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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father James McIlhone

Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Director of Biblical Formation for the Archdiocese of Chicago?

Father Jim: As Director of Biblical Formation for the Archdiocese, I am involved in several biblical endeavors—teaching in the Diaconate Program, teaching in the Lay Ministry Program, teaching and serving on the Board of the Chicago Catholic Scripture School  I give talks and missions at parishes throughout the archdiocese. I serve as a resource to the various offices of the Department of Pastoral Life and Formation at the Meyer Center, as well as offer inservices on biblical topics for the employees of the pastoral center.  I also provide biblical materials through my website Word Made Clear.

Gordon: For our readers who  may not be familiar with your Biblical expertise, they  should read the great interview with you by Dolores Madlener in the Catholic New World'.

I know that this question is like asking a parent to name their favorite child, but which of the four evangelists is your favorite and why?

Father Jim: Actually there are two evangelists whom I am particularly struck by.  First Mark whose gospel I worked with significantly in my doctoral studies. At that time, many scholars saw Mark as the young writer who quickly sketched a life of Jesus and had to be fleshed out and at times “corrected” by Matthew and Luke. My studies of Mark showed that not to be true at all. He is a well developed and well thought out theologian who presents a very coherent picture of Jesus which was built on the by other evangelists

Secondly, I found myself in my teaching at the seminary, working significantly with the Gospel of John which I came to appreciate deeply. The mature picture of Jesus the John Presents is well worth meditation, prayer and study.

Gordon: You have a remarkable background in communications and computer technology having served on the Computer Committee of the Catholic Biblical Association; and  Director of Computer Services and Chief Information Officer, University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary).  What role does technology and especially digital media have in evangelizations and communications with parishioners?

Father Jim: Technology is where it is at today.  Look around and you see everyone is glued to their Smartphone's. When I began as Director, several people urged me to use my technology expertise to spread the word and from that came the Word Made Clear.  But also they urged me to get into social media because that is the way that young people communicate, and so I made inroads into Facebook and Twitter.

Through these past five years, I have seen how the modern technology can be used to spread the word  e.g., during the past few Lents we have set up a playlist utilizing the Truth and Life Audio New Testament to have people read/hear the four gospels through the forty days of Lent. What better way to get to know the Lord in this season!!  We are planning a similar playlist for The Acts of the Apostles and some of Paul’s Letters for the Easter Season.

Gordon: In your opinion, would it be helpful for seminaries to teach  courses in technological communications?

Father Jim: My feeling is that most seminarians today are quite adept at technological communications and  utilizing the web to sow the Word.  Any number of young priests are posting their homilies weekly, and every day I see a plethora of very good posts from young priests and seminarians on Facebook and Twitter.  I feel that the seminary should provide a solid background in theology and scripture for the seminarians.  They will then use technology well to present the word and that theology to others.

Gordon: We are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy, yet there may be many of us that may not fully understand what mercy is. Could you provides us with your definition of mercy?

Father Jim: Put succinctly, Mercy is Justice tempered with Love.  What do I mean by that?  We are all sinners as Pope Francis reminds us. Sin is an offense against God who has given us everything. On our own, we are not able to reconcile with God yet as the Gospel of John tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” That giving takes place in two forms first the second person of the Trinity became one of us, a human being in all things but sin--Jesus. That is what we theologically term the Incarnation.  But further, Jesus stood in for us, dying for us, in order that our debt to God due to sin might be repaid what is known as Redemption. Rightfully, our sin deserved none of this, yet God is merciful because he loves us. Thus our God is merciful to us.Mercy is Justice tempered with Love.

Gordon: When and why were the corporal works of mercy first defined by the Catholic Church?

Father Jim: The majority of (6 to be exact) the corporal works of mercy were first spoken of in the last Judgment narrative in Matthew’s gospel (Matt 25:34-46)   To these six bury the dead was added to complete the seven.  This some see as coming from the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament. In Matthew's narrative, it is these works that will determine our eternal fate. The reason given is that we should in all that we do treat our fellow human being as though they were Christ.

Gordon: Which of the corporal works of mercy, do you believe that many of us of us consistently neglect and why?

Father Jim: Probably visit the imprisoned. Most people do not go into prisons unless they are themselves imprisoned, or a family member or close friend is. Yet, as those in prison ministry will attest, prisoners appreciate visits, and many times many of them have no one to visit them. Yet there is something about prisons that cause us to shy away from them.

Gordon: In your experience, have some of us been more resistant to practicing the spiritual works of mercy? If so, any thoughts on why these may be more difficult?

Father Jim: In many ways, part of the reticence to practice the spiritual works of mercy is that they are not spoken of as much as the corporal works. They are no more difficult to practice. Yet many times people are unwilling to share their faith through instruction of those who are not knowledgeable in the faith or listen to and assist those who have doubts. In our society, we don’t want to make waves especially by bring faults to the attention of another. So admonishing sinners is something we find difficult to do. But patiently bearing the wrongs that others do to us or being a person who is forgiving is even more difficult because our society tells us that we are always right and wrongs are the fault of the other person.  The last two are probably the easiest Comforting those who are afflicted and praying for the living and the dead.

Gordon: St. Luke appears to have discussed the issue of mercy more than the other evangelists. Have there been any studies on the importance of  St. Luke's perspectives on mercy?

Father Jim: Fr. Cameli whom you featured in an earlier posting has written a wonderful book on Luke's Gospel of Mercy.. He looks at the gospel from the point of view of Jesus as the face of God’s Mercy which is the opening of Pope Francis’ work calling the Holy Year.

Gordon: Could you suggest some of the principal passages of St. Luke that reference mercy?

Father Jim: The first mention of mercy in Luke is in the Mangnificat where God’s actions toward Mary and toward us are the result of his mercy (Luke 1:46-55).  The Sermon on the Plain notes that we should be merciful as our Heavenly Father is Merciful which is the theme Pope Francis has chosen for the  Holy Year (Luke 6:32-36).  The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) redefines those to whom we need to show mercy from our fellow country man (Lev 19:18) to include all those who are in need even a mortal enemy. The Parables of Divine mercy (Luke 15) especially the third—the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)—give us a picture of God as a merciful waiting with open arms to welcome the sinner home. That is probably one of the greatest images of the Holy Year of Mercy.  Finally, the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14\) contrasts the Pharisee who feels he has no need of God’s mercy because he has achieved goodness on his own through his righteous acts, with the Tax collector who knows he needs the gracious mercy of God because he is a sinner.

Gordon: Thank you for an insightful interview on reminding us of the value of Bible study in our daily lives. I also recommend that our readers view your webpage on our website which has the first three of your four videos on The Year of Mercy (The 4th in the series will be available in late April).


The Holy Year of Mercy - Segment 1 of 4

The Holy Year of Mercy - Segment 2 of 4

The Holy Year of Mercy - Segment 3 of 4

The Holy Year of Mercy - Segment 4 of  4


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