“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you,
yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15)
From our experience, we have found that more people would come to the Catholic Church, and those who are Catholic would remain Catholic, if only they had someone to answer their questions. That is why we have a Catholic Q&A column in each Sunday's bulletin. If you have a question about Catholicism, feel free to contact Norm Hayden, or stop by the parish office in the Family Life Center. Someone from the parish staff will answer your question in the bulletin, but your name will be anonymous.
The first 120 Q&A's from the Q&A column have been added to our website. Minor changes have been made to grammar, spelling, and content. The first 20 are on this page. Also see:
May God bless you!
1. If the Eucharist gives eternal life, does that not minimize the need for faith?
It is true, as Jesus tells us in Jn 6:54, that he who receives the Eucharist has eternal life. But, you shouldn't take this to mean that once a Catholic receives the Eucharist he has his irrevocable ticket to heaven. Instead, the Eucharist brings eternal life in that:
- through it we receive Jesus Himself, who IS eternal life, and
- the Eucharist helps us to live a life of grace and friendship with the Lord that is necessary in order to receive heaven ("eternal life") when we die.
Furthermore, in no way does the “eternal life” received from the Eucharist diminish the need for faith. For one, there is no reception of the Eucharist without first entering into the Church through Baptism, which the Church calls "the sacrament of faith." So, faith is what grants us the privilege to receive the Eucharist in the first place. Also, note that without faith the Eucharist will not be fruitful. In other words, even though the bread and wine have truly become Jesus Christ Himself, if we do not receive it in faith, believing that it is in fact Jesus Christ Himself, we will not experience the increase in holiness and friendship with God that the Eucharist provides.
As you can see, faith is in every way necessary and in no way diminished by the Eucharist, or for that matter, by any of the seven sacraments of the Church.
2. What does Paul mean when he says that he “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24-25)? I thought Jesus’ work on the Cross was perfect! What could anyone do that Jesus hasn’t already done for us?
This is a very good question, and I think, one of the great mysteries of Scripture. What you have to ask yourself is this: What could still be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? He suffered to the fullest extent, and for all mankind. This work is called the “objective redemption,” and the degree, or quality, or completeness of it has no imperfection.
But, there is still something lacking. What is still required is the application of the grace of the Cross upon us. He won all the grace through his perfect suffering, but this grace must still be applied to us. This application is called the “subjective redemption.” We know that it is necessary because if it wasn't, then everyone would have been instantly saved as soon as Jesus said, "It is finished." But, we're not.
So, we have thus far established what is lacking. The grace of the Cross must still be applied to us. Now, Paul tells us in the passage you are quoting that one way to make up for what is lacking is by suffering, by taking up our Cross just as Jesus Christ took up His. Suffering for the Body is meritorious. It is a good deed, and all good deeds done in grace serve to build up the Body of Christ.
This explains why Paul would rejoice in his sufferings, and see this as something that he did for their sake (cf. Col 1:24). He knows that when he suffers for the Gospel, to fulfill the duties of the "divine office" given to him (cf. Col 1:25), he builds up the Body of Christ and becomes a minister of the grace that flows from the Cross. Elsewhere, Paul says, "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:10).
Everything that Paul says in his letters about the redeeming value of suffering affirms this understanding of Col 1:24-25. In this “Year of St. Paul,” may we all follow his example and do our own part to complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.
3. What is the difference between "Roman Catholic" and "Catholic”? What sets the Eastern Orthodox Catholics apart from us? Are there several different forms of Catholic faith?
Before we begin, it will be helpful to define what a “rite” is. In this context, a “rite” is a family of Catholic liturgical, ecclesiastical, and theological traditions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists seven such rites: Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders), Byzantine, Alexandrian (or Coptic), Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean (see no. 1203).
The reason there are different rites in the one Catholic Church is because, as the apostles and their successors brought the teachings of Christ to the different major cultural centers of their day, it was often necessary to take the essential elements of the faith and “clothe them,” so to speak, in the symbols and language of the particular people, so that the liturgy would convey the desired spiritual meaning to that culture. The result is a different way of celebrating the sacraments and a different way of expressing the one, true faith.
Knowing this, we can now address your questions. Usually when people use the phrase “Roman Catholic,” they are using it in an informal manner to refer to the one, universal Catholic Church. In that sense, the phrases “Roman Catholic” and “Catholic” mean the same thing. But, when speaking precisely, or in a theological context, the phrase “Roman Catholic” refers specifically to those Catholics of the Latin Rite who follow the liturgical and theological traditions of Rome. The vast majority of Catholics in the Western Hemisphere and in Western Europe are Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite. Our parish is a Latin Rite parish.
Catholics who do not follow the traditions of the Latin Rite are called “Eastern Rite Catholics.” These Catholics live predominantly in lands that were once part of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was centered in Constantinople. However, there are Eastern Catholics in the West as well, mostly due to the migration of Eastern peoples fleeing religious or ethnic persecution. The Eastern rites are the remaining six rites that were listed above from the Catechism.
That said, note that there is a distinct difference between Catholics of the Eastern rites and the Eastern Orthodox. It is very important not to confuse the two. The Eastern Orthodox, while they share many liturgical and theological traditions with Eastern Catholics and even have all seven Sacraments, do not acknowledge the authority of the Pope. They differ with the Catholic Church on a few doctrinal matters as well. Thus, they cannot be considered “Catholic” as such. However, the Christians in the East who do acknowledge the Pope are truly Catholic and their rites have the same dignity as those of the West.
Together, these seven Rites give witness to the truly “catholic” or “universal” nature of the Church. In Her is room for a wide variety of cultures, languages, and peoples. Praise be to God!
4. What is the Biblical support for baptizing infants? I thought a person had to believe in Jesus before he could be saved.
Indeed. But look at the audience: they are adults. Of course adults have to believe. It is this belief that compels them to be baptized. Now, infants can't very well believe first, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be baptized. We are all born with original sin, are we not? Paul says, “We are all by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). Thus, it would be a great disservice to deprive infants of the source of grace that they so desperately need. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:16).
Also, faith is not actually absent from the equation because, in infant baptism, the faith of the Church community stands in for the faith of the child. This may sound peculiar at first, but there are in fact many examples in Scripture of someone receiving grace and healing because of the faith of someone else. For example, the centurion's servant was healed because of the faith of the centurion (Mt 8:5-13). When the paralytic was lowered down through the roof to be healed by Jesus, He healed the man and even forgave his sins because of the faith of the paralytic’s friends (Mk 2:3-5). Jesus rescued the soul of a child because of his father's faith (Mk 9:22-25). Finally, Paul says that children are made holy by the joint belief of husband and wife (1 Cor 7:14). All of these examples are analogous to what takes place in infant baptism, when a child is cleansed of original sin because of the faith of the Church.
There is also a lesson to be learned from the relationship between baptism and circumcision. In the Old Testament, Jews circumcised their children when they were 8 days old, and in so doing, made them members of the covenant (Gen 17:11-12). They became heirs to the promise and Abraham's offspring through circumcision. Now, we become the same through baptism (Gal 3:26-29). Baptism is the new circumcision (Col 2:11-12). And so, in similar fashion, we baptize children so that they may gain entrance into the new covenant and become children of Abraham.
Finally, we know from historical documents that the early Church baptized infants, and there are indications of this in the Bible as well. In order to emphasize the universality of the sacrament, Peter says that the gift of the Spirit received in baptism is a promise not only to them, but to their children, and to all that are far off (Acts 2:38-39). This wide scope of baptism also explains why entire households were baptized (Acts 10:47-48; 16:15,30-33). Note that the Greek word for “household” is oikos, which means “the inmates of a house, all the persons forming one family, a household” or “stock, family, descendants of one.” There is no reason to believe that the children in the house were not baptized along with everyone else.
Thus, the stain of original sin, the right that infants have to the kingdom, the role of the Church’s faith in the lives of Her weaker members, the parallel between circumcision and baptism, and the universality of the sacrament all demand that baptism be given to infants as well as adults.
5. Do you have any words of wisdom regarding “spiritual dryness”?
I've been thinking a lot about this, and the word that keeps coming to mind is “perseverance.” Paul tells us, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:7). Spiritual dryness is meant to discipline us and to mold our faith. Our faith becomes stronger when it perseveres through times in which God seems utterly absent from our lives. St. James tells us, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12). Grace and fellowship with God is our reward, if we will only persevere.
“Patience” is another key word. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:25). Prayer takes time, persistence, and effort. It is certainly not something that we master over night. I get frustrated quite often by this, and many times I have succumbed to the temptation to just give up on prayer. But, this is foolish , and not befitting of a man with discretion (Prov 14:17).
Finally, Paul tells us, “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). The answer to spiritual dryness seems to be the combination of the two key words I have mentioned: perseverance and patience. These two virtues are seen together in many passages of Scripture:
Col 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy
2 Tim 3:10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness
Heb 6:15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.
Rev 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.
“Patient endurance”... this is key to the Christian life, and John speaks of it in Revelation as if it were one of the characteristics of the faithful Christian. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev 14:12). May you be so qualified.
6. Does the Catholic Church today view Catholic authority as infallible? If it does, how can you justify evil acts by Popes? What about the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition?
Well, first of all, infallibility doesn't mean "never sinning." It means “protection from error when speaking authoritatively." Jesus did not promise that the leaders of the Church would never sin. Instead, He promised that the Spirit would guide them into all truth – and that's a different thing.
As for the Crusades and the Inquisitions, there are several things to keep in mind here. First, these matters must be examined with as much genuine scholarship as possible. Some people put the death toll up to the millions when that many people weren't even alive then! There are also many historical accounts that are agenda-driven and intended to disparage the Church. So, before anyone can truly assess what happened, he or she must get down to the actual facts of the matter.
Secondly, the mindset of all Christendom during this time was truly unique. Truth was not treated so cavalierly then as it is today. Riots took place when heresy was proclaimed! Conversely, the entire town of Ephesus erupted with celebration when the Council that was held there maintained that Mary was "Mother of God." Nowadays, we can't imagine responding to truth in that way, but that's how vital it was to Christians who lived before the Enlightenment.
Thirdly, there was not the severe separation of Church and State back then that one finds today. When the two were interconnected, an act of heresy was an act against the welfare of the state. Today, we execute murderers and rapists for this reason. Back then, heresy and revolt against Church leaders was just as serious.
Fourthly, it is unfair to paint these events as unique to the Catholic Church. In the 16th century, Protestant England severely persecuted Catholics. Similarly, the Puritan witch hunts in New England were obviously out of control. Basically, no Christian denomination is immune from the coercion and undue zeal for the truth that is mistakenly presented as a singularly Catholic trait.
Fifthly, no one denies that abuses took place during the Crusades and the Inquisitions. As a Catholic, that's just something we have to accept. But, none of these crimes were truly imbued by Catholic teaching. Instead, they were motivated by sin, or by the distortion and abuse of Catholic principles. Have there been sinners in the Church? Yes. There are sinners in every church, and very evil ones in fact. But Catholic doctrine has always remained undefiled, and any Catholic who acts contrary to this doctrine cannot be said to be a true representative of Her.
Finally, I must know: When are Christians going to forgive each other for the faults of the past? How many times must we apologize for the genuine abuses of the Church? The vast majority of popes and bishops throughout history have been good and holy men of God. It is unfair to discredit them, or the gift of infallibility that is unique to their office, based on the sins of a few.
7. What is the Catholic teaching on cussing?
I scoured the Catechism and was unable to find anything specifically about "cussing," or using foul language. But, there are a few articles that are related, and these might be helpful.
As Christians, we must conform our words to the mind of Christ and follow His example (no. 1694). God's presence and His truth must be honored in all speech (no. 2153). He is "the Lord of all speech" (no. 2152), and human speech is either in accord with or in opposition to God who is Truth itself (no. 2151). Living in accordance with Truth includes displaying an uprightness and sincerity in speech (no. 2468). The purpose of speech is to communicate truth (no. 2485) .
Conversely, abusive language is forbidden by the fifth commandment (no. 2073), and anyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment (no. 2302-2303). Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury (no. 2477). Finally, cussing often includes taking God's name in vain, and this is forbidden, as is language against the Church, the saints, and sacred things (no. 2148).
The Bible is more explicit in its condemnation of foul language. See, for example:
Eph 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.
1 Pet 3:10 For "He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile;
Jas 1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain.
Jas 3:7-10 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.
Using foul language is also wrong because of the scandal it causes. What kind of witness do we give to non-Christians when we speak crudely to each other? We are called to sanctify the world, not fall into its various vices. Also, cussing is usually symptomatic of anger, impatience, hatred, and other sentiments that are generally unbecoming of a person who is supposed to be living a life of grace, peace, and self-mastery.
8. What specific graces do we receive from the sacrament of Confession? Why should I go to confession when I can just pray to God and tell Him I’m sorry?
The grace that comes from the sacrament of Confession is abundant and overflowing. From the sacrament we receive actual grace, which strengthens us in our daily task of doing good and avoiding evil, and sanctifying grace, which cleanses us of all sin. That’s no small thing, being cleansed of all sin! “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa 1:18). Praise God for that!
As for the necessity of receiving the sacrament, it is true that we can pray to God and he will forgive our venial, or lesser sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). But, Scripture also tells us: “There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that” (1 Jn 5:16). To cleanse us of mortal sins — sins that separate us from God and destroy the divine life within us — Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession.
Do you remember what Jesus said to His apostles when He appeared to them after His resurrection? He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). This is the fulfillment of what He told them before His death, when He said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). We see from this that Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sin.
The apostles in turn passed this power on to succeeding generations when they ordained “elders” (the Greek word is presbuteros, from which we derive the word “priest”) to take their place in the various churches. We know that these elders received this power because James will later advise his audience: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15). Your parish priest received this power in his ordination as well.
Knowing this, the question becomes: How could you have a priest in your midst that God himself uses as His instrument for the forgiveness of your sin and not go to him? Waiting in that confessional is a power unlike any other: the power to set you right with God again. There is simply no reason why we should not be lined up out the door, waiting to approach God through the sacrament of Confession and receive his cleansing grace. We are all sinners in need of God’s help, and we simply cannot do what is good on our own.
If you have not been to Confession in a long time, consider this your invitation.
9. What is the history of the rosary?
[The following is from "A Brief History of the Rosary," This Rock magazine, Dec. 2002. Used with permission]
The Catholic Encyclopedia (vol. 13, p. 184–189) recounts that in the early centuries of the Church monks would recite the Psalms as part of their rule of life. Since learning the Psalms was necessarily restricted to those who could read, a simpler prayer tradition was needed for the illiterate brothers. The Lord’s Prayer was adopted for this purpose; the brothers would recite 150 Our Fathers to correspond to the number of Psalms.
Small stones were used originally to count the prayers. Later, beads were strung as prayer counters. In the early part of the second millennium, with the rise of widespread medieval devotion to the Blessed Mother, the Hail Mary developed and gained popularity and was inserted into the prayer tradition. (See The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12, pp. 667–670).
During the twelfth century the praying of the Hail Mary spread in the West. Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary was, until the seventh century, the antiphon of the offertory of the fourth Sunday of Advent, a Sunday with particular Marian significance. At that time the Hail Mary ended with "blessed is the fruit of thy womb." The name Jesus and the second part — "Holy Mary, Mother of God . . ." — were introduced around 1483.
Between 1410 and 1439, Dominic of Prussia, a Cologne Carthusian, proposed to the faithful a form of the Marian Psalter in which there were 50 Hail Marys, each followed by a verbal reference to a Gospel passage. The Carthusian’s idea caught on, and psalters of this type multiplied in the fifteenth century. The references to the Gospel grew numerous, at one point reaching 300, according to the regions and favorite devotions.
Dominican Alain de la Roche (1428–1478) did a great work in promoting the Marian Psalter, which during his lifetime began to be called "Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary," thanks to his preaching and to the Marian confraternities he founded. The rosary was simplified in 1521 by Dominican Alberto da Castello, who chose 15 evangelical passages for meditation, which included the short prayer at the end of the Hail Marys. The final, traditional form was standardized during the pontificate of one of Dominic’s spiritual sons, Pope St. Pius V (1566–1572).
A wide variety of prayer traditions have been attached to the rosary. The Franciscans developed their own form, which has survived into our time. The faithful have added other prayers to the traditional form. In the U.S., the rosary usually begins with the Apostles Creed, while in other parts of the world it opens with Psalm 70. In some places, since the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, the prayer that our Lady is believed to have taught the young seers has been added after the concluding Gloria of each decade. Some end the rosary with the prayer Hail, Holy Queen; others add Pope Leo XIII’s prayer for protection to St. Michael the Archangel or a favorite litany in honor of the Blessed Mother.
10. At the wedding feast of Cana, it seems like Jesus rebuked Mary when she told him that there was no more wine. Is that really what happened?
Well, first of all, here is the passage in question:
Jn 2:1-5 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
This passage can be confusing because it requires an understanding of what words and phrases meant in Jesus’ day. For example, if you say, “Hey woman!” to a female today, she will consider it an insult, and rightly so. But, in Jesus’ day that was simply a common form of address. This is verified by other instances in which Jesus uses this form of address (cf. Mt 15:28; Lk 13:12; Jn 4:21; 8:10; 19:26). In none of these occasions did Jesus have a reason to get frustrated or talk down to the woman in question.
As for the second part (“what have you to do with me”), biblical scholars point out that the original Greek here can also be translated as, “What is that to you and to me?” In other words, Jesus is asking her if she understands how her request will impact both of their lives. I think the next sentence ("My hour has not yet come") confirms this understanding.
As of that moment, Jesus' hour had not yet come. But, once he performs the miracle, then his hour will begin. His march to the Cross will begin. A course will be set that will cause great suffering for both him and his mother. I think Jesus simply wants to make sure that Mary truly understands what is about to happen and the full scope of her request.
And she does. After all, Simeon had already told her at the Presentation in the Temple, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk 2:34-35). She knows what must be done. She is not afraid. That's why she immediately turns to the servants and says, "Do whatever he tells you."
May we all be more like our Blessed Mother, never afraid to walk with Jesus to the Cross.
11. I am a cradle Catholic who has become disenchanted with the Church. What books would you recommend I read that will convince me to come back?
It is very admirable of you to give Catholicism a second chance. Some people give little thought to abandoning the Church of their youth, yet I see from your words that you consider this to be a very important decision. I am definitely here to help in any way I can.
Here are some books that I would recommend:
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition
- Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition
- You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book in the Bible, by Peter Kreeft
- Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith, by Frank Sheed
- Surprised by Truth: Vols. One, Two, and Three, by Patrick Madrid (editor)
- Theology for Beginners, by Frank Sheed
- One-Minute Apologist, by Dave Armstrong
- If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, by Thomas Howard
- The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, by Scott Hahn
- Hail, Holy Queen, by Scott Hahn
- The Fathers of the Church, Expanded Edition, by Mike Aquilina
- Life Is Worth Living, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
- Prayer for Beginners, by Peter Kreeft
- Rome Sweet Home, by Scott Hahn
- On Being Catholic, by Thomas Howard
- Catholic Christianity, by Peter Kreeft
I realize that there are a lot of books in this list, and some are definitely longer than others. But, these really are some of the best books available for anyone making an initial inquiry into the Catholic faith. I could list many more, but that should keep you busy! Let me know if you have any questions along the way.
12. I know that it is good to pray FOR the souls in Purgatory, but can we also pray TO them?
Short answer: From what I can tell, the Church has not definitively settled this question. There is certainly nothing that explicitly forbids it. As such, it remains a topic that is up for debate, and it is for each individual Catholic to decide whether or not he will pray to the souls in Purgatory. You don’t have to believe that we can pray to them, but you can if you want to.
Long answer: The difficulty in making an authoritative pronouncement centers around the simple fact that we don’t know a lot about the afterlife. We know that there is Heaven and Hell and that the souls destined for Heaven may first undergo a final purification. But, what this is like, we do not know. We don’t even know for sure how the saints in Heaven hear our prayers, we just know that they do. Barring some revelation by the Holy Spirit, any statement regarding the ability of the souls in Purgatory to hear our prayers is going to be a speculative one.
Now, this is just my educated opinion, but if I were to take a stand on this issue I would say that praying to the souls in Purgatory is a logical consequence of what we believe about the communion of saints. In Christ, the Church Militant (on Earth), the Church Suffering (in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven) all make up one Mystical Body of Christ.
The Catechism says, “In the communion of saints a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things” (no. 1475). In other words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). Knowing this, it just makes sense to me that if the souls in Purgatory can benefit from our prayers, then we should be able to benefit from theirs. The Communion of Saints doesn’t seem to be a one-way street.
Furthermore, the Church has always allowed Catholics to pray to their deceased loved ones as a private devotion. But, the odds are great that any soul destined for heaven is undergoing some type of final purification first. Thus, the possibility exists that when you pray to your deceased grandmother, for example, you are actually praying to a soul in Purgatory. The Church, in allowing this private devotion, surely must have recognized the potential that existed in this scenario for a prayer to be directed to such a soul. So, in this perhaps we have implicit approval.
Again, keep in mind that these are simply my own theological musings, and I do not present them as the definitive teaching of the Church. But, perhaps these thoughts will help you as you decide whether or not you will pray to the souls in Purgatory.
13. I was reading a commentary on the Bible that said it used the “early Church fathers” as a guide in interpreting the various passages of the Bible. Who are the “early Church fathers” and how much weight should their writings have in our understanding of the Bible?
The early Church fathers are those men from the first few centuries of the Church who, both in their lives of holiness and in their writings, testified to the true and Catholic faith. This patristic age ends with St. John Damascene (d. 749 AD) in the East and with St. Gregory the Great (d. 604 AD) or St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636 AD) in the West. Hence, the early Church fathers come from the first seven centuries of the Church. By popular acclamation, the four “Great Fathers of the West” are St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great. The four “Great Fathers of the East” are St. Athanasius, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, and St. John Chrysostom. Their contributions to the growth of the Church are unparalleled.
If you want to know what the Church has taught from the very beginning, turn to the writings of the early Church fathers. Their writings are also very important when it comes to understanding Scripture. After all, the early Church fathers are from the very same community that wrote the Bible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They know what the Bible means because the Bible is the written testimony of what they themselves were teaching, and learning, and believing.
Note what Paul writes to Timothy: "What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2) and again, "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you" (1 Tim 6:20, ESV). Before anything was ever written down, Christians learned by the mouths of the apostles, and by the "faithful men" that they established in every place to "guard the deposit" handed on to that church.
This deposit was passed on with the utmost care and fidelity. Nothing was true that did not come from the mouths of the apostles or from the "faithful men" that they established (cf. Gal 1:8). In time, much of this teaching was written down as circumstances in the various churches required. And so, the deposit lives on, both in the written record and in the ordinary teaching of the Church. The early Church fathers give witness to this deposit in their writings and in their very lives, and so they are an important resource when it comes to interpreting Scripture.
14. Does “ask and you shall receive” mean that we should expect to get anything from God as long as we pray for it?
The passage you are referring to is Mt 7:7 – “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” A passage from John’s gospel is similar to it: “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14).
Now, a surface reading may cause someone to believe in a "name it-claim it" or "word of faith" teaching where God is just dying to give us all the riches in the world and if we ask for something, even the most outlandish thing, He will give it to us for the simple fact that we have faith that He will. But, other passages provide the key for the proper understanding of the passages previously cited:
Jas 1:6-8 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, 8 unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.
Jas 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
1 Jn 3:21-22 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
1 Jn 5:14 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
We see from this that we will receive what we ask of the Lord, but only if we meet certain prerequisites:
- We must ask in faith, without doubting.
- We must not make a request that is rooted in the desires of sinful passions.
- We must ask out of a pure heart.
- We must be striving to keep His commandments and to do what pleases Him.
- Our request must be in accordance with His will
This provides the necessary context that keeps us from thinking that Mt 7:7 and similar passages mean that God will just hand over the world to us if we ask Him.
15. What is the difference between an angel and a saint?
Good question! I think it depends on what you mean by the word “saint.” Usually when people use this word they are referring to those holy men and women who came before us and who are now in heaven praying for us. When you use the word “saint” in that way, then the difference between the angels and the saints is in their nature.
Angels are spirits made to exist without a body. The saints (as we are using the term here), however, are spirits that were once united to a human body and were made for unity with that body. While the angels are complete in and of themselves, the spirits of saintly men and women are in a sense incomplete because they are without the body they once had. When Jesus finally comes again and the justice and mercy of God's judgments is made known to all the world, then these saints will be united with their bodies once again.
But, the discussion doesn’t end there. If you use the word “saint” in a more general way to refer to any holy person, then all the inhabitants of heaven are saints – including the angels – and we can be saints too! Our word "saint" comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means "holy, sacred." This general sense of the word is how it is most often used in the Bible.
So, for example, Paul refers to the members of the various churches he is writing to as "saints" because he recognizes the saving grace and faith that is within them. We refer to the angels we know as Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael because they are holy, heavenly spirits who chose to side with God at the beginning of time instead of rebel against Him, like Satan and his demons did. Even the patriarchs of the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) are called saints because they lived lives of faithfulness to God. Any inhabitant of heaven is a saint because heaven is a place where nothing unclean shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27).
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, let us not forget the good example of the angels and the saints and let us strive to be more like them in word and deed. Sainthood is not something that is strictly reserved for the afterlife. We can be saints here and now, by living lives of grace and holiness.
16. I have a Protestant friend who is considering becoming Catholic. I’ve taken him to Mass a few times and we’ve had a few conversations about our beliefs. But, usually when I ask him about converting, he just says, “I’m still thinking about it.” Is there anything more I can do?
Well, patience is key. If it was up to us, we would have everyone convert this very instant. We would have them knocked down and blinded like Paul was (cf. Acts 22:6-11). But, for whatever reason, God usually doesn’t work that way. Conversion has to be the heartfelt, earnest decision of each individual or it will not be a true and lasting conversion. This usually takes time to nurture and to develop. So, patience is important, but there are other things you can do too.
For one, I think it would be good to plug your friend into a group of good, Catholic young adults. Give him a chance to have fun and socialize with Catholics. Go out to eat, or to a movie, or to a concert. Show him that Catholicism is more than the observance of rules and the upholding of certain beliefs. Show him that it's actually fun to be Catholic. It's cool to be Catholic. It's good to be Catholic. Catholicism is a way of life, and it's a life worth living.
Secondly, you need to bone up on your theology and your apologetics. Dust off your Bible and your Catechism and start reading them. You never know when your friend is going to ask you a question about why Catholics believe and do certain things. You need to "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). If you can take advantage of these teaching moments, then you will be able to share your faith and bring him closer to Christ.
Thirdly, put some good Catholic resources in his hands. Give him books that provide solid introductions to our faith. In the “Catholic Q&A” for Oct. 5th, I listed several such books that you could use. Go to our parish website and click on “Church Bulletins” to download the bulletin for that week. You can also direct him to websites like Catholic Answers and EWTN where he can learn more.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should pray. Pray that the Lord will grant him wisdom and courage. Pray that God will soften his heart and remove all obstacles to conversion. Pray that God will grant you patience and that His Spirit will give you the right words when you don't know what to say (cf. Exo 4:10-12; Lk 12:11-12). Pray that not only your knowledge but also your LOVE of the Church will shine through in everything that you say and do. Pray that the Lord's Will be done. Have your friends and family pray for him too.
17. How do I respond to someone who says that devotion to Mary takes the focus off of Jesus and detracts from our relationship with Him?
A devotion to Mary is certainly not detrimental to our relationship with Christ. In fact, Marian devotion both flows from and leads to a relationship with Him.
Marian devotion flows from a relationship with Christ in that, when we seek to love as Christ loved, we can’t help but love His mother! After all, Jesus himself was obedient to her (cf. Lk 2:51), and despite the agony of the Cross her care was at the forefront of His mind (cf. Jn 19:26-27). He performed His first miracle at least in part because of her request (cf. Jn 2:3-9). Jesus, who is Himself the fulfillment of the Law, undoubtedly fulfilled the command to “Honor your father and mother” to the fullest extent. The Book of Revelation tells us that Mary is our mother too:
Rev 2:17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.
If we are the offspring of the woman, and the woman is Mary, then Mary is our spiritual mother and we should honor her when we attempt to follow the 4th Commandment as Jesus did.
Marian devotion leads to a relationship with Christ because, as we seek to love as Mary loved, we can’t help but love her Son! Mary lives to bring Christ to the world. That was the result of her humble fiat. She is forever saying to us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). She wants nothing more than for us to follow Christ. When we pray the Rosary, we are contemplating the events of Jesus’ life. At the center of the "Hail Mary" is the name of Jesus. She is an example to us of purity, humility, simplicity, obedience, and a lively faith in God. All nations shall call her blessed, but why? Because she is “the mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43). Mary always points to Christ, and no one who has a true devotion to her would ever say that she stood in the way of her Son.
Now, some may scoff at us for devoting ourselves to someone who leads us to Jesus. "Too many mediators," they say. But, how many of them can actually say that they came to know and love Christ without any help from anyone or anything? It simply does not work that way. Until we see God face to face in heaven, our relationship with God will always be mediated in some way. Thus, we should not be ashamed of the role that Mary plays in our lives. I say: love as Jesus loved. Love His mother.
18. Why can’t women be priests? Isn’t that discrimination?
Well, if the priesthood was reserved to men because the Church thought that men were better or superior to women, then that would be discrimination. But, that’s not the reason why women can’t be priests. The crux of this issue is the nature of the priesthood and the sacrament that the priest makes present.
Every sacrament has symbols. A sacrament does what it symbolizes and symbolizes what it does. So, water is the "matter" of baptism because it most effectively symbolizes the spiritual cleansing that is taking place. Wine is the matter of the Eucharist because it most effectively symbolizes the blood of Christ. When the wrong symbol is used the sacrament is ineffective.
So, we can't baptize people in honey and we can't use Kool-Aid for the Eucharist. Similarly, women can't be priests. This is because the primary function of the priest is to be the symbol of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, the Bridegroom comes to meet his Bride. The Son gives himself to the Father. The King invites his subjects to the wedding feast. This symbolism is destroyed when the priest is not a man.
Some people respond by saying, “Aren’t women made in the image and likeness of God just like men?” but I think such people misunderstand what it means to be “made in God’s image.” This phrase simply means that we are all created by God, with an equal dignity before God, and with the purpose of being united with Him in heaven. Yes, both men and women, each in their own way, have the ability to make Christ present to us. But, a man, by nature, is better suited to make present God as man, as Son, as Groom, as King. These are manly characteristics of God that a woman is simply not naturally disposed to make present.
Some say Jesus only chose men because of the patriarchal society in which he lived. But, Scripture shows us that Jesus was not a slave to his culture. While he was in every way a faithful Jew, he also resisted the unjust prejudices of his day. He spoke with Samaritans, dined with tax collectors, healed people on the Sabbath, touched lepers and dead people, forgave all kinds of sinners, and did a host of other things that were considered culturally objectionable. This tells me that Jesus chose men not because his culture said so but because His Father said so. After all, it was after much deliberation and prayer (cf. Lk 6:12-13) that Jesus chose 12 men to follow him and to celebrate his sacrifice. This I think shows the expressed will of the Father regarding the new priesthood Jesus would establish.
We must also keep in mind that, in all things, the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, can only do what Jesus does. The Church does not have the power to contradict Christ, or to reject the perennial teaching of the Church. The pope could not approve a female priesthood even if he wanted to. That’s how intimately tied the Church is to the teaching and example of Jesus.
19. What is Advent?
The Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon, tells us that Advent is, “A period of prayer in preparation for Christmas, including four Sundays, the first nearest the feast of St. Andrew, November 30. It is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year (Etym. Latin adventus, a coming, approach, arrival.).”
Advent is a time of preparation for and anticipation of the coming of the Lord that we celebrate on Christmas Day. It is an opportunity to place ourselves in the shoes of the Jewish people who waited so long for the coming of the Messiah. It is an opportunity to renew our appreciation for the Incarnation, the moment when the Son of God became man, one like us in all things but sin. Advent takes on a somber tone, similar to Lent, because our minds are focused on what life is like without Christ, without God’s entrance into our world. Of course, in waiting for this coming of the Lord, Advent takes on an eschatological tone as well since, as Christians, we also await the Second Coming, when Jesus will come again and make all things new.
Unfortunately, the same world that God so desired to save can often squelch the spirit of Advent that we are called to embrace. If we are anxious it is not for the coming of the Lord, it is because traffic to the mall is backed up, Wal-Mart is all out of Nintendo Wii’s, and the kids are yelling in the back seat because they want to go see Santa Claus. It’s easy in times like this to forget what Christmas is really all about. This is where Advent comes in. Once we understand Advent for what it is truly mean to be, it can be the antidote to the stress that often accompanies the holiday season. Advent calls us to refocus are minds back to what is important and to remember again the true reason for the season. Over 2,000 years ago, God asked a virgin a simple question: “Will you let me use you to bring my Son to the world? Will you give me your flesh, your life, your time, your entire being?” In a sense, this is the same question that God asks us today, and Advent is a time to prepare ourselves so that when God wishes to come through us, we like Mary, will be able to say “Yes” to Him.
Let us also remember that with Advent's past significance (in the Incarnation) and future significance (in the Second Coming) is also a present reality. Jesus comes, here and now, whenever the Eucharist is celebrated. In a sense, every Mass is a new Advent, and it only makes sense that, during this time of preparation, we should remain close to Christ in the Eucharist. It is in that advent that He is preparing us for the advent that awaits the end of time.
20. Can you explain the difference between “bowing down to” and “venerating” a statue or icon?
There really isn’t a difference, as long as you understand that, when Catholics bow (or make some other act of affection such as kissing, touching, or embracing) they are not giving divine worship or adoration to an object, as if it were an idol. Instead, they are acknowledging the holy purpose for which the object is used, or honoring the saint that the object represents.
The bible clearly reveals that bowing down to something or someone need not be equated with divine worship, or the worship afforded to God alone. The key is in the intent for the posture. Lot "bowed himself with his face to the earth" before the angels that visited him in Sodom (Gen 19:1). Saul "bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance" before Samuel (1 Sam 28:14). David bowed down before the temple of the Lord (cf. Psa 138:2). King Nebuchadnezzar "fell upon his face, and did homage" to Daniel, and even commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him! (Dan 2:46). They all did this not because they intended to worship an object of God’s creation but because they simply wished to show their veneration and respect.
That is all that Catholics intend to do. When a Catholic bows toward the altar in church he is not worshipping a table. Instead, he is showing reverence for the place where the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. When a Catholic kisses his rosary or clutches his scapular it is out of love for Mary, not the object itself. David bowed down before the temple not to worship the actual stone structure but to acknowledge the presence of the Lord that the temple represented.
Where the saints are concerned, there is nothing wrong with making some sign of our admiration of them. Scripture commands us to give respect and honor where it is due (cf. Sir 44:1-2; Rom 13:7; Phil 2:25,29; 1 Pet 2:17), and it is certainly due the saints, who have fought the good fight and persevered to the end. Of course, since the saints are no longer with us, our acts of affection must go towards those objects that make the saints present to us, with the understanding that these acts extend in a mystical way to the saints themselves. Protestants do this all the time, when they kiss the picture of a loved one who is miles away or when they place flowers on a family member’s tombstone. Veneration is both a very biblical and a very natural inclination.