Friday, September 21, 2012

Rev 12 and the "Birth Pangs" of Mary

As I understand it, Catholics believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain, but in the Book of Revelation it says that she was in pain. Is there a contradiction here?

The passage you are referring to is Rev 12:1-2. It reads as follows:
1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
Now, we have to remember that the Book of Revelation is full of symbols that have many layers of meaning. The woman from Rev 12 is representative of Mary, Israel, and the Church. Sometimes only one of the three is evoked, other times all three are present. The meaning of symbols in apocalyptic literature is often very fluid in this way.

So, we have a woman experiencing the pangs of child birth. In one sense, this woman is Mary. After all, she gives birth to a son who will rule all the nations (vs. 5) and is the mother of all Christians (vs. 17). But, since Mary did not receive the stain of original sin, she could not have experienced pain when Jesus was born. Therefore, this pain must refer to something else.

I think the pain and anguish we read about here is spiritual, not physical. After all, when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to Simeon, he prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart because of her son (cf. Lk 2:34-35). Jesus’ Passion and Death are the source of this pain. She suffered bitterly at the foot of the Cross as her Son hung there alone and dying.

Of course, like I said, this woman can also represent Israel. In this case, the pangs of childbirth symbolize the great suffering and longing that the Israelites experienced in their exile. Isaiah said Israel was “like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs, when she is near her time” (Isa 26:16-18). The prophet Micah uses this same analogy: “Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon” (Micah 4:10).

As the Church, we experience this same suffering and longing as we await the Second Coming. Paul told the Galatians that he was “in travail” until Christ be formed in them (4:19). According to him, “the whole of creation has been groaning in travail” and “we ourselves … as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Catholic Q&A: Part 29

This post continues my series of short answers to common questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Are any of the angels more powerful than the others? If it is like that then how could Michael the Archangel banish Lucifer if he is a higher level of angel?

I’m not sure that any of them can be said to be more powerful than the rest. It’s probably more precise to say that they have different functions. Some are messengers, others are guardians, soldiers against Satan and his demons, attendants at God’s throne, etc. St. Michael and the faithful angels were able to expel Satan and his angels b/c they were given power from God to do so.

Why was the rosary shortened from 15 decades to 5?

There were originally 15 decades b/c the rosary was used to keep count as monks prayed the Psalms, of which there are 150. Once the rosary was used to pray the Hail Mary and was thus no longer about the Psalms, it no longer became necessary to have 150 beads.

In Matthew (8:31-32) when Jesus sent away the demons into the herd of swine, the demons requested it and Jesus did it. Why would he accept their plea?

It's His way of showing His power over demons. They can only enter the swine with His permission. Also, bodies of water can represent hostile forces (Psa 69:1-4) that are sometimes personified as beasts that rise out of the sea (Dan 7:1-3; cf. Rev 13:1). By driving the demon-possessed beasts back into the sea, Jesus symbolically demonstrates his triumph over the legions of Satan's kingdom. Finally, it could also be that this is a foreshadowing of things to come. Now, the demons will be cast into a lake of water; when Jesus comes again they will be cast into a lake of fire (cf. Mt 25:41; Rev 20:9-15).

A post death excommunication is lifted on someone... what is the point in doing that? It's not going to change where their soul is.

I've never heard of this, so I'm just guessing here, but perhaps an excommunication would be lifted after a person's death in order to remove the stigma placed on the person's family and descendants for being known as the relatives of an excommunicated person. Or, it could have been discovered later that the excommunication was unjust for some reason. Remember that excommunications are not about declaring where someone's soul goes, it's about making sure that someone knows that he has separated himself from the Church. An excommunication need not mean damnation to hell. If the person repents of his excommunicable offense, then he can be brought into union with the Church again.

Beyond that, I can't really say much on this. If you have a specific example in mind, then that may help me to help you better.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For the Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Most of us are used to reverencing the Holy Name of Jesus. After all, it is by no other name that men shall be saved (cf. Acts 4:12). Likewise, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (cf. Phil 2:10). But, on this special day we reverence a different name, "Mary," the Blessed Virgin and the Mother of God.

This may seem odd, and it may even make you feel uncomfortable, but there is certainly nothing wrong with it once you understand the nature of a name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the name is the icon of the person:
2156 The sacrament of Baptism is conferred "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."85 In Baptism, the Lord's name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The "baptismal name" can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. "Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment."86

2157 The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior's grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.

2158 God calls each one by name.87 Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.

2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God's name will shine forth in splendor. "To him who conquers . . . I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it."88 "Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty- four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads."89

85. Mt 28:19.
86. CIC, Can. 855.
87. Cf. Isa 43:1; Jn 10:3.
88. Rev 2:17.
89. Rev 14:1.
If the name is sacred and "demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it," then the name of the Mother of God is second only to the name of Jesus, for "Mary" is the icon of God's greatest creature.

When we invoke any name, we make that person present, both in our own minds, and in the minds of those who hear it. We also call to mind the saints who bear the name, and who interceed for all those who share the name in common. The name is holy for it makes present God's most dignified creatures. Thus, we should never curse the name of any person.

In particular, when we invoke the name of "Jesus" or "Mary," we must ensure that it is always with the utmost reverence and humility. These are not just any old names. Instead, they are the names of the two persons who had the most integral role to play in our salvation.

Miriam, Domina, Mary: Blessed be your holy name! For more on the optional memorial and the name of Mary, see the following: Pax Christi,
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