Part 5

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15)

81. Feb. 22 was the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. Why do we have a day devoted to a chair?

It does seem odd at first to celebrate what is basically an inanimate object, but there is in fact a very good reason for this feast day. Pope Benedict XVI, in his General Audience catechesis on Feb 22, 2006, had many helpful things to say on this. I would like to provide an abbreviated version of his remarks:

The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It comes from a very ancient tradition, chronicled at Rome from the end of the 4th century, which renders thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors. The "cathedra," literally, is the fixed seat of the Bishop, found in the mother church in a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and is the symbol of the authority of the Bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," the evangelical teaching which he, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to maintain and pass on to the Christian community. When the Bishop takes possession of the particular Church entrusted to him, he, wearing the mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, is seated in the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and pastor, the path of the faithful in faith, in hope and in love.

What was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which the Church was built, began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "see" of the Church was the Cenacle, and it's likely that in that room, where also Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed together with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter. Successively, the see of Peter became Antioch, a city situated on the Oronte River, in Syria, today in Turkey, in that time the third metropolis of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. From that city, evangalized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), where the name Christian was born for us, Peter was the first bishop, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided for a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence brought Peter to Rome. [...]

The see of Rome, after this movement of St. Peter, became recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its bishop represented that of the Apostle charged by Christ to feed his flock. [...]

To celebrate the "Cathedra" of Peter, as we do today, means, then, to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wishes to gather the entire Church and guide it along the way of salvation.

82. Isn’t the Catholic Church discriminating against people when it supports laws that ban same-sex marriage?

I think there are two errors at the root of this question: 1.) All discrimination is wrong, and 2.) People have the right to enter into a same-sex marriage. I would like to address these errors in turn.

Regarding the first error, people throw around the word “discrimination” a lot in order to gain some leverage based on the baggage attached to the word. When we hear “discrimination,” we think “slavery,” which was one of the greatest evils we have ever faced. So, when you charge someone with discrimination, that usually works to gain public sentiment in your favor. But, it’s not intellectually honest. That’s because it is simply not true that all discrimination is wrong. Speed limits discriminate against people who like to drive fast. Laws against stealing discriminate against kleptomaniacs. Should these laws be repealed simply because they discriminate? Of course not. The fact is, sometimes discrimination is just and necessary. So, it is not enough to say that a law is wrong simply because it discriminates. Instead, one has to prove that the discrimination in question is unjust.

The second error, that people have a right to enter into same-sex marriages, really centers around the definition of a “right.” What is a “right”? Is it the freedom to do whatever we want? If that were the case, then people could claim the “right” do to anything! How then do we determine whether or not someone has a legitimate claim to something? If it's a legitimate claim, it's a "right." If it's an arbitrary claim, it's a "want." Basic philosophical principles tell us that a claim is legitimate only if it is justified morally, and if it has its basis in some good that should be honored. Under this definition, same-sex marriage cannot qualify as a right.

Now, I realize that this begs the question: how do we determine whether or not something is morally justified? As a Catholic, the Bible and the teachings of the Church are my guide, and while one could argue that these should be the guides for ALL men, I think it is also true that natural law and every man's faculty of reason should also lead him to the conclusion that same-sex marriage is immoral and thus no one has a legitimate claim to it.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the debate (which is all I really have room here to do), but I hope it helps. For more information, I suggest the following sites:

83. What proof is there in the resurrection of Jesus?

First, the Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Messiah, was arrested, condemned by Pontius Pilate, and crucified. He was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which was sealed with a large boulder and guarded by Roman soldiers. Three days later, some women who went to His tomb found the boulder removed and the body gone. In a span of 40 days, He appeared to over 500 people and then ascended into heaven. But, is it true?

With any historical event, you discover what happened by utilizing eyewitness accounts and the documents of those who collected such accounts. For the resurrection of Jesus, the New Testament is our primary source for such documentary evidence. There simply is not enough room here to defend the historical reliability of the New Testament, but trust me, we can be exceedingly confident in the purity of the New Testament as it has come down to us (despite the fact that we do not have the originals), and we can rest assured that it gives us an accurate reporting of what actually happened.

That said, we know that Jesus resurrected from the dead because: 1.) all of the reliable historical evidence tells us that He did, and 2.) There is no other explanation that better accounts for the facts of the matter. Of course, people have their theories, but they are easily refuted.

Some say that, in their great psychological distress, everyone who thought they saw the resurrected Lord was actually hallucinating. But, 500 people hallucinating the same thing? Not likely. You can’t touch a hallucination either (like Thomas did), and last time I checked, hallucinations don’t eat, nor do they last for 40 days.

Others say that once Jesus died, the apostles realized that He was actually a quack and so, to avoid embarrassment, they devised a grand conspiracy to fool everyone into believing that He was actually the Messiah. Also not likely. For one, these are simple people we’re talking about here. The apostles did not have the brains to conceive of such a perfect scheme. Secondly, the conspiracy theory requires them to do things that would have been nearly impossible, such as rolling away the boulder, separating Jesus’ body from the burial linens (which by then would have been securely glued to his skin), and then running away with the body all without the Roman guards seeing. There’s also the fact that no one travels to far distant lands and then suffers a martyr’s death for a lie — unless he is absolutely deranged!

The fact is that the tomb was empty, Jesus appeared to over 500 people during those 40 days, and the gospel message spread like wildfire because Jesus Christ had truly risen from the dead. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!!

84. While Jesus was carrying His Cross, He stopped and spoke to the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” but what He said to them was difficult to understand. What did He mean?

This scene is found in Lk 23:27-31:

And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

I did some research on this passage and, as I understand it, Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple there when He speaks of these terrible days that are coming. Earlier, in Lk 19:43-44 and Lk 21:20-24, Jesus prophesied that this day of destruction was near, as a punishment for the faithlessness of the Jews, and He described that day in much the same terms that He is using here.

I’m sure that Jesus is touched by their mourning for Him, but He also knows that the greatest possible good will come from His current suffering. I think Jesus is basically telling the women that they need not worry about Him. Instead, they need to worry about their people, particularly the faithless from among them. When the Temple comes crumbling down and the entire city is destroyed, that will be such an awful day that people will consider it a blessing to be barren (and thus spared from bringing a child into those dreadful days). They will rather have mountains and hills fall on them then suffer the torments of that day! History tells us that, in 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and it was every bit as bad as Jesus said it would be.

As for the green and dry wood that Jesus mentions at the end, this is His clever way of warning them of their impending doom. If you’ve ever tried to make a fire, you know that green wood is still moist and thus unsuitable for burning, but dry wood makes excellent kindling. In Scripture, fire is often a symbol of God’s wrath (cf. Ezek 20:47). The green wood are thus the innocent, those who do not deserve to be punished, and the dry wood are the wicked.

Knowing this then, Jesus is basically saying, “If this is the type of thing that happens to the innocent (to Jesus, who is being beaten and crucified), just wait and see what happens to the wicked!” Our God is a Just God. The wicked never go unpunished.

85. Where are deacons found in Scripture?

First, it may be helpful to define what a deacon is. Scott Hahn’s Catholic Bible Dictionary defines a deacon as:

“An ordained assistant to priests responsible for such ministerial duties as preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, distributing Communion, and presiding at funerals (but not saying the funeral Mass). In the modern Church there are two forms of the diaconate: the permanent diaconate (including single and married men) and the transitional diaconate (for those who will eventually be ordained as priests).”

Sometimes, finding these offices in Scripture can be a little tricky. It’s not because the offices didn’t exist, it’s because, in the apostolic age, the terms used to describe the different positions of leadership in the Church were rather fluid. For example, Paul occasionally describes his work by using the Greek word for “deacon” (diakonos, cf. 2 Cor 3:6; Eph 3:7), even though he held the much higher office of “apostle.” Peter described himself as a "fellow elder," (1 Pet. 5:1) even though he, being an apostle, also had a much higher office. However, in Scripture we definitely see persons fulfilling the functions that we would today consider to be those of a deacon, and by the second century, there is much more agreement on the terms used to describe the three offices.

Traditionally, Acts 6:1-6 is considered to be the point in Scripture where the establishment of the office of deacon is described. It reads as follows:

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch'orus, and Nica'nor, and Ti'mon, and Par'menas, and Nicola'us, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.”

We see from this that the first task of the deacon was to serve the poor. They had other functions too, such as assisting the bishops (cf. Phil 1:1), preaching (cf. Acts 7:2-53), and administering baptism (cf. Acts 8:38). Paul has high standards for anyone who desires to serve in such a position (cf. 1 Tim 3:8-10).

86. What did Jesus mean when he said that a couple could not get a divorce, “except in the case of unchastity” (Mt 5:32; 19:9)?

This is a difficult passage at first, considering that the Church has always taught that a marriage entered into lawfully is indissoluble, or cannot be broken. But, we should not let difficult passages in Scripture sow doubt within us regarding the truth of Catholic teaching. Invariably, the error is not in what the Church teaches or in what Scripture says but in our own understanding.

In this case, the key to solving this riddle is in the meaning of the Greek word porneia, which the RSV translates as “unchastity.” What type of act does Jesus actually have in mind here that would allow a couple to no longer be married? Porneia is sort of a “catch-all” word that can be used to refer to many different kinds of illicit sexual unions: adultery, incest, sodomy, fornication, bestiality. However, it can also be used to refer to an unlawful marriage. In other words, only when a marriage was never lawfully entered into in the first place are the two individuals free to marry someone else. Jews considered a marriage to be unlawful if the two persons involved were too closely related by blood, or if one of them was a Gentile.

This is the only meaning that reconciles Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel with what He and the Apostles say elsewhere about divorce. In every other passage, their prohibition against divorce is absolute. They admit no exceptions. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” St. Paul says:

“To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) -- and that the husband should not divorce his wife. [. . .] A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Cor 7:10-11, 39)

The model for marriage is always the relationship of Adam and Eve before the fall. Jesus says:

“For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8).

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:4-6).

That is the teaching of Christ and of the Church.

87. Does the Church approve of cohabitation?

“Cohabitation” typically refers to a situation in which a couple is living as husband and wife before they are married. The Church does not condone this arrangement. For one, sexual intercourse is meant to occur within the context of marriage. It is only then that the sex act is free to pursue it’s proper ends: the free, total, faithful, and fruitful union of husband and wife. Even when the couple is living together without having sexual relations, cohabitation is unacceptable. It causes grave scandal to those who find out about this living arrangement, and it creates a near occasion of sin for the two people involved. Finally, from a sociological point of view, studies have shown that couples who cohabitate before marriage are twice as likely to get a divorce and are significantly less happy in their marriages than those couples who wait until after they are married. No matter how you look at it, cohabitation is not a good situation, and the Church has always advised against it.

88. Why do we call God our “father”?

We call God “father” first of all because He was revealed to us as such. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to begin by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven …”.

The Catechism gives us other reasons: “By calling God ‘Father’, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children” (no. 239).

But, this does not mean that God is a man. The same paragraph in the Catechism goes on to clarify: “We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.”

89. How come we don’t know more about St. Joseph?

That is a very good question, and all we can really do to provide an answer is speculate. There is a tradition which says that Joseph was an elderly widower when he took Mary to be his wife. If this is true, then he likely died when Jesus was very young and so not much would be known about him by the followers of Jesus (who wrote the New Testament).

The last we see of St. Joseph in Scripture is at the temple, where he and Mary finally find Jesus, who had become separated from their traveling party. After this, there is a 12-year silence about the life of Christ. Joseph resides within this silence.

Perhaps this is fitting. After all, the little information we have about Jesus’ earthly father causes his Heavenly Father to come into greater view. Scripture tells us a great many things about that Father!

90. Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary sometimes seen standing on a snake?

Mary is often depicted in this way because her entire life has been one of victory over the devil. In the very beginning of the Bible, in Gen 3:15, God says to the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

A bruise to the head of a serpent is fatal. So, God is saying that the seed, or offspring, of a woman will destroy the devil. In light of the New Testament, we know that this “he” who will bruise the head of the serpent is Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).

What is interesting is that the Douay-Rheims translation (an older Catholic translation of the Bible from 1609 AD) says that “she” will bruise the head of the serpent, not “he”. This means that it is the woman that will destroy the devil, not her seed.

This is probably where our Marian art finds its inspiration. But, whether it’s a “he” or a “she,” the fact of Mary’s victory over the devil remains. Her “Yes” brought the Savior into the world, and her sinlessness only added insult to Satan’s injury.

We see Mary’s victory again at the very end of the Bible, in the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation. The serpent, angry over the victory of the woman’s son, tries to defeat the woman. When that fails, he goes after her offspring, who are “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17).

That’s us! And, of course, we know that when we unite ourselves to Jesus, through Mary, the devil will fail in his pursuit of us as well. The image of Mary, with her heel pressed firmly on the head of the serpent, is a powerful image of the victory that that can be had through a total self-surrender of our lives to the glory of God and the fulfillment of His will.

91. How many people died in the Spanish Inquisition?

It’s difficult to say with complete accuracy, since records from the 15th and 16th centuries are incomplete. However, we can be certain that any number in the millions (as one often finds in anti-Catholic literature) is grossly mistaken since that many people weren’t even living in Spain until modern times. Based on the research I have done, a more accurate estimate of the number of executions that took place during the entire 400-year history of the Spanish Inquisition is probably around 3,000.

92. Who is Jacob, from the bible?

From Scott Hahn’s Catholic Bible Dictionary, we read:

JACOB: The younger of twin sons born to Isaac and Rebekah, the third great patriarch, and the ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 25:19-34; 35:22-26). The name of Jacob in Hebrew, ya’aqob, is associated with the Hebrew ‘aqeb, “heel,” as Jacob was born grasping the heel of his brother Esau (Gen 25:26), and with the verb ‘aqab, “cheat,” as Esau claimed that Jacob cheated him of his birthright and his father’s blessing (Gen 27:36). Jacob also received the name “Israel” as a symbol of his struggle with an unidentified angel (Gen 32:28); his twelve sons gave their names to the twelve tribes of Israel and were called the “children of Israel.”

93. What’s the difference between the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed?

This would be a great opportunity to explore the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for in it you find the answer. Look between nos. 184 and 185. There, the creeds exist side by side for easy comparison.

94. If Mary was sinless, doesn’t that make her like another god? I thought only God was sinless.

On the surface it would appear that way. But, we have to keep in mind that Mary and God are sinless for different reasons.

The three Persons of the Trinity are sinless — and Jesus, being one of Them, is sinless — by their very nature, because of the type of beings that they are. Scripture tells us that God is all good. Goodness does not only describe Him, it’s what He is. God is good, just as God is love and is truth. A Person who is entirely goodness, at an essential level, can in no way sin, since to sin is to choose evil, which is the absence of good.

So, God is sinless because of His divine nature, because of the type of being that He is.

Mary, however, is sinless, not because of the type of being that she is but because of the special grace she received from God. If it were a necessary aspect of her nature to be sinless, then she would indeed be a type of god, or possibly even another Person within the Trinity. But, she is a human being. She has a human nature.

As we all know, there is nothing about the human nature that precludes sin. In fact, one could say that we sin because of our human nature. The inclination to sin is sort of wrapped up in who we are as human beings who are descended from Adam and Eve. The same thing goes for Mary. She was due to receive the stain of original sin, and to commit sins throughout her life as all human beings do. Were it not for the intervention of God, Mary would have been just like us in all things, including sin.

Thankfully, God did intervene. He poured a special grace upon her at the moment of her conception that protected her from original sin and from committing any sins throughout her life. In fact, it was this same grace that empowered her will to say “Yes” to God when the invitation came to be the Mother of our Lord and Savior.

The important thing here is that this grace, and the sinlessness that resulted from it, was a gift. It was something that came from outside herself. Mary’s sinlessness was not the result of her nature, but instead the result of God’s own special initiative in her life. That’s the reason why Mary can be sinlessness and still be considered a human being with a real human nature just like ours.

If you think about it, Mary would have to be an honest-to-goodness human being in order to pass on a human nature to Jesus. Our Savior is both human and divine. His divinity comes from His being the Second Person of the Trinity. His humanity comes from his mother.

95. Can there be morality without religion?

Good question! Because of the natural law imprinted on the hearts of men, we can come to a basic awareness of the rightness and wrongness of certain actions without being introduced to religion. For example, even atheists know that murder is wrong. So, in a sense, the answer is “Yes.” But, some people advocate doing away with religion all together. They say that “religion” gets in the way of a relationship with Jesus, or of living a good life. We must disagree with such people. The Catechism defines religion as “a set of beliefs and practices followed by those committed to the service and worship of God.” Without religion, without a rule against which to “test all things and hold fast to what is good,” it becomes much more difficult for man to discern what is right and wrong. In a wonderfully paradoxical way, religion provides the boundaries that make us free.

96. What is Eucharistic Adoration? Why is it important?

Eucharistic adoration is when we spend time worshipping, adoring, and/or praying to our Lord as He is present in the Eucharist.

During the Mass, we have the opportunity to worship our Lord, veiled as it were, under the species of bread and wine. You may have noticed that, after the priest consecrates the bread, transforming it into Christ, he elevates it, raising it up for all to see. He does the same thing with the chalice, after consecrating the wine within it. He does this so that you can worship your Eucharistic Lord, who has just been made present by the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration. This is a great high point in the Mass that we should all appreciate. At that moment, Jesus Christ is now among us, truly and substantially!! Worship and adore Him!!

While the Mass certainly affords a wonderful opportunity to adore our Lord in the Eucharist, the phrase “Eucharistic Adoration” usually refers to what takes place outside of Mass, when the Eucharistic bread alone is adored. It is either hidden in the tabernacle, or exposed in what is called a monstrance. Most monstrances look like a sunburst on a golden stand. Inside the sunburst is a glass container (called a “luna” or a “lunette”) that contains the Eucharistic bread. Being in a glass container, it can be seen by the people and thus more easily adored.

Why is Eucharistic adoration important? Essentially, Jesus awaits us in this sacrament. He longs to commune with us there. Wherever the Eucharist is, there is a place to be with our Lord and Savior. We can speak to Him there, and listen to what He longs to say to us. What wisdom can be found in the presence of our Lord!

We can fight battles there too. Eucharistic Adoration is a powerful way to atone for the evils in the world, things like abortion, murder, rape, the breakdown of the traditional family unit, and mankind’s various sexual sins. The grace and merit that comes from adoring our Eucharistic Lord is enough to overcome whatever the devil can throw at us. Atheists who say there is no God, angry people who take the Lord’s name in vain, anti-Catholics who disparage the Church are no match for one hour of heartfelt adoration of the Eucharist.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before the guards took Him away, Jesus asked the apostles to pray with Him, but they all fell asleep. His response? “Could you not but spend one hour with me?” (Mt 26:40; cf. Mk 14:37). Jesus poses the same question to you. Here at Blessed Mother Church, we have Eucharistic adoration every Friday, from 7 AM to 5 PM. I hope you will take that opportunity to come and spend some time with Jesus. You may be surprised by what awaits you there.

97. Are the Jews still God's chosen people?

Yes, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29) and He said of the Jewish people:

“Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exo 19:5-6)

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.” (Deut 7:6)

However, this does not mean that it is acceptable for them to explicitly reject the divinity of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant that He established. This covenant in His Blood fulfills everything that the Jewish people had previously received, and adds to the number of the “chosen people” anyone who has faith in Christ and is baptized. That is why St. Peter says that the Church has now become what the Jews always were:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

The Church is now the place where Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman can come and experience God’s saving power (cf. Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Unfortunately, the Jews, while undoubtedly God’s chosen people, are people who are disobedient to this new covenant and its realization in the Church.

Fortunately, God is not through with the Jewish people yet. The Bible tells us that one sign that the End Times are upon us will be the mass conversion of the Jewish people to Christ and the New Covenant:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.” (Zech 12:10)

“I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.” (Jer 33:8)

"Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25-26)

What a great day that will be!

98. What are the seven deadly sins? Are there seven virtues to counteract them?

As the Catechism tells us, “Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices.” (no. 1866)

The seven capital (or “deadly”) sins are as follows, with definitions from the glossary to the Catechism, or The Catholic Dictionary by Fr. Peter Stravinskas:

  • pride: Undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself against God.
  • avarice (or “covetousness” or “greed”): An extreme desire for material goods and worldly honors
  • envy: A resentment or sadness at another’s good fortune, and the desire to have it for oneself.
  • wrath (or “anger”): An emotion which is not in itself wrong, but becomes sinful when it is not controlled by reason or when it hardens into resentment and hate.
  • lust: The inordinate desire for sexual pleasures that inclines one to perceive others as mere objects solely for personal gratification.
  • gluttony: Overindulgence in food or drink.
  • sloth (or “acedia”): A culpable lack of physical or spiritual effort; laziness regarding one’s grave responsibilities to God, oneself, or others.

The seven virtues that counteract these sins are as follows, with definitions from the same sources as above:

  • humility: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good; it avoids inordinate ambition or pride
  • liberality: A detachment from material goods, marked by generosity
  • brotherly love: Desiring the true good of others; loving them as if they were your friend or relative.
  • meekness: The ability to accept and tolerate the ordinary adversities of life with equanimity, balance, and good humor.
  • chastity: The virtue that regulates one’s sexual thoughts, desires, and actions in a manner proper to one’s vocation.
  • temperance: The cardinal virtue that moderates the drive for sensual pleasure.
  • diligence: Conscientiousness or perseverance in performing those tasks to which we are called.

The best way to grow in these virtues is through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments. May we all cultivate the virtues of God and root out sin!

99. How should I respond to someone who says that baptism is just a ritual, or merely symbolic?

There are many Protestants who say this. According to them, salvation comes when you profess faith in Jesus Christ and hand your life over to Him. Baptism is simply a symbolic gesture that shows the faith community that you have repented and committed yourself to Christ.

Catholics, however, have a stronger view of baptism. We believe that it is through baptism that God frees us from slavery to sin and makes us His children. This means that baptism is more than a symbolic gesture: it has true efficacy and power. Scripture clearly shows this:

Jn 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

Rom 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Col 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

1 Pet 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

The difficulty, I think, is not so much in proving the power of baptism as it is in explaining how to reconcile these verses with the verses that say it is faith that saves.

The best way to do this is to ask some questions: What is a saving faith? How does faith save? If faith is that single moment when you confessed that Jesus Christ was your personal Lord and Savior, then there is certainly no room for baptism. But, if you understand that faith requires from us a life-long "Yes" to Christ, then baptism is able to enter into the picture, since Baptism is one of the many actions that make up that life of faith.

The Book of Acts is filled with examples of faith compelling men to be baptized (cf. 8:12-13, 36; 10:47; 16:15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:2, 5). Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). Baptism implies “faith in the working of God” (Col 2:12). As the Catechism says, Baptism is “the sacrament of faith” (nos. 1236, 1253, 1992). Baptism and faith should not be pitted against each other. In fact, they go hand-in-hand.

100. What is the RCIA Process?

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process, established for the universal Church, for individuals to become Catholic and receive the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. This initiation process also involves a parish community experiencing a renewal in faith as it prepares and welcomes new members into the Church.

The Rite speaks of conversion as a “spiritual journey.” Centered on fostering a deep relationship with Jesus and the Church he founded, this journey takes place through distinct stages over a period of time suitable to bring about a thorough catechesis, significant experience of the parish community, and commitment to the liturgical and moral life of the Catholic faithful.

The RCIA process is a restoration of the ancient catechumenate, arising within the first three centuries following the era of the apostles. It was the early Church’s way of Christianizing the pagan Roman Empire. The Second Vatican Council called for the restoration and use of this venerable and powerful method of initiation for the worldwide Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 64).

There are four periods or stages to the RCIA process:

Precatechumenate: This is a time for inquiry and evangelization, an opportunity for the beginnings of faith. Here the seed is planted through the proclamation of the Gospel and the story of salvation history.

Catechumenate: This is an extended period for pastoral formation and guidance aimed at training participants in the Christian life; it includes a thoroughly comprehensive catechesis on the truths of Catholic doctrine and morality.

Purification and Enlightenment: Coinciding with Lent, this period consists more in interior reflection than in instruction. It is intended to enlighten the minds and hearts of participants with a deep knowledge of Christ.

Mystagogy: This time of post-baptismal catechesis extends through the Easter season, the seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost. It is a time for deepening the Christian experience, especially in appreciation for the sacramental life, for spiritual growth, and for entering more fully into the life and unity of the Catholic community.

It’s still not too late to join the RCIA process. If you have any questions, just let me know.