The Bible as a Love Story

The Bible as a Love Story

The Bible as a Love Story

In addition to the complexity of translating from one language to another  – or even from an original language like Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek – to Latin – and then to English, we have the challenge that the meanings of words changes over time, or that it has a very particular meaning in a particular time. When thinking about a foray into understanding the Bible, it’s helpful to start by thinking about how the meaning of words changes when used in different contexts.

We need an interpretive key to help us navigate the challenges when reading

One such interpretive key is that the Bible is a love story between God (lover) and God’s creation (beloved) in which we are invited to an ever greater share of life bestowed as a gift by the lover. The lover has always been faithful to the beloved but the beloved has not always been faithful for the lover. The preface to the first Eucharistic Prayer for reconciliation (one of my favorites) puts it this way, “For you do not cease to spur us on to possess a more abundant life and, being rich in mercy, you constantly offer pardon and call on sinners to trust in your forgiveness alone. Never did you turn away from us, and, though time and again we have broken your covenant, you have bound the human family to yourself through Jesus your Son, our Redeemer, with a new bond of love so tight that it can never be undone.”

How the Love Story is told in Scriptures

This love story is told through the Hebrew Scriptures (often called the Old Testament) and the Christian scripture (often called the New Testament). The books of the Hebrew Scripture can be further divided into separate genres – one such division is:

Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
History: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
Wisdom and Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.
The Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
The Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The books of the New Testament can also be separated into separate Genres:
Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Acts of the Apostles
Epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

Not one Book but many

The love story is not one story but many stories. Likewise, it is important for us to understand God’s expression of love for us in their context. Understanding how translations affect the meaning of the words can help deepen our understanding of the passage. Consulting more than one translation and noting the differences can help us to this (as opposed to looking at other translations to see which is right).

Three levels for reading scripture:

We can read the Word of God on at least three levels:
1. The meaning in the original experience.
2. The meaning in the context of the author.
3. The meaning the passage has to us now

These levels may affect how we read the story.

For example, Matthew and Luke both relate a sermon given by Jesus. In Matthew, the sermon occurs on the Mount; In Luke it occurs on the plain.

There are elements common to both sermons and elements that are distinct in both sermons. Are we looking at two different sermons given at different times? If so, why is does Matthew present one and Luke another? We could also say that Matthew and Luke have both gathered elements of sermons and teachings that Jesus gave during his public ministry and presented them as one sermon. We can hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you poor…” and consider what this would mean to the original hearers. We can read Matthew’s writing, “Blessed are you poor in Spirit” and wonder what was it about the context in which Matthew wrote that led him to soften the message (or conversely did Luke toughen the message)?

Either way, it is important for us to understand that the context in which Jesus spoke is different than the context in which Matthew and Luke wrote – and these different contexts may lead to the emphasis of one piece over another. As these passages have been applied through history, it would be important for us to consider how the context influences the reception of the passage.

How a couple tells the story of their meeting or first falling in love may change over time – but this change does not mean that one story is more true than another. The evolving story allows for a more nuanced expression of love that takes into account and incorporates the realities experienced during the lifetime. How much more complex is that reality when we are talking thousands of years and billions of human lives in relationship to God?

For reflection: Do you feel prompted to explore some aspect of Scripture at a deeper level? How might you talk with your children about Scripture?

Fr. Paul and I have been asked to discuss “The Bible in a Nutshell” with the parents of our faith formation students on two successive weekends. This blog post comes from that session.

Fr. Brian Conley, SJ

Be With Us in Caring

Be With Us in Caring

Be With Us in Caring

This parish-wide initiative lines up beautifully with the worldwide work of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

In a recent letter to all Jesuits, Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Jesuits quoted the most recent General Congregation – or GC36 –  (the highest governing body in the Jesuits – there have been 36 since the order’s founding in 1540). Both documents describe a transforming encounter with the mercy of God as being at the heart of Ignatian spirituality This encounter with the mercy of God moves us to a generous personal response. “The experience of the merciful gaze of God on our weakness and sinfulness humbles us and fills us with gratitude, helping us to become compassionate ministers to all. Filled with the fire of Christ’s mercy, we can inflame those we meet.” (GC 36, Degree 1, paragraph 19).

As with all ministries of the Society of Jesus, Our Lady of Hope Parish seeks to be a place where everyone can encounter the profound mercy of God and where all will be moved to act with compassion in the world.

How do we show this care and compassion?

We do so by “Living the Eucharist, and Becoming a Beacon of Hope.” In the brochure that we recently sent out, we describe three activities that help us to show this care and compassion:
1. Coming to Know Jesus as a Friend
2. Celebrating God’s Love For Us
3. Feeding, Connecting, Healing.

In inviting others to come to know Jesus as a friend or to deepen that friendship, we hope to invite everyone to a transformative encounter with God’s mercy. We celebrate that transformative encounter throughout our lives – from 39 baptisms to over 80 services for those who have died. The twenty-seven ministries, close to 100 liturgical ministers, the many donations to charity and the service provided through organizations like the Knights of Columbus give evidence that the encounter with the merciful love of God has elicited a generous response from many in our parish. In the Society of Jesus we often describe these ministries as cura personalis – translated care of the whole person.

On the fourth page on the inside of that brochure we include information on income and expenses. Very often people think that issues like dollars and sense are secondary to the work of cura personalis. In the Society of Jesus, this fourth page is a part of what we call cura apostolica – translated care of the organization or apostolate. The Jesuits see Our Lady of Hope Parish as an apostolate.

Care for Mission: People, Communities, and Organizations

In 2020, Arturo Sosa, SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote a letter to the whole Society entitled “Care in the governance of the life-mission of the Society in this era of change.” In this letter, Fr. Sosa emphasized the need for unity between cura personalis and cura apostolica. Fr. Sosa traces both our care for one another and our founding institutions to that transformational encounter with God’s mercy described in the GC36. From the very founding of the Society of Jesus by Ignatius Loyola, we have had one single cura that is care for our mission. This care for mission focuses on persons, communities, and works. Care for the whole person and care of the organization must be united for us to carry out the mission.

We invite you to be with us in encountering the merciful love of God. We invite you to be with us in a generous response to that encounter. We invite you to be with us in living the Eucharist and becoming a beacon of hope. We invite you to join us in caring for one another (cura personalis) and caring for Our Lady of Hope Parish that helps to facilitate this encounter and to make this encounter available to all (cura apostolica).

Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.

Celebrating Summer, Nature, and Our Common Home – Part 2

Celebrating Summer, Nature, and Our Common Home – Part 2

Celebrating Summer, Nature, and Our Common Home – Part 2

Back in July we wrote about the moving film, The Letter, and how it served as a call to action in many ways. Particularly, at the start of summer in Maine, we were called to notice God’s beautiful creation all around us. That sparked an idea. We invited parishioners – and friends – to make photos of places and activities where they felt God’s presence. You can read more in our July 7th post!

Congratulations to Jim and Mary, who’s names were pulled from a hat for the gift card. They submitted photos of a delicious meatless meal – and the recipe. Pictured here is a photo from Jon that brings a smile to fans of listening to baseball at camp.

If you are on Facebook, we’ve shared all the photos there.  Really — watch The Letter!! It will move you to action.  And, keep noticing the beauty of – and our responsibility to care for – God’s creation.

Prayer and Conversation

Prayer and Conversation

Prayer and Conversation

Have you been considering refreshing your prayer life? Thinking about how nice it would be to be able to talk over insights? You’ll have the chance this fall. Our fellow parishioner, Cheryl Smith, is putting together an opportunity to pray with Sacred Scripture, developing a shared use of simple forms of prayers to deepen our experience and understanding of what Jesus is offering. And, over time, building a community that gathers together in prayer and conversation once or twice a month will be wonderful.

Cheryl is an experienced facilitator and prayer leader, most recently with the Sisters of St. Joseph.

In order to best get started, we need your help in determining the time of day for this in-person experience which will be held in the Parish Hall. For now, we’re aiming for once a month to get started.

Are there days and times listed here that would work for you?

  • Wednesday at 9:45 am (after Mass)
  • Wednesday at 2:00 pm
  • Friday at 9:45 am (after Mass)
  • Tuesday at 6:30 pm

If you would let us know by sending a message through the website contact form, which can be found here, we would appreciate it!

Four Things Needed For Justice: The Fruits of My Annual Retreat

Four Things Needed For Justice: The Fruits of My Annual Retreat

Four Things Needed For Justice: The Fruits of My Annual Retreat

Each year, Jesuits are expected to complete an eight-day retreat. This year, I completed a retreat offered by the Jesuit Anti-Racism Sodality (JARS) entitled “The God of Us All: Praying with Black Spirituality.” This retreat offered the participants “an opportunity to spend time in song, prayer, and community to experience the transformative nature of the Spirit moving through two deep traditions: Black Spirituality and Ignatian Spirituality.” These eight-days were a profoundly consoling time for me – I would say one of the most powerful eight day retreats I have ever completed.

Prayer Resources that Illustrate The Black Experience

Each day, we were given prayer resources that illustrated the Black experience. These resources included biographical material for seven witnesses, Toni Morrison, Sr. Thea Bowman, Mamie Till-Mobley & Emmett Till, James Baldwin, Fr. Augustus Tolton, Sr Mary Antona Ebo, F.S.M. and Bryan Stevenson. These witnesses are not in the order we encountered them on the retreat and I list Bryan Stevenson last because it was his witness that has stayed with me over the last month. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, law professor, and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He is the author of several books including “Just Mercy.” The specific witness that moved me particularly and provided my “take home” grace for the retreat was a sermon that Mr. Stevenson delivered at the Washington National Cathedral on the first Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016). The scripture passages that for this sermon were Micah 6:8 and 2 Cor 12. In this sermon, Mr. Stevenson outlines four things needed to do justice:

1. Get proximate to places of inequality
2. Change Narratives
3. Be Hopeful
4. Commit to doing uncomfortable things

Get proximate

Mr. Stevenson suggests that God calls us to get proximate to places of injustice or places that we have been taught to fear. Our proximity to these places has the potential to change us as we encounter the reality of those places. In my Jesuit formation I have been called to spend various amounts of time being proximate to the poor and to injustice – several months on the a poor neighborhood (now gentrified) in Boston and the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota as a novice; three years in the Bronx in my First Studies; the Anacostia section of Washigngton in my hospital training. Each of these encounters brought me face-to-face with my biases – the biases that were the root of my fear – and the reality of the good and faith-filled people who lived in those places that I would otherwise avoid. I notice that in each of these situations, I was assigned to those places – I did not choose to get proximate on my own. Mr. Stevenson’s challenge to me today is to find the places where God is calling me to get proximate to injustice.

Change the narrative

We can find power and witness when we get proximate to places of injustice, fear, neglect, or abuse and this power and witness allows us to move to the second thing: changing the narrative. My time on the reservation, in the Bronx, and with the poor in DC changed the narrative of fear and insecurity that I had about these places. While there might be much that was challenging and dangerous there, these were also places of love and community. The narratives that began to change for me on the retreat were narratives that I should feel guilt or shame for past beliefs – guilt and shame leave little space or energy for change. Rather, I discovered compassion for myself and others. The second narrative that changed was the narrative that suggested I had to “fix it.” Discovering compassion allowed me to find a proximate place to injustice and violence that allowed other narratives to be spoken – the narratives of those witnesses each day and the experiences of my fellow retreatants.

Get hopeful

In his sermon, Stevenson says, “Hope is what will get you to stand up when everyone else tells you to sit down; Hope will get you to speak when others tell you to be quiet.” When I told others I was going on an anti-racism retreat, I received many baffled looks; some expressions of fear. I know this – that having spent eight days listening to witnesses of the reality of racism in our world today left me hopeful. I feel hopeful that a long-look at the truth and a willingness to be changed will lead to change.

Commit to doing things that are uncomfortable

While I feel this hope, the retreat included many uncomfortable moments. These moments of discomfort included witnessing depictions of violence during slavery; the pictures of Emmitt Till and others following their lynchings; the treatment of other faith-filled people as they responded to God’s call but were treated as something less than human, like Fr. Augustus Tolton and Sister Mary Antona Ebo. The challenge that remains for me is where I am being called to be uncomfortable in Portland Maine – where are the places I am called to get proximate? To change narratives? To bring a hope filled presence for change?

I welcome others to join me in reflecting on these four things and the questions they bring up in you. Feel free to contact me at or by calling the parish offices (207) 797-7026.

Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.

Affirming Respect for All Human Life

Affirming Respect for All Human Life

In 2018 the Society of Jesus in the US issued a statement which reiterated the Jesuits’ support for the unborn, calling abortion “part of the massive injustices in our society.”

“A spirit of callous disregard for life shows itself in direct assaults on human life such as abortion and capital punishment.  We also seek justice in ensuring that pregnant women and mothers have the resources they need to care for their children and live full lives.”

Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., says, “From the beginning, St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits for the promotion of the faith and the progress of souls in the teachings of Christ. As Jesuits, we continue this mission, to accompany the child in the womb and the community into which each one of us has been born. Jesuits and their colleagues must “find ever new and creative ways to bring the protection of the unborn and solidarity with mothers in difficult situations into whatever mission they serve.”

In 2022, the Society issued a similar statement when the Dobbs Decision overturning Roe v Wade was made public. “As we wrote in our 2018 pro-life statement Protecting the Least Among Us, “The most fundamental building block of a just social order is respect for human life. Until men and women individually and collectively make a profound commitment to the value and dignity of all human life, we will never find the true peace, justice and reconciliation God desires for us.”

“We also affirm our belief that building what Saint John Paul II called a “culture of life” requires a stronger social safety net than our country has today. To be truly pro-life, we must support all women, expectant parents and their children by advocating for policies like universal health care, paid parental leave and a more equitable distribution of our country’s abundant resources.”

We approach this topic as pastors, scholars, social activists and educators. No part of our ministry is removed from the essential work of promoting and protecting the dignity of every child of God. We pray that the Lord might continue to inspire our efforts and to help us always see the face of Christ revealed in each person, both before their birth and after it.”

Protecting the Least Among Us: A Statement of the Society of Jesus in the United States

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