What excites you most about the Introduction to Sacred Scripture course you are teaching? What do you hope for the students taking this course?
A Scripture course on the Gospel of Mark, way back in 1987, changed the course of my life. I was amazed to learn how much depth and power there is to Scripture, how many connections [there are] between the Old and New Testaments, how relevant it is to our lives! In Intro to Scripture and my other classes, I love watching students come alive to God’s word in a similar way. I hope my students will fall in love with the Bible and make it a lifelong practice to continually study it, believe it, and live by it.
In addition to teaching at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, you are also involved with the Encounter School of Ministry. Who is the school intended for, and what is its mission? Today there seems to be a big disconnect between the supernatural experiences in Scripture or the lives of the saints with our own lives today. How does the Encounter School attempt to rectify that?
Everywhere I travel around the country and even internationally, I meet students of the Encounter School (either online or at one of their campuses), including priests, who are excited and thrilled to be part of it! Encounter teaches and equips Catholics to carry out the mission Jesus has given us: to proclaim his glorious good news in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “Heal the sick, and tell them ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you,’” and that missionary mandate still holds today. We are to evangelize not using only human resources, but using the supernatural gifts by which the Holy Spirit equips us for our mission—including healings, prophetic gifts, and miracles. Most Catholics are entirely unfamiliar with these charisms of the Spirit that the New Testament teaches us about, which were normal in the early Church and in the lives of many of the saints. Encounter Ministries is helping to re-normalize the gifts.
Encounter also puts a lot of emphasis on discipleship and Christian identity, because in order to lead others to Jesus effectively, we have to be faith-filled missionary disciples, secure in our own identity as a beloved son or daughter of God. So many of the students in Encounter have told me that it has radically transformed their relationship with the Lord.
How would you explain charismatic prayer to Catholics who find it outside of their comfort zone?
Getting out of our comfort zone is pretty important when it comes to things of God! But it’s important to make a distinction. Not all are called to belong to the charismatic renewal as a movement with its own particular style and culture, characterized by exuberant worship, contemporary praise music, communal praying or singing in tongues, etc. But the grace of being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5) and the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit as such are for all Christians. We are all called to know and love the Holy Spirit as a Person, distinct from the Father and the Son. We are all called to surrender to him, open ourselves to his gifts, and let him lead us, which he longs to do on a daily basis. Charismatic prayer is a way of letting the Holy Spirit lead us in prayer and being attentive to his inspirations.
You are also involved with Renewal Ministries. Why is a ministry like this needed?
I have been so blessed by Renewal Ministries over the years. I remember as a teenager watching Ralph Martin’s EWTN show The Choices We Face, which has been running for about 200 years now (well, OK, 38). For the last eight years, I’ve been more formally connected with them as a consultant. Renewal Ministries evangelizes, encourages, strengthens, and builds up the faith of countless Catholics around the world through their international short-term missions, their youth and young adult ministries, and their TV, radio, podcast, and other media apostolates. People know that what they get from Renewal Ministries is the pure, undiluted Gospel—not a Gospel reengineered to conform to the spirit of the age, or soft-pedaled, or embellished, or intellectualized, or sentimentalized, but just the Gospel of Jesus Christ, handed down by the Church through the ages.
What do you love about being a professor at Sacred Heart? What have been some of the biggest teaching moments for you? Biggest surprises?
I love helping students, especially future priests, mature in their faith as they wrestle with the word of God and let God speak to their hearts through it. One beautiful teaching moment occurred a few years ago in my course on the Synoptic Gospels. I was teaching on the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which Jesus illustrates the necessity of forgiving all offenses without exception. In my class there was a religious sister from West Africa. A few days after the class, she came to me privately and told me she had really struggled with what I said because during the civil war in her country a man whom she knew personally had murdered her brother and two of her uncles. She had decided never to forgive him. Unfortunately, this man had died a few years ago. But after the class, she said, she went to prayer and “God strongly told me to forgive him.” By the grace of God she did forgive, and a newfound peace filled her heart. I commended her for her honesty and her willingness to forgive as Jesus did, even when it was costly. At my suggestion, the following week she shared this testimony with the whole class, and they were deeply moved.
One “surprise” that occurs again and again is in the research papers that I assign graduate students. Some of them really get into it—they hit the stacks in the library, pore over books and articles, pray about the passage they’re studying, and present the results in the paper they turn in. I sometimes find beautiful new insights in papers from these “rookie Bible scholars”—points that I had not thought of before nor read before in any academic works.
Any future projects in the works that you’re excited about?
Yes, I’m writing a commentary on the book of Genesis as part of the commentary series that I co-edit with Dr. Peter Williamson (and now also with Dr. Mark Giszczak), the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. We’ve completed the New Testament volumes and we’re about to launch the Old Testament. Our goal is to help preachers, teachers, and lay Catholics discover the treasures in the Word of God—to understand what each biblical passage means and how to apply it to our lives. The Genesis volume is a huge project taking several years, but I’m greatly enjoying it, delving into this first book of the Bible which is so full of mysteries and so rich in theological and psychological insight.