Part 6

"Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you." (Acts 22:1)

101. Reflection on the Holy Family

In this week before Christmas, I would like to offer a reflection on the Holy Family. I suspect that when most people think about the Holy Family, they imagine a picture of total happiness, where there is no worry or suffering of any kind and where every day just turns out perfectly. Yes, Jesus and Mary were completely sinless, and Joseph was a most chaste and righteous man. But, they still had their struggles. For example, we know that Mary and Joseph had quite a scare when, for three days, they had no clue where to find their son (cf. Lk 2:41-49). Just imagine losing the Savior of the World!

The movie The Nativity Story also gave me a better sense of the struggles that the Holy Family had to endure. These include public scorn, hunger, homelessness, harsh environments and traveling conditions, a power-hungry and blood-thirsty king, a tyrannical government, and the pressures--and ultimately the suffering--that comes with the knowledge that your son is the Lamb of God who must be slaughtered to save us from our sin.

What this shows us is that the Holy Family can relate to a family that struggles. A sword pierced Mary's heart, so that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed (cf. Lk 2:35). Of course, if anyone knows what it is like to suffer, it is Jesus. Joseph, for his part, had always on his shoulders the task of protecting and providing for this holiest of holy families. Together, they know what it means to struggle. More importantly, they know how to overcome and how to survive.

Thus, they are great models for us of how to live as a family, and they are powerful intercessors when we struggle with family issues. If you suffer because of your mother, find solace in Mary. She cares greatly for the entire Body of Christ, just as she cared for the literal body of Christ. Just as Sarah was the spiritual mother of the Jews (cf. 1 Pet 3:6), Mary is the spiritual mother of "those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev 12:17). Her prayer for us will always be powerful because her will is always united with her Son's, and because "the prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects" (Jas 5:16).

If you suffer because of your father, find solace in St. Joseph, Jesus' father in this world. St. Joseph will never forsake his fatherly duty. He is the patron saint and the protector of families. With his powerful intercession, he protects God's children, just like he protected God's Child. As Mary's most chaste spouse, he also teaches boys how to be good men, and men how to be good men too. Pray that St. Joseph will help your father to be the man that God is calling him to be.

Of course, there is no intercession, no solace, no love, no source of strength and courage and hope like that of the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is our Rock and our Salvation. In Him, we can do all things, overcome all things, be all things. Together, the mother, the father, and the Son are a triple threat against all who would dare threaten the integrity of the family.

102 Why does Isaiah say that the son born of a virgin will be called “Emmanuel” but the angel tells Mary and Joseph to name him “Jesus”?

First, let’s take a look at the passages in question. Isaiah is one of the prophets from the Old Testament. Here are his words:

Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

From the very beginning, the Church has considered this to be a prophesy about Christ. Now, here is where the angel tells Mary and Joseph to name this son “Jesus”:

Mt 1:21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Immediately after verse 21, Matthew quotes the passage from Isaiah above and applies it to Jesus. Here is where we are confronted with the question at hand. The angel says He shall be named “Jesus”, but then right after that Matthew quotes Isaiah where he says that He shall be called “Emmanuel.”

Here I think is the answer: Isa 7:14 should be read in the same way that a similar passage shortly after it is read. Look at what Isaiah says in chapter 9:

Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Now, no one reads this and thinks that our Savior’s name should have been “Wonderful,” or “Counselor,” or “Mighty God.” Yes, He is to be called these things, as Isaiah says, but not because any one of them is to be His name. Instead, He is called these things because that’s what He is. These titles speak to the essence of the Son of Mary.

“Emmanuel” is the same type of thing. Isaiah isn’t meaning to say that His name will be Emmanuel. Instead, he is saying that this son truly is “God with us,” just as He is a wonderful counselor, a mighty God, an everlasting father, and a prince of peace.

The angel says that His actual name shall be “Jesus.” Why? Because He will “save His people from their sins.” And this is fitting. The name “Jesus” means “Jehovah is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.”

103. What is the Feast of the Epiphany that we are celebrating today?

An "epiphany" is a sudden manifestation or revelation of something. When we speak of the "Epiphany of the Lord" we mean the moment when the Son of God was revealed to mankind.

On this day, our thoughts are naturally drawn to the revelation of the Christ Child to the Three Wise Men, who followed the star on a quest to behold the Messiah. What a sight it must have been! He was surely a child of indescribable beauty and splendor. Note that, by being born of Mary and of the line of David, he comes to the Jews. In his appearing to the Magi, he comes to the Gentiles. And thus, he comes to the whole world, and for that we give thanks on this day.

But, two other events in the life of Christ are commemorated on this day as well: the baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana. These events, just as much as the visitation of the Magi, are epiphanies of the Lord.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, a dove (symbol of the Holy Spirit) rested upon Him and a voice cried out from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Even before the baptism, John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” All of this reveals to us that Jesus is the anointed Son of God and Savior of the world.

The wedding at Cana is the context for another epiphany in that it is here where Jesus performed his first miracle. In changing water into wine, He shows us that He is the one of whom we will drink and never be thirsty. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). His glory was manifested on that day, a true epiphany.

Yet, is He not also revealed to us in the Mass? Does not the priest, after the consecration of the Eucharist, repeat the very same words as John the Baptist? "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world! Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!" I suggest to you that this moment too is an epiphany. Just as the divinity of the Lord was in a way veiled within his perfectly normal human body, so too our Savior is veiled, hiding behind the species of bread and wine.

Yet, we know by faith that He is there, just as the Magi knew that this little child, born in a manger, was the long-awaited Messiah, -- just as John the Baptist knew as soon as he set eyes on Jesus that He was the Lamb of God who’s Precious Blood would wash away our sins -- and more important still -- just as Mary knew that she could ask anything of this Man and it would be done.

104. Why was Jesus baptized in the Jordan River if He had no need for repentance or forgiveness?

First, you should read the passages in Scripture that speak of Jesus’ baptism. See Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34.

Now, Jesus consented to be baptized by St. John for many reasons. First of all, he did it as an example for us.

Jesus’ entire life is an example for us of how to be human and how to follow God. His will was that people would repent of their sin and be baptized by John as a sign of their commitment to follow God. As a result, Jesus decided to be baptized, to show us how important it is to convert our hearts and make a public act of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, gives us another reason. He says that Jesus’ baptism anticipates what He did for all mankind on the cross.

By descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus takes the place of all sinners, who were being called by John to do what Jesus was doing. He does the same thing on the Cross, where He pays the price for all man’s sin.

His going under the water is symbolic of burial and the destruction of sin that will take place on the cross. We see this purpose for water in the flood of Noah’s day, which buried and destroyed all the sin in the world.

His rising out of the water is symbolic of His resurrection. The dove that rests above Him and the voice that cries out from the heavens point to the glory that will be His once His work is finished.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives us yet a third reason. He says that the baptism of the Lord points to our Christian sacrament of baptism. The baptism of St. John the Baptist was merely symbolic. It was a way to publicly profess one’s commitment to conversion and repentance. It did not actually forgive sin or make one a member of the family of God like our Sacrament of Baptism does. But, when Jesus receives the baptism of John, He “consecrates it” so to speak, just as His presence at the wedding feast of Cana is seen as God’s blessing over matrimony.

In other words, when the baptism of John is imbued with the presence of Christ, it becomes what we celebrate today, and in the baptism of Jesus we see glimpses of our sacrament. The water signifies the cleansing that takes place. The descent of the dove signifies the reception of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The divine voice -- which cries out, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” -- signifies our adoption as beloved sons (or daughters) of God.

105. What is Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time is the period of the liturgical year that falls between Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. Thus, having just concluded the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are now in Ordinary Time.

Often, when we hear the word “ordinary” we think of something that is mundane, or banal, or dull. But, we should not think of this time in such a way.

The word “ordinary” comes from the Latin word ordinarius, which means "customary, regular, usual, orderly." This time is called ordinary because the Sundays that fall within it are numbered and succeed in an orderly fashion.

Christmas and Easter, with their climactic joy and celebration, are the great mountain peaks of the liturgical year. Ordinary Time, then, is the vast verdant meadows that lie between. As Christians we are called now to descend these peaks and, like sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd, pasture and graze in these meadows with Christ as He feeds us with His Word and His Eucharist. This makes the color green, with its connotations of life and growth, very appropriate.

Without a great liturgical feast to prepare for or celebrate, the Sunday liturgy becomes all the more important during Ordinary Time. According to The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, the days of Ordinary Time, especially the Sundays, "are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects."

If you are not in the habit of making the most out of your Sunday, now is the time. Remember, God did not say to keep holy the Lord’s “hour” or the Lord’s “45-minutes” (if the homily happens to be short). We are called to keep holy the Lord’s day.

Perhaps before the family heads off to church, someone (ideally the father) could read the readings for the day aloud and everyone could discuss their meaning. Or, on the ride home from church, the parents could quiz the children by asking them if they remember what the first reading was about, or what the homily was about. When you get home, don’t immediately turn on the TV or hop on the internet. Take a trip to the library and have everyone check out a book. Take a nap. Exercise. Write in a journal. Play outside. Do something nice for someone else. PRAY! Worshiping the Lord and rejuvenating yourself is really what Sunday -- and Ordinary Time -- is all about.

106. Defending Life

The bishops of the United States have declared Sunday, Jan. 23 to be a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion. It is also a day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. As a result, I have gleaned various online resources and come up with the following collection of pro-abortion arguments, followed by a possible pro-life response:

  1. “A fetus isn’t human.”
    -- What is it then? A dog? A fish? A carrot? If a being has human parents, isn’t it human?
  2. “A fetus can’t think or feel pain, therefore it is not worthy of life.”
    -- Newborns can’t think like we can. People in comas can’t think or feel like we can. Can we kill them?
  3. “A fetus isn’t even in the world yet!”
    -- What planet is it on then? Mars? Do we have the right to kill someone based on where he/she lives?
  4. “It’s totally dependant on the mother to live.”
    -- So are newborn babies, and toddlers, and the severely handicapped and/or mentally ill. Can we kill them? Shouldn’t we be cherishing the helpless among us?
  5. “It’s just a part of the woman’s body.”
    -- If that’s true then pregnant women have two brains, two hearts, 20 fingers and toes, two blood types, and two sets of DNA. Is that really what you’re prepared to say?

Once you have established that we’re actually talking about another human being here, then the arguments based on “rights” and “privacy” and “choice” fall apart:

  1. “If it’s my body, then it’s my choice what to do with it!”
    -- What about the baby’s body and his/her choice? Does anyone have the right to kill an innocent human being?
  2. “A woman has a right to privacy.”
    -- Are we allowed to do whatever we want as long as it is private? Can a woman privately abuse her two-year old?
  3. “We shouldn’t force our morality on other people.”
    -- Aren’t you forcing your morality on the child you abort? When the actions of human people are involved, there will always be a moral component.
  4. “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I wouldn’t take away a woman’s right to have one.”
    -- Do you think it’s ok for someone to be personally opposed to slavery but still think it’s ok for others to own slaves?
  5. “Do you want women to die in 'back-alley' abortions?"
    -- Of course not. Why can’t we live in a world where neither the mother nor the baby dies? Should we legalize terrorism to make it safer for terrorists?

May God be with you as you DEFEND LIFE!

107. Sometimes, when I go to certain Catholic churches, no one kneels during the Eucharistic Prayer. When that happens, should I kneel or just remain standing like everyone else?

First, I should say that only the bishop can speak authoritatively on this matter. I can only share my personal thoughts as a student of the liturgy and the Church.

That said, it might help to define what the “Eucharistc Prayer” is. Basically, this is the period of the Mass when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord. This is when the Sacrifice of Christ, together with our own sacrifices, is offered to the Father for the salvation of souls. It begins after the gifts are taken up to the altar and the priest prays over them. It ends after the “Great Amen”, when we stand to pray the “Our Father.”

There is a reason why we are called to kneel during this time. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or “GIRM”) tells us, the Eucharistic Prayer is “the center and summit of the entire celebration” (no. 78). This is when a great miracle takes place. It is in the midst of the Eucharistic Prayer that Jesus Christ Himself becomes substantially present among us, waiting to abide within us. It stands to reason that we should give this moment our greatest act of reverence and worship, which is kneeling.

That we should kneel, instead of sitting or standing, to show this reverence and worship is not so much dictated by our culture as it is by Sacred Scripture and Tradition. In the Old Testament, we see that, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon knelt "in the presence of all the assembly of Israel" (2 Chron 6:13). Ezra fell upon his knees during the evening sacrifice (cf. Ezra 9:5). The Acts of the Apostles tells us how Peter (9:40), Paul (20:36), and the whole Christian community (21:5) prayed on their knees. Jesus himself knelt down to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Lk 22:41). As you can see, it is not above anyone to kneel.

Now, the GIRM does say that one is excused from kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer if “prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason” (no. 43). But, I’ve never been to a church or chapel in Owensboro where I wasn’t able to kneel. Yes, it may be a little uncomfortable if there are no kneelers, and it can be a little embarrassing if you are the only one kneeling. But, as long as you are physically able to kneel, you should.

The Son emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8). The least we can do is kneel in worship of Him (and praise Him if it requires a sacrifice on our part), so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10).

108. What is hope?

We are often counseled, upon the loss of a loved one, to never lose hope. But what is “hope”? To answer that question, I would like to provide the section on hope from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I can always count on the Catechism to explain things much more beautifully than I can! My “hope” is that these words will nourish and sustain you.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: On Hope

1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb 10:23). "The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:6-7).

1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

1819 Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice (cf. Gen 17:4-8; 22:1-18). “Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations" (Rom 4:18).

1820 Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the "hope that does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5). Hope is the "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf" (Heb 6:19-20). Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: "Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" (1 Thes 5:8). It affords us joy even under trial: "Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation" (Rom 12:12). Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.

1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will (cf. Rom 8:28-30; Mt 7:21). In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" (Mt 10:22; cf. Council of Trent: DS 1541) and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4). She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven.

109. What are the precepts of the Church?

The precepts of the Church are the minimum requirements for living an authentic Catholic life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five precepts (cf. nos. 2041-2043). I would like to comment on each one.

  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.

One day a week: it’s the least we could do for a God who has given us so much. By “servile labor,” the Church means any “work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body” (Code of Canon Law, no. 1247). In other words, try to mow the lawn, clean the dishes, do the laundry, finish your homework, etc. on Friday or Saturday, instead of on Sunday.

  1. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

Mortal sins must be forgiven through the sacrament of Confession, and this must be done before one can receive the Eucharist. Of course, we are encouraged to confess our venial sins as well, and to go to Confession much more regularly than once a year. Pastors and spiritual directors usually advise going to Confession at least once a month, but you can go more often if necessary.

  1. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.

There’s no better time to receive the Eucharist then during the season in which we commemorate Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father (and to us) for our salvation. Of course, we are encouraged to receive the Eucharist any time that we are properly disposed to receive it -- meaning, we have no mortal sin on our soul, we have observed the one-hour fast before Communion, and we believe that what we are receiving is truly Christ.

  1. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.

All Fridays of the year are days of penance. However, only on Fridays in Lent are Catholics, aged 14 and older, bound to abstain from meat. On all other Fridays, Catholics in the U.S. are permitted to substitute abstinence with some other act of penance or charity. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, moreover, Catholics aged 18 to 59 inclusive, are bound to fast, which means, at the least, having one full meal during that day and two smaller meals, with no snacking between.

  1. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

This is important so that the Church has available to it “those things which are necessary for divine worship, for apostolic and charitable work and for the worthy support of its ministers” (Code of Canon Law, no. 222).

110. Confession During Lent

The following was written by Taylor Marshall, a prominent Catholic author and blogger. It is used with permission.

7 Reasons to Begin Frequent Confession During Lent

  1. Priestly absolution is a generous gift that Jesus gave us. Christ gave us this Sacrament and wants us to enjoy His grace through it. He told His first priests, the Apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins are forgiven” (Jn 20:22). Christ gave us this sacrament of grace and forgiveness because He loves us. It is a divine gift of mercy and love - not merely an obligation.
  2. You are a sinner. We are a sinners and we need to examine the sinful patterns of our hearts and have a priest give us absolution, counsel, and penance. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8). We are often not honest with our hearts and it takes an objective "physician of souls," to help diagnose us spiritually. If you injured your hand or back, you would consult a doctor. If you injured your soul through sin, shouldn't you see a priest?
  3. Confession is a means of grace. Confession shouldn't be terrifying. It is peaceful. We get excited over baptisms, weddings, and ordinations. Why not this remedy for our greatest Christian struggle? Why not be excited about Christ's forgiveness being declared by His appointed deputies - the priests of His Church.
  4. You may have committed mortal sin. There is a such thing as mortal sin: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal” (1 Jn 5:16). Mortal sin is deadly and it separates our souls from the pure eternal life that exists within the Blessed Trinity. Contrition and priestly absolution restores our hearts to a position of love toward God and our neighbors. The absolution infuses our souls with grace. It ratifies our contrition.
  5. Guilt is unpleasant. Often Satan weighs us down with guilt. Guilt can be a good thing if we transform it into repentance. Of course, Satan hates this and God and the angels love it. So free yourself from guilt and hear a tangible person with priestly authority say, "I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
  6. Confession unites you more fully to the Church. When you make your confession to a priest, you acknowledge that you have sinned not only against God, but against the entire Body of Christ. "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor 12:26). The priest, who represents both God and the Church by his ordination and office receives your repentance and you have the assurance of not only God's forgiveness, but also the implicit forgiveness of the entire Church.
  7. Receiving the Eucharist becomes even more powerful. When you receive the Holy Eucharist you receive the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ our Redeemer. When you confess your sins in a sacramental way, you also have a stronger sacramental union with Christ in the Eucharist. Consequently, confession heals and deepens your devotion to Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

111. What are the “scrutinies” during Lent?  Is it just for the RCIA candidates?

The RCIA book has a very helpful summary of the scrutinies in its treatment of the rites belonging to the “Purification and Enlightenment” period of the RCIA process. It reads:

141 The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and are reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.

142 Because they are asking for the three sacraments of initiation, the elect must have the intention of achieving an intimate knowledge of Christ and his Church, and they are expected particularly to progress in genuine self-knowledge through serious examination of their lives and true repentance.

143 In order to inspire in the elect a desire for purification and redemption by Christ, three scrutinies are celebrated. By this means, first of all, the elect are instructed gradually about the mystery of sin, from which the whole world and every person longs to be delivered and thus saved from its present and future consequences. Second, their spirit is filled with Christ the Redeemer, who is the living water (gospel of the Samaritan woman in the first scrutiny), the light of the world (gospel of the man born blind in the second scrutiny), the resurrection and the life (gospel of Lazarus in the third scrutiny). From the first to the final scrutiny the elect should progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation.

144 In the rite of exorcism, which is celebrated by a priest or a deacon, the elect, who have already learned from the Church as their mother the mystery of deliverance from sin by Christ, are freed from the effects of sin and from the influence of the devil. They receive new strength in the midst of their spiritual journey and they open their hearts to receive the gifts of the Savior.

A quick note about the “exorcism” that takes place. This is a minor exorcism, so the intention is not to expel a demon or cure someone who is possessed, but instead to simply bless the elect and protect them from sin and the power of Satan.

112. What is the teaching of the Council of Ephesus?

The Council of Ephesus, which took place in 431 AD, is known for three things:

  • It defined the true personal unity of Christ. In other words, He is not the mixture of a human person and a divine person. He is one person, the Son of the Blessed Trinity, who has united within Himself the divine and human nature.
  • It declared Mary the Mother of God. The Greek word that the Fathers of the Council used was theotokos, which literally means, “God-bearer.”
  • It renewed the condemnation of Pelagius, who taught a works-based salvation.

If anyone tells you that Catholics believe in salvation by works, tell them that we condemned that heresy almost 1600 years ago!

113. If a Catholic goes to Confession and then dies as he walks out of the confessional, will he go straight to heaven? What is the difference between temporal punishment and other types of punishment?

That person would go to heaven, but "right away" we cannot say. He may have to experience Purgatory first, if he has not adequately atoned for the temporal punishment that is due to his sin. This leads to your second question.

"Temporal punishment" is the effect that one's sin causes in this life to oneself and to the Body of Christ and the world. When one sins, he must ask the Lord for forgiveness, but he must also rectify the harm that his sin has caused to others. This is the purpose of the penance that one receives from the priest when he goes to Confession. Penance rectifies that harm, heals the wound that one's sin inflicts upon the Body.

If one has not healed all the wounds that his sin has caused, then this remains as a sort of blotch on his soul when he stands before the Lord to receive His Judgment. Purgatory is God purging that blotch away, refining souls through the fiery furnace of His love.

Other things cause "blotches" too, specifically attachment to sin and any venial sins of which we have not sought out the Lord's forgiveness.

114.  How do we know that Mary’s parents were Anne and Joachim if they aren’t mentioned in the Bible?

We know their names because they are mentioned in other early Christian works from the 1st and 2nd century AD., such as The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary and The Protoevangelium of James.

115. What is “viaticum”?

The word viaticum is Latin for “provisions for a journey.” Thus, it is a fitting name for the final reception of the Eucharist by someone who is near death. With the Eucharist, he is now ready to make the journey from this life to the next.

People often think of viaticum as a part of the rite for the Anointing of the Sick, since the celebration of viaticum often immediately follows it. But, the celebration of viaticum is actually a separate rite, and is only celebrated following the Anointing of the Sick if death is imminent.

116. What are the “sacraments of healing”?

The sacraments of healing are Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Reconciliation heals the soul by cleansing it of sin. Anointing of the Sick heals the soul by cleansing it of sin (if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Reconciliation) and by strengthening it against temptation and despair. It can heal the body too, if that be the will of the Lord.

117. How does the Catholic Church view war?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed."

The Catechism goes on to outline the conditions for a just war, and to describe the responsibilities of public authorities and those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces. It is a very interesting and informative read.

118. How do I respond to someone who says that wearing a scapular is just another Catholic superstition?

First, it is necessary to define what "superstition" is. The Catechism says the following:

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition (cf. Mt 23:16-22).

2138 Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic.

Now, with this definition as our guide, we see that the scapular would be magical or superstitious if we believed that the mere ownership of the scapular or its mere presence on one's person was enough to ensure that person a place in heaven. But, the scapular is not a good luck charm and it is not enough to simply have it around your neck when judgment comes. It is what is implied by the wearing of the scapular that makes all the difference.

The promise of Mary to St. Simon Stock that "whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire" extends only to those who wear the scapular as a sign of their devotion to the Blessed Mother and to living a good, Christian life of prayer and holiness. When you put on the scapular, you set yourself apart as someone who wishes to live as Mary lived, and as someone who humbly places himself under her mantle.

When we pray the "Hail Mary" we say at the end: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." That becomes the petition of every person who faithfully wears the scapular. He wears it with faith that Mary will pray for his soul at the time of Judgment. And if he has lead a good life, he will not suffer eternal fire.

The scapular itself also encourages and maintains the devotion that it's presence is supposed to symbolize. We feel it throughout the day, when the front or the back drops down too far, when the squares gently scratch us or pat against our bodies as we run. All of these are small reminders to live as Mary lived. We show our love to Mary by kissing the scapular, and we implore her intercession every time we clutch it in fear or sorrow. All of this is very good and pious Catholic practice.

119. Why do we have the penitential rite in the Mass?

Before I answer your question, I think it would be helpful to explain what the “penitential rite” is. The penitential rite is part of the Introductory Rites of the Mass that come before the Liturgy of the Word (when we hear the various readings from the Bible). It begins with an introduction by the priest, followed by an act of confession and penance by the people, and concluded by words of general absolution by the priest. The penitential rite, like the Eucharist, effects the forgiveness of venial sins, but mortal sins must still be forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession.

Now, there are different options for the priest and the people during this rite. For our part, we usually say the Confiteor (“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters …”) or the “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” in response to the priest.

Why do we do all this? The purpose of the penitential rite is to prepare us to celebrate the Mass by compelling us to call to mind our sins and by healing the wounds that divide us as a Body and weaken our relationship with the Lord. Then, with pure hearts and fully united, we can receive the Lord through the Word and the Eucharist.

This act of confession, penance, and absolution that takes place in the Mass is deeply rooted in Scripture and Tradition. John tells us in his first letter, “If we confess our sins [to the Lord], he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). James tells us to also confess our sins to one another: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5:16). These two verses together become the Scriptural foundation for the beginning of the Confiteor, when we say, “I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned …” For his part, St. Paul says, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). You could say that the penitential rite is our way of taking him seriously.

A penitential rite in some form has existed in the Eucharistic liturgy from the earliest days of the Church. For example, a Christian text from the 2nd century called The Didache (or “Teaching of the Apostles”) gives us these interesting instructions: “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one.” And so we continue to seek communion with the Lord and one another in the Mass until that day when Jesus comes again and unites all things unto Himself.

120. Why are the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony referred to as “sacraments at the service of communion”?

Holy Orders is a sacrament at the service of communion because through it a man is empowered to be a ministerial priest, who's duty is to reconcile man with God and bring about communion via the celebration of the sacraments. The grace that we receive in the sacraments strengthens our communion with the Lord and the bonds that exist between the members of the Body of Christ.

Matrimony is a sacrament at the service of communion because in this sacrament a man and a woman enter into a profound communion with each other and they dedicate the rest of their lives to ensuring the communion of their spouse and their children with the Lord.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

1534 Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.