Monday, October 24, 2016

Catholic Q&A: Part 40

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Why are Catholics more interested in the saints?

I'm not sure who you are comparing Catholics to, but I can say that Catholics are more interested in the saints than Protestants are because the Catholic Church has maintained continuity of faith with the early Church -- who prayed to and venerated the saints -- whereas the Protestant denominations today find their roots in the "Reformation" of the 16th century, when many Christians broke away from the Catholic Church, throwing the saints out with the rest of the bath water.

Can you please explain how Christmas came to be and the controversy surround it?

Well, the commonly held belief was that Christmas was instituted by the Church in order to counteract or to "baptize" the pagan holidays being celebrated around the same time, either Saturnalia or the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun). But, modern scholarship has proven this to be mere legend. What most scholars believe now is that the Christian holiday actually pre-dates the pagan varieties, which were established to reinvigorate the paganism of the Roman Empire and which were swiftly being replaced by Christianity. For more on this, see "Christmas Was Never a Pagan Holiday" and "Why December 25?".

I am a 48 year old woman who has been divorced for 15 years. I recently met a wonderful man, we have been dating for about a year. We have also had sex on a handful of occasions. He feels incredible remorse. It's not like I stopped him. Is this a venial sin or mortal sin?

It would definitely be a very serious sin, and if you did it with full knowledge that it was wrong and you freely consented to do it, then it would be a mortal sin. It is a very serious sin because, until you receive an annulment, your marriage with your former spouse is presumed to be a valid one. This means that you are not free to have sexual intercourse with someone else. Your boyfriend may have had the sin of fornication in mind, but it is actually adultery that has taken place here.

Can one be saved who dies in mortal sin?

No, he cannot. Someone in the state of mortal sin has placed himself in unrighteous standing before the Lord. Someone in such a state must repent of the mortal sin that has flung him into this state before he dies. After death, there is no more time to repent of mortal sin. That person can only go to Hell because Heaven is only a place for those who have maintained a righteous standing with the Lord.

If you were trying to prove that Jesus was who He said he was what topics would you focus on?

I would focus on what Jesus said about Himself, but also what the apostles and the authors of the New Testament books said about Him. For more on this, see my blog post, "Jesus Is God".

Pax Christi,

Friday, October 21, 2016

Catholic Q&A: Part 39

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

My 25-year old cradle Catholic daughter is in a relationship with someone who does not believe in Jesus Christ. He has his own religion, similar to Judaism, but makes up his rules. She is now following him and renouncing her Catholic faith, and Jesus. What can I say, or do to bring her back?

Well, first of all, you can pray. I know, that's not a very comforting answer. We always wish there was more we could do. But, we have to believe that prayer is efficacious, that it really will help you and her. You must commit yourself to that.

Also, how comfortable is she with talking about religion? Most people who make this decision also don't like getting into it with their parents. Perhaps you could simply ask her: Why are you making this decision? Do you have any questions that I could help you with? Do you know why Catholics believe in Jesus?

If there are any doctrines of the Catholic Church that are sticking points for her, ask her if she would be willing to read some material that would explain these things for her. This is good because it takes some of the pressure off of you to have to defend what you believe, and it gives her the chance to learn about what the Church believes when she is ready (instead of right there, as she's talking to you). Remind her that there's no harm in reading something. Just hear the Church out, let Her have Her say. If she is fully convinced of the truth of her new faith, then it shouldn't bother her to read what the Catholic Church thinks.

Then, find a good book or an article online and give it to her. Your local Catholic bookstore owner can help you find what you need. I don't know what to recommend because I don't know what her needs are. Ask her to keep an open mind, and always be ready yourself to give a charitable defense of your faith when those rare opportunities present themselves. Whatever materials you find for her you should probably read yourself! You won't always have the perfect book at hand, but you will have your mind and heart, what you believe, why you believe it, your experience of Christ moving in your life.

Pray to the Holy Spirit that He will give you the proper words at the proper time.

Good luck to you!

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Catholic Q&A on Levels of Honor in Heaven and the Communion of Saints

Gustave Dore's depiction of the highest realm of Heaven,
from Dante's The Divine Comedy.
Does our life on earth impact our experience of heaven? I've often read it described as completely full buckets; for some their love and yearnings create a small bucket, which will be filled; for others their deep faith and yearning will create a huge bucket, which also will be filled. This seems to indicate our earthly experience impacts what heaven will be for us. True?

Yes, that's true. As you love in this life, your capacity for love increases, as does your capacity to receive the glory and blessedness of heaven. So, whereas Saint A and Saint B are both filled completely and thus have no notion of being slighted or being without, if Saint A acted with greater charity in this life then he will be filled with more joy because he has the capacity to receive more. To use your analogy, Saint A and Saint B both have buckets filled to the brim, but Saint A's bucket is larger.

Scripture is clear about there being levels or degrees of honor in heaven. See, for example:
  • Mt 5:19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mt 11:11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
  • Mt 18:4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
If one can be the "least" or the "greatest" in the kingdom of heaven, does that not imply that there are levels of honor? I can't be the "greatest" until there are people who are less than me.

For more on this, see my blog post, "Levels of Honor in Heaven and Mary's Queenship."

If so, does this also apply to Christ who we will be united to? Does it matter to him in heaven if we led saintly lives on earth, or lived as Sodom but had a deathbed conversion? Similarly, does it matter to Christ in heaven if every baby is aborted with no life experience (or, let's say every one year old is killed) vs them living a meaningful life?

I'm sure that it matters to Jesus a great deal. While it is true that a person who has a deathbed conversion can wind up in heaven right alongside the person who lived a lifetime of holiness, it does not follow that how those two people lived their lives is incidental to God. There is no guarantee that the person living a life of sin will even have the opportunity to make a last-minute appeal to God, nor that he will seize the opportunity if he is given it. God desires that we choose holiness now, and not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the Church and the whole world.

Yes, the good thief repented at the end and was able to be with God, but think of the good he could have done for himself and for others if he had repented sooner! Think of the glory he might have given to God ... and the glory he might have stored up for himself in heaven! Yes, his bucket is full in heaven, but it could have been a much larger bucket. God wants to fill us up with as much of His life and His love as we can possibly be filled up with.

We will (all) be united to Christ in heaven -- does that in some way mean to each other also?

Yes. Just as it is for the Church on earth, so will it be for the Church in heaven: Our unity to the Head of the Body also establishes our unity with one another. As Scripture says:
  • Rom 12:4-5 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
  • Eph 1:9-10 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
  • Eph 2:19-21 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
  • Eph 4:15-16,25 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. 25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
  • Col 2:18-19 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If true, is my experience of heaven lessened by those with lessor lives (or no lives, aborted, etc.)? If false, is my experience of heaven no different because of others --- so why should I care if in the end they don't matter to me?

 I don't think it follows from the communion of the saints in heaven that their experience of heaven would be lessened by the presence of members who did not live greater lives of charity. Your experience of heaven depends on the size of your bucket, and only you can determine that.

Also, regardless of the lives that the other saints led and how they got to be with you in heaven, your bucket is completely full. You can't get any happier than you are at that moment. You are beholding the beatific vision, the unmediated presence of God. You want for nothing.

Pax Christi,

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Christopher Behind Columbus

So, as I'm sure you know, today is Columbus Day in the US. As you may also know, Christopher Columbus is a very controversial figure. I spent a good part of the day trying to learn more about the man and discern for myself whether he's a villain, a hero, or some mysterious mixture of both. I must say, I'm still undecided.

Nowadays, he appears to be more vilified than anything, although I noticed a trend in recent conservative scholarship to make a reappraisal of the man. As a Catholic, I'm not sure if I should be proud of this great Catholic discoverer of "The New World" or disgusted by him. Should I mount a defense of my brother in the faith, or count him among the other embarrassing moments in Church history?

Below, you'll find some articles that attempt to address the issue from a Catholic perspective. I'm not sure if any of them really resolve this issue in my mind. But, I did find them to be very informative, and perhaps you will too:

I would like to close by quoting from Samuel Eliot Morison, a renowned American historian and biographer of Columbus. In his book Admiral of the Ocean Sea, he presents an image of Christopher Columbus that would certainly appeal to any Catholic. He notes a similarity between the mariner and the saint who bears the same name:
"Why the parents of Columbus chose the name Christofaro for their son, born in 1451, we do not know, but in so doing, they furthered the natural bent of the boy's mind.

"Saint Christopher was a tall, stout pagan who yearned to know Christ but could not seem to do anything about it. He dwelt on the bank of a river in Asia Minor where there was a dangerous ford and by reason of his great stature and strength helped many a traveler to cross.

"One day when he was asleep in his cabin he heard a Child's voice cry out, 'Christopher, Christopher. Come and set me across the river!' So out he came, staff in hand and took the infant on his shoulders. As he waded across, the Child's weight so increased that it was all he could do to keep from stumbling and falling, but he reached the other bank safely. 'Well, now my lad,' said he, 'thou hast put me in great danger, for thy burden waxed so great that had I borne the whole world on my back it could have weighed no more than thee.' To which the child replied, 'Marvel not, for thou hast borne upon thy back the whole world and Him who created it. I am the Child whom thou servest in doing good for mankind. Plant thy staff near yonder cabin, and tomorrow it shall put forth flowers and fruit -- proof that I am indeed thy Lord and Savior.' Christopher did as he was bid, and sure enough, next morning, his staff had become a beautiful date-palm.

"From that day forth Christopher has been the patron saint of all who travel by land, sea, or air. In his name, Christopher Columbus saw a sign that he was destined to bring Christ across the sea to men who knew Him not. Indeed, the oldest known map of the New World, dated A.D. 1500, dedicated to Columbus by his shipmate, Juan de la Cosa, is ornamented by a vignette of Saint Christopher carrying the Infant Jesus on his shoulders.

"We may fairly say that the first step toward the discovery of America was taken by the parents of Columbus when they caused him to be baptized Christofaro in some ancient church of Genoa, one day in the late summer or early fall of 1451."

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know.

Pax Christi,

Friday, October 07, 2016

October: Month of the Rosary

In honor of the most Holy Rosary, which we take up as our sword and shield particularly during this month of October, I have collected the following resources for your edification:

General Articles

The Rosary Encyclicals (go here for a summary of the Rosary encyclicals)

Rosary Apologetics

I also have two blog posts on the rosary:
Pax Christi,

Saturday, October 01, 2016

For the Memorial of "the Little Flower"

In more recent times, St. Therese of Lisieux shows us the courageous way of abandonment into the hands of God to whom she entrusts her littleness. And yet it is not that she has no experience of the feeling of God's absence, a feeling which our century is harshly experiencing: "Sometimes it seems that the little bird (to which she compared herself) cannot believe that anything else exists except the clouds that envelop it.... This is the moment of perfect joy for the poor, weak little thing.... What happiness for it to remain there nevertheless, and to gaze at the invisible light that hides from its faith" (Letter 175. Manuscrits autobiographiques, Lisieux. 1956, p. 52).
-- Pope Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino (On Christian Joy)

For more information about St. Therese of the Child Jesus, see the following links:
Pax Christi,
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