By Gordon Nary
Gordon: You are a retired Professor, Department of Biblical Exegesis and Proclamation, University of Saint Mary of the Lake-Mundelein Seminary where you have been a Professor of Scripture for the past ten years. For the fourteen years before that, you taught Scripture at Saint Charles Borromeo seminary for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
How did you decide to study Scripture?
Elizabeth: When I was 24 years old I decided that I was going to find out what the Church teaches and then either live it radically or bag it completely. This search lead to an experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit, a brief experience of the charismatic movement, and an unending thirst for knowledge of God through the Scriptures. I thought about entering religious life, but did not want other baptized people to be able to say that living the gospel was easier for me than for them because I didn’t have to worry about food, shelter, a mortgage, insurances, problems with maintaining a home, or ever lack people to take care of me when I was sick. I realized that my particular call was to explore a life that all the baptized are called to live, and to try to open their eyes to the mission we all have until we draw our final breath.
Gordon: How do you plan to use your expertise in Biblical studies after your retirement and will you continue your courses, lectures, symposia, and theological updates for lay adults, priests, parishes, religious orders and deaconate candidates? If so, how will people contact you for your assistance?
Elizabeth: Rather than lectures and academic courses on Scripture, I would like to work on an on-going basis with small groups of committed Christians who want to learn how to read biblical texts, and then look for ways to put them into practice in daily life -- groups that try to build up each other's faith by making bolder choices and life-style changes than most people can sustain on their own. I'd also like to explore ways of preaching the gospel without words. My email address is: Elizabnagel@gmail.com
Gordon: After many years of Biblical research, studies, writing, and teaching, what are the three most important lessons of the Bible that you can share with our readers?
Elizabeth: 1) We are never alone. The Spirit of the Risen and Living Christ, whom we received in Baptism, is always within us and within every other member of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Spirit is with us in a particular way when we read Scripture. After years of reading and studying Scripture -- which for me is a primary form of prayer -- opening the Bible is like sitting down with the most familiar, faithful, and interesting companion I have ever found.
2) All people are interconnected with each other and with the rest of creation. Every choice we make has a far-reaching impact, and so choices must be made for the common good rather than for personal convenience or preference. Every choice either shows that we believe Jesus is alive in others or not. I truly believe that he meant what he said in Mt 25, namely, that what we do to the least we do to him, and that one day we will have a final conversation with him about the way we interacted with him -- or not -- in the people around us.
3) The best way to learn more about God is to act on biblical teaching an inspiration AND THEN WATCH TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS: how an common experience is changed, where the action leads us that we would never have gone on our own.
Gordon: What is you favorite book of the Bible and why?
Elizabeth: I don’t think I have one favorite book. My favorite areas of the Bible are probably the prophets and the gospels, especially the parables of the Kingdom of God. I’ve taught prophets for 25 years, but they always show me ways I need to change. They also teach me a lot about seeing life from God’s view – as opposed to the view of the majority. From them I also learned that it’s a dangerous thing to claim to speak for God, especially given the human tendencies to embellish or spin what we pass on to others.. Lastly, I learn from the prophets that we might not see the fruits of our labors on God’s behalf during our life on earth, but it doesn’t matter. All our preaching by word and deed will play a role in God’s plan for the good of all,, a plan that is beyond human imagination and insight. We do not need to understand how God is orchestrating our actions. We need simply to do the right thing in the moment, and then to trust that God will work with it.
Gordon: Could you recommend to our readers a few of your favorite books on biblical studies and why you recommend them?
People have a lot of opinions about what "Catholic" exegesis or interpretation of the Bible should be. In 1993, the Pontifical Biblical Commission wrote a document on this topic that is entitled The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, a member of the Commission that produced the document, wrote a commentary on it, entitled The Biblical Commission's Document The Interpretation of The Bible In The Church: Text And Commentarych (Subsidia Biblica) 1995. This work lays out the wide variety of methodologies available to Catholic exegetes. One of my favorite works on the gospel parables is that of John R. Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 1988.
Gordon: You lived in Israel for one year and were a Scripture Resource person for numerous Study Tours and pilgrimages to the Holy Land. How do tours to the Holy Land often help people gain more insight into their faith and what are some of the emotional responses that some people may have when visiting sites mentioned in the Bible?
Elizabeth: Pilgrimages to the Holy Land help people realize that the world that produced the Bible is usually very different from their own. The geography and climatic seasons of the land, the mores of the cultures that interact there, the tensions of daily life which are not unlike those experienced by God's people in most biblical periods – all help people to situate themselves in the biblical world and to hear the Scriptures from its perspectives. Their experiences stay with them as they later hear Scripture read in the liturgy and hear God guiding them toward new paths, new adventures with their divine companion. As far as emotional responses, these run the gamut of human experience. Some feel a profound peace, some sense a need to change something in their life. Many start praying more, especially with the Bible. Occasionally, the biblical world is just too foreign and people are eager to return home.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and sharing some of your experiences and your recommendations.