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Is One Free to Sin in Heaven?

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There are some questions that can be regarded as silly.  Why?  It is because they focus on a fallacy.  For instance, take this question:  Given that God can do anything; can he make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?  If the answer is YES, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift the rock.  If the answer is NO, then he is not all powerful because he cannot make such a rock.  What is the answer?  The assertion is nonsense because it contains an inner contradiction.  Similar conflicts are found as in the biblical temptation scene.  Some will argue that if the devil’s temptations were real then Jesus could have potentially given in and sinned.  However, temptation does not necessarily imply the possibility of succumbing.  In the case of Jesus, it was impossible.  Sin is by definition an act of disobedience against God.  However, Jesus is a divine Person.  God cannot sin against himself.  Similarly, the question is raised:  if the saints of heaven are free then are they free to sin?  The problem is how we understand freedom.  While it might be misused in this world, it is perfected in the world to come.  True freedom means loving obedience to God.  The misuse of freedom or a false freedom is realized in sin or disobedience to God.  Indeed, it is to embrace bondage to the diabolical.

Free will and moral perfection are in sync for the saints of heaven.  While sin is possible for those who only see dimly as through a veil, such is not possible for those who see God face-to-face.  When confronted by the greatest good, which is God, the will is immediately disposed to embrace it.  There is no apparent good.  There is nothing which can compete with it.  Arguably even the angels knew some sort of demarcation when they were tested.

It can also be argued that our ultimate decisions were already made during our mortal lives.  Our orientation is fixed with death.  Along these lines, certain theologians argue that the unborn and children who die before reaching the age of reason might be given the opportunity for making a choice in regard to their eternal destiny.  Many suspect that their personal innocence and the intercession of the parents and/or the Church would nudge them to make free decisions in loving God.  But this is speculation, no matter how optimistic the Church might be in their regard.  In any case, the denizens of heaven, both human and angelic cannot change their minds.  They have freely turned their backs to sin and have set their sights on almighty God. Coincidentally, such is also the state of hell and the slavery they have exchanged for freedom. We read the following in the fourth book of Milton’s Paradise Lost:  “Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will / Chose freely what it now so justly rues. / Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrauth and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (line 75)

 

Sin in heaven would be a violation of the very identity of the saints.  Their wills are united to that of Christ.  They have been made holy as God is holy.

The Reality of Ghosts

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“When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he grew afraid and lost heart completely. He consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, neither in dreams nor by Urim nor through prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a medium through whom I can seek counsel.’ His servants answered him, ‘There is a woman in Endor who is a medium.’ So he disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and set out with two companions. They came to the woman at night, and Saul said to her, ‘Divine for me; conjure up the spirit I tell you.’ But the woman answered him, ‘You know what Saul has done, how he expelled the mediums and diviners from the land. Then why are you trying to entrap me and get me killed?’ But Saul swore to her by the LORD, ‘As the LORD lives, you shall incur no blame for this.’ ‘Whom do you want me to conjure up?’ the woman asked him. ‘Conjure up Samuel for me,’ he replied. When the woman saw Samuel, she shrieked at the top of her voice and said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!’ But the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What do you see?’ ‘I see a god rising from the earth,’ she replied. ‘What does he look like?’ asked Saul. ‘An old man is coming up wrapped in a robe,’ she replied. Saul knew that it was Samuel, and so he bowed his face to the ground in homage. Samuel then said to Saul, ‘Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?’ Saul replied: ‘I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.’ To this Samuel said: ‘But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor? The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David. Because you disobeyed the LORD’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today. Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.’ Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, in great fear because of Samuel’s message. He had no strength left, since he had eaten nothing all that day and night. Then the woman came to Saul and, seeing that he was quite terror-stricken, said to him: ‘Remember, your maidservant obeyed you: I took my life in my hands and carried out the request you made of me. Now you, in turn, please listen to your maidservant. Let me set out a bit of food for you to eat, so that you are strong enough to go on your way.’ But he refused, saying, ‘I will not eat.’ However, when his servants joined the woman in urging him, he listened to their entreaties, got up from the ground, and sat on a couch. The woman had a stall-fed calf in the house, which she now quickly slaughtered. Then taking flour, she kneaded it and baked unleavened bread. She set the meal before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they got up and left the same night.” (1 Samuel 28:5-25).

If genuine, then Samuel was a ghost summoned by a medium.  He would be regarded as a hero of faith and today as a saint.  However, he would have come from the limbo of the fathers as Christ had not yet open the way to true heaven.  Genuine or not, the manner in which the ghost was called forth was a violation of God’s law.  I suspect that he appeared, not because of the medium but rather by God’s permission to announce judgment against Saul.

Jews and Christians alike are forbidden to use mediums, oracles or fortune-tellers (see Deuteronomy 18:11 and Leviticus 19:31).  God was already displeased with Saul.  Now Saul had sealed his fate by employing the services of a witch.

Many of us are intrigued by ghost stories.  Protestants more so than Catholics, tend to regard them as either pure fiction or as demonic deception.  Many Catholics have an open mind about such phenomena.  Indeed, some of the stories seem to reaffirm our teachings about purgatory.  If there be ghosts, from where do they come?  This topic can be somewhat dangerous.  We are warned not to be obsessed by such preoccupations.  Séances and Ouija boards are condemned, not merely as superstition but as a slippage into witchcraft or the occult.  Catholics pray for the dead and invoke the saints to intercede for us.  However, we do not seek direct two-way communication.  The proper focus of all prayer, even sanctoral orations, is always almighty God.  There are stories of the saints appearing and speaking with the living, as in the life of Joan of Arc.  However, there is a difference between what God permits and what men might seek.  The danger is demonic subterfuge and lies.  There are cases where supposedly demons masqueraded as the souls of the dead.

An article, “Fourteen Questions About Heaven,” by Dr. Peter Kreeft speaks of three types of ghosts:

  1. Ghosts from heaven;
  2. Ghosts from purgatory; and
  3. Ghosts from hell.

I have already made some reference to the first.  There are numerous other cases in the long history of the Church.  These are the apparitions of visionaries, often with messages.  Like the Virgin Mary, they always direct us back to Jesus and implore repentance and faith.  We are urged to pray and to remain steadfast. They are not subject to diabolic necromancy or sorcery.  They would never promote rebellion against the Lord or his Church.  Neither would they tolerate or legitimize immorality.  If a paranormal entity is malicious then it is not from heaven.

 

Kreeft speaks about the saints who come with a message or warning from heaven. I have always emphasized the ones from purgatory who need our prayers. The third type has undergone much speculation but about which many of us were unsure. If there were an evil or malicious haunting, I would usually regard it as demonic and not originating with a human soul or ghost. However, those who speak about the need to heal the family tree and certain forms of deliverance would join Kreeft in speaking about ghosts from hell. While the living can be haunted by past trauma and memory, I would have thought the damned souls too helpless and restrained by God to intervene in earthly affairs, but I may be wrong.

I remember a story told years ago about a convent of women that felt assured about the saintliness of a particularly pious nun who had recently died.  One day while at chapel in prayer, her ghost walked toward the altar.  Turning to her fellow sisters, she told them, “Pray for me.”  She then placed her hand print in some wet mortar used to repair the wall and disappeared.  Presumptuous of her personal holiness, correction was offered; she needed their prayers as a soul in purgatory.

We Will Never Exhaust the Divine Mystery

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The souls of the dead in heaven are divinized as saints by grace but by nature are still human.  We will have a share in the risen life of Christ.  However, we will always be finite creatures.  There can be no boredom in heaven because by intellect and will we can never fully exhaust the divine mystery.  We will be drawn eternally into the depths of knowing and loving God.  This process begins in this world.  We come to the Lord with a faith realized in loving obedience.  God gives us sanctifying grace and we are made sons and daughters to the Father, kin to Christ, children of Mary and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.  Death makes this orientation permanent.  We encounter Christ, not as strangers but as friends.  Indeed, restricting ourselves to this world, we find that all the saints of the Church demonstrated great holiness while many of their ideas, even in reference to religious faith, often fell short or were erroneous.  Error will certainly end when we pass through the door from this world to the next; but our capacity to understand and to contain the mystery of God will always be limited by our nature.  This truth applies to both angelic and human spirits.

I do suspect there is a profound openness to truth and the gift of love in heaven.  This would conflict with hell where the demons and lost souls know something of the truth but place a limit or barrier upon their knowing and loving.  We experience in this world a similar type of division and adversity where someone says, “I want nothing to do with you!  I don’t want to know anything more about it!  You mean nothing to me!  I disown you!”  The damned probably have a comparable mentality and stagnation of the heart.

Here on earth we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist.  God feeds us.  There are no sacraments in heaven as there is no need for sacred signs.  The saints see God and the mystery directly.  There is no more faith because the saints see and know God (as well as his truths) in an immediate fashion.  There is no more hope because every aspiration has been realized.  The only theological virtue that can cross the threshold of heaven with us is love or charity.  This love draws us into the Trinitarian life.  The banquet of heaven is literally one course after another.  The pattern is established with the Pilgrim Church.  God will continue to feed us with himself.

As I said in my first paragraph, there can be no boredom in heaven.  This is a far cry from the popular image of lazy angels sitting on clouds playing harps.  The mystery of God can never be diminished.  There will always be more to know.  The more we know, the more we will love.  The more we love, the more we will want to know.  This is the pattern of the finite creature to the infinite Creator.

I can well appreciate that secular critics deny the soul and view the intellectual life as the operation of our brains.  Romantics might speak of the heart as the source of love, but in truth the brain is the place where material memories and thinking takes place.  As a Christian, I would suggest that as a composite of flesh and spirit, the efforts of the brain mimic the powers of the soul.  Brains are not all the same and all of them have limits in regard to learning and to the physical senses.  Brains can also become diseased, causing people to struggle with thinking and remembering the most basic of facts and relationships.  The brain is physical and like the rest of the body, it has parts that can break down.  Parallel to this, the human soul has no parts and is indestructible.  It grants us a self-reflective knowledge that goes beyond the ability of the brain.  We are more than thinking meat.  Memories are not merely stored as electrochemical processes used by neurons but also make lasting impressions upon the human soul.  Just as we are often surprised by the detail of dreams; I suspect we will also be surprised as to what the soul retains after death.  What would a human being be if he was never to forget and we were to ponder matters with perfect clarity?  I suspect that the material brain both enables rational knowing and reflection as well as impedes it.  (In any case, I would not want to define the soul as simply a hard drive or cloud backup of what is in our brains.  There is a constant interworking that is part of the mystery of the human mind as understood by Christian believers.)  What we now see as through a fog or veil, we will see clearly.

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What and who we know, as well as love, survives the grave.  Indeed, it gives us our eternal orientation.  We are either like the wise virgin bridesmaids at the door with the burning lamps or like the foolish one who walk away looking for more oil.  When Christ, the divine bridegroom comes for us, he should find us alert and ready to enter into the nuptial banquet.   If we fail to remain steadfast and prepared, we might hear those terrible words of damnation, “Amen, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’”

If pride is the overriding sin of the devils, then a lasting humility is the posture of the saints.  Compared to God we may seem insignificant, literally as nothing.  And yet, Almighty God has looked upon us as his children.  I would argue that the prayer that Jesus gave his apostles will have an eternal significance.  The word for “Father” that is used by Jesus is literally the one used by little children.  I suppose we would render it as “papa” or “daddy.”  All of us, even the greatest doctors of the Church like Augustine and Aquinas, may be counted among the babes of heaven.  We are summoned to know and to love God while in this world.  All we know is still just scratching the surface.  Eternity will allow us to continue this exploration of knowing and loving.  Humility is not just the approach of men and women in this world, but of the saints and angels in the next.  We must become like little children if we want a place in the kingdom.  Those who are bloated with pride, feeling that they are all grown up and know enough already will find themselves in hell.  Similarly, all those who place limits on love will also know the loss of heaven.

 

Stuck Between the Rock & a Hard Place

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Who are we going to punish? I worry about this as a priest in reference to the distribution of Holy Communion, absolution in the sacrament of Penance and in terms of preaching a faith message from the Scriptures that might immediately be interpreted as “hate speech.” Passivity and toleration is not enough to appease certain people… it is being demanded that conventional Christians become advocates for sinful behavior. If a priest gives the sacraments to anyone, no matter what their views and lifestyle, then does he not become an accomplice in their sin? Would he forfeit his own immortal soul for causing scandal and violating conscience, the commandments and his sacred duty? For the sake of accompaniment, can a bishop or even pope force a priest to say or do something that he views as sinful and wrong?

Salvation, Christ & the Unborn

downloadQuestion

If Original sin affects all mankind and the only way to cleanse it is through baptism, would not that then imply that those not baptized carry Original sin and are forbidden from entering heaven? Following that train of thought, if the Catholic Church believes that unborn children are in fact alive human persons does that then imply that babies which pass away as a result of stillbirth cannot enter heaven since they are unbaptized and still carry Original sin?

On a related note, if I as a Christian believe that life begins with “sentience” or “personhood” as opposed to consummation, can I still consider myself a good Christian, particularly if I support a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester (when the child is not alive at all)?

Response

Strictly speaking, Original sin is not a voluntary sin but is a moral corruption that is contracted. It is a child’s state of the soul before Christian baptism. We inherit a fallen nature from Adam. Separated from God, we cannot save ourselves and we are left devoid of the original grace and holiness that our first parents enjoyed. Sin breached our friendship with God. The redemptive work of Christ restores this relationship. The sacraments, beginning with baptism, bring the paschal mystery of Christ to bear upon our souls. We have a fallen nature and suffer from concupiscence. Baptism brings spiritual regeneration; however, while there is forgiveness for Original sin, the effects have yet to be undone.

The question you ask is essentially this: can a person be saved apart from baptism and faith in Christ?

The Second Vatican Council teaches that everything necessary for our salvation “subsists” in the Catholic Church. This speaks to her membership but we are also reminded, as in the Good Friday liturgy, that the Church prays for Protestants, Atheists, Jews, Moslems and others. We would only do so if we thought that such intercession might be heard by God. The Orthodox Christians have authentic sacraments and are a “church” albeit defective. The Protestants are ecclesial communities that love the Lord and possess baptism, the Scriptures and so much more as an inheritance from Catholicism. These are saving elements.

The necessity of baptism emerges in the words of Christ (John 3:5 & Mark 16:16). He tells his apostles to go out to the entire world and to baptize with water in the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20).

Your question really references those who are not Christian and thus not baptized. Vatican II made reference to the plight of non-Christians (Jews, Moslems and seekers of “the unknown God.” Lumen Gentium 16:

“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Lumen Gentium 14 states:

“[Jesus] explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”

Note the qualification. Those who KNOW that the Catholic Church is the true Church and who still refuse to enter it bring dire judgment upon themselves. But, most that do not join do not have this insight. Ignorance may be an important factor. The Church is bound to proclaim the Gospel and to dispense the sacraments. The Church is the great sacrament of encounter with the saving Christ. This is what we know and this is what Jesus has entrusted to us.

Nevertheless, God can save whomever he wills and is not necessarily restricted to the sacraments. That is why we do not condemn or judge those outside the strict or juridical confines of the Catholic Church. The truth remains that none are saved apart from Christ and none are saved apart from his mystical body, the Catholic Church. We as Catholics do not believe that once saved one is always saved. Instead of such a view of “blessed assurance,” Catholics believe that with baptism we are called to a faith that is lived out in obedience and charity. If this saving faith be sustained then we have every right to hope for our ultimate salvation. In other words, faith can sour, people can commit mortal sin, and even baptized Catholics can go to hell. It should be mentioned that the Church has also accepted two extraordinary cases of baptism outside the normative formula: baptism by blood and baptism of desire. They are technically not baptism but make possible similar effects and saving grace.

The early Church would know several centuries of harsh persecution. It was the age of martyrs. Catechumens preparing to enter the faith were sometimes tortured and executed by the Roman authorities. The Church always embraced them as her children since they died to uphold the faith and surrendered themselves with Jesus. This was baptism by blood (see Matthew 10:32 & Luke 9:23-24).

Somewhat controversial among certain authorities in the Church is baptism of desire. A basic truth has to be properly nuanced. Christ gives us a universal call to salvation. He desires that all would be saved. Nevertheless, this must be distinguished from the heretical position that all people are saved in actuality. This would signify a false religious indifferentism or universalism. Hell is real. Not all will be saved. I would refrain from entering the debate as to whether more people will be in heaven or hell. I would leave such matters entirely to divine providence. Like the late Frank Sheed, we can pray that the devil is lonely. The saving effects of the paschal mystery of Christ (his passion, death and resurrection) cannot be contained by human history or locked into any one place. The very created order of the universe has changed. Thus, so the argument goes, even those who have not heard the Gospel may yet be saved. Gaudium et Spes 1260 states:

“Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”

The missionary mandate remains. We cannot trust that one might somehow find their way into heaven without the explicit help of the Church. Further, Christ alone is the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one is saved apart from Christ. He is the only bridge to the heavenly Father. Pope Benedict XVI was wrongly criticized by the Jewish community when he reiterated the Catholic teaching that Jews in heaven will have to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior— the true Messiah. Upon this point, the late Cardinal-priest Avery Dulles even corrected the USCCB document on relations with the Jews, our elder brothers and sisters called by God. There are not two covenants. There is one covenant and it has been fulfilled by Christ.

We should never water-down the importance of baptism and the graces we receive. There can be all sorts of speculation about how others might be saved, but we can have certainty in the efficacy of Christian faith and the sacraments, beginning with baptism. If we really care about others then we will never be silent in proclaiming the lordship of Christ and his desire for us to be in unity with his new People of God.

If babies should die without baptism, we entrust them to divine mercy. In days gone by we spoke about the possibility of limbo, a scholastic theory about a place of natural happiness but ignorance of God. The universal catechism says nothing about limbo. Our Lord called the children to himself. He says the kingdom belongs to “such as these” (Mark 10:14). We are also reminded of the Holy Innocents martyred in Christ’s stead. They are counted as saints. Maybe all children as reflections of the Christ Child share in their reward? The Church urges parents not to delay in having their children baptized. Jesus just never explicitly speaks about the urgency to baptize babies. Of course, the Bible tells us that whole households were converted to the Lord and baptized in the early Church. This no doubt included babies. The faith of parents was seen to suffice. We are connected. We are a family. Ours is both a personal and a communal faith. The universal catechism states:

“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. … All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism” (CCC #1261).

Turning to the subject of abortion and miscarriage…

Catholics believe that the incarnation began at the annunciation with the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. We also believe that Mary is the Immaculate Conception, preserved from sin from the very first moment of her existence in the womb of St. Ann. An argument for personhood based on sentience could arguably lead not only to abortion but infanticide and euthanasia. Indeed, a eugenics program might classify those with severe intellectual defects as non-sentient, and thus target them for mass extermination.

If sentience were defined as the age of reason, one could arguably terminate six year old children. I suspect you would not so loosely define it but the can of worms would still be opened. Catholicism would rather argue for personhood based upon the general humanity of the embryo. You are what you are throughout your developmental trajectory. Just as Jesus was God and man, as an embryo or even as a single-celled zygote, so we can speak about the humanity and personhood of all conceived of women. Everything genetically that will make us who we are (the whole organism) is present from the beginning— although immature. Even apart from religious teaching, Catholicism would philosophically renounce any argument for personhood based purely on current or immediate biological consciousness. Rejecting a stark mind/body dualism, we would stress the innate capacity to eventually develop into what we regard as a rational being. In other words, when it comes to people, “the tree is in the acorn.”

The Church would contend that if you support first trimester abortion, you are still involved with the murder of human beings. As for the religious element, we believe that those children have souls. No matter whether the physical life is terminated by therapeutic or spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), the child’s soul survives. We intercede as a Church for these children. The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen composed a prayer of spiritual adoption for children threatened with abortion. We earnestly try to save them. Failing that, we commend them to God. As for your personal question, think about it this way: can you kill children and still regard yourself as a good Christian? Could you even do so if there were the slightest chance that you were wrong in your opinion and the Church was right?

Interfaith Pollution of the True Faith?

I thought it was a joke or exaggeration, but when I visited the website for the Catholic diocese of Hallam in the UK under Bishop Ralph Hesket I was shocked to see that charges of religious relativism or indifferentism might have merit.  As part of a national interfaith outreach, Christian believers were encouraged to visit and honor pagan shrines.  I fail to fathom how this is either genuine dialogue or true ecumenism.  Despite the directions given, Catholics should not bow to pagan images or eat the food that has been offered to idols.  Christians were persecuted and even martyred in the early days of the faith for refusing such acts that compromised the true faith and pampered superstition.

Indeed, the early apologists argued that despite the generosity of the pagans toward the poor, Christians should not eat the food of pagan sacrifices because the pagan deities were actually demons.

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Moses was commanded to remove his sandals when he encountered God in the burning bush. But what we have here is an image of Buddha and a pagan shrine.  While these locations may hold anthropological interest for learned Christians, most would best avoid such places. As Christians we may honor persons and give deference to religious liberty that also protects our rights in a multicultural society, but we should not underestimate the general ignorance and tottering faith of many Christians.  Already many are adopting Eastern ideas about the yin and yang of the Tao, the transmigration of the souls, the spirituality associated with yoga, and a pantheistic view of creation.

The removal of shoes may be a small concession but the added flower presentation and material sacrifice of money, mimics or parallels the offertory at Mass.  Christ and the Church he instituted is the one way that God has established for our salvation.  No one comes to the Father apart from Jesus Christ.  A confession of faith can be made both in words and with gestures.  We must be wary of making a wholesale compromise of the truth. Buddhism is incompatible with the Christian kerygma.  Pope John Paul II was criticized for his assessment in CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE.

Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the “enlightenment” conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an “atheistic” system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process.

While some might note Buddhism as more a philosophy of negation than a deistic religion, the diocesan guidelines also threaten to taint the faith of believers under an effort to show respect to the adherents of Hinduism.

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The early Christians were put to death for refusing to throw the smallest fleck of incense into the fire for an idol of Rome and its emperor. Just as we would not expect Hindus to bend the knee and cross themselves in our churches; neither should Hindu shrines be honored by Christians with bowing before the idols of false deities. This act impugns the heroic sacrifices of the early martyrs. Such concession signifies a cowardice to accusations of intolerance where there should be a brave act of witness that promotes the missionary spirit within the scope  of both understanding and charity.

Christians need to respect the Eastern effort to discern truth while not abandoning our own rich inheritance.  The missionary effort, going back to the days of St. Francis Xavier, had many successes.  But we must admit that the faith also suffered from the stigma of being Western and foreign.  Right or wrong, the saint regarded all the Hindus as devil worshipers.  This is part of our historical faith inheritance.  Doors were closed where the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes might have opened them.  There is said to be an evolution in Hinduism toward monotheism; but this truth is already realized in Christianity.  We must be careful that weak Christians do not embrace Eastern religion due to an attraction to the strange or exotic.

Pope Paul VI stated in NOSTRA AETATE the following:

Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.

We would not deny any elements that are true in such religions, but there are also wrong turns and false understandings (error).  All salvation truth subsists in the Catholic Church.  We do not have to look elsewhere. People who are largely ignorant of their own rich Christian faith inheritance might be lost if we are passive to their involvement in other religions.

Catholics should bow or genuflect before the Christian altar, or the Crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle but NOT before the image of alien gods.  Definitely they should not eat the food given to them, demons or not.

1 Corinthians 10:18-22 – Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than he?

At a time when exorcisms are on the rise, this is the height of idiocy.   We can respect persons and work together for a more civil and caring society; however, we should not do so at the cost of our immortal souls.  Ignorance of the truth may save some from the full weight of judgment.  However, our Catholic and Christian community will be judged according to our understanding and fidelity to the revelation of Christ that is passed down to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

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Catholics and other Christians might visit such sites for educational purposes. They should do nothing that suggests worship. Pope John Paul II argued that the Allah of the Muslims is the same Father God of the Christians. This may be, but there remains much that divides us, particularly the role of Jesus as Lord and Redeemer. The Pope states:

Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.

A gesture for peace is also fine, as long as we do nothing to undermine or apologize for our identity as Christians. We should also insist that the Islamic community become more pro-active against discrimination and violence against Christians throughout the world.  Otherwise, gestures of human respect (not divine worship) become empty.

While we can respect others, we should not be giving directions to Christian believers on how to commit idolatry.

sikh
The Sikh religion is inherently pantheistic.  We believe that God maintains creation but he cannot be identified with it.  While its tenets include reincarnation and various Hindu teachings; it is monotheistic, rejects the caste system and the use of idols.  It also espouses a syncretism where it tries to unite various beliefs from disjointed sources.  Christianity might adopt elements of culture and even the symbols of others (as it did in the Roman and Greek world) but the content is always that of the Gospel.  The blunt matter is that, no matter how interesting, this still constitutes a false religion for Catholics.  Ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us with others.

While certain traditionalists would attack overtures toward the Jews, we must always acknowledge that Judaism is a true, albeit natural religion.  While they have yet to embrace the revelation of the Trinity, the Jewish faith was called into existence by Almighty God.  Pope John Paul II insisted:

The New Covenant serves to fulfill all that is rooted in the vocation of Abraham, in God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, and in the whole rich heritage of the inspired Prophets who, hundreds of years before that fulfillment, pointed in the Sacred Scriptures to the One whom God would send in the “fullness of time” (cf. Gal 4:4).

We have a genuine historical and faith relationship with the Jews that we do not share with other religions. Interfaith efforts should not be so diffusive that we lose sight of this fact.  The Jews are our elder brothers and sisters in faith.  Their story is part of our story.  The truths of the faith preserved and passed down by the Hebrews made possible the coming of Christ and his kingdom.  While we believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the covenant, God has not forsaken his first people.  God keeps his promises.  There are NOT two covenants.  Both Pope Benedict XVI and the late Cardinal-priest Dulles clarified that there is ONLY one covenant. The covenant of old now embraces (in Jesus Christ) both the first and the new People of God. We pray and hope that those first called will one day come to a full awareness of the fulfillment in Christ.

Cardinal Müller Gives Needed Clarification

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This was probably the most important interview that Arroyo ever presented on World Over. CARDINAL MÜLLER says that the “moral” is the “pastoral”… there can be no conflict… no polygamy… no sacramental spouse and another civil law spouse… the Holy Father’s document must be interpreted within the Catholic tradition. Anything else is heresy! He spells out that any accommodation that would permit the restoration of the sacramental life (without an annulment) would be a “brother” to “sister” relationship. He also said that women deacons are impossible. The biblical title was not a reference to Holy Orders. The ongoing commission is being misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he did say that we may find new non-sacramental charges for women.

Clarfication on Intercessory Prayer & Salvation

Praying to Mary
Intercession of Mary & the Saints
How is Praying to a Saint NOT Like Praying to God?

BUIMIRA:  Here is a crucial point which should be clearly understood. With respect to the older posts, if we have a good relation with Jesus, and pray ONLY to Christ, and not to any saint, angel, or even to Mary, then we can count ourselves still confidently saved! This is the point that you missed, or did not make it clear. You shouldn’t have missed it in your articles.

FATHER JOE:  No, this is not Catholic teaching. While all prayer is directed to almighty God, we do invoke Mary, the angels and the saints to assist us and to intercede before God. This is reflective of a “corporate” relationship we have with each other and God. Certain Protestant sects wrongly privatize or overly personalize faith. We are called to both a personal and communal relationship with the Lord. As for being saved, Catholics do not subscribe to the Protestant understanding of Blessed Assurance which flows from a rigorist Lutheran view of justification by faith. Such relies upon a notion of juridical imputation while Catholicism insists upon being born again as a new creation. While there is life, we can abide in the sure and certain hope of our salvation. The problem is that genuine faith can sour. We pray that we will faithful endure until the race is over. This is different from the presumption which you seem to espouse.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

KATHLEEN:

Hello, I am a “catholic.” I firmly believe that through my faith in Jesus he has saved me. I, along with everyone else who believes in Jesus already has salvation. We are not going to hell. So my question is why would a “catholic” want or need to wear a scapular? How can one save what is already saved? And isn’t their belief in Jesus enough for salvation?  Thank you for input.

FATHER JOE:

You may be a Catholic, but your assessment of “blessed assurance” is representative of a Protestant view. Indeed, it is the sin of presumption for a Catholic to view himself as irrevocably saved. Certain evangelicals believe in the “once saved, always saved” interpretation that emerged from Martin Luther’s teaching of juridical justification through imputation. Simply put it means that after a faith profession in Christ one is saved regardless of personal sins and weaknesses. Supposedly, we are masked by Christ when the Father looks upon us. The Catholic understanding is different. The ancient Catholic truth has to do with being born again as a new creation. We must be transformed. Faith and baptism makes us members of God’s people, but just as faith can grow, it can sour. The Evangelical would say that if a person becomes a grievous sinner that their earlier faith was counterfeit. Catholics would not nullify or doubt such faith. Instead, we argue that we must grow in the life of grace.

Your view would dismiss a lot more than scapulars. If you are already saved then you would need no sacraments, no Mass, no Eucharist and no Church. That is why those who hold such ideas reject the divine mysteries and reduce the “Church” to a place for fellowship and making converts. Catholicism is the true Bible Church and views salvation in terms of faith and obedient works in charity.

I would recommend that you attend a Parish RCIA program and relearn your Catholic faith.

Catholics live in the sure and certain HOPE of their salvation in Christ. Salvation is God’s free gift to us. But faith is defined as more than believing with our heads. The apostles understood faith as something lived out in faith and obedience. It is in this manner, and the reception of the sacraments, that the life of grace grows within us. The spiritual life is not stagnant but dynamic. We must always be properly disposed to God’s mercy and strength.

Here are some passages for spiritual reflection:

Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

John 5:28-29 – Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.

Philippians 2:12 – So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Hebrews 5: 7-10 – In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 10:26-27 – If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.

James 2: 17-24 – So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.” See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead….You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

A Response to Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage & Defection

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RUFUS:

I am (was??) a Catholic. I am now divorced and in a second relationship. I have no idea what God has in store for me, whether I am going to roast in Hell or simmer in Purgatory; but I am done with the double standards and hypocrisy of the Catholic church.  I still love God and believe in Jesus but I think it is ridiculous to attend church and not have communion; either you are or are not in good grace… there is no middle ground… Hell or Heaven.

FATHER JOE:

It seems the issue is more than a disagreement about the perpetuity of marriage as a sacrament; you quarrel about basic Catholic soteriology. Like many Protestants you would reject the notion of Purgatory and yet this teaching is reflective of divine mercy and the tradition of praying for the dead that we inherited from the Jews of Christ’s time. We must be perfected by grace if we are to enter fully into the kingdom and the heavenly presence of God. Protestants get around this conundrum by positing a juridical imputation over any kind of actual transformation into the likeness of Christ. Thus, people might remain sinful worms but as long as they have faith they can enter heaven because Christ conceals them from divine justice. Catholics believe that all will be unveiled. Unless there is a true conversion and perfection, we could not bear to stand in the divine presence. A process of purgation heals the soul that belongs to God so that it might be purged of the last remnants of selfishness and venial sin. Saints already perfected would indeed rush into heaven. Those who die in mortal sin would be cast into hell. The damned are damned because they place their own will above that of God and his commands. Such souls might say they love God and believe in Jesus, but they fashion for themselves a counterfeit Christ that cannot save them. Hypocrisy is immediately implied with sinfulness from believers; but the Church, while composed of sinners, is holy because Christ is holy. Our Lord called sinners to himself and so the Church must do the same, even if it sometimes compromises her witness. You should have remained with the Church. One more sinful hypocrite would have made little difference— and you had everything to gain from abiding in the house established by Jesus Christ.

As for participation at Mass, this is a fulfillment of the command to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Christ on the Cross, albeit in an unbloody manner. Here too your faith was evidently defective. The reception of Holy Communion is a great gift and the ideal, but you closed that door because of a weakness of the flesh and a heart that loved, not too much, but too little. The prohibition about divorce and remarriage is clearly taught by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew. Only since the reformation and particularly in the modern era has this teaching been called into question by dissenters. Short of an annulment, the Church’s hands are tied. Jesus is unapologetic, we are talking here about adultery, no matter how one might “feel” about it.

Matthew 5: 31-32

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 19: 3-12

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

If an annulment can ascertain that a union is “unlawful,” then one might be free to enter into a true marriage. But if the marriage is real then it endures until the death of a spouse.

RUFUS: 

The bottom line is this, if you are Catholic and marry and the marriage, for whatever reason, your fault or not, ends in divorce then if you start another relationship (because God gave us the power of love and the will to use this most beautiful gift), whether a marriage or not, the Catholic church teaches you will go to hell unless you sincerely repent, i.e.. end the relationship and live the rest of your life alone.

FATHER JOE:

Do you think people only hate themselves into hell? I perceive plenty of hate in your words, but you fail to note that love can be disordered or distorted. We can love the wrong things. Ultimately, we are to love God above all else and that means following his commandments. If you love yourself or even another person in a way that is not in sync with divine love, then you manufacture a type of idolatry. True husbands and wives are to see Christ in the beloved. That makes the defection from a marriage into an abandonment of Christ who is signified in the sacramental covenant and union. Note that here you only think about yourself. If you trusted Christ’s words (not just the Church’s rules), then you would have been wary of risking the soul of the person with whom you committed adultery. If you really loved her than you should sooner die than do anything that would place at risk her share in eternal life. Resentful for yourself, you enter into a tirade against the Church. I suppose this is an attempt at self-justification. Instead of facing or even struggling with your guilt, you castigate the Church. Mass attendance would have exposed you to God’s grace, even if you were not fully receptive toward it. Did you attempt an annulment? Or did you just run away? If you go to hell, and we leave that judgment to God, it will be because of your closed disposition to his grace and gift of mercy— not because you fled a Church that was both faithful to God’s law and desiring to show you compassion. The way you talk about “repentance,” you make it sound like a dirty word. The problem here is yours.

RUFUS:

Thinking you can get away with this until you are on a your deathbed and repent at the last minute doesn’t count as such repentance is insincere, as if planned.

FATHER JOE:

No one is saying that you had only the deathbed for which to look forward. That is you speaking. Such cynicism is poison to the hope that should be the life’s blood of every believer. No one would urge you to wait until close proximity to death to repent. However, neither should you malign the sincerity of such conversions at the end of mortal life. Not only do you blaspheme against divine mercy; such an attitude would negate the value of contrition, perfect and imperfect, as displayed by the good thief on the Cross who steals heaven. Ideally we should be sorry because we love God.  Nevertheless, God’s forgiveness will even reach out to us if our faith be largely grounded on the fear of losing heaven and suffering the pains of hell.

RUFUS:

Of course, you could die in a road accident, in which case, you have no time to repent and are going to go straight to hell. So the choice for a divorced Catholic who cannot get an anulment is bleak; spend the rest of your life alone or accept that you are going to hell anyway, so you might as well eat, drink, be merry, whore to your heart’s content, and break just about every commandment in the book. This is ridiculous.

FATHER JOE:

Sin is sin. A mountain climber might miss a footing or a ledge by an inch or by a yard, it is all the same. He would be just as dead. You cannot make one sin an excuse for others. I bet no priest ever told you that you were going to hell. It may be that God faced you with this prospect in your life and you refused to acknowledge your fault. Your problem is not so much with the Church and her catechism but with God and his living Word. I cannot say if you would have gotten an annulment, but if you walked with the Lord then you would never really be alone. Am I supposed to feel sorry for you? I freely embraced a celibate life. There were wonderful girls I knew in my youth who would have made incredible wives and mothers; but I dedicated my life to Jesus and his Church. The trouble with you is that you did not trust and love God enough. Now all you can share with others is venom or poison.

RUFUS:

There is nothing in the bible that unambiguously states this and the outmoded catechism needs to be thrown out and rewritten. This, and good marketing is the only way the catholic church will save itself from the extinction it is suffering.

FATHER JOE:

Does it make you feel better to attack the Church? God’s laws and truths are timeless but you would have us subscribe to the fads and fashions of a fallen world that parades its broken promises. Christ keeps his promise to us. We must keep our promises to him and to each other. Faithfulness still matters. I would call you back to fidelity and the safe harbor of faith. You need not join the world’s chorus in forsaking the Church and Christ. Yes, the Church is increasingly a sign of contradiction. Yes, religious liberty is threatened and faith is attacked. But believers have everything to gain in being fools for Christ. The folly of the world leads only to death and despair. Have faith— have courage— embrace sacrificial love— and come home.