Saturday, October 20, 2012

Catholic Q&A: Part 31

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.

Is predestination practically encouraging or assuring to you?

Yes. One of the most reassuring passages in all of Scripture has to do with the unfolding of God’s plan for us:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
It’s good to be reminded that God is not an angry deity out to get us, but a loving Father who has great plans for our salvation.

What is the point of all the severe penances of a Rose of Lima or Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena?

I’m sure each saint had her own reasons, but generally, penances are performed for two reasons: 1. To gain mastery over one’s fleshly desires, and 2. To atone for the negative effect of sin upon the Body of Christ. If these penances are especially severe, it is because the penitent has much to gain mastery over, or because there is a great deal of sin that must be atoned for. Note that a person can atone for his own sin, or the sins of others. Since there is great sin in the world, great acts of penance are in order.

Severe acts of penance (such as self-flagellation, wearing an undershirt made of hair, eating only bread and water for a prolonged period of time, etc.) are only recommended for those who have made extensive progress in the spiritual life. Otherwise, it’s difficult to sustain such a practice, and easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it.

Whom do you think the Bible is talking about when its speaks of those through whom Satan would perform powerful miracles, whom God would deceive by a powerful delusion so that they would believe the lie, etc?

You must be referring to 2 Thes 2:9-12. Here is the passage in question:
9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, 12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Now, first of all, Satan doesn’t perform his powerful miracles through those who are deceived but through the deceiver, the “lawless one” who is mentioned. This lawless one is the “man of lawlessness, the son of perdition” from a few verses prior (cf. vs. 3-4). He is most often identified with the Antichrist (cf. 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7), or with the second beast from Rev 13:11-18. Exactly who this lawless one will be is difficult to say. Most scholars identify the beast with the Roman Empire.

Those who are deceived, who are handed over to a powerful delusion, are those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (vs. 10). Since Paul talks right after this about holding on to “the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter,” I can’t help but think that those who forsake this tradition will be the ones who will easily fall prey to the lawless one and his claims of authority and divinity.

What do you do with all the biblical passages that seem to skip over purgatory? To have died is to be freed from sin? (Rom 6:7) We who are still alive will be caught up to meet him in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever?(1 Thess 4:17)

First of all, these passages don’t refute the Catholic understanding of Purgatory. The “death” referred to in Rom 6:7 is not physical death but the death to sin and to the old man (the former way of living) that takes place in baptism, when we die with Christ and rise with him to new life. This passage has nothing to say about Purgatory.

1 Thes 4:17 refers to the Final Judgment that takes place after the Second Coming of Christ. The purging of sins has already taken place at this point, so obviously all that is left is eternal life with Christ.

That said, the Bible does not skip over Purgatory. The idea of a purging after death is present in the Word. I grant that it may be implicit, but it is still present. Since it is all too much to provide here, I’ll refer you to my two-part defense of Purgatory: Part 1 and Part 2.

Why all the bowing in church (genuflecting, bowing during songs/liturgy, etc.)?

We perform various gestures and postures during the liturgy because the liturgy engages the entire person, body and spirit. In the liturgy, we want to communicate with our bodies what is our interior disposition and belief.

We stand when the priest processes towards the altar to begin the Mass because we believe an important person has just entered our midst, the man who will stand in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”) and make the Sacrifice of the Mass present to us. We sit during the readings from the bible because that is the posture of listening and reflection. God is speaking to us through his Word, and so we must be able to receive Him. Bowing is a gesture of respect, and so when we recite the Creed during the Mass, we bow during the phrase, “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man” out of respect for the Incarnation. We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer (when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus) because kneeling is the greatest act of reverence, rightly reserved for when the Savior Himself is in our midst.

Everything we say and do say something about what we believe is happening at that moment in the Mass.

Pax Christi,

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