Monday, June 29, 2009

Catholic and Protestant Teaching on Matrimony

  • What does the Catholic Church teach regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage? How does the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage differ from some protestant denominations teaching on this subject?
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is for a lifetime. "What God has joined together let no man tear asunder." Now, in extreme cases (such as, when one of the spouses becomes abusive) the couple could go to court and file for a "divorce," but that would just change the status of the relationship in the eyes of the state. In the eyes of the Church, the couple is still married, which means that neither one of them would be allowed to remarry. They could separate and live under different roofs, but technically they would still be married.

I know this seems harsh, but the Church believes that matrimony is a sacrament, one where two people stand before God and make a solemn oath to give of themselves to each other totally and faithfully, forever. God responds by blessing the union and granting the couple a sacramental grace that they can draw from when times are difficult. These two people brought God into their arrangement. The Church takes that very seriously. As with any oath, if you are going to invoke the name of the Lord, you better make sure you mean it.

As for annulments, some people think they are basically the equivalent of "Catholic divorce," but they are not. An annulment basically acknowledges that certain circumstances were in place that invalidated the sacrament that was celebrated. In other words, it has been determined that a valid sacrament was never celebrated, in which case the man and woman are free to marry someone else.

St. Paul says that the union of man and woman is a great mystery that pertains to Christ and His Church. What he means is that the union of man and woman in a way points to the union between Christ and His Church, the Bridegroom and His Bride. Just as Christ is utterly faithful to his bride, even "jealous" over her, so must the husband be faithful to his wife. Just as God demanded complete faithfulness from Israel, and described her idolatry as a type of adultery, in which she "played the harlot" instead of being singularly His, so to is the wife called to be singularly devoted to her husband. The married couple has the opportunity to work with the Creator of all things in bringing new life into the world, and they are called, in their marital embrace, to be an image of the Trinity.

Yes, that's right, an image of the Trinity. Within the Trinity is a community of persons, one in which the Father completely loves the Son, the Son completely loves the Father, and their love is itself a third Person, the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in the marital sex act, the husband gives of himself completely to his wife, the wife gives of herself completely to her husband, and their love creates a third person, the child that they bring into the world.

That's what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. My impression of Protestantism on the other hand is one in which marriage is viewed as a simple contract or promise between two people. It is certainly not a sacrament (a source of grace) or an oath made before God. Rarely do I see Protestant theology draw it's understanding of marriage from the relationship between Christ and the Church, or from the community of persons that exists within the Trinity, or from the nature of Adam and Eve's relationship before the fall. This I think explains why so many Protestant churches condone divorce and remarriage. They simply do not have the same exalted view of marriage that the Catholic Church has. Of course, I am really in no place to speak for Protestantism regarding matrimony. I also realize that many denominations do in fact hold matrimony in high regard.

Would you be willing to read what the Catechism has to say about the Sacrament of Matrimony? It really is an eloquent and beautiful meditation upon this topic. See nos. 1601-1666.

Pax Christi,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Biblical Saints and Canonized Saints

  • How does one become a saint within the Catholic Church? How do you biblically separate saints from regular Christians, particularly since to many Protestants it would seem that sainthood is bestowed by the pope who is a man. Finally, is sainthood only bestowed posthumously?
I think it would be helpful to begin by defining what the word means. Our English word "saint" comes from the Latin sanctus, which means "holy, sacred, consecrated." It is used in the Bible to translate the Greek word hagios, which means "most holy thing, a saint" (although Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says that it is derived from the Greek word hagiazo, which means "to set apart, sanctify, or make holy"). Generally, it is used in the Bible to refer to Christians, to the people of the New Covenant.

Catholics have no theological obstacle to using the term in that way. After all, we speak often of the "communion of saints," which includes not only those souls in heaven but also those members of the pilgrim Church on earth. The reason that the Church officially declares that an individual is a saint is because Catholics believe in showing honor and respect (or "devotion") to the saints by emulating their lives and asking for their prayers. Once the Church says that a particular person has lived a life of eminent holiness and heroic virtue, then we know that it is safe to honor him or her in that way. The purpose of the declaration is ultimately to safeguard the piety of the faithful, to give them role models in sanctity, and to give them hope that any person, no matter the circumstance, can live a life of grace and fellowship with God.

Note that sainthood is bestowed by God, not the pope. It is because of the grace of God that the particular person we call a saint was able to live an eminently holy life and to be with God in heaven. Each of these persons was a saint, a "holy one," "set apart," long before they were declared such by the Church. In canonizing a person, the Church simply declares as fact something that has already taken place.

To answer your last question, many many people (i.e., John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, John Bosco, etc.) were all generally referred to as "saints" during their lifetime. But, the official declaration by the Church always comes after the person has deceased.

For more information on how a person is canonized, see "The Canonization Process". For more information on Catholic theology regarding the "communion of saints," see the CCC, nos. 946-962.

I think that answers all of your questions.

Pax Christi,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Can Jesus Be the Only Way if Mary is the Coredemptrix?

The word "coredemptrix" means "woman with the redeemer." She stood beside her Son as He gave up his life for mankind. She did not fight for his life to be spared or resist in any way what had to be done. Instead, as one who committed no sin and who knew since the day of the presentation of Jesus in the temple that a sword would pierce her heart because of what He must do (Lk 2:34-35), Mary aligned her will perfectly with the will of her Son. She was able to make an unparalleled gift of her own suffering and pain for the sake of mankind.

Catholics believe that when you "offer it up," when you patiently endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel, or for the sake of what is right, or in order to gain mastery over your flesh and its desires, then merit comes from that which God then turns around and pours out upon the Body, for it's own strengthening and edification. This is not to say that the merit from Christ's work on the Cross was not enough. This is not to say that Jesus needed anyone's help in order to save mankind. This simply means that God chooses to involve human beings in his work, and that Mary, being a sinless human being and the one who gave the Son the very flesh that he nailed to the Cross for our salvation, was able to stand alongside the Redeemer and cooperate with his saving plan in a way that no other human being was able to do.

For that reason, a particular title is reserved for her, and that title is Coredemptrix. None of what I have said here should be misconstrued as meaning that Jesus is not the only Savior, or that Jesus needed Mary's help, or that the merits of the Cross aren't enough, or anything of that sort. Salvation comes from Christ and Him alone. Mary would be just a typical girl without Him.

For more information on Mary as the Coredemptrix, I suggest the following articles:Pax Christi,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to Go to Heaven

I recently answered the following two questions in my Q&A thread at the Holy Culture forum:
  • If somebody walked up to you on the street and asked you for everything they need to do to go to heaven, what do you tell them?
I'd tell him that he needed a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

[After my response, he posted a follow-up question]

  • How would you explain a saving relationship?
A saving relationship is one in which the sanctifying grace of God within us has not been destroyed. A person receives salvation both in this life, by living a life of grace, and faith, and obedience to God's Will, and in the future, by persevering to the end (cf. Rom 11:22; Gal 5:1; Phil 2:12; Col 1:22-23; Heb 3:14) and standing before God on Judgment Day with grace and faith intact.

[After that exchange, a different poster objected to my response. Here is his objection and my response to him]

  • sacraments involved in order to get to heaven? Cmon bro lets not be so ambiguous.
I wasn't being ambiguous. With this answer, I was trying to get down to the heart of the matter. We can debate about how one receives a saving relationship and what constitutes a saving relationship -- and the sacraments would enter into that debate -- but at the end of the day it's still all about having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship is very much a part of my faith, and I feel like I was true to my faith in answering that question the way I did.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

[Some remarks after looking back at this exchange]

I felt pretty good about my response to that question until I found a response by Jimmy Akin to the same question:
  • Q: What would you tell someone who asks, 'How can I be saved'?

    A: "Repent, believe, and be baptized."

    That's all you need for the basic question. You can go into more detail on what each of the terms means (just as you can with the different Protestant models of what one needs to do to be saved), but the concept itself is simplicity itself. Even the most rustic can learn it.

    And unlike the different Protestant models, it takes into account all the elements Jesus, Peter, and Paul lay out on the three occasions when someone asks this question (Matthew 19:16-19, Acts 2:37-39, 16:30-31). Repentance covers Jesus' stress on not breaking the commandments and is explicitly named in Peter's response, which also names baptism, which together with repentance is assumed in Paul's stress on faith, for he assumes anyone who genuinely puts his faith in God will repent (Romans 2:4-10) and be baptized (Acts 16:33-34).
I think Akin's response is a lot better than mine, which I guess is to be expected considering that he is an apologetics master and I'm just a Jimmy-Akin-wanna-be. It's not that my answer is wrong, it's just that his seems to have more clarity and simplicity. His also seems more Scriptural, since he actually synthesizes the answers to these questions when they are asked in Scripture.

If someone asked you how to go to heaven, what would you say? Leave a comment and let me know.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hail Mary and Holy Mediums

Before I explain the interesting title for this post, I need to give some background info.

Any veterans of my blog will recall that back in '06 and '07, a large amount of my blog content came from Q&A's and debates that I engaged in at a Protestant forum called "Holy Culture Radio." It was always my favorite of all the Protestant forums I have ever joined. Reasoned argumentation is valued there and ad hominem bashing is always frowned upon. These people have actually thought a lot about what they believe and they love a good theological discussion. While they definitely don't always agree with me, the members of the forum have always treated me with respect (for the most part), and have always appreciated the fact that I am knowledgeable in my faith and well-versed in Scripture.

Some time last year the "powers that be" decided to shut down the "General Theology" board of the forum and I instantly lost all of the work that I had done there. Thankfully, most of it had been preserved in my blog, but there was still a lot of good stuff that I never had the opportunity to incorporate into a blog post. I was pretty bummed out about that, not only b/c of the material I lost but also because I felt like I lost a lot of my Protestant friends over there (since we had basically lost the very thing that brought us together).

Well, about 2-3 weeks ago I found out that Holy Culture Radio has new "powers that be" and those powers brought back the "General Theology" board! Yayyy!! I was pretty psyched when I heard the news, and ever since then I have been immersing myself in apologetical, theological, and ecumenical discussions again. This finally brings us to the purpose for this blog post.

So, I started a thread called "Ask the Crazy Catholic a Question," where people can, well, ask me questions, and I'll answer them. The first post came from someone who actually had two questions: one about Mary and one about the Sacrament of Confession. His questions with my answers are below. Also, even though this forum is public domain and anyone can read it at any time, I have decided not to provide the name of the poster, just in case people still have a problem with me posting this content on my blog.

First question:
  • What are your views on Mary?
My views on Mary are exactly what the Catholic Church teaches about her:
  • Mother of God: Mary is the mother of Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore Mary is the Mother of God.
  • Immaculate Conception: Mary was conceived without sin and never committed a sin
  • Perpetual Virgin: Mary remained a virgin her whole life and did not have other children
  • Assumption: at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven
  • Coredemptrix: Mary had a unique role to play in the salvation of mankind (a role that was, nonetheless, quite secondary to the role of Christ)
(For the Church in her own words, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church ("CCC"), nos. 484-507; 721-726; 963-972.)

Now, I realize that all of this sounds absolutely insane at first glance, but I assure you there is a very Scriptural and reasoned defense for it all.

Second question:
  • Do u believe that you can approach the throne of Grace, and confess your sins to God yourself, or do u need a medium?
I want to address the notion of mediation first, before I answer this question.

People often have a knee-jerk reaction against mediation. But, if you think about it, God's presence and His power is always mediated to us somehow. We never actually encounter God directly. Instead, it is always through something, whether that something be prayer, or Scripture, or the sacraments, or your pastor, or your church service, or the love of a friend, or whatever. The only time we will experience God in all of his unmediated glory is when we see him face to face in heaven. I don't think this diminishes the access that we have to the "throne of Grace." It is still a grace that has been made available to us in an unprecedented way.

That said, I believe that God makes his grace abundantly available to all who approach His throne for it, and He does this through various instruments or mediums (many of which I have already listed). Prayer is the medium through which God desires to forgive our venial sins. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or "Confession", or "Penance") is the medium through which God desires to forgive all the sins we commit, both venial and mortal.

For the Church in her own words, see CCC, nos. 1422-1484.

Pax Christi,

Friday, June 19, 2009

Questions and Answers about Catholicism

Here is another Q&A Potpourri for you. Again, all of these questions came from submissions to the "Catholicism" category at WikiAnswers. I in turn provided the following answers:

How long does it take for a person to become Catholic?
It depends on the individual. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process can take anywhere from 8 months (the typical length) to 2 years (the recommended length), but some people go through years of personal study into the Catholic faith before they finally make the decision to enter the process.

What is a catechumen?
A catechumen is a non-Christian who is receiving religious instruction in preparation for the sacraments of initiation and membership in the Catholic Church. A non-Catholic Christian receiving the same instruction is called a "candidate"

How many times is the word “water” present in the Bible?
It depends on the translation you are using. The word "water" is found 407 times in the Revised Standard Version, 363 times in the King James Version, and 345 times in the Douay-Rheims version.

What happened to Jesus’ body after He died?
First it was laid in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. For three days it remained there, lifeless, while Jesus' soul preached to the righteous in Hades. On the third day, His soul reunited with his body, causing it to come alive again, and for forty days He appeared to his disciples and apostles. At the end of forty days, He ascended, body and soul, into heaven.

What is the name of the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation?
The response in question is commonly referred to as the "Catholic Reformation" or the "Counter Reformation." Historian William V. Hudon has also suggested the term "Tridentine Reformation." Christopher M. Belllitto, in his book Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II, chooses the term "Catholic reformations" (note the lower-case "r" and the plural) so as to refer not to one specific response but to all of the attempts to reform the Church that took place just before, during, and after Martin Luther came on the scene.

How often must a priest say Mass?
According to the Code of Canon Law, priests are "earnestly invited to offer the eucharistic Sacrifice daily" (Can. 276 § 2).

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Q&A Potpourri

Every now and then I like to answer a few quick questions about Catholicism over at WikiAnswers. I welcome any opportunity to share the Truth of the Church with others. Plus, it provides good content for my blog! Here is the most recent batch:

What is baptismal grace?
Baptismal grace is the grace that a person receives when he or she is baptized. This grace has the effect of cleansing a person of all sin.

Can you baptize your child a second time as a Catholic so as to change the godparents?
No. According to the Catholic Church, a person can only be baptized once.

Who is the patron saint of wound healing?
The patron saints against wounds are Sts. Aldegundis, Marciana, and Rita of Cascia.

What are the evangelical counsels?
The three evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Who is the most famous priest in the world?
There is really no objective answer to this question, although I would imagine that the most famous priest in the world is whoever happens to be the pope.

From what act do all the effects of the sacraments flow?
All effects of the sacraments flow from the saving work of Christ on the Cross.

Who was freed instead of Jesus?
According to the Gospels, Barab'bas was released instead of Jesus (cf. Mt 27:15-26; Mk 15:6-15; Lk 23:18-25; Jn 18:38-40).

Who was the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 1958?
If by "leader" you mean "the pope," then the leader of the Catholic Church in 1958 was either Pope Pius XII, who's reign ended in that year, or Pope John XXIII, who succeeded Pope Pius XII in that same year.

What is the adoration chapel?
It is a place reserved for the adoration of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In such a chapel, the Eucharist is placed in a Monstrance so that it can be seen and worshipped.

Who is Gregorian chant named after?
"Gregorian chant" takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 590 to 604 A.D.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What do we mean when we say in the Creed that Jesus "descended into hell"?

While we use the word “hell” today to refer to the place of the damned, where there is fire, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, the Apostles’ Creed is actually referring to a difference place.

The Greek word that we translate as “hell” in the Creed is hades, which in Biblical times was the name for the abode of the dead, the place deep in the earth where all souls went when they died (sheol is the Hebrew word that refers to the same place). We see from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31) that, even though all souls went to Hades, their lot was not the same. “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” For the righteous, Hades was a place of comfort, but for the unrighteous Hades was a place of torment (cf. vs. 22-24).

Note that, while there was some comfort there for the righteous, it still wasn’t heaven, it wasn’t seeing God face to face, with all the knowledge and joy that comes from that vision. After all, the gates of heaven were closed to mankind once Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:22-24). So, Hades was also a place of anxious waiting and longing for the day when the righteous souls could be freed from Hades and enter heaven. All of the patriarchs, and prophets, and holy men and women of the Old Testament were essentially stuck in Hades until someone could come and free them. That someone was Jesus.

When Jesus died and His body was buried, His spirit spent three days in Hades, where “the gospel was preached even to the dead” (cf. 1 Pet 4:6), to “the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19), so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10). When Jesus descended into Hades, He was not abandoned there (cf. Act 2:27-31). There was no need to worry about who would raise Him from the abyss (cf. Rom 10:6-8). Jesus conquered Hades, and when He rose from the dead, He led with Him a host of captives (cf. Eph 4:8). He holds the keys to death and Hades (cf. Rev 1:17-18), and He has given us the courage to say, "O death, where is thy victory? O Hades, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor 15:55).

That is what we mean when we say that Jesus descended into hell.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How Does the Church Believe a Person Receives Salvation?

One would think that such a simple question would have an equally simple answer. But, it doesn’t. That’s because the object in question – salvation – is itself a mysterious reality. Before we can answer this question, we must attempt to define what we mean by the word salvation. We must grasp hold of both its present and future significance.

The “Glossary” in the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines salvation as “The forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God, which can be done by God alone.” This definition draws out the present significance of salvation, as something that can take place here and now. After all, any time we receive the sanctifying grace of the sacraments (which happens daily all over the world), we receive “the forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God.”

However, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, in his Catholic Dictionary, defines salvation as “The result of being released from death through the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, which brings us to the newness of life in heaven.” Did you catch that last part? According to this definition, salvation is something that has future significance. It is something that takes place later, when you die and consequently gain victory over death and receive eternal life in heaven.

So, which one is it? Does salvation take place now or later? I think it’s both. By God’s grace, we are every day being saved until we come to that day when God declares us fit to live with Him forever in heaven. That is why, in the Bible, salvation is referred to in the past tense (as something that has already taken place), in the present tense (as something that is taking place), and in the future tense (as something that will take place). Here are a few examples of each:
  • Past Tense: “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24); “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:8).
  • Present Tense: “to us who are being saved” (1 Cor 1:18); “those who are being saved” (2 Cor 2:15).
  • Future Tense: “we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11); “he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:15).
Now that we know what salvation is, we can answer the question at hand. The Church believes that a person receives salvation both in this life, by living a life of faith and reception of the sacraments, and in the future, by persevering to the end (cf. Rom 11:22; Gal 5:1; Phil 2:12; Col 1:22-23; Heb 3:14) and standing before God with grace and faith intact. May we all “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

Pax Christi,
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