“He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine
and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
21. What does it mean that Mary was “assumed into heaven”? Is there any proof of this in Scripture?
What this means is that Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed (or "taken up") body and soul into heavenly glory. When you or I die, our soul goes to heaven (or hell), but our body remains in the dirt. Mary was different. God raised her body and soul into heaven. Just imagine watching someone float up into the sky and out of sight. It was sort of like that.
Regarding the proof from Scripture, first note that the concept of someone being assumed into heaven is not a new one. Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (cf. 2 Ki 2:11-12; 1 Mac 2:58; Sir 48:4,9) were assumed into heaven. Paul says that a third man may have been as well (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-3). So, the principle is scripturally sound. We are left only to wonder, "Did this happen to Mary?"
There are several verses that seem to indicate that it did. Space prohibits me from providing the actual passages, so you’ll have to look up the references yourself. See Psa 45:9; 132:8; So 8:5; Rev 11:19-12:1; 12:13-14.
Now, I realize that most non-Catholics are skeptical of these passages. “What does that verse have to do with Mary?!?!” they say. But, we have to keep in mind that, by the light of Christ and the teaching of the Church, we can often find meanings in Scripture that were intended by God but not necessarily intended by the human author. For example, when Isaiah said, "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son," he was literally referring to the birth of King Hezekiah. But, St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw in Isaiah’s words the intention of God to prophecy the coming of the Messiah. In a similar way, there's no reason to believe that behind the literal meaning of the passages listed above, we do not find the mind of the Lord regarding His mother. There is certainly nothing in Scripture that contradicts the Church's teaching about the Assumption of Mary.
That said, I grant that the primary basis for the teaching of the Assumption is in the tradition of the Church, but as Catholics we should not apologize for that. After all, Scripture itself commands us to follow such tradition (cf. 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6), and the Church has always believed that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.
22. What is the “fall of the angels”? Is this in Scripture anywhere?
At the beginning of time the angels in heaven were given a choice: follow God or rebel against Him. That a resident of heaven would ever rebel against God is one of the great mysteries of our faith. At any rate, some of them decided to rebel and they were thus cast out of heaven by St. Michael and the faithful angels. This is “the fall of the angels” and the prince of the fallen angels is Satan. The scriptural witness to this is very interesting.
In Gen 3, we see that there already existed a spirit of evil who tempted man into pride. Thus, there must have been some type of fall among the angels that caused one of them to be evil. Job 4:18 says, “Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error.” Traditionally, Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 are also seen as referring to the sin and resulting fall of the angels.
Jesus himself says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven” (Lk 10:18). Perhaps the most explicit reference is from the second letter of Peter, where it is written:
2 Pet 2:4,9 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.
We see from these verses that there was a fall among the angels. That their expulsion was lead by St. Michael is one of the most enduring Christian symbols. In Christian artwork, he is seen with a sword, trampling the devil underfoot. In Scripture he is always fighting against evil (cf. Dan 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 1:9). His role in the fall is most clearly seen in the Book of Revelation:
Rev 12:7-9 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
That is why, as Catholics, we are fond of praying to St. Michael in moments of temptation or when we need protection from evil. Let us be more like the angels who announce the Lord’s coming and less like the angels who rebelled!
St. Michael the archangel … pray for us!
23. Where does Scripture say that Mary was conceived without sin?
First, note the parallel between Mary and the ark of the Old Covenant:
- Both Mary (cf. Lk 1:39) and the ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:2) arise and go to Judah.
- Both Mary (cf. Lk 1:56) and the ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:11) reside for 3 months in their new locations.
- David leaps with joy at the presence of the ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:16), just as John leaps at the presence of Mary (cf. Lk 1:41).
- What David says at the coming of the ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:9) is almost exactly what Elizabeth says upon the coming of Mary (cf. Lk 1:43).
- Just as the ark of the Old Covenant contained the word of God (on stone tablets), the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest (cf. Heb 9:4), so did Mary contain Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God (cf. Jn 1:1), the Manna from Heaven (cf. Jn 6:51), and the great High Priest (cf. Heb 5:4-5).
All of this points to Mary as the ark of the New Covenant, and if the ark of the old required construction of the finest and purest materials and was so holy that no one could even touch it (cf. 2 Sam 6:6-7), what else can we believe about Mary but that God constructed her to be holy and undefiled by sin, a fitting tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ?
There are also two salutations to Mary that are indicative of her immaculate nature. The first is the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” The Greek term here for “full of grace” is kecharitomene, a perfect present participle of the verb charitoo, which denotes “grace.” A perfect participle indicates an action completed in the past with existing results, and a present participle denotes continuous or repeated action. So kecharitomene means “you who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace.” Mary’s fullness of grace indicates a complete absence of sin.
Note also that Gabriel literally calls Mary “full of grace” as if that were her name. This is important because in the Bible, a person’s name is often indicative of that person’s chief characteristic. Simon was called “Peter” because he was to be the “Rock” of the Church (the name "Peter" comes from the Greek word petra which means "rock"). Abram was called “Abraham” because he was to be the father of many nations (the name "Abraham" comes from the Hebrew words ab and hamon, which together mean "father of a multitude"). By addressing Mary as “full of grace,” Gabriel was acknowledging Mary as one who is particularly grace-filled.
Elizabeth’s words to Mary are also important: “Blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:42). This was actually the customary way of expressing the superlative. So, for example, the tallest man would be “tall among men.” The smartest woman would be “smart among women.” When Elizabeth said that Mary was “blessed among women” she was declaring her to be the most blessed, or more blessed than other women.
All of this indicates Mary’s perfect sinlessness, which could not have been a reality were it not for the divine intervention of the Lord at the moment of her conception.
24. Why do some women wear a veil at Mass?
It has been a long-standing custom in the Church for a woman to wear a veil at Mass or in the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Although it seems to have gone out of fashion nowadays, there is certainly nothing that prevents a woman from continuing this practice, and it is a commendable one for many reasons.
For one, Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:2-16 that when a woman veils herself at Mass, she is acknowledging the headship of Christ and the authority of her husband (or father, if she is single) who is called to represent the headship of Christ in her life. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23).
Paul also says that a woman’s long hair is “her pride,” or her glory (1 Cor 11:15), and rightly so. Women should celebrate all that makes them distinctly feminine, and often times, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman’s hair! But, in the Mass, where we are called to humbly present ourselves before the Almighty God, we must, as St. John the Baptist says, “decrease so that he may increase” (Jn 3:30). So, a woman veils herself so that all glory will be given to God and not to herself.
Thirdly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, vessels of life are often veiled. In the Old Testament, the “Holy of Holies” – the place where the life of God in the Ark of the Covenant resided – was separated from the rest of the Temple by a veil. In Mass, the chalice that holds the Blood of Christ is veiled until the Offertory. In between Masses, the ciborium that contains the Body of Christ is veiled inside the tabernacle. These are, as Jesus himself tells us, the sources of our spiritual life (cf. Jn 6:53).
Finally, Mary, who consented to bring the life of Christ to the world, is almost always pictured with a veil on her head. Like Mary, women have been given the sacred privilege of being co-creators with God by bringing new life into the world. As such, they often veil themselves in Mass, as a way of promoting due reverence for their unique, God-given purpose as vessels of life. Wearing a veil is also a way of imitating Mary, who is the pre-eminent role model for all women.
Plus, you have to admit: nothing remedies a “bad hair day” like a wearing a veil!
25. What happens when we receive the Eucharist?
When you receive the Eucharist, you become a tabernacle or a vessel of the Lord. Jesus Christ truly resides within you – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. As such, there are many amazing spiritual effects that come from this experience:
- we receive grace from God that forgives us of our venial (or “lesser”) sins and strengthens us to do what is right and to avoid evil (cf. Jn 6:54);
- we enter into intimate communion with Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 6:56);
- we enter into intimate communion with the members of the Church spread all over the world (cf. 1 Cor 10:17).
Sometimes receiving the Eucharist can be an emotional experience, especially for adult converts to Catholicism who are receiving the Eucharist for the first time. Other times there can be no emotional response at all. The absence of an emotional response does not discredit or negate the Presence of Christ that is truly within you. But, if this Presence is going to bear fruit in our lives – if we are going to actually experience the increase in holiness and friendship with God that the Eucharist provides – then we must approach the Lord’s Table with the proper disposition. In other words, we must have knowledge that the Eucharist is Christ, truly believe it to be so, and have no mortal (or “grave”) sins on our soul that would keep us from Him.
As a vessel of the Lord, we are then called to go out and bring Christ to the world, by the way in which we witness to our Catholic faith in word and deed. That’s why, at the end of Mass, the priest says, “Go in Peace to love and serve the Lord.” And, since we have received such an amazing gift in our Eucharistic Lord and such a noble mission in making Him known, we can’t help but say, “Thanks be to God!”
Of course, often times, we grow so accustomed to receiving the Eucharist every Sunday that we forget how truly amazing it is. We grab our little wafer, return to the pew, wait until we can sit down, sing our one verse, and then rush out the door. We talk with friends and family as we file out of the church and then we go about the rest of our day – forgetting that just moments ago we received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
If this happens to you (and trust me, it happens to the best of us), then perhaps kneeling in your pew after Mass and saying a small prayer of thanksgiving to God will help you to focus your mind and to better appreciate what has just taken place. A popular custom is to pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass too, so that he will guard you as you walk out into a world that is hostile to Christ.
26. What is the best way to deal with anti-Catholicism on the internet?
Here are a few things that I try to keep in mind:
BE INFORMED: You have to equip yourself. Read the Catechism. Read the Bible. Find some good Catholic websites that defend the faith. You don’t have to be a genius, just have some resources on hand. You can’t respond to anti-Catholic arguments if you don't even know what the Church teaches or why She teaches it. Once you know your faith well, the ramblings of anti-Catholics don't startle you as much because you know that there is always an answer to them.
BE PRUDENT: One thing I learned the hard way is that you can't tackle every bit of anti-Catholicism that comes your way. I used to act as though the survival of the Church depended solely upon me and thus I had to respond to every attack. Over the years I have learned to just let things go and to concentrate my efforts on what will be the most fruitful. If you try to be a one-man army then you will burn out quickly and then you won't want to defend the Church at all.
STAY CALM: Many people tend to get very emotional when they encounter anti-Catholicism. This hardly ever works out to your advantage. When you start calling people "bigots" and "haters" and say things like "how dare you!" and "who do you think you are!" all you do is come off as someone who has to use emotional appeals to prove a point, instead of logic and reasoning. You also show the other person that he has gotten under your skin. A lot of times, people aren't looking for intellectually-honest discourse. They just want to make someone angry. Don't make yourself an easy target.
When you’re “cool, calm, and collected,” you also create a glaring dichotomy between your disciplined reasoning and their hate-filled, vitriolic diatribes. Then, to the people viewing the debate, it’s easier to see who is there to actually debate and who isn’t.
STAY ON TOPIC: This is easily the #1 mistake that I see people make when they engage others in debate. You have to stay on topic. Be stubborn about it. You must simply refuse to discuss anything that is not on topic. If you don't do this, then your discussion will go nowhere.
PRAY HARD: Finally, you have to make prayer a central part of your work in responding to people who attempt to discredit and refute the Church's teaching. This is after all a spiritual battle that we are waging (cf. Eph 6:12). Pray that God will grant you the patience, wisdom, and above all, charity that is necessary to be effective in engaging these people.
27. If it is not a requirement to be a Catholic to enter heaven then what can we say to fallen-away Catholics to bring them back to the faith if they are good, practicing Christians? What can we say to keep Catholics in the faith and not go astray?
The fact that it’s not a requirement to be Catholic to enter heaven only applies to those who are not accountable for being non-Catholic. For example, God would not demand Catholicity from an Indian in the Amazon jungle who had never even heard of Christ. But, the fallen-away Catholic, he has heard of Christ. More than that, he has received the fullness of Truth in the Church of Christ. He has turned his back on the Sacraments and our Eucharistic Lord. Jesus tells us, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk 12:48). We have indeed been given much in this Catholic faith of ours, and when the master comes on a day we do not expect and an hour we do not know, we must be able to show him that we have been good stewards of it all.
Thus, it is a very serious thing to leave the Catholic Church, but we must also be as empathetic as possible with those of us who have decided to go elsewhere. It is often a very complicated set of circumstances that forces people to leave the Church. A lot of heartache and misunderstanding is usually involved. We have to listen to their story, let them have their say, and then patiently and charitably explain to them what is worthwhile and wonderful about the Catholic faith.
That is also, consequently, what I think encourages people to stay Catholic. That’s why I started the “Catholic Q&A” in the first place: to help people to see what is so Good, Beautiful, and True about this Church of which we are members. Some people are convinced by logic and reasoning, and there is certainly a place for that. But, all people are convinced by true happiness and joy. Let them hear the various arguments in support of Catholic doctrine, but let them also see a smile on your face. Let them see you get choked up over a Scripture verse. Let them see your peace as you return from Confession. Let them see your quiet reverence in the house of the Lord.
This doesn’t mean putting on a show. It means being in love with the Lord and unabashedly Catholic. Such a witness is usually of tremendous reassurance for those who have left the Church, those who may possibly join, and all of us members who need a reminder from time to time of just how blessed we are.
If this happiness, this peace, this reverence is not yours, then pray for it and strive for it. We have to convert our own hearts and minds before we can convert the hearts and minds of others.
28. Protestants talk a lot about the “rapture” and the “tribulation.” What are these things and what is the Catholic belief about them?
Let’s take the “tribulation” first. The tribulation is a time of intense suffering and persecution that will take place around the time of the Second Coming of Christ. Most Protestants from fundamentalist denominations believe that Jesus will spare his elect (or his “chosen people”) from this tribulation by “rapturing” them before the tribulation begins. Supposedly, Christ will appear in the clouds and raise the souls of the elect up into the sky with him where He will reign in a sort of parallel kingdom while the unlucky ones are left to toil on earth and suffer the wrath of the anti-Christ. If you are one of the ones “left behind” (remember the books that were so popular?), then there is still a chance for you, if you come to faith in Christ during the tribulation.
Many Protestants anxiously await this rapture, and their hope is rooted in it. It is indeed a comforting thought to know that one does not having to undergo any persecution as the world reaches its culmination … but it’s not Biblical and it’s not what Catholics believe.
While we can be sure that there will be a tribulation in the end times, the Church also teaches that everyone alive will experience it, even the elect. This is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 675-677) and clearly seen in the 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew also tells us that Jesus will come after the tribulation, not before (cf. Mt 24:29-31).
As for the rapture, Catholics do believe that at the end of time, human souls will “meet the Lord in the air” (cf. 1 Thes 4:17), but we don’t believe that this will take place in order to spare the elect from the tribulation. Instead, we believe that this meeting will take place between God and every soul that has ever lived, and it will be for the purpose of the “final judgment” (or the “general judgment”). When Jesus comes again the souls of all mankind will be reunited with their bodies and the works of every single person will be revealed to all. In this way, everyone will know why some souls received heaven and others hell, and the mercy and justice of God will be vindicated.
In other words, this “meeting the Lord in the air” (and similar verses that Protestants use to defend the rapture) actually explain what will take place in the final judgment. This can get complicated, but there are some good Catholic books on this topic that are very helpful. I suggest Will Catholics Be Left Behind? by Carl Olson, and The Rapture Trap by Paul Thigpen.
29. Did Jesus break the Law of Moses by not stoning the woman caught in adultery?
Great question! The incident you are referring to is found in Jn 8:3-11. The Pharisees catch an adulterous woman and bring her to Jesus to see what He will do. You may want to open your bible to this passage so that you can have it on hand as I discuss what is happening here.
Now, at first glance, it may appear that Jesus did break the Law of Moses. After all, the Law stated that anyone who commits adultery must be stoned to death (cf. Lev 20:10; Deut 22:20-22), yet Jesus prevented this woman from being stoned. However, the truth is this: Jesus did not break the Law here, He fulfilled it.
First, we must keep in mind that the truest justice comes not when the Law is enforced by those who are themselves transgressors of it (as all mankind are), but when it is enforced by He who is sinless, who is in no way a transgressor of the Law of God (cf. Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). When Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” He basically revealed to the crowd that He is the ultimate Judge, not the Pharisees (or anyone else, for that matter).
Once He established that, He went on to enforce the Law when He said to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” After all, the purpose or spirit of this particular law (which the Pharisees so often neglected) was to impress upon Israel the gravity of the sin of adultery. Jesus acknowledged this when He told the woman to never do it again.
Finally, note that stoning the woman would have meant the condemnation of both the sin and the woman. She would have died in sin and suffered total separation from God. But, Jesus came to condemn sin, not sinners. He came to save what was lost, not to lose it (cf. Lk 19:10; Jn 12:47; 18:9). So, by preventing the stoning while at the same time commanding the woman to “Go and sin no more,” Jesus condemns the sin but saves the sinner. In this way, He is both Just and Merciful, and He brings about the fulfillment of the law in question.
30. What is “Christology”? What is “high Christology” and “low Christology”?
You must have been speaking with a theology student! Most people don’t speak of these things in every day conversation. But, it is good for all of us to know at least a little something about them. After all, they have to do with our Savior … and He is very important to us!
Christology is the study of Jesus Christ. It is primarily concerned with His nature: who and what He is, and what we should believe about Him. High Christology and low Christology are two different ways of approaching this study.
A high Christology takes as its starting point and its foundation the pre-existent Logos, the Word, the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He who is “high” above us. John’s Gospel is a prime example: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God .... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (Jn 1:1,14) . This type of Christology is also called a "descending Christology" because it starts with the Second Person of the Trinity and moves downward, as it were, towards mankind as it contemplates the Incarnation, when God took on a human nature.
A low Christology takes as its starting point and its foundation Jesus as a human being, a historical figure. It depends on research and analysis of the Gospels, which provide for us much of what we know regarding Jesus' life on earth. This type of Christology is also called an "ascending Christology" because it starts with the human being Jesus and then rises up towards heaven as it contemplates the relationship between Jesus and God, He who is entirely "other-worldly" and “other-than.”
Both approaches to the study of Jesus are susceptible to error, if you’re not careful. We must remember that neither the humanity nor the divinity of Jesus can ever be compromised. Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine.
It sounds simple enough, but Christology can get really complicated really quick. If you would like to read more on this topic, I suggest starting with Jesus, the Christ, by Thomas G. Weinandy, or To Know Christ Jesus, by Frank (“F.J.”) Sheed. During Lent, we will be doing a 5-part study on the sufferings of Christ. This may be helpful to you as well.
31. Where do you get the questions and answers for your column every week?
Well, the questions come from various sources. Sometimes a parishioner will email me a question. Other times, friends, family, and coworkers will ask me things. However, the majority of the questions come from people I’ve never even seen before. These people are readers of my blog.
The word “blog” is short for “web log.” It’s like an online journal where you can post your thoughts. Blogs are nice because you don’t have to know anything about web design in order to create your own. Once you sign up with one of the various blog services, you just type out what you want to say and the blog service does the rest. The three most popular blog services are Blogger, Wordpress, and TypePad.
If your content is well-written and speaks to a particular audience, you post on your blog regularly, and you are able to enhance the design of your blog, then you can actually attract a sizeable group of fans who will read your blog on a regular basis. I’ve been posting on my blog, phatcatholic apologetics, since July 19, 2006, and currently attract around 200 readers a day.
Most of the time, at least one or two of these readers will have a question about Catholicism. That’s why they read my blog in the first place, because they want to learn more about the Catholic Church and they see that I am knowledgeable in that area. Out of the hundreds of Catholic “experts” out there, they choose to ask me their questions. I am always truly humbled by that.
The answers come from my own noggin … with a little help from various online resources. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia is an amazing resource for information about the Church. Catholic Answers is great because they have a library of short articles that defend various Catholic beliefs. Crosswalk is actually a Protestant website, but it’s the best tool I’ve found for looking up Scripture passages. Each passage is also linked to various dictionaries, commentaries, and lexicons that are useful as well. Of course, you can never go wrong with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
On the “Links” page of our parish website you’ll find a collection of links to articles that address various Catholic topics. It’s not finished yet, but it may help you to find your own answers to the questions you’ve always had about your faith. Of course, I am always available as well.
32. Is it true that, on Sundays during Lent, you can resume doing whatever it is that you decided to give up?
Short Answer: It depends on what you are giving up and why you are giving it up.
Long Answer: In reference to Lent, to abstain is to avoid eating meat on certain days. The only required days of abstinence during Lent are Ash Wednesday and every Friday. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we must “fast” as well, which means eating one regular meal and too smaller meals, with no snacks in between.
Now, for the sake of the penitential character of Lent, some people will also give up certain guilty pleasures or things that they typically enjoy, such as chocolate, coffee, or watching TV. Lent is also a time when people double their efforts to rid themselves of habitual sins and vices. That thing you always find yourself confessing? Lent is a good time to rid yourself of that.
But what about Sundays? Isn’t Sunday a time of joy, celebration, and relaxation? It seems that the whole spirit of the Sabbath day is opposed to self-denial, which is why many people choose this day to relax their abstinence. I wouldn't say that this is necessarily wrong, but I do think it can lead to a misunderstanding of what Lent and the Sabbath day are all about, if we approach these things with the wrong mindset.
It is true that, while even Sundays during Lent take on a penitential character (cf. violet-colored vestments, playing of the organ, no "Alleluia," etc.), it is of a different kind. Sunday seems to be more a time of prayer, almsgiving, charitable works, spiritual retreats -- basically, doing positive things -- instead of fasting and abstinence, which are more negative actions of avoiding things. But, it is also true that we should always be working towards greater self-mastery and the conquering of sin in our lives. So, while technically it would be okay for you to eat that candy bar on Sunday, if you are a slave to bodily pleasures and have trouble denying yourself, I don't think it would be against the spirit of the Sabbath day to exercise some restraint. Of course, if what you are trying to give up is a sin, then you should never give in to that!
The "loophole" mentality is a danger because when you view Sunday as a break from your self-imposed penance or abstinence, then a day of quiet thanksgiving can quickly become a day of gluttony and self-indulgence. Remember, Sunday is a day of doing good works, of being charitable and growing in your own spiritual life … not a day of feasting on your guilty pleasures.
33. What does it mean to be made “in the image and likeness of God”?
We hear this all the time, right? “You are made in the image and likeness of God.” Intuitively we realize that we are supposed to derive some sense of dignity or selfworth from this fact, but do any of us really know why? What does it actually mean to be made in God’s image and likeness?
Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. We are like him because He is our Creator and he endowed us with gifts that no other creatures possess. This doesn’t mean that Adam somehow looked like God. After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and therefore invisible. Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death. The resemblance however is primarily in man’s spirit.
It is this spirit that sets man apart from the animal world, and places him in dominion over the earth. Only man has the capacity to reason, to make moral decisions, and to intimately commune with God and his fellow man. This spirit that God gave man, and man alone, granted to him a mental, moral, and social likeness with God. Mentally, man was created as a rational, volitional (or “willful”) being. In other words, man can reason and man can choose. This is a reflection of God’s own intellect and freedom.
Morally, man was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all that He had made and called it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state.
Socially, man was created for fellowship. This reflects God's triune nature as a community of Persons and the love that is shared between these Persons. In Eden, man’s primary relationship was with God and God made the first woman because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18).
It is no small thing what God has done in allowing us to have a share in his divine attributes. God raises us up by making us more like Him and allowing us to participate in His divine life. He has given mankind the capacity to actually have a personal relationship with Him! No other creature can boast of such a thing. That is why we recall our status as creatures made in God’s image and likeness whenever a certain segment of mankind is being marginalized or whenever a person acts as though he has no dignity or worth. There is great dignity in having God as our source and in being His greatest creation! How can we disrespect other human beings or forget our own inherent value in light of that truth?
34. In the Gospel reading for the second week of Lent (cf. Mk 9:2-10), we read that Peter wanted to make “booths” for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus when these three gloriously appeared at the top of the mountain. What are “booths” and why did Peter want to build them?
First, the booths: these are small huts made of tree branches, the same shelters the Israelites used during the 40-year journey through the wilderness after the Exodus. They also utilized these booths in their encampment around Mt. Sinai, while Moses received the Law from God. Orthodox Jews construct these booths today when they celebrate the “Feast of Booths,” a seven-day commemoration of God’s protection of His people while they journeyed those 40 years.
I consulted several Scripture commentaries and the perception seems to be that Peter wanted to construct booths for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus so that he could prolong the glorious event that he was witnessing. That is certainly understandable. The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (©1953), however, gives us another reason: Peter may have assumed that Moses and Elijah had come to stay and to herald Jesus in his glory.
This makes sense. After all, according to vs. 11, they believed that Elijah would return to pave the way for the Messiah. They also believed, according to Deut 18:15, that God would raise up a prophet like Moses to lead His people, and they would “listen to him.” And now here they are, Elijah and Moses, conversing with Jesus before their very eyes! And what does the voice from the cloud say? “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” This may have made Peter realize that he was witnessing the fulfillment of what the Jews had been anticipating. Moses and Elijah have come to tell the entire world that Jesus is the Messiah, the prophet like Moses! In Peter’s mind, if Elijah and Moses have come to stay then they need shelter, so he desired to make them each a booth. Of course, in his excitement he has forgotten that glorified bodies have no need for shelter!
Ultimately, I think the booths (as well as the setting and the cloud and pretty much everything else in the scene) serve to connect the Transfiguration with God’s revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Both take place on the seventh day, both occur on a mountain, both Jesus and Moses take three companions with them, both of their faces shine with God’s glory, both involve the cloud of God’s presence, and both events involve God speaking through a heavenly voice. These parallels solidify Jesus as the “new Moses,” and the fulfillment of the Law that Moses received. Like Moses, Jesus stands as the mediator between God and His people. Like Moses, Jesus frees us from slavery and bondage. Like Moses, Jesus feeds us with bread from heaven. Praise be to God!
35. Does the Bible say anything about drinking alcohol?
Yes, it does, whenever it mentions the consumption of wine or "strong drink."
The responsible consumption of wine is encouraged in the Bible. Jesus and the Apostles all took wine to drink at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:27,29). Jesus would not have made Himself sacramentally present in wine if wine was prohibited. The Son of man came “eating and drinking” (Lk 7:33-34) and one of His final acts on the Cross was to drink the “vinegar” or sour wine that the soldiers offered to Him (cf. Jn 19:28-30). Jesus' first miracle was turning water to wine (cf. Jn 2:1-11), and this after the wedding party had already drunk freely. Paul told Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach" (1 Tim 5:23).
As for the OT evidence, the prophet Nehemiah commands the people to drink wine (cf. Neh 8:10). The sacrifices that God required often included wine as a drink offering (cf. Exo 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5,10; 28:7,14). The Psalmist says that God gives man plants so that he may make from them "wine to gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104: 14-15). In Proverbs we receive this counsel: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress” (Prov 31:9). Wine is even used as a symbol of new life and of the fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind (cf. Isa 25:6; Amos 9:14; Zech 10:7).
What we should avoid is drinking to the point of drunkenness, or to the point where we no longer have the same control over our actions that we do when we are sober. Isaiah says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening till wine inflames them!” (Isa 5:11). Paul says to the Ephesians, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5: 18). Likewise, he counsels Titus, “Bid the older women likewise to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good” (Tis 2:3). To the Romans he says, “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness” (Rom 13:13), and to the Galatians he counts drunkenness as one of the sins that keeps a person from inheriting the kingdom of God (cf. Gal 5:21).
As the Catechism tells us, “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine” (no. 2290).
36. In Mass recently, I noticed that some people bow during the Creed. Why do they do that?
Well, the first reason is because that is what we are supposed to do.
There is a Church document called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or “GIRM”) that outlines the basic structure of the Mass. In para. 137 we read:
“The Creed is sung or recited by the priest together with the people with everyone standing. At the words et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . became man) all make a profound bow; but on the Solemnities of the Annunciation and of the Nativity of the Lord, all genuflect.”
So, just to refresh your memory, here is the Nicene Creed as it is said in Mass, up to the part where we are supposed to make a profound bow:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
You begin the bow at the words “by the power …” and rise once you have said “became man.” Note that a “profound bow” is a bow at the waist, in the manner of the Japanese when they greet people. This is more demonstrative then the simple head nod.
The reason the GIRM calls us to bow at that point in the Creed is because it is at that point when we express our belief in the most fundamental mystery of Christianity: That in Jesus Christ, God actually became man, born of a woman by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the Incarnation, the most sacred moment in all of human history. Therefore, we bow in honor of that event.
In the Mass, our gestures and postures should always reflect what we believe at each moment in the Mass. Since the Incarnation is so central to what we believe as Christians, the profound bow becomes an important way of outwardly expressing that belief.
37. Why does the Bible say that Jesus had brothers if Mary was a virgin her whole life?
There are several verses in Scripture that refer to the “brothers” of Jesus (cf. Mt 12:46; 13:55-56; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19; Jn 7:1-10; Acts 1:14; Gal 1:19). However, it is not necessary to believe that these “brothers” were actually His siblings.
Remember, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word for “brother” in these verses is adelphos. This word can mean “sibling,” but it is also used in Scripture to refer to those of the same nationality; any man, or neighbor; persons with like interests; distant descendants of the same parents; persons united by a common calling; mankind; the disciples; and all believers.
Considering the broad meaning of the word, we can just as easily say that these “brothers” of Jesus were not Jesus’ siblings but instead were related to Him in some other way. Scripture tells us that at least four of these brothers – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – were actually Jesus’ cousins, since their mother was Mary’s sister (cf. Mt 27:56,61; 28:1; Mk 15:47; Jn 19:25).
The customs of the day are helpful here as well. For one, Jesus was the first born of the family, so these brothers would be younger than Him. In Jn 7: 1-10 we see them giving Jesus orders and practically reprimanding Him. Yet, in Jesus' day, no younger brother would dare speak to the eldest the way these brothers speak to Jesus.
Also, it was Jewish custom for the eldest son to take care of his mother once his father died. Once the eldest son died, this responsibility fell on the next son, and so on. Yet, Jesus gave his mother to the Apostle John, not to any of His brothers (cf. Jn 19:26-27).
Furthermore, if Jesus had siblings, where were they when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus on the way back from celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem? These siblings certainly would have been traveling with them. Yet, there is no mention of them at all in the account of what happened. Note also that, when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was gone, they didn’t go to his supposed siblings, which would have been the logical thing to do. Instead, they looked among their “kinfolk and acquaintances” (Lk 2:44).
Finally, Jesus is referred to in Scripture as "the" son of Mary, instead of "a" son (cf. Mk 6:3). It seems to me that if Mary had multiple sons, "a son" would have been the more appropriate phrase.
All of this explains why Catholics have nothing to fear when they read of the “brothers of Jesus” in Scripture.
38. Am I showing a lack of faith if I take medication?
I don’t think that there is anything inherently “anti-faith” about taking medication. Wine, oil, balm, figs, leaves and similar things are all utilized in Scripture to cure various ailments, and such use is laudable and encouraged:
2 Kings 20:7 And Isaiah said, "Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover."
Jer 8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?
Jer 51:8 Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; wail for her! Take balm for her pain; perhaps she may be healed.
Ezek 47:12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."
Luke 10:33-34 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
1 Tim 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
Read Sirach 38:1-15. The entire passage is an apologetic in defense of taking medication and utilizing the gifts of the physician. The fact is, God can use the things of this world and the advances that man has made in science and medicine to heal us. It does not imply a lack of faith to take medicine anymore than it does to go to a doctor or a dentist. We also have the responsibility, as good stewards, to take care of our bodies and provide for their vitality. Taking medicine and going to the doctor is one way that we do that.
The important thing is to keep the Lord involved as well. Pray to him daily for healing. Acknowledge the "Great Physician" working through the human physician. The amazing accomplishments that mankind has been able to achieve in science and medicine often lull us into thinking that we can do just fine without God. We must never forget that He is at work in all that is good.
39. What are the four marks of the Church?
A mark is a characteristic that identifies or distinguishes a thing from among other things. The Church Jesus founded is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These are the characteristics that identify His Church from among the hundreds of ecclesial communities, or “churches,” that exist today. The Catechism contains an excellent exposition of all four of these marks (cf. nos. 811-870). I'll provide my own summary remarks below.
The Church is one, first of all, because She is united under the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. Anyone who does not acknowledge his authority is not one with us in the fullest sense. The Church is also one in Her teaching. Preserved down through the ages is the one deposit of faith, and our common adherence to this faith binds us together. We have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as St. Paul tells us (Eph 4:5). Finally, all Christians are united by their faith in Christ and their Trinitarian baptism.
The Church is holy because of the great fountain of grace that is available in the Sacraments. Through them, the Lord presents His Bride, the Church, to the Father without spot or wrinkle. The Church is also holy because of the abundance of saints that She has produced, those holy men and women who act as a great cloud of witnesses, interceding for us with perfect prayers to the Father. Finally, the Church is holy because Her doctrine is without the stain of error. It is unchangeable and incorruptible.
The Church is catholic because She is universal. The word "catholic" means "universal." The Catholic Church is a worldwide Church that encompasses men of every culture, race, nationality, and language. By living out Christ's command to "make disciples of all nations" we make the Church the truly catholic Church that Jesus desired it to be. The word “catholic” also means “whole” and thus likewise refers to the Church where God’s truth and grace exist to the fullest extent. In the Church, we lack nothing that God wished to hand on to us.
Finally, the Church is apostolic. The authority first granted to the apostles is preserved through their successors, who are the bishops. Through this succession, and through the charism of infallibility, the Church preserves and safeguards the teaching of the Apostles. Thus, the Church is apostolic not only in the authority of Her shepherds but also in the content of Her teaching. Lastly, the Church is apostolic because She identifies Herself as "one who is sent." That is the definition of the Greek word apostolos, from which we derive our word "apostle." The Church is apostolic whenever She engages in missionary activity and evangelism as one sent out to bring Christ to the world.
Again, this is only a short summary. I highly suggest reading what the Catechism has to say about these four marks as well.
40. Where does the Bible support the authority of the papacy?
The passages that support papal authority all center on Peter. This is because Peter was the first pope of the Church, and every pope who comes after him receives the same power and authority that Peter first held. I don’t have room to provide each passage, so you’ll have to look them up as we go along.
The primary passage in support of papal authority is Mt 16:17-19. First, notice that Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. This name comes from the Greek word petros, which means “Rock.” As vs. 18 tells us, Simon’s name was changed because he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. Verse 19 tells us that he who is the Rock of the Church will have the keys of the kingdom and the authority to bind and loose.
By referring to “keys” and to “binding” and “loosing,” Jesus is giving Peter the power of the steward in the Davidic kingdom. Under the Davidic kings, there was a steward or prime minister who was second in authority only to the king (cf. Gen 41:39-43; Esther 3:1-2). While the king was away, the steward had full command over the kingdom, an authority which was symbolized by a set of keys that only the steward possessed (cf. Isa 22:15,19-22). By referring to this position Jesus is telling us that, just as the steward had authority over the household of the king, Peter will have authority over the Church of Christ.
The “binding” and “loosing” is rabbinical language that refers to making disciplinary judgments, to binding people to certain punishments and loosing, or forgiving them of all penalties. As vs. 19 says, whatever Peter bounds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. This means that Peter’s authoritative decisions receive ratification from above, from God!
Peter’s authority is seen in other passages as well. In Jn 21:15-19, Jesus gives Peter the task of “feeding” and “tending” Christ’s sheep. This task is Peter’s in a preeminent way, since Jesus singled Peter out from among the other apostles when He gave Peter this command. In Lk 22:31-32, Jesus tells the 12 apostles that Satan wishes to “sift them like wheat.” Jesus responds to this by praying for the faith of one of them: Peter. This shows the importance of Peter’s faith to the vitality and endurance of the Church. Finally, in Jn 14:16-17,26 and Jn 16:13, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide Peter (the pope) and the apostles (the bishops) into all truth. This Counselor will be with them forever and teach them all things. In other words, there is God-given and God-protected authority to be found in the papacy and in the bishops in communion with him.
Much more can be said, but that should suffice as an introduction.