Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of the Last Things

Many people are struck with fear when they consider the end of life and the life thereafter. Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – these are indeed sobering topics. And, while a certain element of trepidation in the face of the “last things” is natural and good, as Christians we also face these moments with courage and hope because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Of course, if one does not know Jesus or what His Word teaches about the last things, then it can be difficult to see how anyone could face these things with confidence or security. Let us see what Scripture says so as to come to terms with God’s plan for the end of our earthly lives and life after death.

To Live Is Christ and to Die Is Gain

When God created Adam and Eve, he actually created them for life, not death (cf. Wis 2:21-24). Everything in the Garden was theirs to enjoy, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned them, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). They did not heed the warning, and as a result they and all their descendants suffer death. God’s curse to Adam after his disobedience is plain: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

Death is the separation of the soul from the body and the end of one’s life on earth. It is the effect of original sin (cf. Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22) and fundamental to the human experience (cf. Eccl 9:5; 2 Sam 14:14; Job 14:5; Psa 90:10). When that day comes, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7).

To our great fortune, God became man and conquered death (cf. Rom 5:17; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14-15). To those who love God and their neighbor Jesus offers eternal life (cf. Mt 19:17-21; 25:45-46; Lk 10:25-28; Jn 6:40; 8:51; etc.). Now, this does not mean that Christians no longer die. We remain mortal beings. But, in Christ, death does not have the final say. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8; cf. 1 Thes 4:14).

It is only when Jesus comes again at the end of time that death will be definitively defeated. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). When that day comes, “death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54-55).

The Day of Judgment

According to the “Glossary” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, judgment is “the eternal retribution received by each soul at the moment of death, in accordance with that person’s faith and works.” Judgment is when Christ Himself decides whether one’s soul is fit for heaven or hell.

This definition applies specifically to the Particular Judgment, the judgment that every soul receives immediately upon its death. There is also a Last Judgment that will coincide with the second coming of Christ.

Scripture is clear that the judge of all things is Jesus. “He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; cf. Acts 17:30-31; Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1). When Scripture speaks of judgment, it is almost always in reference to either the punishments and rewards we receive in this life according to our fidelity to God, or to the Last Judgment at the end of time. But, there are indications of the Particular Judgment as well. The clearest passage is from the Letter to the Hebrews:
“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb 9:27-28)
Since no eternal reward can be received without a judgment, the Particular Judgment is also implied in the passages that speak of receiving one’s eternal reward immediately upon death (cf. Lk 16:22; 23:43; Acts 1:25; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23).

As for the Last Judgment, one may wonder why such a judgment is even necessary. Isn’t the Particular Judgment sufficient? Why do we have to be judged twice? There are at least three reasons for the Last Judgment.

First, it is the Last Judgment that will put a definitive end to all evil. All that is good will be separated from all that is evil and then evil will be no more (cf. Isa 11:6-9; Mt 13:49; Gal 1:4; 2 Tim 4:18; Rev 21:3-4). Secondly, this Judgment will serve to vindicate the justice and mercy of God. The works of every person will be made known to all (cf. Mt 10:26; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 3:13; 4:5). In this way, we will see why some merited heaven and others hell. We will finally come to understand why and how God’s plan unfolded in the life of every human being and of all creation.

Finally, since the Judgment occurs after the Resurrection of the Body – when the human body of every person will come back to life – it serves the purpose of allowing us to experience heaven or hell as complete human persons. The righteous will receive glorified bodies of perfect strength and immortality, and the unrighteous will receive bodies that will add physical pain to their spiritual torments (cf. Jn 5:29).

Let Heaven Rejoice and Earth Be Glad

As we have already seen in our discussion of death, if we die with and in Christ then we will live with Him forever. This eternal life with God is what we refer to as “heaven.” Scripture does not tell us a great deal about heaven. After all, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). But, there are a few things that we can know about it.

Once Adam and Eve committed the original sin, heaven was closed to man, as symbolized by their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the angel that was placed to guard the way to the Tree of Life (cf. Gen 3:23-24). As a result, all souls went to Hades (or “Sheol” in Hebrew) where they experienced comfort or torment depending on how they lived (cf. Job 21:13; Psa 9:17; 89:48; Isa 38:10; Ezek 31:16; Lk 16:22-23). When Jesus died, He descended into this “prison” (1 Pet 3:19) with “bars” (Job 17:16), preached the gospel to the righteous souls (cf. 1 Pet 3:19; 4:6) and led them out of Hades into heaven. “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives’” (Eph 4:8).

This new abode of the righteous, where no unclean thing shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27; Heb 12:14), is now the promise and the hope of every Christian. “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:2).

Why? For one, there are “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). Heaven is a place of great rewards (cf. Mk 9:41; Lk 6:23; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Gal 6:9; 1 Pet 1:4) where we will reign with God in authority (cf. Dan 7:27; Lk 19:17-19; 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:21; 22:5) and rest from this world’s many labors (cf. Heb 4:11; Rev 14:13). Heaven is a wedding feast where the saints will eat and drink with the Lord forever (cf. Mt 8:11; 25:1-13; Lk 22:30; Rev 19:7-9).

As amazing as all of this is, the greatest joy of heaven will come from being with God and worshipping before His unmediated presence (cf. Psa 16:11). The angels already behold the face of the Father in heaven (cf. Mt 18:10). When we enter heaven, we too will be given eyes to see God in all of His great power and glory. “When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2; cf. Psa 17:15; Mt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12). Job’s heart fainted within him at the thought of such a vision! (cf. Job 19:25-27)

When we behold this vision, worshipping the Lord will be irresistible. Scripture reveals heaven as a place of perpetual worship of our Trinitarian God (cf. Rev 4:9-11; 5:8, 12-14; 7:11-12). “Day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4:8).

The Unquenchable Fire

Of course, if a person does not die in righteous standing before God, his soul cannot experience eternal friendship and blessedness with God. Scripture is clear that those who die with mortal sin on their soul will go to hell (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8). Hell is also the abode of Satan and his demons, who were cast out of heaven after their revolt against God (cf. Job 4:18; Lk 10:18; 2 Pet 2:4; Rev 12:7-9).

This place or state of existence is given many names. It is called “a burning place” (Isa 30:33), “the devouring fire” with “everlasting burnings” (Isa 33:14), “the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43; cf. Mt 3:12; Mk 9:48), “the furnace of fire” (Mt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8; 25:41; cf. Jude 1:7), “the hell of fire” (Mt 18:9), and the lake of fire and brimstone (cf. Rev 19:20; 20:10, 15; 21:8).

It is also called “the outer darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and “the nether gloom” (cf. 2 Pet 2:4, 17; Jude 1:6, 13). It is a “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:1-2; 11:7) of “eternal punishment” (Mt 25:46), destruction (cf. Mt 7:13; 10:28; 2 Thes 1:9; Jude 1:10), torment and anguish (cf. Lk 16:23-25, 28) where the worm does not die (cf. Mk 9:48) and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30). Since hell cannot be a place of both fire (which produces light) and darkness (the absence of light) these descriptions are probably metaphorical. But they do communicate unquestionably that hell is a place of tremendous pain.

Of course, the greatest pain will come not from the fire or the darkness or the gnashing of teeth but from the reality that the soul is eternally devoid of the Lord. In hell God’s presence is lost forever. As Paul writes, “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9). How hopeless is life without God!

Conclusion

With this quick survey of the last things in Scripture, an important theme comes to the fore: The “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31; cf. Ezek 13:5; Isa 2:12; Lk 17:30; 1 Thes 5:2; Philem 1:6) is harrowing or hopeful depending on the state of one’s relationship with Him when He comes. Sinners will prefer death by an avalanche of mountains and rocks over the wrath of God (cf. Rev 6:15-17), whereas the saints will be granted access to the Tree of Life once closed to man (cf. Rev 22:14) and to “the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of Praying to the Saints


I have written about and defended the practice of praying to the saints many times in the past. What I am attempting to do here is take all of that information, all of those many arguments and Scripture passages, and bring them together into one comprehensive defense of the practice of praying to the saints. This is the one-stop shop, so to speak.

While being comprehensive, I have also attempted to restrict myself to around 2,000 words so that this post does not become to unwieldy. Of course, I have also tried to soak this tract in as much Scripture as possible. I hope you find this helpful.

Introduction

To non-Catholic Christians, there aren’t very many religious practices as peculiar as praying to the saints. “Shouldn’t we only be praying to God?” “What could a dead person possibly do for us?” Even though, from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have been praying to the virtuous men and women who have gone before us, it is still important for us to consider why this is a worthwhile practice and to see if it can be validated by the Bible. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people pray to the saints or how long they’ve been doing it if God Himself does not approve!

Well then, let’s break open the Word and see if it confirms or denies the practice of praying to the saints.

The Saints: Alive in Christ

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
When you live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body” then you will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if you die in righteousness than you will live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long, long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof enough that the saints are very much alive. At any rate, how could Samuel appear to Saul (cf. 1 Sam 28:7-20), or Jeremiah appear to the Jews preparing for battle (cf. 2 Macc 15:12-16), or Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (cf. Mt 17:1-3) if the souls of the just do not live on after death? In Christ, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

Not only does their union with Christ ensure their eternal life, it also maintains their membership in the Body of Christ. God’s “plan for the fullness of time” – which has already been realized in the lives of the saints – is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). In Christ, we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). By holding fast to the Head the whole Body is joined and nourished and knit together (cf. Eph 2:20-21; 4:15-16; Col 2:18-19).

Members of the Body Intercede for One Another

To “intercede” for someone is to take that person’s need or petition to God. When you ask a friend to pray for you, you are asking for your friend’s intercession. Christians ask people to pray for them all the time, and they do it because they believe that prayer is powerful. The more people who are praying for you, the better!

This sort of intercession is a common practice in Scripture. For example, Moses often prayed on behalf of the people, that God would refrain from inflicting His just anger upon them (cf. Exo 32:11-14, 30-34; 34:9; Num 14:17-20; 21:7-9). Paul constantly implored the various churches to pray for him, his ministry, and those who were with him proclaiming the gospel (cf. Rom 15:30; Eph 6:19; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thes 5:25; 2 Thes 3:1; Heb 13:18). The instances are even more numerous of Paul and the other Apostles and members of the Body of Christ praying for each other (cf. Acts 8:15; 9:40; 28:8; 2 Cor 9:14; 13:9; Phil 1:9, 19; Col 1:3, 9; 2 Thes 1:11; Pmn 1:22; 3 Jn 1:2).

This essential bond of love and unity that compels us to seek the prayer of others and to pray for one another really typifies what membership in the Body of Christ is all about. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1; cf. Mt 5:44; Eph 6:18; Jas 5:16). Since, as we have seen, the saints in heaven are alive and members of the Body, they must also be seen as participating in this worthwhile act of intercession.

The Saints: Committed to Us and Our Needs

What we find in Scripture is that the saints in heaven do in fact play their part. Far from being disinterested in human affairs now that they have achieved perfect unity with God, the saints show themselves to be keenly involved in and aware of what happens to the Body of Christ on earth.

Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). Something about beholding the “Beatific Vision” (the vision of God in all His glory) makes the angels aware of the mistreatment of God’s children. Jesus also told us that there is joy among the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents (cf. Lk 15:7, 10). We are “a spectacle” to them (1 Cor 4:9). The virtuous men and women who have gone before us make up “a great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

The Saints: First Responders

Not only are the saints aware of us and our needs, the love that fills their hearts also compels them to do something about it! In the Book of Job, we see an angel asking the Lord to deliver man from death and return him to his youthful vigor (cf. 33:23-26). The Lord Himself told Jeremiah about how Moses and Samuel (who were long since dead) pleaded with Him on behalf of the people (cf. Jer 15:1). Zechariah spoke of an angel who lamented to the Lord that He had yet to show mercy to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (cf. Zech 1:12). The martyrs in heaven cry out to God to judge and seek vengeance upon those who take the lives of God’s faithful people (cf. Rev 6:9-11). In heaven, the angels and saints offer our prayers to God like incense (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

What all of this proves is that it is in fact possible for a person to communicate his needs to the saints, and for the saints to intercede for us, to take those needs to God. When you tell a fellow Christian about a need that you have and you ask them to take that need to God, this is essentially no different than what Catholics do when we pray to the saints. The saints too are our fellow Christians, and as you can see, they care greatly about our needs.

Cry Out to the Heavens

You might still be wondering: If all of this is true – if you really can pray to the saints – how come we don’t see anyone doing this in the Bible? The example of David is illustrative here.

In the Book of Psalms, we read that David cried out in prayer, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word!” (103:20). And again: "Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (103:21). And again: “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” (148:2). David was a man after God's own heart, yet he wasn't afraid to cry out to the hosts of heaven. If David can implore the angels and saints, than so can you.

The Prayers of the Righteous Are Powerful

James tells us in his letter, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16). Or, to put it another way, “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). No one is more righteous than a saint in heaven! We must also consider that the saints come from almost every walk of life you can imagine. They took up every occupation, spoke every language, lived out every vocation, and hailed from every nation. They know what it’s like to be us and to have the needs that are unique to our situation in life.

And so, because they are perfectly righteous and they understand the difficulties of this world for every man, the saints can pray perfect prayers on our behalf. Who wouldn't want that! Once all the evidence is considered, the question at hand seems to be not so much “Should you pray to the saints?” but instead, “How could you not?”

Could This Be Idol Worship?

Even still you may have some lingering doubts. It can be difficult to get used to praying to anyone other than God. It might even feel like idolatry to do such a thing. But, keep in mind: a Catholic's intentions when he prays to God are different from his intentions when he prays to the saints.

Praying to the saints is not idolatry for the simple fact that Catholics do not worship the saints, nor do we intend our prayers to them to be an act of worship. When we pray to God, it is an act of worship because to pray to God is to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things, we are his humble creatures, and we depend on Him for all things.

However, when we pray to the saints, it is simply to invoke their intercession. We want to communicate our needs to the saints because, as we've already seen, we know that they understand the unique fears and anxieties that we face and we know that they can make a perfect entreaty to the Lord for us. No faithful Catholic would ever turn the saints into gods, or try to derive secret or hidden knowledge from them, or really enter into any type of false worship of the saints. Catholics consider themselves bound by Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching of the Church to worship God and Him alone.

Isn’t Jesus the One Mediator?

You may be also wondering how praying to the saints would square with Paul's reminder that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5-6). The key here is to understand what Paul means by "mediator."

First, here is the passage in question:
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.
Now, a mediator is someone who works between two estranged parties to bring them to agreement. Paul basically tells us in vs. 6 that this is what he has in mind when he refers to Jesus as the one who “gave himself as a ransom for all.” God and mankind are the two estranged parties, and Jesus brought them together again by “paying the ransom,” by dying for us.

The saints don’t compete with this one mediator because in no way do they attempt to do what He did. The saints don’t pay the price for all man’s sin. Jesus Christ is the one who “tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14), not the saints.

Praying to the Saints Gives Glory to God

This discussion of what Jesus has done for us brings us to a final point: Ultimately, praying to the saints is all about Jesus. He is the one who granted them victory over death. He is the Head that unites all the members of the Body together. He is the one who hears the prayers of the saints – both those on earth and in heaven – and answers them faithfully. He is the reason why we have any hope of being where the saints are: alive with God forever.

And so, we Catholics say: Give glory to God! Pray to the saints!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 11, 2013

In the Wake of the Pope's Resignation, Some Tools to Help You Defend the Papacy

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will be resigning from the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter (see the Declaratio). On Feb. 28, the See of Rome, the See of Peter, will be vacant and a conclave will have to be convoked to elect the next Pope of the Catholic Church.

The media firestorm has already begun. Liberals are already hoping that the next pope will finally allow contraception and women priests. Protestants are wondering why the Church needs a pope at all. The papal office is under fire and needs to be defended. I'm up to the task ... are you?

If you are in need of some resources, here are the blog posts I have written over the years in defense of the authority of the Pope:

If anyone has any questions, just let me know.

VIVA IL PAPA!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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