of course, the ones who work for only the final hour refer to those who do whatever they want in a life of sin until finally converting on their deathbed.

Maybe that’s what this parable is referring to, even though it’s rather doubtful that deathbed conversions are at all very common. We should never presume that we’ll have time or opportunity in our last moments to turn back to God after a life of sin. None of us knows the day or the hour when the Lord might call us from this life. Sudden and unprovided deaths are all too common. For a long time now, I’ve had a very different perspective on this parable. Viewing it in the context of all of salvation history, including the Old Testament, I can only ever see myself as one of the workers hired in the final hour. Just think of so many Saints and Prophets of the Old Testament, those who bore the heat of the day and the brunt of the work, who hoped in God with perseverance without ever seeing that hope fulfilled in their own lifetimes.

Think of Abraham, who at the age of 75 packed up everything he had, to come out of retirement, to walk those 500 miles and journey to a strange land that God called him to. And for what? To continue wandering, even to the day of his death, as a stranger and alien in the Promised Land, acquiring only a small parcel as a burial ground for his family. But “you are no longer strangers and wanderers. You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” with heaven itself as your inheritance (Ephesians 2:19).

Think of Moses who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, who put up with God’s people for their forty years of wandering in the desert, for their almost constant complaining, and their desire to return to Egypt, to submit once more to the slavery from which God had freed them at so high a cost. What reward did Moses receive for his labors and for his patience? He was allowed to catch a glimpse of the Promised Land from across the Jordan, but he would die before ever entering in. He was among those who ate the manna in the wilderness, that bread from heaven, but still died. But you have been ransomed, not from slavery to Pharaoh, but from slavery to sin and Satan and from death itself, not with the blood of lambs or goats, but by the Precious Blood of the sinless Son of God. And you are given to eat of the true Bread from heaven, the very Flesh of God, who gives unending life to those who feed on Him.

“Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17). What have we done to deserve any of God’s blessings, to deserve the fullness of God’s blessings poured out for us at every Mass upon the altar? More than any of the Patriarchs could ever have imagined, we consume Jesus Christ, God’s own Son in the Flesh. There is nothing more that God can give, because He gives us everything in the One who sustains all things in existence. And what have we done to deserve this? We have hardly begun to work, even in this final hour.

If we’re still hoping for something more from God, something more than His own Son in the Flesh, we need to get a clue. If Jesus Christ is not enough for us, if the Messiah that no one in the Old Testament would have dared to ask for, is not enough for us, “if we have hoped in Christ for this life only, we are the most pathetic of all people” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But if God has truly given us everything, in giving us His own Son in the Flesh, if we have received the same wage as all the Saints of the Old Testament, and received it first, then God deserves everything from us in return. Why do we still fail to trust in our Father who loves us so much? Why are we envious because of God’s generosity? In this final hour, God continues to invite us to become His friends and His coworkers. Will we continue to hesitate and stand idle in the marketplace all day? We may not get another chance. Now is the time to begin.

Tolle, Lege: Take Up and Read

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 25A

The first sessions of the Bible Study unsurprisingly brought up the question of which Bible or English translation is the best. Unfortunately, there isn’t really one in existence that I would fully endorse, but I can share what I know about several. The Douay-Rheims is still an excellent Bible, but the vocabulary can be rather archaic and it doesn’t account for more recent archaeological discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Still, it was the standard Catholic Bible for centuries (with revisions along the way).

Probably the most standard today in the US would be the New American Bible, being the basis for our Lectionary at Mass. In 2010, a new revision of the entire Old Testament was incorporated. Unlike some other Bibles, the NABRE provides introductions and outlines of each book, and extensive footnotes and cross-references. A defect is that the intros and footnotes tend to reflect more speculative and less reliable Scripture scholarship that often seems to question the reliability of the Biblical text, and the translation itself isn’t always great.

Most other Bibles, such as the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition (which is probably the most popular translation among devoted Catholics), are fairly bare bones when it comes to intros, cross-references, and footnotes, unless it’s advertised specifically as a Study Bible. The Didache Bible currently seems to be the most complete and faithful Catholic Study Bible, with references to the Catechism, maps, apologetic inserts, glossary, etc. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is very detailed and well-loved, but only its New Testament is published in one volume. The books they have completed so far of the Old Testament are available individually.

Whichever Bible you use, make sure it is a Catholic edition that includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, etc. There are many, many others out there, but some are closer to being paraphrases than actual word-for-word translations. Others that I’ve used include the English Standard Version, which is newly available in a Catholic edition called the Augustine Bible. An excellent translation sharing only some of the same defects as the RSV, it would also have almost no footnotes or intros.

The Bible I’m using now is the Orthodox Study Bible. The Orthodox churches differ from Catholics in their understanding of the Bishop of Rome and a few other things, but they have all seven sacraments and a beautiful reverence for the Church Fathers. This Bible is unique in using one of the only English translations based on the Greek rather than Hebrew Old Testament. It also has lots of footnotes incorporating the work of Sts. John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, among others, and full page inserts on various mysteries of the faith.

In the end, the best Bible is whichever one you’ll actually read, which usually has less to do with translation and more to do with our failing to make the Word of God a priority in our lives.