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Q & A of Common Objections and Issues

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Q and AIn this section, you'll find questions and answers to some common, and a few not so common, tropics about the Catholic Church. Every one of these questions were mailed or emailed to me since establishing this web site. By sharing these questions and answers with you, maybe I can answer a question you have had about the Church.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me. As you'll see below, every step necessary will be taken to ensure your anonymity.

 

The Questions and Answers are arranged by topic.

o Bible
o Catholic Church
o Catholic Doctrine
o Catholic Practices
o Catholic Teaching
o Christianity
o Church
o Colleges and Universities
o Communion
o Confession
o Contraception
o Jesus
o Liturgy
o Man
o Mary
o Non-Christian Religions
o Prayer
o Religion
o Saints
o Truth

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Bible

When you consider the passage in 2 Tim 3:16 it tell us that everything God has to say to is in His Word?

What do you mean by "His Word?" If you are speaking about Jesus Christ (Jn 1: 1-5), than we have no disagreement, because Jesus is the fullness of God's revelation. If you are equating the expression "His Word" with the Bible you will discover upon careful examination that the Bible does not equate either "His Word" or "the Word of God" with the Bible.

Have you not experienced at one time or other that you have read passages of Scripture one or more times before and suddenly you received a new enlightenment by the Holy Spirit of that passage? It's obvious, then, that there is no need for an interpretative authority outside of the Bible.

This approach is fundamentally flawed because you are equating subjective experiences with truth. This is similar to the argument Mormons use, "the burning in the bosom," to defend that the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired.

Where does the Bible teach that ones subjective experience determines truth?

I believe that all you need to do is spend time in His Word and He will make Himself known to you by revelation.

By "His Word" I assume you mean the Bible. Where does the Bible teach "that all you need to do is spend time in His Word and He will make Himself know to you by revelation?"

I have know many godly Protestants who spend a great deal of time studying Sacred Scripture and in prayer. Yet, they contradict one another on key points of Christian doctrine like: the nature of justification, baptismal regeneration, divorce and remarriage, abortion, the Eucharist - just to name a few areas of disagreement. Whose revelation is one to believe?

Finally, the principle of private revelation you seem to annunciate creates more problems than it solves. If God continues to reveal private interpretation of Sacred Scripture are those interpretation infallible, that is, free from the possibility of error? If it is not, than how can one trust them? If you claim that these private revelations are infallible, than is God's revelation the source of the confusion among Christians regarding what to believe and how to behave?

There is NOTHING but the Scriptures!

Where does the Bible teach that?

If you try to find truth anywhere else than [in the Bible] you are deceiving yourself.

This statement appears is a gross exaggeration, or do you maintain that the Bible contains all truth - in which case the study of mathematics, history, science, philosophy, etc. is unnecessary.

When did the Bible acquire the divisions of chapters and verses?

The division of the Bible by chapters was introduced by Stephen Langton around 1206. Langton was a professor at the University of Paris. He later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and a cardinal.

Robert Etienne (Stephanus), a celebrated printer, is responsible for the present divisions by verses in 1551.

Please explain the teaching of Montanus regarding sins committed after baptism. Apparently they taught that sins committed after water baptism could not be forgiven. I was told that Montanus based his teaching on Hebrews chapter six. I studied this chapter, but I could not find any support for the position that sins committed after baptism could not forgiven. What I gather Montanus taught that a Christian who had tasted the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Verse 4-6 and) then became an apostate (fall away) could not be forgiven since he had crucified Christ again. One theologian says that Hebrew chapter six supports Montanus teaching that sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven. Is this true? I believe Montanus has interpreted Heb 6 wrongly. The theologian said that the Western Churches took a long time to accept Hebrews on the basis that it supported the teaching of Montanus.

Christianity to me is not just water baptism. Do you agree that water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism are not the same?

The Church’s belief that it was given the power to forgive sins, including sins committed after baptism, is rooted in the words of Jesus (Jn 20:19-23). St. Paul explains that the apostles were ambassadors of Christ’s work of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-20). James (Jas 5:13-16) teaches that the sins of the sick are forgiven in the sacrament of anointing by the presbyters (priests).

In the first centuries of Christianity acceptance of the Church’s ability to forgive sins through the power of Jesus Christ was common, even those grave sins that were committed after baptism. Ignatius of Antioch, who was instructed by the apostle John, reflects this practice in his “Letter to the Philadelphians” (c. 110): “The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if their repentance leads to the unity of God and to the council of the bishop. The forgiveness of post-baptismal sins is also articulated in the Didache (c. 40-140).

J.N.D. Kelly points out in his fine work Early Christian Doctrines that the view there was no forgiveness for sins committed after baptism emerged in the second century Church. The Montanist, who misinterpreted Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31, and 1 John 5:16-17 championed this position. However, the Church vigorously repudiated the teachings of the Montanists. Let’s examine the passages in Hebrews and 1 John.

Hebrews 6:1 - The first verse of Hebrews, chapter 6 opens with the words: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”

“Dead works” refers to the Jewish ceremonial laws. The prophets frequently admonished the Jews not to rely on a ritual presumption of holiness, but on personal righteousness, that is, holy living. St. Paul developed this motif at length in Galatians and Romans. However, the expression, “dead works” would be meaningless if there were no live works, that is, the good deeds perform as a result of God’s grace (Eph 2:10; Tit 3:5-8, 14). Paul frames Romans with “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:24), which captures the same idea.

Hebrews 6:2 - “with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” The Greek word, baptismos, here translated as “ablutions” means “baptism.” Thus it is so translated in the King James, New American, New Jerusalem, and NIV. In the context of this letter it is a clear reference to sacramental baptism. Baptism is prefigured in Numbers 19, just as the laying on of hands - the ordination of Levites, foreshadowed sacramental ordination of priests in the New Covenant.

Jesus develops the necessity of water or sacramental baptism in John 3. Note especially: John 3:3 “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (Greek: anothem = “again” or “above”), and Jn 3:5 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Mk 16:16 affirms, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Jesus never taught that only faith is necessary for salvation. Further evidence of the necessity of baptism is seen in the great commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:20).

The apostles were obedient to Jesus’ instruction as is evidenced on Pentecost: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. . . So those who received his words were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:38, 41). Baptism is the entrance rite into the New Covenant replacing circumcision (Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:11-12; Gal 3:27; Rom 6:3-4), which was the entrance rite into the old covenant. Sacramental baptism makes us children of God (1 Jn 3:1, 10) and cleanses us from sin (Acts 2: 38, 22:16; Heb 10:22; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:25-26; 1 Pet 3:4).

The power of baptism is beautifully summarized in Paul’s letter to Titus 3:5. “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us rightly through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

Hebrews 6:3-6 - “And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.”

There is no evidence in this passage or its context that the subject of the forgiveness of sins after baptism is discussed. Rather these verses give a warning against apostasy. Why? If Christians returned to the authority of the Old Testament high priest they would be submitting to the very institution that condemned Christ, pressured Pilate to have Jesus crucified, and is now persecuting the Church. Returning to the Old Testament temple and its sacrifices is a rejection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist - the sacrifice of the New Covenant. The Eucharist is seen in the expression “tasted the heavenly gift” (Heb 6:4). The perspective of the Book of Hebrews is that Old Testament rituals have become deadly to Christians because they now represent a rejection of the salvation that comes exclusively through Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 6:7-8 “For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.”

The image of water as a blessing and drought as a punishment is one that is often used by the Old Testament prophets. The message is clear, apostasy places one under the covenant curse. Ultimately, it leads to burning – in the form of eternal damnation. Covenental judgment of Old Testament Israel was dramatically realized in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. After General Titus entered the conquered city he exclaimed: “God has been on our side; it is God who brought the Jews down from these strongholds; for what could human hands or instruments do against such towers.”

Hebrews 10:26-31 – “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The statement, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26), has been subjected to a wide variety of interpretations. It is clear, however, that Paul is speaking about deliberate sins committed by Christians, “after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26) and were “sanctified” (v. 29). That Paul is addressing these remarks to baptized Christians is also buttressed in verses 32-34 that follows. He testifies that they were “enlightened” and “endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (Heb 10:32), which he enumerates: they were “publicly exposed to abuse and affliction,” and were “partners with those so treated” (Heb 10:33). In spite of these trials faithful Christians had “compassion on the prisoners,” and they “joyfully accepted the plundering” of their property (Heb 10:34).

The consequence of these “sins” is eternal damnation, “a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire, which will consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:27). This text creates an insurmountable obstacle for those who attempt to defend the silly notion: once saved always saved. Two questions remain to be answered.

First what is the nature of these “sins?” Secondly, what is the meaning of the statement, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins?” The context of this passage, and indeed the entire Book of Hebrews, makes it clear that the “sins” in question are those of apostasy. Thus in the immediate context Paul previously instructed his audience to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb 10:23). Subsequently, in verse 29 the same idea is emphasized: “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?” This brings us to the second point.

It follows that if a person deliberately rejects Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” because the sinner has rejected the only sacrifice that is capable of removing sin. Apostasy is the complete rejection of Christ. Paul’s focus is on the resulting hard heartedness of the apostate, which leads him to rebuff the grace of conversion. He is not implying that the infinite merits of Jesus Christ are incapable of restoring the sinner, regardless of the sin committed. As a result the apostate Christian rejects the Christian liturgy, which is seen in the expression “not neglecting to meet together” of verse 25, because his obstinacy “outraged the Spirit of grace” in verse 29. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:32), namely, repudiating the need for repentance.

Once a person sins mortally he stands before God on our own. That is a terrifying prospect. The potency of Christ’s intercession remains, but until the sinner repents, which itself is a response to grace, Christ’s sacrifice will not remove him from the state of sin and potential damnation in which he has placed himself. This truth is nailed down by the citation in verse 30. It is drawn from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. It is drawn from the Song of Moses that calls down a curse on Israel for abandoning the covenant. Moses concluded with the warning: “This is no trifling mater for you, but rather your very life” (Deut 32:47).

1 John 5:16-17 – “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”

John is making a clear distinction between a gravity of sin that kills the life of grace in the soul, called mortal sin, and a sin that does not kill the life of grace in the soul. He is not discussing the Church’s ability to forgive sin through the power of Christ, but the efficacy of prayer in connection with these two categories of sin. In regard to mortal sin, prayer alone was insufficient. The Church’s ministry of reconciliation was also required.

I find no evidence that the distortions of Montanus played a role in the Church’s decision to accept Hebrews as divinely inspired.

Finally, the so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to special manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s dynamic activity upon the life of individuals calling them to conversion, fervor, and union with Christ. Examples are clearly evident in Acts on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1-4) and with Cornelius and his friends (Acts 10:44-46). However, sacramental baptism was subsequently administered in both instances because baptism removes sin and enters the individual into the life of the Church, God’s covenantal family.

A friend of mine cites the following verse from Romans 11:19 as a proof a Christian can't lose his salvation: "For the gifts of God are irrevocable."

Generally speaking members of non-denominational Christian churches tend to interpret biblical passages outside of their immediate and over all context. They began with a position, then cherry pick passages that seem to support their beliefs without examining their context. As I am sure you are aware, the context is critical. Otherwise you can make the Bible seem to teach some very strange things. For example: In Matthew 27:5 we are informed that Judas "went and hanged himself." Jesus commands us in Luke 10:37: "Go and do likewise!"

I would start with the idea of inspiration. Because the Holy Spirit is the principal author of the Bible, the truths that are taught in one passage can never contradicted in another passage. Then I would examine the clear passages that refute the idea of once saved, always saved, for example: Mt7:21; Mt 24:13; Rom 11:22; Phil 2:12, 1 Cor 9:27; 1 Cor 10:11-12; Gal 5:4; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Heb 6:4-5; Heb 10:26-27. Then I would examine the passage in question in Roman s 11:29.

Let's begin with the threefold purpose of the letter. First Paul wanted to introduce himself to the church in Rome before he arrived there (Rom 1:10-13). Secondly, Paul wanted to resolve a division that was festering in the church between Jews and Gentiles. He points out they are equal in sin (Rom 3:9) and equal recipients of divine mercy (Rom 11:32). The salvation of Israel is the focus of chapters 9:1-11:36. Finally, the apostle hoped to gain support from the Roman church to launch his mission into Spain (Rom 15:23-24).

The passage in question reads as follows: "For the gifts of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). When God gives something, he never takes it back. However, that does not mean that we cannot reject his gifts by sin. Thus in verse 21-22 he wrote: "For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Hebrew people], neither will he spare you [the Gentiles]. Note the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward these who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided [the condition] you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off."

Here we see the balance between God's justice and mercy. He never withholds forgiveness from those with a contrite heart nor does he overlook the hardness of an impenitent heart. We can abandon God's gifts by grave sin (1 Jn 5:16-17). However, Paul never teaches that our redemption is guaranteed regardless of our behavior.

Why does the Bible teach that God created evil in Isaiah 45:7?

The Hebrew word that is translated as “evil” is ra. It can refer to a moral evil as in Genesis 2:9, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, it can also refer to a natural evil or suffering as used in Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions [ra] of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”

In Isaiah 45:7 the Hebrew word ra is contrasted with the word shalom – “peace.” In the context of the passage the prophet is describing how God is in complete control of the universe. Therefore the afflictions that fell on the Israelites were allowed by God to bring about their conversion. It would, of course, be impossible for the all-good God to cause moral evil. Therefore, the New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version give the verse a more precise translation:
RSV - “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being [shalom] and create woe [ra].
NAM – “I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe [ra].

I’m participating in a non-Catholic Bible study. Recently, it was explained that the Bible teaches that a person can’t lose his salvation once it is gained. This is very appealing. Their proof was John 10:28.

You can make the Bible say foolish things when you pull passages out of their context and then read into them a false meaning. So let’s examine the passage carefully:
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn 10:28).

This statement is absolutely true, there is no external power to man’s free will that can snatch us out of the Father’s hand.

However, Paul never teaches that a Christian is incapable of loosing our salvation by committing idolatry, adultery, fornication, sodomy, drunkenness, and stealing - sins that he teaches do separate a Christian from God’s love (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5).

The New Testament also speaks of the necessity of endurance, for example, “But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:14; See also: Rom 11:22). Why is endurance necessary if one’s salvation is guaranteed? Furthermore, St. Paul was fully aware that he could lose his own salvation by sinning: “But I pummel my body and sub due it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). Finally, this apostle specifically rejects this idea of a guaranteed salvation. After he gives examples of those God punished for sinning, he wrote: “Therefore least any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

I recommend you study sacred Scripture with well-informed Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church, which is always faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Remember, the Bible must be interpreted. Even well intentioned non-Catholics bring a defective understanding of God’s revelation when studying scripture. What’s the sense of exposing yourself to these errors when you don’t yet have a sufficient background to explain and defend the Catholic faith biblically?

Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself when in Exodus 3:1? Jethro is called Moses’ fatherin-law whereas in Numbers 10:29 it is stated that Hobab is Moses’ father-in-law.

Jethro was a title like “Your excellency.” Hobab was the actual name of Moses’ fatherin- law. There is no contradiction here. Similarly, it is said that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai and Horeb. Well, which was it? The correct answer is, both. They are two different names for the same mountain.

Jesus said, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Isn’t he commanding the impossible?

It is true, none of us is capable of being perfect in an absolute sense. Anyone who attempts it will soon be discouraged and frustrated. In addition, such an attempt is selffocused and, therefore, we become even less perfect. The Greek word that is translated as “perfect” is teleios, which means, “fully developed,” “brought to completion.”

The statement you cited follows the word, “therefore.” This is important because it serves as a summary of the sermon that came before it. Jesus calls us to be perfect, that is, to be fully developed by living the beatitudes, being light and salt to the world, keeping the commandments, guarding against anger, avoiding: adultery, lust, swearing oaths, and revenge, and loving our enemies. This is possible with God’s grace and, then, we will be like our heavenly Father, but never “perfect” is an absolute sense like the Father.

Perhaps this example may help. If a glass is filled with water, I could say it’s perfectly filled. However, that statement does not imply that the glass contains all existing water.

Where does the Bible condemn abortion?

The Fifth Commandment commands, “Thou shall not kill.” The word translated as “kill” means murder, that is the killing of an innocent person as opposed to killing someone who is not innocent, for example, someone who is attempting to murder your child. Who are more innocent than helpless babies? Abortion is a terrible crime that dulls the conscience

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Catholic Church

Why does your church call itself the Roman Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church does not call itself the Roman Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church. The word "catholic" means universal. The universal character of the Church comes from the great commission to convert the whole world that Jesus gave to his followers at the end of Matthew's gospel.

The modifier "Roman" was applied to the Catholic Church by English Protestants as a sign of derision. "Roman" was chosen because the Pope, whose authority was rejected, resides in Rome. Even today expressions like the Roman Catholic Church, Roman Church and Rome are used as an accent contempt by some anti-Catholics. However, most people today, including Catholics, use these expressions without any knowledge of their original pejorative meaning.

Can you explain the different papal documents?

The Adoremus Bulletin, Vol. VIII, No 6, September 2002, p. 7 gave a lucid description, which is reproduced below.

  1. Apostolic Constitutions (apostolicae constitutions): solemn, formal documents on matters of highest consequence concerning doctrinal or disciplinary matters, issued by the pope in his own name. They are published as either universal or particular law of the Church. (Examples: the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium; Constitution of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)
  2. Apostolic exhortation (apostolica exhortatio): a papal reflection on a particular topic that does not contain dogmatic definitions or policy directives, addressed to bishops, clergy and all the faithful of the entire Catholic Church. Apostolic exhortations are not legislative documents. (Example: Familiaris Consortio, on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.)
  3. Apostolic letter (apostolica epistola): a formal papal teaching document, not used for dogmatic definitions of doctrine, but to give counsel to the Church on points of doctrine that require deeper explanation in the light of particular circumstances or situations in various parts of the world.
  4. Declaration (declamatio): may be a simple statement of the law, which must be interpreted according to the existing law; or an authoritative declaration that is retroactive and does not require further promulgation; or an extensive declaration, which modifies the law, is not retroactive and must be promulgated according to the law.
  5. Decree (decretum): a statement involving Church law, precepts or judicial decisions on a specific matter. It is an ordinance given by one having the power of jurisdiction (such as a bishop within his particular diocese, the head of an office of the Roman Curia, or the pope), acting administratively to promote compliance with the law. A decree announces that a given document or legislative text is in effect.
  6. Encyclical (encyclia epistola – literally, circular letter”): a formal apostolic letter issued by the pope usually addressed to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the entire Church. Example, Humanae vitae, concerning the Church’s teaching on birth control issued in 1968 by Pope Paul VI.
  7. Instruction (instructio): explains or amplifies a document that has legislative force, such as apostolic constitutions, and states how its precepts are to be applied. (e.g., Liturgiam authenticam, or liturgical translation an Instruction of the correct implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.)
  8. Institutio: instituted arrangement or regular method rules (as in Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani).
  9. Motu proprio (literally, by one’s own initiative): a legislative document or decree issued by the pope or his own initiative, not in response to a request. (Examples: Apostolos Suos; Misericordia Dei.)
  10. Promulgation (promulgatio): the process whereby the lawmaker communicates the law to those to whom the law has been given. (The official effective date on which a document is promulgated may or may not coincide with the date on which a document is actually published.)
  11. Recognitio: confirms the review of documents that are submitted by a conference of bishops to the relevant office (dicastery) of the Holy See. Racognitio is required before the provisions of documents that modify universal law may come into effect. Recognitio thus signals acceptance of a document that may have legislative force. (Recognitio is required for all documents that modify universal liturgical norms, for example.)

I have heard Evangelicals call Catholicism “a cult.” Do the beliefs of the Catholic Church fit the definition of a cult?

The term “cult” is used in many different senses. However, a religious cult is a group with a dominant religious identity often existing on the margins of society. These groups exploit their members psychologically and financially often employing group-based persuasion and conversion techniques. These techniques include brainwashing, thought reform, love bombing, and mind control. Their approach to religion is extreme. It is often characterized by high levels of dependency and absolute obedience to the cult’s leaders. There is a marked tendency for the members to separate from family and non-believers.

The Catholic religion possesses none of the characteristics of a cult. Rather it is the fullness of the gospel preached by Jesus Christ.

What should I say when someone brings us negative history about the Church?

Never be afraid of the truth. Of course, the Church has sinners; I'm in it! The Church is perfect in Christ its Head, but it is often very flawed in its members. God is merciful. I was once challenged on this point. The person charged that the Catholic Church has many hypocrites. I answered, "That's correct, but we always have room for one more. So why don't you join us?

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Catholic Doctrine

The Catholic Church puts too much emphasis on "doctrines" when the truly important thing is living a good moral life.

That's like saying a builder puts too much emphasis on a strong foundation and solid structural supports. "After all, what's truly important in a building is its functional layout and its attractive appearance."

Doctrine is the foundation and structural support for good moral behavior. Once a solid doctrinal foundation is lost moral behavior quickly spins out of control. Consider the situation that exists in our country where Christians support the murdering of millions of babies in the abortion holocaust.

Forty years ago no one would have thought that this horror would be justified in our country.

Is it theologically correct to refer to God as "Mother?"

Absolutely not! God is a pure spirit, and therefore has no gender. However, Jesus called him Father and taught his disciples to do the same when they asked him to teach them to pray. In the Bible God is always identified with the masculine pronoun, "He."

Will the Catholic Church every ordain women?

NO! Pope John Paul II formally declared that the Church does not have the power to ordain women (apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis). In addition the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled, in conjunction with the pope that
"[This teaching] requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, # 25.2).

I was told that Jesus was married because all Jewish men were married and none practiced celibacy. Is that true?

Celibacy was unusual for men during Jesus' lifetime, just as it is unusual today. However, celibacy was practiced in ancient Israel. Biblical scholars acknowledge that John the Baptist was celibate. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the prophet Banus was celibate. St. Paul was certainly celibate (1 Cor 9:5). Finally, the metaphor of the Church being the bride of Christ and Christ being the heavenly Bridegroom makes no sense if Jesus was married. It has been the universal Tradition of the Church that Jesus was celibate, nor is there a shred of evidence to indicate otherwise.

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Catholic Practices

Didn't the Catholic Church sell indulgences during the middle ages?

No. The Catholic Church never sold nor approved of the sale of indulgences. If unscrupulous individuals sold indulgences it was without Church approval.

Once in a Catholic Church I saw the symbol of a P superimposed over an X. What's the meaning of that symbol?

These letters are from the Greek language. The X is called "chi (ki)" and the P "rho (ro)". They are the first two letters in the spelling the name of Christ in Greek. Therefore the symbol stands for Jesus.

Why do Catholics use holy water?

Holy water is plain water that has been blessed by a priest or deacon. It is used to call down God's blessing upon a person or an object, for example, ones home. The use of holy water goes back to the Old Testament (Num 5:17; 7:7) We know from very early Christian writings that it was used in the early Church.

Why doesn't the Catholic Church allow its priests to marry?

The Church does allow some priests to marry. In the West some married Protestant ministers and priests who have converted to Catholicism have been ordained to the priesthood. In the East men were allowed to marry up until the time of their ordination. Marriage was never allowed after ordination with the exception of those men who were returned to the lay state by request or discipline.

The general rule of celibacy is a Church law that could be modified or even eliminated. Celibacy, however, was practiced in the early Church and always existed in the Church in some form. St. Paul was celibate. A priest takes the bride of Christ, the Church, as his spouse. In this he follows the example of Jesus.

Why do Catholics kneel during Mass?

Kneeling is a fitting posture for worship that shows humility and reverence. It is a practice that has a biblical basis (Ps 95:6; Eph 3:14; Acts 9:40).

In Catholic Church one frequently sees the initials IHS. What is the meaning of this acronym?

IHS are the anglicizerd first three letters of Jesus' name in the Greek language.

Is it true that the Catholic calendar and its religious feasts are pagan in origin?

The present calendar with its months, weeks, and days existed among the Romans. It was improved under Julius Caesar. Thus it was called the Julian calendar. This calendar was reformed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and was renamed the Gregorian calendar. The world uses it today. While the original framework for the present calendar is secular in origin it is no more pagan than the roads and ships built by the Romans and used by the apostles. To place the Christian celebrations within this framework to teach about salvation in Jesus Christ can hardly be considered pagan.

The implication is that the Church sinned by not using the Jewish calendar. However, the Jewish calendar was derived from the pagan Babylonian calendar. How does that improve the situation?

Recently a non-Catholic friend asked me about the Catholic practice of using ashes on the Wednesday Lent begins and why the Catholic Church requires its members to fast.

The use of ashes on finds its origin in the Old Testament. They were used as a sign of repentance, sorrow and mourning. You might want to reflect on the following passages: Gen 2:7, Jonah 3:4-10; Jer 6:26; Mt 11:2. Ashes are placed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday as a reminder that we are sinners and to call us to repentance. We are also reminded of our mortality and the need to trust in God.

Jesus spoke about his disciples fasting when he said, "The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away, and then shall they fast" (Lk 5:33-35). Christians in the early Church fasted twice weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays as we learn from the Didache. The Catholic Church considers each Friday a penitential day in remembrance of the price Jesus paid to free us from sin. The practice of abstinence, abstaining from eating meat is no longer required on Fridays throughout the year. However, Catholics are urged to choose fitting acts of penance on Fridays. Fasting requires limiting the intake of food to one full meal and two small meals a day.

Catholics in the United States are obliged to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during the season of Lent. Fasting is required on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. During the weekdays of Lent fasting is strongly recommended. The purpose of fasting is to toughen and motivate us to live pure and holy lives.

In a series of Lenten reflections given in 1979, which are published under the title The Light of Christ, Pope John Paul II shared the following perspective. "Penance is not just an effort, a weight, but it is also a joy. Sometimes it is a great joy of the human spirit, a delight that other sources cannot bring forth. Contemporary man seems to have lost, to some extent, the flavor of this joy. He has also lost the deep sense of that spiritual effort which makes it possible to find oneself again in the whole truth of one's interior being. Our civilization - especially in the West - closely connected as it is with the development of science and technology, catches a glimpse of the need for intellectual and physical effort. But he has lost the sense of the effort of the spirit, the fruit of which is man seen in his inner self. The whole period of Lent - since it is a preparation for Easter - is a systematic call to this joy that comes from he effort of patiently finding oneself again. Let no one be afraid to undertake this effort."

In our parish the lady who runs the RCIA program lays her hands on the catechumens after our pastor. Also in our parish Eucharistic ministers place their hands and even bless with the hand those who are not receiving Holy Communion. Are these practices permissible?

No, they are not. The Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests issued in 1997 by eight Vatican offices states the following:

“In Eucharistic Celebrations, deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers - e.g., especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology - or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the priest celebrant.”

Our pastor has informed the congregation that kneeling from after the Holy, Holy until after the great Amen is no longer allowed. Is this correct?

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was asked the following question. Does “No. 43 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, intend to prohibit the faithful from kneeling during any part of the Mass except during the Consecration, that is, to prohibited the faithful fro kneeling after the Agnus Dei and following the reception of Holy Communion?”

Cardinal Medina Estevez responded: “No!”

Furthermore, the American Bishops has petitioned Rome to make the following the rule for Mass in the U.S. “The people knee beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer except when prevented by reasons of health, lack of space, the number of people present, or some other good reasons as specified by the diocesan bishop.”

In my parish the pastor says it is an abuse to genuflect before receiving the Eucharist. Is he correct?

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was asked the following question. Does the Congregation “intend by Nos. 160-162, 244, or elsewhere in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, that the people may no longer genuflect or bow as a sign of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament immediately before they receive Holy Communion?

Cardinal Medina Estevez responded: “No!”

I have some questions about Christmas. Was Jesus born on December 25th? Why do people exchange gifts at Christmas?

The exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown to us. The selection of December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus was probably motivated by desire of replacing pagan midwinter festivals. In Alexandria the first evidence of celebrating the Lord's birth was about A.D. 200. In Cyprus, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Asia Minor the birth of Christ was celebrated by the end of the fourth century. Silvia of Bordeaux reports a "Nativity" feast in Jerusalem in A.D. 385. Around the same time there were similar celebrations in Antioch and Constantinople. At Rome the birth of Christ was celebrated by the middle of the fourth century.

It was a Roman custom to exchange gifts and cards at the time of the New Year. Over time this custom gravitated to the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. The term "Christmas" finds its origin in the Old English Christes Maesse, the "Mass of Christ." The Christian idea of gift giving is to share with others the joy of Christ's birth. However, the real meaning of Christmas gift giving can be easily lost amid the present commercialization of Christmas.

Why are there two different was of numbering the Ten Commandments?

The Catholic Church follows the division established by St. Augustine as does the Lutheran church. Therefore worshiping false gods and worshiping graven images are included as one commandment, because they are the same sin. Coveting another’s wife and coveting another’s property are listed as separate commandments, because these sins are different. Most Protestants, on the other hand, separate worshiping false gods and worshiping graven images as two different commandments. To bring the number to ten, they include as one commandment coveting another’s wife and goods. However, in both cases the content of the Ten Commandments is the same.

Can a godly non-Catholic serve as a godparent?

The answer is NO, according to the Code of Canon Law (874 #1.3).

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Catholic Teaching

Why does the Catholic Church forbid birth control?

The Church does not forbid Catholic couples from limiting the number of their children. The Catholic Church does forbid the use of any artificial means to limit the number of children. Until 1930 all other Christian churches also taught that artificial birth control was a grave moral evil.

The reason the Catholic church forbids artificial birth control is because it makes a lie of the intimate act by which the couple says to one another, "I am totally yours and you are totally mine." The Catholic teaching prohibiting the use of artificial means of birth control is supported by the Bible in Gen 38:10; Tobit 6:16-17; 8:9.

Hasn't the Catholic Church changed many of its traditions over the years?

The answer is yes and no. If by traditions you mean customs, tradition with a small "t", then the answer is yes.

If you mean Sacred Tradition or Apostolic Tradition, tradition with a capital "T", then the answer is no. Tradition is this sense of the words refers to the teaching of Christ handed to the apostles and to the Church. These Traditions can never be changes and never have been changed.

I'm fifteen. This is my question. My older sister is dating a guy who claims to be a Catholic, but critics the Pope for not speaking about the ordination of women. How can I answer him?

Actually, the Pope has said a great deal about the ordination of women. Specifically, he has stated that it is not possible to ordain women because the Church is bound what Christ taught and did. That is why women have never been ordained in the Catholic Church. In the Bible priesthood is identified with spiritual fatherhood. You might find the following passages illuminating: Jdgs 17:10; 18:19; 1 Cor 4:15; 1 Thess 2:11.

I am surprised to find a young man challenging the Church over the issue of women's ordination. My suspicion is that this is a smoke screen that hides another agenda. So let me ask you a question. Does this young man practice the Catholic faith?

Thanks for your answer. No, my sister's friend rarely goes to church and claims that there are many things he doesn't like about the Catholic Church. Why is that important?

I didn't think that the ordination of women was at the top of his hit list of things he doesn't like about the Catholic Church. However, I bet issues pertaining to the Church's teaching on chastity, drinking, drugs, attending Mass on Sunday, and the necessity of Confession hits the bull's eye. We live in a culture that promotes immoral behavior and attempts to rationalize it under many disguises. He knows, I suspect, that your standards are different, so he attempts to undermine your moral position by attacking the Church under the guise of questioning the Pope's stance on the ordination of women. This is an issue about which you are not well versed, so you are at a disadvantage. It's also an issue that appears politically correct in our current moral climate. He knows that he would not be successful in directly challenging your values in areas like chastity.

How should I respond the next time he questions me?

You need to test his sincerity. The next time he questions teachings of the Catholic Church respond like this. "Let's call Father _________ (your parish priest) and arrange a time we can discuss this question with him." You could also suggest meeting with a layman in your parish that is well educated in the Catholic faith. If he says, "OK," then he will be meeting with someone who can help him. If you get a negative response, don't waste your time discussing religion with him. It will prove valueless, frustrating and, perhaps, confusing. He's playing games. Talk about the weather.

What other advice can you give me?

Learn from your older sister's experience. Dating is a serious business that is designed to help you choose a suitable husband. When you start dating be selective. God is the key component that ties marriages together. If you date men who protect your soul, you will find the right man who will protect your heart - for life! He will also protect the souls and hearts of your children. That's a much better option than associating with naughty boys who want to play house, but can't make commitments and accept responsibility because they are too focused on themselves.

A lady in our parish is promoting yoga. Is yoga okay for Catholics?

There is no objection to using yoga if it consists entirely in physical exercise. However, if it is accompanied by religious elements of Hindu spiritually, it is not an appropriate exercise for Catholics.

Why is the Catholic Church opposed to the use of condoms, which would prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases?

The Catholic Church is opposed to promiscuous sex between men and women who are not married to each other. The Catholic Church is opposed to condoms as a contraceptive devise because it makes a lie out of the mutual self-donation that is vital to marriage and brings selfishness into this beautiful act which should signify this gift of self.

Moreover, the use of condoms for “safe sex” is a myth! According to a report issued on July 20, 2001 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) there is no scientific evidence that condoms prevent most sexually transmitted diseases, including: HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, chancroid, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Dr. Thom Coburn, the former congressman who initiated the panel who reported the data made the following assertion. “As a medical doctor, the best prescription I can give to avoid infection with a sexually transmitted disease is abstinence until marriage and a lifelong, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”

How serious is the problem of sexually transmitted diseases (STD)? According to the HHS report, “in the United States, more than 65 million individuals are living with an STD, the majority of which are incurable viral infections. Approximately 15 million new sexually transmitted infections occur annually in the U.S.” Of the women infected with HPV 15,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. Five thousand women died from the disease each year.

Don’t believe the false information spewed out by Planned Parenthood about the safety of condoms.

I am FORMER catholic who is now a unitarian universalist. I see nothing wrong with teaching children about sex in accord with the Growing In Love sex-ed program. I think it's about time that the Catholic Church became more open minded anyway.

I recently had a 11 month relationship with a 48 year old woman who was raised, and still is, a Catholic. She had much GUILT about pre-marital sex and it made our relationship very difficult to say the least. On the one hand she was so immersed in her guilt pertaining to sex from her childhood catechism, which she had attended from age 4 until age 18, that she often felt that she could “not let God down” and have sex like many couples do today. On the other hand, she did not want to ever get married again. She felt that marriage gets boring after a while because of her previous marriage of ten years. Her husband died when she was just 37.

Much of what the Catholic Churches teachings had placed so much undue GUILT upon this woman that, as a result, she has severe mental problems and has had 3 previous nervous breakdowns. She was convinced that if she engaged in pre-marital sex she would have another breakdown and end up back in the mental institution.

I just thought I'd let you know that I think it is TRULY ABOUT TIME THAT SOMEONE IN THE CATHCOLIC CHURCH HAS FINALLY CAUGHT UP WITH SOCIETY'S CHANGED ATTITUDES TOWARD SEX.

You have raised many issues. Let me address some factual issues first, then get to the heart of the matter, human sexuality. Children do not begin studying Catechism at age 4. The tragedy of your friend’s three nervous breakdowns are related to deep psychological issues, which are most likely rooted in her experiences as a child. To attribute these problems to the Catholic Church’s teaching on chastity is blatantly naïve. She may claim that her marriage that was boring, but I bet the deeper issue was her lack of being loved, not feelings of guilt about sex. My intuition tells me that her reluctance to remarry is rooted in untrustworthy, exploitative men not boredom.

The Catholic Church has never been opposed to instructing children about human sexuality. It is opposed to teaching children a distorted view of human sexuality. Tragically, our society has adopted a bankrupt attitude that diminishes the beauty of human sexuality reducing it to gratifying ones appetite. While this may seem liberating and enlightened, it is in reality a lie that diminishes the human person and breeds loneliness, selfishness and a culture of death.

The sexual revolution of the 1960’s was proclaimed as the great emancipator of men and women. However, the history of the past forty years proves the deceitfulness of this claim in the catastrophe of millions of murdered babies, escalating loneliness, broken marriages and families, and neglected children. The distorted preoccupation with sex that you espouse focuses on self and never leads to genuine peace and happiness – even in this life. Pre-marital sex is falsely labeled “love making.” The reality is that it has nothing to do with either love or making.

Genuine love has two essential qualities: self-sacrifice and commitment. In marriage this love is expressed when a man says to a woman I want to take care of your heart and will do so faithfully for the rest of my life. In this context their sexual relationship beautifully expresses the oneness of this gift of persons to each other. It is a oneness of heart, spirit and body. Conversely, sexual intercourse outside of this lifelong commitment exhibits the selfish using of another, like an object, merely to satisfy ones sexual urges and emotional neediness. If a baby results that precious, defenseless life is murdered.

The catastrophe of the men who embrace the defective understanding of the gift of human sexuality is that they never grow up. They remain selfish little boys in adult bodies who are incapable of lasting committed relationships because everything centers around their fragile little egos. The women who have the misfortune of relating to these immature adolescents experience the pain predicted by God after the fall: “yet your desire [longing] shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over [dominate] you” (Gen 3:16). It’s this selfishness that breeds the hatred for men found in radical feminism.

Your problem with Catholicism is moral, not theology. You refuse to accept absolutes except, perhaps, those which you yourself create. Because you refuse to conform your behavior to God’s law you justify it by creating a religion in your own image and likeness making your views the ultimate norm of truth. This is the typical response of modern, cowardly men who lack the courage to grow up by embracing the death to self. The problem with rationalizations is they ultimately prove worthless. In the end it produces a life that corresponds to Whittier’s sobering observation: “Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these. I might have been!”

Recently I attended a lecture at which the term “ensoulment” was used. The speaker also said that St. Augustine was confused on this issue. Can you provide me with additional information so I can understand the basic concept?

The question of the origin of individual souls has been a subject of controversy through the centuries. Ensoulment refers to God's infusion of an immortal soul into each human as he or she comes into existence. Biblically this event is symbolized in Genesis 2:7: "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." The exact time at which ensoulment occurs has not been formally defined by the Catholic Church. Over the centuries a number of theories have been expounded.

Pre-existentianism. The soul exists from all eternity and before it is joined to the body. This theory followed the philosophy of Plato and was taught by the early Church Father, Origen. It has no foundation in Sacred Scripture. It was condemned by the Synod of Constantinople (543) and by a Synod at Braga (561).

Emanationism. The individual soul proceeds by emanation (out flowing) from the Divine Substance. In antiquity it was a tenant of gnostic-manichaean dualism and in modern times by pantheism. It contradicts the absolute simplicity of God. It was rejected by Vatican I along with pantheism as heretical.

Generationism. This theory traces the origin of the human soul, as well as the origin of the body, back to the act of generation performed by the parents, making the parents the origin of the soul as well as the body. Tertullian taught that with the corporeal semen a part of the soul substance of the parents is transmitted to the child. St. Augustine sometimes embraced a less crude form of this idea. He speculated that the spiritual soul emerged from a semen spirituale of the parents. Generationism is incompatible with the simplicity and spirituality of the soul. Pope Benedict XII demanded the condemnation of this doctrine as a pre-condition of the Union from the Armenians. Pope Leo XIII condemned the version of generationism taught by Rosmini.

Creationism. God immediately creates every individual soul out of nothing at the moment of its unification with the body. The vast majority of the Church fathers taught creationism. St. Augustine wavered between creationism and generationism. Although creationism has not been formally defined, the teaching of the Magisterium supports it. It finds an indirect expression in the decision of faith of the 5th General Lateran Council. Pope Alexander VII, in a doctrinal assertion on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which formed the basis of the dogmatic definition of Pius IX, speaks of the "creation and infusion" of her soul into the body. Pius XII, in the Encyclical Humani Generis, teaches, "The Catholic Faith obliges us to hold firmly that souls are immediately created by God."

Today the Church teaches that "from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth" (Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, 12 [1974]). The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (# 2270).

Should a catholic join the masons?

NO! Freemasonry is incompatible with the Catholic faith. Freemasonry teaches a naturalistic religion that espouses indifferentism, the position that a person can be equally pleasing to God while remaining in any religion.

Masonry is a parallel religion to Christianity. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Freemasonry displays all the elements of religion, and as such it becomes a rival to the religion of the Gospel. It includes temples and altars, prayers, a moral code, worship, vestments, feast days, the promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife, a hierarchy, and initiative and burial rites" (Vol. 6, p. 137).

In the United States, Freemasonry is often little more than a social club, but it’s underpinning still espouses a naturalistic religion that contradicts orthodox Christianity. Those interested in joining a vibrant men's organization should consider the Knights of Columbus.

The Church has imposed the penalty of excommunication on Catholics who become Freemasons. The penalty of excommunication for joining the Masonic Lodge was explicit in the 1917 code of canon law (canon 2335), and it is implicit in the 1983 code (canon 1374). Because the revised code of canon law is not explicit on this point, some drew the mistaken conclusion that the Church's prohibition of Freemasonry had been dropped. As a result of this confusion, shortly before the 1983 code was promulgated, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement indicating that the penalty was still in force. This statement was dated November 26, 1983 and may be found in Origins 13/27 (Nov. 15, 1983), 450.

Should Catholics receive the bread and wine (or crackers and grape juice) in a Protestant communion service?

No, because it represents a unity of faith that does not exist. Sighs should always be truthful. Otherwise they represent a lie, as did the kiss of Judas.

What is the Catholic Church’s position on Reiki?

The USCCB in "Guidelines Fro evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy," concluded:

  1. Reiki has no solid support in either the Christian faith or in the natural sciences.
  2. Using Reiki implies the acceptance of its worldview that does not belong to the Christian faith nor to the natural sciences.
  3. Reiki operates in the realm of superstition thus undercutting a person's worship of God.
  4. It is utterly incompatible with the Catholic faith.

What does the Catholic Church teach about creationism and evolution?

There is never a conflict between scientific truth and the truth of revelation. The Church allows for the possibility that God may have used secondary causes in the process of creation. However, any theory that denies that God is the ultimate Creator must be rejected.

What is the difference between a vow and an oath?

A vow is a solemn promise to God to commit oneself to a specific act, service or state of life. In a Catholic wedding service, for example, the husband and wife make a vow to a lifetime of fidelity to one another.

An oath is a formal declaration of truth. Oaths appeal to God to witness the truth of the statement or statements a person is making. Thus, before a person witnesses in a civil or criminal litigation, he or she is asked to take an oath that they will only speak the truth.

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Christianity

Why do you think there are so many denominations out there? Because they take the Word of God and interpret it for their own use.

I agree. Your statement shows the fallacy of sola scriptura, which is a principle of individual interpretation. This is the very reason that as of 1982 Protestants had fragmented into 20,800 denominations with current estimates close to 30,000! These denominations have one thing in common. They all base their beliefs on the Bible alone.

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Church

I believe in Jesus, but I don't believe in any Church.

You should reevaluate your position. You're like the person who looks at a coin and says, "I believe in heads, but I reject tails." When you reject the Church Christ founded, you reject Jesus. Christ is inseparable from his Church.

Jesus did not say, "Join my Church," but he did say, "Come to me" Mt 11:28. A church may be helpful for some, but it is not necessary. All one needs is the Bible.

This line of thinking is replete with errors. First, it wrenches a quotation from the Bible and gives it a meaning that is not found in the Gospels. Jesus never used the expression, "Come to me," to reject the necessity of the Church.

During the Last Supper Jesus describes the organic oneness of the Church beginning in Jn 15:1 when he says, "I am the vine, you are the branches." Paul develops this theme in his letters describing the Church as the Body of Christ (Rom 7:4, 12:5; 1 Cor 6:15; 10:16-17; 12: 12-28; Eph 4:12, 5:23). Nor is the Church merely some formless link to Jesus through the act of faith.

In Mt 16: 13-19 Jesus appointed Peter as his prime minister. In 1 Cor 12:28 Paul describes a Church which has a definite structure. "And God has appointed to the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues." It is in this context that Jesus says, "He who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16)

This line of thinking is an example the tragic consequence of the principle of individual interpretation - sola scriptura. Initially it was the battle cry the Reformers used to reject the authority of Apostolic Tradition and the Pope. Now it becomes the rational for rejecting the Church itself.

That may be true, but people can be religious without the Church.

What does it mean to "be religious"? Your statement seems to imply that "being religious" is a blank check to do whatever seems good or religious to each individual. True religion is concerned with man's duties to God. It is God who makes the deal points. Mankind's obligation is to submit to his terms and conditions.

I find the Catholic Church appealing, but I am turned off by its rigid moral standards that seem hard to live by.

The fact that the Catholic Church has always refused to change its moral teaching under the pressure of what is currently popular or politically correct is a sign that it is the true Church that Christ founded.

The moral standards of the Catholic church are the standards of Jesus Christ. They are not hard to live by, they are impossible to live by. So welcome to the human race! In order that we can do the impossible Jesus empowers us with his potency. As St. Paul says, "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:14), for as Jesus instructs us "apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).

Frequently, the real issue is not the difficulties in living a truly Christian life, but our attachment to sin. We are afraid to give it up.

Many practicing Catholics say they have never read or heard the Bible.

That is simply not a true statement. A Catholic who only attends Mass on Sundays will have heard over 7,000 verses of the Bible every 3 years.

I have a friend who says she loves Jesus, therefore she has no need for a church. What can I say to her?

In the Bible "obedience" is frequently used as a synonym for "love" when it teaches how to love God. That makes sense. How can a person truly love God and be in opposition to his will.

Our divine Savior founded one true Church, the Catholic Church. He wants everyone to enter it. Therefore he commanded his disciples:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:18-20).

Through the Church Catholics receive Jesus' power through his sacraments. It's in the Catholic Church that a person who loves the Lord receives his body, blood, soul and divinity in the blessed Eucharist. In Holy Communion Jesus unites us to himself in loving intimacy and, thus, transforms us to be more like him. How can someone who loves Jesus not want to experience this stupendous experience?

Why is the Church referred to as "she" and not "he"?

There are many beautiful passages in the Bible that depict God and Jesus as the heavenly husband wedding himself to his people in the covenant. Let's consider some examples:

  • Is 54:5 - "For your husband is your Maker, the Lord of hosts is his name."
  • Is 62:5 - "And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice in you."
  • Hos 2:16 - "And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal'."
  • Jn 3:29 - John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Messiah: "He who has the bride is the bridegroom, the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice, therefore this joy of mine is now full."
  • Mk 2:19 - "And Jesus said to them, 'Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them [Jesus' death on Calvary], and then they will fast in that day."
  • 1 Cor 11:2 - "For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you [in baptism ] to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."
  • Rev 21:2 - "I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem [the Church], coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
  • Rev 21:9 - "One of the seven angels … said to me, 'Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."

This is why the Church is always referred to as "she". The Church is the bride of Christ.

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Colleges and Universities

I am a parent with children who are beginning to consider colleges. I have heard horror stories of children who lost their faith in so-called Catholic Colleges. Would you please give a list of colleges and universities you judge to be authentically teaching the Catholic Faith.

It is difficult to have all the information needed to make a proper evaluation of each of the many Catholic colleges and universities. However, you are correct in the assumption that many Catholic colleges and universities are Catholic in name only. As a result the student’s faith is often undermined in theology classes. At one Catholic college of my acquaintance one of the “theology” professors was a professed atheist! A student at a Catholic college informed me last year that his theology professor informed the class that his course had no interest in truth.

Fortunately, parents now have a very useful resource in making a good choice for your children: “The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College” – 2nd edition. Here you will find useful information about 21 faithful Catholic colleges in the U.S. plus 8 international, online and unique programs. It’s a bargain for $19.95. You can order it from Ignatius Press at 1-800-651-1531 or on line at http://www.ignatius.com.

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Communion

In preparation for a family Catholic Church wedding, the priest expressed reservations about making what he called a "statement about closed communion." He claims such an announcement is too "separationist for his taste." Rather he would prefer to "trust those at the nuptial Mass to make this decision for themselves." Is he correct?

I do not wish to comment on what the good Father may or may not have said. This is hearsay. Rather, I will respond to the issues you raise regardless of what the priest may or may not have said.

My experience in the business world taught me that when leaders do not lead confusion and chaos inevitable results. My training and experience in the Church has also affirmed the importance of shepherds who shepherd. In my ministry I am often confronted with the great spiritual harm that has resulted from the failure of clergymen and religious educators to faithfully proclaim the Catholic faith. Their training and their vocation demands that they are proactive in instructing the faithful and helping them form a good conscience.

Specifically, as it relates to the reception of the Blessed Eucharist at a wedding attended by guests of different religions, I do not "trust those at the nuptial Mass to make this decision for themselves." Such a trust can only be securely based on the knowledge that all those attending are properly informed of the Church's teaching regarding the awesome reality of the Real Presence and the Church's requirements for the licit reception of Holy Communion. Clearly this would not be the case.

The State of Grace refers to an objective reality that is not based on one's feelings. Accepting this fact is a particular problem today as many people rationalize behavior that is gravely sinful. Tragically this muddled thinking is often supported by the flawed psychobabble that is often erroneously called moral and pastoral theology. It also reduces clergymen to pop-psychologists and social workers.

In the case of non-Catholic Christians, to say nothing about those who are not Christians, most have been taught that mortal sin does not exist, and the sacrament of reconciliation is unnecessary and unbiblical. Many have also embraced the ridiculous false idea - "once saved-always saved". In addition there is among most Protestants a general denial of the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Also, many Protestants today have not been baptized! Under these circumstances how is it possible to adequately protect the Blessed Eucharist from sacrilege when the deacon or priest remains silent out of fear that someone might be offended?

The silence suggested in your question trivializes the reality of the Real Presence because it gives a far greater priority to creating a superficial atmosphere of warm-fuzzy feelings that belies the very real issues of truth and faith that divide Christians. Disunity among Christians is a tragic situation that is a genuine scandal. The inability to share Communion affords an excellent opportunity to acknowledge real differences and pray for Christian unity, not gloss over important issues as if they didn't matter. Such an approach leads to relativism and the watering down of the Gospel message. When the Catholic faith is not boldly defended and proclaimed it comes across as just another sect with no real power to transform lives.

Your response seems rigid, even intolerant.

Would you also think policeman is intolerant if he gave you a ticket for ignoring a red light? Lives are at risk. In regard to sacrilegeous Communions souls are at risk. Perhaps you should reflect on St. Paul's rigid intolerance when he wrote the following passage under the influence of the Holy Spirit? "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. [This statement is particularly strong in the original Greek. It is a technical expression for stating that someone is guilty of murder.] Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment [krima in Greek = damnation, condemnation] upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor 11:27-30).

St. Augustine comments on this passage in his Sermons. "It but remains for me to speak briefly about the third kind of penance, so that, by God's help, I may accomplish what I proposed and promised to do. It is the more grave and more baleful penance, in which those who, in the Church, are properly called penitents, are even removed from participating in the Sacrament of the Altar, lest by receiving unworthily, they eat and drink to their own judgment."

It is certainly significant that the earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament, the Didache, states: "Let no one eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except those who have been baptized." Subsequently it affirms, "If anyone is holy, let him come [to the Eucharist]; if anyone is not, let him repent."

I just wish this would all go away, after all isn't marriage is a celebration of unity?

It is normal to want to avoid confrontations. However, peace at the price of truth ultimately leads to greater disunity and even strife. I agree that unity is the keynote at a sacramental wedding. However, the unity it celebrates the union of the married couple with each other in Christ. It is not fundamentally a celebration of unity among all those present. Often they are decidedly divided, not only religiously, but in many other ways.

When I have attended Protestant and Jewish weddings I have not expected the minister or rabbi to water down his religious beliefs and practices to accommodate Catholics. Were he to do so I would be personally offended and I would not respect his religious convictions. Although I have not accepted his religious beliefs, I considered that it was important to be respectful of his tradition so long as I was not expected to surrender my own.

What are the Catholic Church's requirements for the worthy reception of the Eucharist?

They are the following:

  1. One must be incorporated into Christ's Church through the sacrament of Baptism and be in full Communion with the Catholic Church.
  2. All recipients must be in the State of Grace, that is, free from all mortal sin. When Mortal Sin is present one is obligated by the Church to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Eucharist.
  3. Observe fasting for one hour from liquid or solid food, except in the case of sickness. Water does not break the fast.

Is it more proper to receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue?

Under the current law Communion in the hand is permitted unless the local bishop prohibits it. He may not prohibit Communion on the tongue. Thus, the laity has a choice to receive the Eucharist either in the hand or on the tongue. Neither should be considered preferable to the other. The issue is reverence.

In preparing my young children for their First Communion I teach them to receive the Eucharist on the tongue because I believe it is easier to instill reverence in young children with this method. However, they are instructed that this is dad's rule and they will have the freedom to receive in the hand when they are older.

Normally, I receive the Eucharist on the tongue because I wish to model the behavior I expect of my younger children. However, if the Eucharistic minister is short I receive the Eucharist in the hand because I am tall.

What is the proper posture for receiving Holy Communion, kneeling or standing?

Many Catholics are surprised to learn that there is nothing in the decrees of the Second Vatican Council or in subsequent liturgical instructions from Rome to remove altar rails, eliminate kneeling when receiving Communion or to suggest that standing is the preferred method of receiving the Eucharist. However, under the current law (Inaestimabile Donum, # 11) the faithful may receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing. "Refusing to give a person the Eucharist because of his or her posture," according to Msgr. Elliott, "would surely be sinful" (Elliot, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, p. 336 footnote 84).

"When the faithful receive kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Sacrament. This should be done at the right time and place, so that the order of people going to and from Communion is not disrupted" (Sacred Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum Mysterium, # 4, quoted in Inaestimabile Donum, # 11, citing the General Instructions, #s 244, 246b, 247b.).

In the Roman rite the "sign of reverence" is a genuflection, not a bow (Elliott, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, p. 123, # 336). A bow is only suitable when one is prevented from making a genuflection because of illness or impairment.

Sometimes lay Eucharistic ministers bless with the hand those who come forward but do not receive the Blessed Eucharist. Is this practice correct?

It is not! Blessing with the hand during Mass is exclusively a priestly function. This abuse tends to blur the distinction between the priestly office and the function of lay extraordinary ministers.

This question came up when I was being trained to become a Eucharistic minister. The instructor explained that parents bless their children. Therefore Eucharistic ministers blessing with the hand is merely the same thing.

This thinking is fundamentally flawed. In the first place the blessing of a priest is based on his ordination, which empowers him to act in the person of Christ. The blessing of a layperson is rooted in the priesthood of the faithful, which is radically different from the ordained priesthood. His identification with Jesus is the reason that only a priest can consecrate. If the blessing of a layperson is on the same level with that of a priest, why do priests and not laypersons bless holy objects?

Secondly, this is an innovation that has no basis in Church law. Tampering with the liturgy is not permitted. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican is very definite on this point. "Regulations on the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, in the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. . . . Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (# 22).

Some have also argued that this is a very minor issue, so what is the big deal? What this position overlooks is the hidden destructive principle, namely, the right to disobey. Disobedience is always a big deal!

Finally, this innovation ignores the admonition of Pope John Paul II. He directs that the priest celebrant "should have a special sense of the common good of the Church which he represents through his ministry, but to which he must also be subordinate, according to the correct discipline of faith. He cannot consider himself a 'proprietor' who can make free use of the liturgical texts and of the sacred rite as if it were his own property, in such a way as to stamp it with his own arbitrary personal style" (Dominicae Cenae, # 12).

What Eucharistic ministers can do in these circumstances is make the sign of the cross with the Eucharist. Leave the blessing to Jesus. It doesn't get any better than that!

When I was preparing to become a Eucharistic minister I was told to make eye contact with the communicant before distributing the Eucharist. Is this the correct procedure?

No it is not! Making the distribution of the body and blood of Jesus Christ an encounter experience between the minister and the communicant is silly at best and disrespectful at worst. That would be analogous to meeting the Holy Father, but ignoring him and greeting his attendant. Your total attention should be on the Lord of the universe who you hold in your hands under the species of bread or wine. This concentration on our divine Lord will also help avoid accidents.

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Confession

How is a Catholic who confesses his sins to a priest better off than a Protestant who confesses to God?

Confession offers many advantages. First he is seeking forgiveness in the way God commanded it rather than trying to make his own rules. Obedience to Jesus is always the best way. Secondly, he has the assurance that his sins are forgiven - Jesus' word. Third, going to confession is an act of humility. This is sometimes difficult, but it is always spiritually fruitful. Fourth, he receives special sacramental graces to combat sin and live a holy life. Lastly, he can benefit from sound spiritual advice.

What is the meaning of the halo one sees in images of Jesus and the saints?

One can observe the natural phenomena of a circular luminous glow around the moon. Ancient Greeks associated this halo with heroism and dignity and applied it to their false gods in classical poetry.

Centuries later Christian artists adapted the symbolism to illustrate true virtue and great holiness.

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Contraception

I'm a Bible believing Christian who doesn't understand the Catholic Church's condemnation of artificial contraception.

President Harry Truman used to say; "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." Contraception has historically been a Christian issue, not merely a Catholic issue. Let me illustrate.

What theologian declared in the 1500's that birth control was the murder of future persons? His name is John Calvin! Presbyterians and Baptists follow in his tradition. What minister in the 1700's declared that taking "preventative measures" to prevent conception was unnatural and would destroy the souls of those who practiced it? It was John Wesley the founder of the Methodist religion! Who declared that birth control was sodomy? That was Martin Luther, who began the Protestant Reformation and is the founder of the Lutheran tradition! What church group ruled in the 1600's that a church official found guilty of birth control was no longer allowed to hold his position? The Pilgrims! Up until 1930 all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception as gravely immoral. The break in nineteen hundred years of unanimous Christian teaching came on August 14, 1930 at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which had condemned contraception in both 1908 and 1920.

I strongly suggest that you read the book by Charles D. Provan, The Bible and Birth Control, Monongahela, Pennsylvania: Zimmer Printing. This little book, which is written from a Protestant perspective, gives solid biblical arguments showing the evil of contraceptives. The list of prominent Protestant theologians who oppose birth control is also impressive.

So Protestants now have a more enlightened position, what's the big deal?

This is a strange attitude for one who claims to be a "Bible believing Christian." This change in Protestant teaching, that now upholds the morality of artificial birth control, should pose a major problem for any Christian. Why? You are affirming, in effect, that the Holy Spirit failed to guide all Christians in a serious moral matter for 1,900 years! This is an unreasonable position for any Bible believing Christian. If for 1,900 years all Christian churches can be wrong about contraception then they can be wrong in anything.

The caving in to popular pressure by Protestant churches seriously undermines the principle of sola scriptura - the position that the Bible alone is the only authority for Christian beliefs. Along with contraception Protestant churches are now waffling on other important moral issues, for example, divorce, abortion, practicing homosexuality and euthanasia.

Yes, but what's the evil of artificial contraception?

Contraception is a rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are called to be submissive to Christ in everything. This includes: our time, our talent, our money, our career, and our fertility. The contracepting couple says to God, "I don't trust you with my fertility!" When God is not at the center of a marriage, it bound to fail. Selfishness becomes the common denominator, not Jesus Christ. Recently, a Christian addressed this issue in a letter to the editor of Focus on the Family's Citizen: "We hear many messages about trusting God in the area of finances, healing … etc., but encouragement to trust God in the area of family planning is either rare or nonexistent. My husband and I were led to relinquish birth control to God control almost seven years ago, and God has added two precious babies to our family in that time. But I still grieve over the children we missed out on in earlier years because we followed the example of the world and Christians deceived by the world, rather searching out God's heart on the matter. We also wonder if the lack of major progress for the pro-life movement isn't rooted in the contraceptive mentality. Evangelicals say that children are a gift from God, and yet in our own way (contraception) we also reject those gifts. The 'slippery slope' of devaluing human life did not begin with abortion it began when the masses - including Christians -accepted Margaret Sanger's anti-child and pro-birth control philosophies."

I must admit that you have me rethinking my position. What else is evil about artificial contraception?

Changing paradigms is not easy. Let me congratulate your openness. Please consider the following points.

  1. Artificial contraception rejects God's plan for marriage, which is based on the total donation of self and replaces it with selfishness. The Bible gives two models for the love that should exist in a Christian marriage. The first is the Trinitarian Model. We are created in God's image and after his likeness (Gen 1:26). God is a self-contained trinitarian family. The relationships of Persons in the Trinity are characterized by the total infinite gift of each Person to the other Persons. Each divine Person infinitely gives and each infinitely receives. The second model is that of the relationship of Christ to the Church. St. Paul develops this theme in his beautiful instruction on marriage (Eph 5:21-33). The heart of his instruction centers on Jesus' self-sacrificing love. Wives are called to express it in submissiveness. Men are challenged to express it in crucifixion, that is, their daily willingness to lay down their lives for their wives.
  2. Contraception makes a lie of that physical act which God established as the exclusive sign/symbol of the total self-giving that should exist between a husband and his wife. Lying is the work of Satan "for he is a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Contraception blocks the fruit of self-giving love and turns it an act of selfishness. It is falsely called "love making", but it has nothing to do with either love or making. In reality it is self-seeking and life preventing, and if that fails it often becomes life taking, that is, abortive.
  3. God detests contraception as is evident in the narrative about the Sin of Onan (Gen 38:8-10). "Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order no to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also" [as God had earlier taken the life of Er. (Gen 38:9-10).
  4. Contraception leads to abortion with the inevitability that night follows day. Both are rooted in the same self-centered, anti-child attitude that ignores the biblical teaching that children are unmitigated blessings. Abortion is the back-up mechanism of the pill, the favorite form of artificial birth control.

Does this mean that God expects married couples to have as many children as possible?

No, it does not. What God does require is that every act of intercourse expresses the total gift of persons by being open to life. Married couples should always act responsibly. Thus, for serious reasons couples should limit the size of their families by using Natural Family Planning (NFP), which is not contraceptive. NFP uses the knowledge of a woman's natural reproductive cycles to abstain from intercourse on those days when conception is likely. Unlike contraception the unselfishness and discipline that NFP requires enhances a couple's love. In addition NFP has none of the negative physical side effects of the pill while being just as accurate.

Well, isn't NFP and artificial contraception, like using the pill, pretty much the same thing? After all only the means are different.

That's like saying there is no difference between robbing a bank and working at a job if in either case a man is supporting his family! After all only the means is different. In the case of artificial contraception persons are participating in an intrinsically evil act. On the other hand in practicing NFP a couple is periodically abstaining from intercourse for a good and serious reason. Abstention is not intrinsically evil.

I heard that at one time all Christian churches, even Protestant Churches, condemned contraception. However, a friend of mine who follows the teaching of John Calvin claims that Calvinists never condemned contraception. He also claims that the pope condemns contraception only because he wants more priests. What is the truth?

You are correct. All Christian churches condemned contraceptive acts as gravely sinful until the Anglican Church broke ranks with this universal teaching in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference. Subsequently, the non-Catholic churches all caved in to this evil. Today you would be hard pressed to find a non-Catholic Christian church that condemns contraception.

Your friend is very much misinformed about the founder of his denomination, John Calvin. In is commentary on Genesis, Calvin was ardent in his condemnation of circumcision. Regarding the contraceptive sin of Onan who "spilled [his] semen on the ground" (Gen 38:9). Calvin wrote:
"I will content myself with briefly mentioning this, as far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is doubly horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born."

The Catholic Church opposes contraception because God opposes it. It has nothing to do with the pope's desire to have more priests. The seriousness of contraception is evident from the fact that God killed Onan for committing this sin.

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Jesus

God is immortal. Man is mortal. If Christ is both true God and true man is he immortal or mortal?

Jesus is a divine Person who equally shares the one divine Nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The divine Persons are distinct, but because they share the same nature, there is only one God. Thus Jesus is immortal both in his divine Person and in his divine Nature. However, when Jesus became man he assumed a true human nature, which was mortal. Because his human nature was mortal he could suffer and die.

Jesus is an uncreated divine Person with two natures, one fully divine and the other fully human.

Jesus is referred to as the only begotten Son of the Father. Doesn't the word begotten imply a sexual relationship? Can such an activity be attributed to God?

The word "beget" is an old-fashioned English term for fathering children, which is often used in the King James Version (KJV). It usually indicates an immediate father/son relationship. However, the term is sometimes used merely to describe ancestry. For example, Matthew says Joram (Jehoram) "beget" Ozias (Uzziah) (Mt 1:8), that is, he was his ancestor. We know from 2 Chr 21-26 that Joram (Jehoram) was actually Ozias' (Uzziah's) great-great grandfather.

The expression "only begotten" found in Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; and 1 Jn 4:9 is the English translation of the Greek word monognes, which means "single of its kind", "unique", or "one of a kind". The meaning of the Greek is better captured in more modern English by the New International Version (NIV) as "one and only," and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as "only Son."

Clearly, the term as applied to Jesus not imply a sexual process. This is also obvious by the care with which the virginal conception of Jesus is explained.

Where does the Bible claim that Jesus is God?

Jesus makes the following claim, "Truly, truly [this idiomatic expression almost has the weight of an oath formula], I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8:58). The words "I am" is a clear reference to Exodus 3:14 when God reveals his name to Moses "I am who I am." As a result the Jews wanted to stone Jesus (Jn 8:59).

In John's Gospel, chapter 10:30 Jesus said, "I and the Father are one."

The meaning was clear to Jesus' audience, they wanted to stone him. "We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God" (Jn 10:33).

Jesus accepted the supreme adoration from Thomas, "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20:28). The word "Lord" when applied to Jesus in the Bible is a synonym for God. The redundancy here is a common Hebrew way of speaking. It a way of emphasis.

When Philip asked Jesus "show us the Father" (Jn 14:8) Jesus replied, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).

Jesus was condemned on the basis that he claimed to be the Son of God (Mt 26:63-66). This charge was repeated to Pilate (Jn 19:7). The Jewish leaders were certainly convinced that Jesus claimed to be God.

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Liturgy

Recently, I was told that the only valid Mass Is the Traditional Mass and, as a result, the present Mass is not valid. Therefore, I was told, the bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood of Jesus when the new Mass is said. Can you clarify this matter for me?

Since your question encompasses several ideas I will answer them piecemeal to provide greater clarity. Let's start with the idea of the so-called "Traditional Mass." The terms "Traditional Mass," "the Mass of St. Pius V," and the "Tridentine Rite" are used interchangeably to refer the Roman Rite in Latin used prior to the Second Vatican Council. These terms came into use in recent years as no one would know what they meant forty years ago. The historical reality is that there never was a missal or rite of Pope St. Pius V, nor did the Council of Trent (hence the word Tridentine) establish a liturgy.

The missal that appeared in 1570 by the order of Pius V differed only in tiny details from the first printed edition of the Roman Missal of about a hundred years earlier. It merely eliminated certain late medieval accretions, mistakes and misprints that had crept into the liturgical texts. Again, in 1614 under Pope Urban VIII, a new edition or the Missal was published with various improvements. The history of the Mass clearly shows that these changes together with the ones that proceeded it and those that followed were consistent with the dynamic nature of the Church's liturgy. It is alive, like the Church itself. Therefore, it always involves, in the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, "a process of maturing, which exhibits greater and lesser changes."

The expressions, "Traditional Mass" or "Traditional Roman Rite," were recently formulated to convey the false idea that the liturgy restored by the Second Vatican Council is not "traditional," and therefore it is invalid.

What is incorrect with this viewpoint?

It seems to embrace the idea that the Roman Missal used prior to Vatican II somehow fell from heaven in that form. It also promotes the erroneous idea that the Council's treatment of the liturgy was a real betrayal of the authentic liturgy that existed in the Church for almost 2,000 years.

Clearly many of the non essential parts of the liturgy have changed over the centuries. Secondly, one need only read Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy, to demonstrate that the Council did not create a new rite - a new Mass. The Council had two objectives in restoring the liturgy. The first was to preserve the tradition of the Mass where it is sound. The second was to open up pathways of legitimate progress in understanding and participating in the liturgy according to already existing liturgical forms.

Thus to refer to the present Roman Rite as the "Conciliar rite," or the "Mass of Paul VI" conveys the mistaken notion that the present liturgy is not organically connected with the celebration of the Mass in the preceding periods of Church history.

I understand what you are saying, but weren't many changes in the Mass prescribed because of the Council's constitution on the liturgy?

Not as many as you question seems to imply. The changes that were made were done for sound liturgical and traditional reasons. For example, the prayers as the foot of the altar between the priest and the altar server were eliminated. These prayers didn't exist before the ninth century and were never included in the approved liturgies of Milan, Lyons, Toledo, the Carthusians, and the Premonstratensians; nor were they used at funeral Masses and at Masses during Lent. Certain offertory prayers were also eliminated on the same basis that they didn't fit properly or else they were late additions.

One of the biggest changes occurred in the most sacred part of the Mass, the Cannon or the Eucharistic Prayer. Here, as elsewhere, great attention was given to the Church's tradition. Eucharistic Prayer I is the prayer par excellence of the Roman Rite. With slight adaptations it is the canon used in the Western church since the end of the Roman Empire. It goes back to the time of Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) and probably to Pose St. Damasus I (366-384). Eucharistic Prayer II is based on the Anaphora of Hippolytus (d. 235), also known as the Apostolic Tradition. It is the oldest of the eucharistic prayers dating back to the time of the Roman persecutions. Eucharistic Prayer III draws its inspiration from the Roman canon as well as ancient Eastern liturgies. Eucharistic Prayer IV comes from the great Anaphora of St. Basil (d. 379).

What then is the basis for the charge that the Mass is invalid?

There is no basis in fact. However, some people are rightly disturbed by liturgical abuses that were never sanctioned by proper Church authority and which have been condemned by the Holy See.

However, abuses, even when sinful, do not necessarily invalidate a sacrament. For example, a priest might create his own rite of Baptism. This is forbidden. Nevertheless, if he has the intention of baptizing and pours water on the head of the child while pronouncing the words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," this is a valid baptism - no matter how disturbing the experience is to the parents.

The bottom line is this, the present liturgy is clearly in line with previous liturgies approved by the Church and is substantially one with them.

What further can you add to clarify the matter?

Jesus warned us that scandal would exist in his Church. When scandal occurs it is very upsetting. However, there is a great danger in making oneself more orthodox than the Pope who has the charism (gift) of guiding the Church without error in matters of faith and morals. Those who challenge the validity of the current Mass inevitably end up rejecting Papal authority making themselves the arbiters of what is true and moral. In this there is great danger.

When Catholics pray at every Mass, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands,” doesn’t that indicate a re-sacrificing?

Indeed, it does. Unlike the one sacrifice of Jesus that is eternal, the sacrifice of ourselves is limited and must be constantly renewed. This is the awesome responsibility of free will. What we surrender today can be withdrawn tomorrow. Therefore the priest implores: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” We respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands [the sacrifice of himself and the sacrifice of ourselves] for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church.”

Note that the singular “sacrifice” is used. That emphasizes the reality of the one sacrifice of Christ to which our sacrifices are attached. Since the essential sacrifice is one and everlasting, our sacrifices are also one because they transcend time in Christ Jesus. It is in this context that St. Paul wrote the following passage. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake [sacrifice], and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ [Jesus’ sacrifice] on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Cor 1:24).

St. Paul is not teaching that Jesus’ infinite merits are deficient. Rather, he is addressing the deficiencies of our participation in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We, the members of Jesus’ Mystical Body, are called to fully unite ourselves to Christ. Thus every Eucharistic Prayer ends with the proclamation, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours almighty Father, for ever and ever” to which we respond, “Amen.” Such is the awesome power of our sharing in Jesus’ unique sacrifice that the offering of ourselves to the Father gives him “all glory and honor.”

Do you have anything that could help me answer the following: What might I say in reply to the viewpoint that questions the liturgy as the summit to which the activity of the Church is directed, the font from which all powers flow?

I would begin with the following quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life" [Citing Lumen Gentium 11, Vatican II]. "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" [Citing Presbyterorum Ordinis 5, Vatican II].

Remember the Eucharist is a three-fold sacrament as: Presence, Sacrifice, and Holy Communion. If one denies the importance of the Mass, the basic issue is the denial misunderstanding of the reality of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or the sacrificial character of the Mass, or both. Therefore, you might address their faulty understanding of the Eucharist. This is where I would start the discussion

My parish only uses men for the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, but I have been to some parishes that also includes women. Are both correct?

The rubrics in the Roman Missal for the Liturgy of Holy Thursday indicates that viri selecti (chosen men, i.e. male persons) may come forward to have their feet washed. However, please note, it is not mandatory to have the washing of feet. If the rite is employed the number of men is not specified, but 12 are often chosen to capture the symbolism of the Last Supper.

Which Eucharistic Prayer should the priest use?

The Priest has the freedom to select the Eucharistic Prayer he deems appropriate. He my always use Prayer I which is the Roman Canon. For a Mass of Reconciliation, the priest uses the Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation. In addition to the four options that are familiar to most Catholics there are also two Prayers for children two for Reconciliation, and four Eucharistic Prayers for various occasions.

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Man

If God knows everything beforehand, then how can we be free?

The knowledge that something will happen does not cause it to happen. I know with certainty that if I toss a ball into the air, it will fall down. My foreknowledge did not cause the ball to fall.

The Bible seems to deny free will. For example it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart?

The Bible takes the position God is the ultimate cause of all things because he is the creator with a foreknowledge of all that will happen. Individual men are given the freedom to choose good or evil. However, God does not passively wait for men to choose before he acts. In the divine plan God has already countered all of men's free choices so that his plan is never thwarted. In that sense it can be said God hardened Pharaoh's heart. This understanding is consistent with the Bible's statement that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15).

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Mary

I think your web site is the best! I find it very informative and easy to use. I especially love your essays. I listen to you every Thursday from 5-6 on Radio Maria. My question is about Mary. I once read something about a passage in the Old Testament that refers to a gate that God would enter through and the gate would be shut and no man would enter. Is this the reason Mary is given the title Gate of Heaven?

The passage you are looking for is from the Song of Solomon (also called the Song of Songs or the Canticle of Canticles) Chapter 4, verse 12: "You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride, an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed." This passage is applied to Mary because in her the Church was born. Mary, then, symbolizes the perfect bride. She is "all fair" and "without spot" par excellence. Therefore she represents the Church, the bride of Christ, which is "without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27) because in her inspired words, "He who is mighty has done great tings for me" (Lk 1:49). Mary is the immaculate virgin who gave birth to the Redeemer.

Mary is called the Gate of Heaven, Janua caeli in Latin, in the Litany of Loreto, and in the hymn "Alma Redemptoris" because Jesus came into the world through her and her intercession is so powerful. She is the Mother of the Gate of Heaven, Christ our Redeemer. He proclaimed, "I am the door; if anyone enter by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (Jn 10:9).

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Non-Christian Religions

I know Mormons who seem like good Christians. Is Mormonism similar to Protestant churches?

I have maintained friendships with Mormons for over twenty-five years. I know many Mormons who are very fine people. However, it is a mistake to equate Mormonism with non-Catholic Christians. Although Mormonism presents itself as another, but complete form of Christianity, their beliefs are not compatible with historical Christianity. The Catholic Church respects what is true and good in Mormonism, but rejects the many elements that are false.

Mormonism is a polytheistic religion, that is, it believes in multiple gods. It speaks about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but not in the sense of three divine Persons in one, true, and infinite divine Nature. They view the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity as three limited, finite deities among a vast multitude of deities. Mormonism also teaches that humans may become gods and goddesses by practicing the tenets of its faith. Once they reach this state they will live on their own planets filled with people who worship them.

How can I effectively discuss my Catholic faith with non-Catholic Christians.

Do the following:

  1. Strive to become holy. Who and what we are speaks louder than what we say.
  2. If you don't know something, admit it. For example, you might say: "That's a good question that needs a good answer. Let me research that for you and I will get back to you. Do get back to them with the answer.
  3. Learn the biblical foundation of your faith. Explaining your faith biblically is called apologetics.
  4. Beware of proof-texting. Proof-texting is the practice of giving a passage of Sacred Scripture a meaning that it does not have when it is examined in its context. Let me cite an example.

It is claimed by some that a Christian can't lose his salvation. One proof-text is Rom 8:38-39 - "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord."

However, this interpretation falls apart once this passage is examined within the context of the entire New Testament. The list of things that cannot "separate us from the love of God" is external to man's will - his free choices. We can choose to violate God's commandments and become separate from the love of God. Paul teaches, for example, that the following grave sins: idolatry, fornication, sodomy, drunkenness, and stealing do separate a person from the love of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5).

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Prayer

In Mt 6:7 Jesus commands "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do." Aren't Catholics in violation of this command when they say the Rosary or recite litanies?

The answer is no. Jesus does not prohibit repetitious prayer. What he does forbid is the mindless recitation of words without thought or conviction. It is not the multiplication of the same prayers that is the issue, but the fervor with which they are said. Married couples frequently say "I love you." Spouses do not object to the repetition and neither does God. However, spouses would object if the words are meaningless because ones behavior belies it. So does God.

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Religion

It seems to me that one Christian church is a good as another. The main thing is to believe in Jesus. After all, if several roads lead to the same destination, what does it matter which road we take?

There are two problems with this line of thinking. First, it rejects truth. Jesus said to Pilate: "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everybody who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (Jn 18:37). Claiming one religion is as good as another ultimately leads to the conclusion that all religions are good for nothing because truth is rejected. Everything is reducible to opinion. Like Pilate it is a response that replies, "What is truth" (Jn 18:38)?

Secondly, imbedded in this argument is a rejection of the necessity of our obedience to God. Indeed, it makes God obedient to us. The Church that he founded becomes an irreverent issue. As long as we adhere to some Christian belief system God is assumed to be pleased.

Yes, but we all worship the same God - so how can that be wrong?

Worshipping God is never wrong. However, we are obligated to obey his will. For example, suppose your employer instructed you to copy a report for an upcoming meeting on a light beige copy paper. Having the copies ready for the meeting would be a good thing. However, the boss would not be pleased if you decided to use a different color paper.

Isn't living a good life the only thing that matters?

There are several problems with this idea. "Living a good life" is so vague that it is a meaningless standard for Christian living.

Secondly, "living a good life" does not prove ones religion true. Many pagans live good lives.

Finally, statements like this can be a façade behind which one rationalizes sinful behavior that is explicitly condemned in the Bible, for example, using artificial contraception, abortion, adultery, fornication, active homosexuality, divorce and remarriage. Assertions like, "God knows I'm a good person" is not a safe slogan to hide behind on judgment day.

Why are their so many religions in the world?

Within human nature itself there is a natural longing for God. However, when men lack knowledge of the one true God and the religion he founded, they create their own. The same is often true for those who embrace immoral lifestyles. Their false religion assuages their conscience.

There are many angles of truth. Isn't the tolerant thing to do is to believe in all religions.

This approach negates the very notion of truth. False ideas are not another angle of truth, but the negation of it. If one religion is right, than it logically follows that all the other religions are false. The Catholic Church claims to be that true religion.

This notion of tolerance is also faulty. One should be tolerant of persons, but never tolerate what is false or evil. The correct answer to the addition of two plus two is not seven. Nor is it an angle of the truth. However, the teacher can be tolerant of the student's difficulty with arithmetic. Neither is it intolerant to dispose of the rattlesnake curled in your child's bed. It's a matter of your child's life and death. Truth and evil are also life and death matters - eternal life and eternal death.

Yes, yes, but doesn't it all come down to a matter of opinion?

Tragically, that may be the attitude of many people. However, this does not negate the obligation to adhere to the truth and to behave according to God's standards. "He who has the gold makes the rules" is the golden rule according to Murphy's Law. In the case of our eternal salvation God has the gold and he makes the rules.

I never know what to say when I'm asked, "Are you saved?"

I love that question. This is how I respond: "I'm redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and in obedience to St. Paul I'm working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). How about you?"

I have a friend who claims that all religions are equally true. How can I respond to this claim?

Something cannot both be true and not true at the same time and in the same respect. This is a basic principle of right thinking (logic). Therefore it is an absurdity to believe that all religious are equally true because they contradict one another.

The kind of thinking imbedded in your friend's question is becoming more common today because our society tends to reject objective truth. This allows people to rationalize their misbehavior. Therefore some will claim there is only your truth (what you feel is true) and my truth (what I feel is true). Someone may believe, for example, that the sum of four plus four is eight, whereas another may believe that the correct answer is nine. Nevertheless, the only correct answer is eight. There is only one Church that has the fullness of the truth God has revealed, namely, the Catholic Church.

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Saints

What ever happened to St. Christopher?

Nothing, he is still eternally happy in heaven. The Church never issued a decree stating that he never existed. As a matter of fact, competent hagiographers, Catholic and Protestant, assert that he did exist. However, we don't know much about him.

When the Roman Calendar was reformed in 1969 some saints were eliminated because the calendar was becoming crowded.

In a Catholic Church I saw a scene of the crucifixion. Above Jesus' head on the cross were the letters I.N.R.I. Next to the cross there was a Roman soldier holding a banner that had the letters S.P.Q.R. What do all these abbreviations stand for?

Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church. I.N.R.I. is the abbreviation for "Jesus Nazarensus, Rex Iudaeorum" - "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

S.P.Q.R. is an abbreviation for "Senatus Populus Que Romanus" which is translated "The Roman Senate and People. It designates the civil authority that was in charge of Jesus' execution.

Why did the Catholic Church condemn people to hell with its anathemas?

The Catholic Church never condemned anyone to hell. This is a misunderstanding of the term "anathema." An anathema is a penalty in Canon or Church Law that separates a person from communion with the Church for committing certain crimes. It is a form of excommunication.

Jesus instructed the apostles that there would be times when they would have to use excommunication (Mt 18:15-17). St. Paul provides examples of its use in 1 Cor 5:1-5; 2 Cor 2: 6-9).

I have been told by preachers in other faiths that the visions and miracles Catholics experience by Mary and the saints are actually demonic. They cite the passage in the Bible that says Satan will even appear as an angel of light. They claim that it is a trick of the devil to get Catholics eyes off Christ. What is the Catholic response to these charges.

Only God works miracles. When creatures work miracles, for example, when Peter cured the crippled beggar (Acts 3:6-7), the miracle was performed by the power of God. Peter was merely his instrument. It is true that St. Paul wrote that “Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). However, what is the basis for concluding that Mary’s apparitions and the miracles God’s works through the intercession of the saints are demonic?

Isn’t this accusation very similar to the charge that was made against Jesus (Mt 12:24)? Jesus gave the perfect reply. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand, and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand” (Mt 12:25-26)?

Jesus warned: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). Then he gave us the fool-proof criteria to judge the false from the true: “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16).

What does Mary say during her aspirations? Does she say, “Look at me. I’m great and wonderful. I’m almost a goddess.” Absolutely not! She says, “pray, pray, and pray.” She begs us not to offend her Son, who is already so grievously offended. She pleads with us to repent and return to God. That is hardly the work of the devil.

The whole meaning of Mary’s life is directed toward her Divine Son. She is like a sign post pointing to Jesus. I can attest to this in my own life. At Lourdes I experienced a profound conversion. What was the message Mary gave me that moved me so profoundly? It was very simple: “When was the last time you told Jesus you loved him?”

You might find the following little book helpful: A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, by Charles Dickson and published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division.

If Mary and the saints have the ability to hear millions of devotions and perform miracles, wouldn’t they have to be omnipotent like God? Wouldn’t that make them gods?

There is a sense that this query smacks of the question the Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection (Mt 22:23-33) in that they were limiting what God can do by their experience.

Only God works miracles. However, he often does so through the instrumentality of his human children. The Catholic Church does not teach that Mary or the saints “hear millions of devotions.” All prayer is ultimately directed to God alone. When we pray to the saints was are merely asking them to pray for and with us. This is not substantially different then the prayer-lines used in most Protestant churches.

We don’t know how the saints are aware we are seeking their assistance. However, if we can simultaneously communicate with thousands of people around the world through the internet, God is certainly capable of making the saints aware that we are asking for their assistance. Obviously, there is no need to believe that they are anything more than creatures who abide in God’s special presence and favor.

We all have guardian angels, one for each of us, so how is it they don’t have omnipotence?

The Bible does not teach that there is only one guardian angel for each person. Rather it teaches we have at least one guardian angel. It is quite possible that we might have more than one guardian angel. Irregardless, the angels are also creatures. Therefore their power is dependent on God who they serve with great eagerness and total submission.

What are the Doctors of the Church and who are they?

The Doctors of the Church are men and women honored by the Church for the special value of their writings and preaching. Three conditions must be met for someone to be declared a Doctor: 1) their prominent learning, 2) their evident holiness, and 3) a formal affirmation by the Church. The initial Doctors were Fathers of the Church.

The first woman Doctor was St. Theresa of Avila, so declared by Pope Paul VI in 1970. St. Catherine of Siena followed that same year. Pope John Paul II named St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor in 1997. The fourth woman Doctor is St. Hildegard of Bingen who was designated by Pope Benedict XIV on October 7, 2012.

Below is the list of the 35 Doctors followed by the year they were declared when applicable:

St. Albert the Great (d. 1280), 1931				
St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), 1871			
St. Ambrose (d. 397), Father of the Church			
St. Anselm (1033-1109), 1720				
St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), 1946			
St. Athanasius (d. 375), Father of the Church			
St. Augustine (354-430), Father of the Church		
St. Basil the Great (d. 379), Father of the Church		
St. Bede the Venerable (673-735), 1899			
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090-1153), 1830		
St. Bonaventure (c. 1217-1274), 1588			
St. Catherine of Siena (c. 1347-1380), 1970			
St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444), 1882			
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386), 1882			
St. Ephraem (c. 306-373), 1920				
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), 1877			
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. c. 390) Father of the Church				
St. Gregory I the Great (d. 604) Father of the Church
St. Hilary of Poitiers (c.368), 1851
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), 2012
St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636), 1722
St. Jerome (d. 420), Father of the Church
St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), Father of the Church
St. John Damascene (d. 749), 1890
St. John of Avila (1500-1569), 2012
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), 1926
St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619), 1959
St. Leo I the Great (d. 461), 1574
St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597), 1925
St. Peter Chrysologus (d. 450), 1729
St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), 1828
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), 1931
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), 1970
St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), 1997
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), 1567

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Truth

When you come down to the wire, there is YOUR truth, then MY truth, and best of all, there is GOD'S truth.

Truth is one because God is one, and truth is rooted in God. You and I have a perception of truth. However, our perception is true or false to the degree it conforms or does not conform to divine truth, which has no bearing on the intensity of our discernment. So while we experience truth subjectively, it is founded in objective reality - God.

What is truth?

Truth is the exact knowledge or expression of things just as they are.

Often one hears Christians be referred to as "liberal" or "conservative." What is the meaning of these labels?

Your guess is a good a mine. Terms like "liberal" or "conservative" are political expressions that have unclear meanings even in the political arena. However, they don't provide any clarity in the area of religion. In religion the vital question is truth or falsehood, not liberal or conservative. The application of these and other political terms to religion tends to feed the present climate of skepticism which rejects the possibility of knowing truth.

In addition such political terms tend to be divisive when applied to religious. Not only do they tend to polarize people into opposing camps, but they also become negative labels that are used to disregard people who have different points of view. By easily discounting the person with a label one does to have to grapple with his ideas.