Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

 

The Resurrection According to St. Paul

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Jesus Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

As we continue to bask in the joy of the Easter season, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on St. Paul’s teachings on the Resurrection of Christ.  St. Paul himself powerfully encountered the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, and this encounter changed his identity and mission forever.  St. Paul has left us a treasury of teachings on the Resurrection itself and the profound consequences for the human family and for each of us in our own lives.

The first of Paul’s powerful passages comes in his letter to the Romans where he speaks of Christ as the New Adam who reverses the sin and death of Adam.  Through the mystery of his death and Resurrection, Christ brings life and grace to all:

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned–

for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.

But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.

But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.

For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ. (Rm 5:15-17)

For Paul, just as the disobedience of Adam brought death to all, the obedience of Christ through his death brings life to all in the Resurrection.   In the same way that Original sin affected all of humanity, the Resurrection changes and elevates the entire human family to a dignity beyond measure.  Thus, Easter morning is truly the dawn of a new humanity, a new creation transformed and alive in Christ.  What then, are the true consequences of the Resurrection of Christ?  Paul concludes with this powerful passage:

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.

Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,

nor height, nor depth,nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35; 38-39)

Therefore, if Christ is truly raised from the dead and has truly defeated sin and death, then what do we have to be afraid of?   This message is particularly important for us to remember this Easter as we presently face many moral, economic, and foreign threats in our world today. We need to remember that ultimately Jesus Christ is victorious, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.   We must also be convicted that we must work diligently to live and preach the gospel in our own lives in order to bring about Christ’s victory and not allow worry, stress, greed, or indifference to rob us of our share in the salvation of Christ.

We also see St. Paul’s most explicit and developed teaching on the Resurrection of Christ in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  Paul was writing his letter to the Church in Corinth to correct both liturgical abuse and doctrinal error.   One of the dangerous heresies circulating around Corinth was a denial of the resurrection of the dead.  Paul forcefully corrects this error explaining the consequences of such a teaching:

But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.

Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

Paul then teaches us the reality of the Resurrection:  that Christ is truly alive and has destroyed sin and death forever and that the mystery of the Resurrection transforms us from being dead to sin to being alive in Christ and complete sharers in his victory over death:

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,

in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.

And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 51-57)

Thus, the Resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian faith.   If Christ is not truly risen, then all is in vain.   However, our hope as Christians lies precisely in that Christ is alive and is present and working in and through the Church.   Our task is to live as if Christ is truly risen!   Do we really believe that Christ is risen and has truly conquered sin and death?   Do our lives truly reflect this?  St. Paul challenges us to vibrantly live our lives alive in Christ:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-5;12-17)

May we, through the intercession of St. Paul, encounter anew the life and grace of the Risen Christ and become more effective witnesses of the truth of the Resurrection.  It is only through the grace, power, and conviction of the Resurrection that we can be the instruments that transform our culture into a culture of life and civilization of love so that all may come to know fullness of life in Christ.   Happy Easter!

 

Lenten Reflection: A Tale of Two Gardens

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

As we begin our Lenten journey of conversion and repentance, we find that we often struggle with the old Adam within ourselves that is still inclined to sin and worldly desires and our new life in Christ that was given to us at baptism and is continuously renewed through Eucharist and Penance.  As a good reflection for the Lenten season, scripture reveals that there is a remarkable parallel in the Old Testament and the New Testament between the disobedience of Adam and the results of His sin, and the perfect obedience of Jesus and the results of his righteousness.  I call it “The Tale of Two Gardens.”  Here we so clearly see how Jesus completely atones for and reverses the sin and disobedience of Adam and though His sacrifice on the Cross restores our communion with God and once again obtains for us the gift of grace and eternal life.

Let us go back for a moment and recall what happened in Genesis Chapter 3.  Adam is in the Garden of Eden, and he is knows no suffering or evil and enjoys intimate communion with God and complete unity and harmony with his wife Eve and the rest of creation.  However, he is confronted with a temptation from Satan, and because of this gift of his free will, faces a fundamental choice.  Adam can either eat of the Tree of Life, which represents intimate communion with God through obedience to his plan and goodness, or he can choose to reject God, his life of grace and goodness, and view himself as a god who can determine for himself what is good and evil.  We know from the story that with Eve’s participation, Adam eats of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Thus, through their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which represents the loss of  eternal life and union with God.  They now suffer death, separation from God, and the natural consequences of sin.  Consequently, through Adam, sin and disobedience entered the world and through this original sin, all human beings from that moment are born disfigured by sin.  We no longer know God as our Father and are inclined to do our will and determine what is best for ourselves. We have literally forgotten who we are, images and children of God, and the dignity and destiny to which we are called.  But hope is not lost, for out of the chaos of that first sin comes the first announcement of the good news of salvation:  A savior will be born of a woman who will crush the head of Satan and sin and restore the human family to salvation and grace.

Now let us go to Matthew 26:36-46.  We find Jesus the New Adam in a garden:  the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his Crucifixion.  Here, like Adam, Jesus faces a fundamental choice, although this one is quite different.  Jesus can either obey the Father’s plan of salvation that on the next day he will be beaten, scourged, and be nailed  Cross for three agonizing hours in order to die for all of the sins committed against him for all time.  Or Jesus can preserve his life, disobey the will of the Father and follow his own will and desires.  Not only does Jesus obey the Father, but he completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father three times, which in Scripture always means perfection:  “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.”  Jesus perfectly obeys the Father’s plan to embrace the Cross to save us from our sins.  However, this obedience of Jesus has remarkable consequences.  Through His obedience, not only does Jesus atone for the disobedience of Adam, but He is hung upon the wood of the Cross, the tree of our salvation.  But this is no mere man hung upon a tree but Jesus  is God Himself.  Thus, because he is God the crucified Jesus becomes the New Tree of Life from which Adam and all his descendants had been banned since the first sin.  But what exactly were they banned from?  They were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  If Jesus hung upon the Cross is the New Tree of Life, then what is its fruit?

 

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

 

Thus, the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist, Jesus’ own body and blood, that He gives us to eat and drink so that we can once again have intimate communion with God and eternal life that was lost through the disobedience of Adam.

Consequently, through His perfect obedience, Jesus embraces the Tree of the Cross, which becomes the New Tree of Life and the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist which once again gives eternal life, union with God, and destroys sin and death.  Jesus is the New Adam that reverses the sin of Adam and brings salvation to all humanity.

As we look into our own hearts, we face the same kind of fundamental decision each and every day.  Do we choose to follow the old Adam within our selves, or do we choose to follow Christ and cooperate with his grace in our lives?

Thus, we see in these two passages why the Father’s plan requires that Jesus must be fully God and fully human.  Jesus truly becomes God’s mercy and reconciliation to man and at the same time he becomes man’s obedience and reconciliation to God.  Because Jesus is truly human, His perfect obedience to the Father atones for the disobedience of the first man Adam.  But also because Jesus is God, He has the power to become in himself the New Tree of Life that restores humanity’s communion with God that was lost through Original Sin.  All of salvation history culminates at this moment, bringing out the depth of Christ’s meaning as He hung upon the tree and exclaimed the words, “It is finished!”

The Precious Gift of Conscience

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

     The unfortunate decision of the Department of Health and Human Services to mandate that all health insurance plans include contraception, sterilization, and even some abortion causing drugs is a malicious attack on the freedom of conscience of millions of Catholics and others who hold that these kinds of medical practices, far from being “preventative medicine”, are in fact intrinsically immoral.  This decision to treat fertility and the ability of a man and woman to come together in total lifelong and life-giving love as co-creators with God in the creation of new human life as a preventative disease is another striking example of how the prophetic message of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968 was absolutely right.  He states:

 

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife. (17, emphasis mine)

 

     The Church from her beginning has always stood for the life and dignity of the human person, and the dignity of the sexual union between man and woman as the very foundation of marriage, family, and society itself.  Pope Paul VI made yet another stand in 1968 in the face of the sexual revolution and warned of the dire consequences for human society if the truth about the human person and human sexuality is not upheld and respected.  Now we find ourselves in a day and age when the government mandates that fertility is a preventative disease, when the state, not God, tries to define what a marriage is, and when the largest religious denomination in the United States, Roman Catholics, are no longer protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution to follow their consciences in a matter of grave moral consequence.

    The HHS mandate not only calls all Catholics and people of good will to action, but it also calls us to once again rediscover the truth about conscience and our serious responsibility to form and follow our consciences. 

     Our conscience is at the heart of our human dignity as being created in the image and likeness of God.  It is the voice of God in our souls always calling us to the truth and to fullness of human life.  Conscience is a judgment of reason, enlightened by the Holy Spirit that enjoins us to do what is good, to avoid what is evil, and recognize the divine plan written in our heart.  It judges an action that has taken place, is in the process of being performed, or is going to take place. Each of us has the duty and responsibility to act in accordance with our conscience.  The dignity of the human person demands that each person is always free to act in accordance with their conscience and can never be forced or coerced to do otherwise.  This is a fundamental and God given right of each and every person.  As Vatican II teaches in Dignitatis Humanae:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such ways that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.  The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right. (2)

      While we are always to follow our conscience, our consciences are not just how we “feel” about any particular moral question or teaching of the Church.  It is not just doing whatever we feel is right.  Our consciences are not the source of truth, but a gift of our reason that allows us to conform our minds, hearts, and lives to the truth about God and about the human person that God has revealed to us through Christ and the Church.   Therefore, we have the serious responsibility of also forming our consciences according the truth that God has revealed.  We act in good and true conscience when we both follow our conscience and it is truly formed according to the teachings of Christ and the Church. 

      We act in good conscience when we follow it, but we must always strive to have it well informed.  If we act in good conscience and our conscience is true, then we have made a good moral decision.  Sometimes our conscience is true, but we act against it, or we act in bad conscience.  This is what happens when we sin.

      But there are other times in which we follow our conscience, or act in good conscience but our conscience is in error, and is not formed correctly according to God’s law.  This would be a false conscience.  When we act in good conscience but it is false, that is called erroneous judgment.

      Having a false conscience many times comes from the fact that we simply may not have known something was wrong, or may have misunderstood or were not properly informed of the teachings of the Church.  We may have had ignorance of the moral law.

      This ignorance is invincible when it is not our fault; when we have not deliberately ignored the duty to form our conscience.   However, our ignorance is vincible when we do not take seriously the responsibility of forming our conscience or when we deliberately ignore or dissent against the moral law.  Vincible ignorance is a grave sin and seriously undermines the moral life.   

      Therefore, our conscience must be formed and moral judgment be enlightened.  The education of one’s conscience is the responsibility of all and is a life-long task.  It requires interiority, to enter one’s heart to recognize the voice of the Creator.  The Word of God, authentically found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as authoritatively interpreted and taught by the Magisterium, is the light of our path, and our conscience should always be formed in accordance to God’s revealed law.  One can’t just say “just follow your conscience.”  We have the serious responsibility to see that the conscience that we are following is conformed to the teachings of Christ and the Church.  Many people today have used the excuse of “just follow your conscience” to dissent from various Church teachings.  The result of such a fallacy is to reduce one’s conscience to simply what one feels about a certain doctrine or moral action which then makes each individual’s conscience the source of truth instead of the unchanging law of God.  This false view of conscience has become the source of the moral relativism that is unfortunately prevalent in our modern culture. 

      Consequently, it must be clearly stated that conscience is not the source of truth but rather the witness, in the very depths of our soul, of a truth that is beyond us, that is unchanging and eternal.  Christ has given us the gift of the Catholic Church and the Magisterium to always be that sure light of truth that guides the faithful through the many storms and dark nights that have visited us all throughout human history.  As Blessed Pope John Paul II teaches:

Christians have a great help for the formation of conscience in the Church and her Magisterium. As the Council affirms: “In forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself “.  It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom “from” the truth but always and only freedom “in” the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it.  (Veritatis Splendor, 64)

     Therefore, in light of the HHS mandate, I encourage all Catholics to not only exercise our right and duty to participate in the public square and demand that this mandate be repealed, but to also take some time to rediscover the Church’s wise and unchanging teachings concerning marriage and sexual morality.  There you will discover that the Church is the one institution who is truly defending and promoting the dignity of every woman and man and each of our calling to live a truly human life:  “For I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10) 

Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned: Why Confession?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

 

     Often called our “second baptism”, the sacrament of Penance cleanses us of our sin and restores us to new life in Christ.  It is a great sacrament of healing, one which ought to be approached often and with great confidence and trust, and is truly a fountain of mercy and grace flowing from the heart of Christ himself through the Church.  But many times, the question is asked:  “Why must we confess our sins to a priest?”  This is a great question frequently asked by non-Catholics and even many Catholics.  Let’s explore these reasons more closely. 

     First, it is Christ himself that established the sacrament of Penance and the confession of sin to one who shares the apostolic ministry entrusted to the apostles and their successors. He gave the apostles and their successors the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive or retain sins on the evening of his resurrection (see John 20: 19-23).  Thus, we confess our sins to a priest first and foremost because it is the will of Christ.  But it goes much deeper than that.  As with any sacrament, the priest is ministering in persona Christi which means “in the person of Christ”.  That simply but powerfully means that Christ is really present and working through the priest.  Thus, it is Christ who baptizes, Christ who confirms, and Christ who hears our sins and forgives them.  We are not just telling our sins to a mere man, but to Christ himself who is truly present and working through the priest. 

     The second reason has to do with the nature of sin and the healing that is needed to bring about true penance or reconciliation.  First, when we sin and deliberately choose to disobey God and turn against his goodness, it wounds or in the case of mortal sin severs our relationship with God.  It is we who break the relationship, not God.  God, like with Adam after the first sin, always searches for us and calls us back to himself.  This is what we call the divine dimension of sin.  Sin always affects our relationship with God and either diminishes or destroys the life of grace within us.  Through confessing our sins to the priest, we are confessing our sins to Christ himself who restores us to our relationship to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We come to the foot of the Cross and lay our sins before the Lamb of God who washes them away through the blood that flowed from his side.  That is what really happens when one goes to confession.   

    Secondly, when it comes to sin, there is no such thing as a “private sin.”  Yes, sin can be done privately in that no other person knows about it (but God does), but even a sin that is done in private still hurts and effects others.  Every time we sin, even if it is alone, it affects our ability to love, to be in relationship, and to live in communion with others.  This is certainly true when we commit a sin that directly affects or hurts another, but even sins committed in private, and even our sinful thoughts hurt others indirectly as well.  Sin by its nature isolates and wraps us in ourselves.  Thus, every sin has social consequences, harming and even destroying our relationship with others.  Even more powerfully, as a member of the mystical Body of Christ the Church, sin wounds our communion with the Church and in the case of mortal sins severs our relationship with the Church.  This is called the human dimension of sin.  By confessing our sins to the priest, we are also confessing to the leader and representative of the community and the Church, and therefore our relationship with others and the Church is also reconciled.  Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, both the divine and human dimensions of sin are reconciled and our communion with God and the Church is fully restored.    

     The third reason we confess our sins to a priest has a lot to do with our human nature.  God in his wisdom knows that the confession of our sins brings about a deeper and more complete healing of ourselves.  The more we become isolated the more sin is allowed to fester and become worse.  Sin loves to operate in the dark.  When we keep sin inside ourselves it becomes like a cancer eating at our souls and our humanity.  The best way to defeat sin, like cancer, is to get it out and to bring it into the light of Christ.  The reality is that unless sin is brought into the light and brought out of ourselves, true healing is very difficult.

     This is the beauty of the sacrament of Penance.  It brings about in us a true healing.  When we confess our sins to another, we are required to look the sin squarely in the eye, take ownership and responsibility for it, and admit it to another.  We literally empty ourselves of sin so we may be filled with the grace of Christ.  The Catechism powerfully brings out this aspect of the confession of sins: 

    

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (1455)

  

     This is the most powerful aspect of the sacrament of Penance.  Remember that all the sacraments are visible tangible signs that make present to us in a natural way what God is doing supernaturally.  God is communicating his grace to us in a way that we can really know and experience his love for us.  Penance is an extraordinarily human and tangible experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If we were to only ask God for forgiveness, we would simply have to trust that he has forgiven us.  But through confessing our sins in the sacrament of Penance, we have in a real and fully human way given our sins to Christ, and then we in turn experience and know Christ’s forgiveness in a real, human, and tangible way through the ministry of the priest.  At the end of confession, the priest lays his hand upon us calling down the power of the Holy Spirit, and we hear and know the reality and power of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness through the prayer of the Church:

 

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

     Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, not only are we participating in the sacrament of Penance that Christ established and is working through, but it also fully heals us from the consequences of sin, brings about a more real and complete healing of our human nature, and we also come to know and experience in a real and powerful way God’s love and mercy that pours forth from the heart of Christ.  May we, through this season of Lent, come to a new and deeper appreciation and practice of this powerful sacrament of Christ’s healing, grace, and forgiveness. 

 

Hail, Full of Grace!

Monday, December 5th, 2011

On December 8th, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. However, if you ask people, including many Catholics, what the Immaculate Conception is, there is a good chance that they will tell you that it is the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  In fact, the Immaculate Conception is actually the conception of Mary.  The Immaculate Conception reveals to us that Mary was freed from the stain of original sin at the moment of her conception, and remained free from sin for her entire life.

It was intrinsic to God’s plan of salvation that Mary was created without original sin.  In the Book of Genesis chapter 3, we see how sin first entered the world through our first parents Adam and Eve.  Since Adam and Eve represented all of the human family, when they fell away from God, all of humanity fell away from him.  Original sin was then passed on to their children, and to their children’s children, all throughout human history.  Thus, when we are conceived and come into existence, we are born into a natural separation from God and an inclination toward sin that is called original sin.

However, God’s plan was to have his only Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, assume a human nature so that as both God and man Jesus could accomplish the redemption of the human race.  One problem: God is in complete and total opposition to sin.  Anything sinful cannot even come into God’s presence without being purified.  How then would God the Son be able to intimately join himself with a fallen human nature?  This is where God’s plan for Mary comes in.  God chose her to be conceived without original sin so that she would be able to give Jesus a pure and sinless human nature.

Where do we as Catholics get this teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary?  First, it is in fact revealed implicitly in Scripture as an important part of God’s unfolding plan of salvation.

 

Genesis 3:15:  Let us first go to the book of Genesis where God is announcing for the first time his plan of salvation that will be accomplished through Christ:

 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”  (Gen 3:15)

 

It is important that we determine exactly who God is addressing and talking about.  God is speaking to the serpent and he says that the offspring of the woman will strike at his head.  Who is the only one who will strike at the head of the serpent who is Satan?  Jesus is the one who will come and strike at Satan’s head and destroy his power.  So if the offspring of the woman is Jesus, then the woman must be Mary.

Now God speaks of there being enmity between the serpent and the woman, and the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring.  The offspring of Satan is sin, for it is sin that Satan desires to multiply and fill the earth.  So therefore, there is enmity between Mary/Jesus and Satan/sin.  What exactly does enmity mean?  Enmity means total and complete opposition.  If two things are in enmity with each other, they have nothing at all to do with one another; there is no cooperation or communion between the two whatsoever.  Consequently, both Jesus and Mary are completely opposed to Satan and sin.  They would have no cooperation or communion with Satan and sin whatsoever.  Mary is given the same absolute and perpetual opposition to Satan and sin as Jesus.

Therefore, it is necessary that Mary would not have a fallen nature, since any participation is original sin or actual sin would destroy the enmity with Satan and sin.   Thus, we see in the very first announcement of God’s plan of salvation his plan of Mary being totally free from sin so that Jesus would be able to assume a pure human nature.

 

Luke 1:28:  We see an even more explicit reference to the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Luke’s Gospel at the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce God’s plan of having her be the Mother of Jesus.  The Angel Gabriel’s greeting of Mary reveals her immaculate state.  His greeting properly translated is, “Hail, you who have been filled with grace.”  The Greek word kekaritomene is a perfect participle “have been filled.”   Mary has already been filled with God’s grace, for grace has already been infused into her at the moment of her conception.

Also notice that Mary is filled with grace.  Anytime we sin, even the smallest sin, we lose at least some of God’s grace.  That is the nature of sin.  Sin is a choice we make that rejects the grace he offers to us, which is his very life and love.  If Mary is filled with grace, then she would have been completely free from sin, as any sin, even the tiniest, would have caused her to be deprived of at least some grace.

Not only do we see the Immaculate Conception in Sacred Scripture, but it has also been constantly and clearly taught throughout Sacred Tradition from the earliest times of the Church:

 

St. Ambrose (d. 379): Mary is “free from all stain of sin.”

 

St. Severus, Bishop of Antioch (d. 538):  “She (Mary) formed part of the human race, and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate…”

 

St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 638):  “You (Mary) have found the grace which no one has received…No one has been pre-purified besides you.”

 

These are only a small sample of teachings that clearly show that the Immaculate Conception was a part of the Church’s belief from the very beginning.

Finally in 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly proclaims the Immaculate Conception as a part of Divine Revelation and a dogma of the Church to be definitively held by all the faithful:

 

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine that holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the instant of her conception, was preserved immune from all stain of sin, by a singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was revealed by God and must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”

 

How exactly, then, did God preserve Mary from original sin?  Mary needed Christ to redeem her just as much as we all do.  She was redeemed by her Son’s death on the cross, just like all of us.  But how could Mary have been redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross before Jesus was even born?

It is because God is eternal and transcendent, and therefore, he is not bound by either space or time.  Because he is outside of space and time, God sees all of time past, present, and future, right now.  It is like looking at a very long train from a helicopter.  The engines are creation, the caboose is the end of the world, and we are somewhere in between the two.  God is able to operate outside of time.  Therefore, he took the graces and merits of Jesus’ death on the cross and applied them backwards in time to the moment of Mary’s conception.  Thus, Mary was redeemed by Christ as we all are, but through a “singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God” she was not only redeemed but also completely preserved from original sin.

Even though Mary was preserved from original sin at the moment of her conception, she could have still chosen to sin because as a human being she had free will.  She could have said “no” to the Father at the Annunciation.  She could have also said “no” to the Father at the foot of the cross, where she surrendered her Son, and fallen into despair and cursed God.  However, Mary perfectly cooperated and surrendered herself to the great gift of grace that God had given her and lived the most extraordinary Christian life.  That is why Mary is the Model of Faith and the Model of the Church.  We are all called to cooperate with whatever graces God chooses to give us so that we humbly and lovingly walk whatever path he chooses to give to us.

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary continue to inspire us on our journey of faith, especially during this season of Advent, that we may surrender ourselves fully to God through the “obedience of faith” and become Christ’s instruments of hope and love.

Peter the Rock

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

     On June 29th, we celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in which we honor and recognize these two great apostles as the pillars of the Church and great defenders of the truth of Christ.   This feast gives us an opportune time to now reflect upon the role and mission of St. Peter as the head of Christ’s Church, and the profound authority that was given to him by Christ himself that is also handed on to his successors, the Pope, until the end of time.  In a world and culture marred by the great errors of moral relativism and the denial of objective truth, the Papacy, in the role of the successor of St. Peter, stands as the one and true defender of all truth as revealed by Jesus Christ. 

    While all the apostles were given the authority and the mission by Christ to teach, govern, and minister in his name, Peter was set apart and given a unique role by Christ that emphasized his teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and other disciples.  This is seen most profoundly in Matthew 16:

 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:13-19)

 

      In this very powerful scene, Jesus is asking the apostles who others think he is, but in reality, he is asking them who they think he is.  While the other apostles give many different answers, Peter is the one who sees the real identity of Christ as the Messiah and responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus responds, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”  Jesus is revealing a profound truth.  Peter has been given a unique gift, or charism, by the Father to know and teach the truth, and his knowledge of Jesus’ identity is a result of this special gift.  Jesus recognizes this gift and special role of Peter and bestows on him a unique teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and the entire Church.

      Therefore, Jesus changes Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means “Rock” (Greek petros).  This is packed with meaning as the changing of one’s name in the Scriptures means a new identity, mission, and calling.  For example, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham when he responded to God’s invitation of faith, and he became the father of all of God’s people.  In the same way here, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter to show his new identity and mission as the “rock” and head of the Church.

      Jesus calls Peter “rock,” and it is upon “this rock” that Jesus will build his Church.  Why does Jesus build his Church upon Peter?  It is fundamentally in response to Peter already exercising his teaching authority given to him by the Father.  He has received a gift of wisdom to know the truth about Christ, and also a teaching charism to proclaim it with clarity and without error. 

      No mere human revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah.  He had not yet told Peter that he was the Messiah, and many were still seriously grappling with exactly who Jesus was.  But Peter was given the gift to know the truth, and he faithfully proclaimed it to the apostles.  He will be the one who will lead, teach, and strengthen the apostles and the other followers after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. 

      Recognizing Peter’s gift of teaching the truth, Jesus then grants him a unique and profound authority:  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Jesus entrusts to Peter the keys to the Church!  What does this mean?  In Jesus’ time, when the master was going to leave his estate for a time, he would entrust to his head servant the keys to the estate.  This servant, who possessed the keys, was entrusted with the full authority of his master while he was away.  Thus, the servant does not replace the master, but possesses his authority in his absence.  Peter becomes the “Vicar” of Christ, that is, he has been given the full authority of the Master over his Church until he comes again.  However, with this authority comes great responsibility.  The servant who is given the keys of the master is expected to take care of and run the estate in the way the master desires.  In the same way, Peter’s authority is one of service and obedience to the will and teachings of Christ.  It is the sole responsibility of Peter and his successors to authoritatively and faithfully teach and hand on what Christ has taught and willed.

     This same teaching charism given by the Father and profound authority bestowed upon Peter by Christ himself is also handed on to each and every successor of Peter in the person of the Pope.  By virtue of his office, the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit to teach and proclaim the truth as it pertains to faith and morals without error.  Thus, it is through the Pope as the visible head of the Church that the sacred Deposit of Faith entrusted by Christ to the Church has remained preserved, intact, and handed on without error for over 2,000 years. 

     The gift of the Papacy has been especially evident in recent history through the great Popes of the 20th century, especially as exemplified in our late Holy Father Blessed Pope John Paul II and continued today through the great leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.  In these times of great moral confusion, and when the basic foundations of the truths of Christianity are being challenged by an increasingly secular culture, it is the Pope as the successor of St. Peter that continues to steer and guide the Church towards the truth of Christ so that the promise of Christ will be fulfilled:  “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will never prevail against it.”  

Got Jesus?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is the day in which the universal Church celebrates with great joy and thanksgiving the gift of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, in which he is truly and really with us until the end of time.  We recall the words of Jesus himself in the Gospel of John:  “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  (John 6:55-56)  This teaching was and has been a hard teaching for many.  The truth of these words is especially evident when many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him after he spoke them.  Jesus does not apologize or give a further explanation for his teaching but instead he turns to the twelve apostles and says, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter replies with the great his great words of faith, “Master, to whom shall we go, for you have the words of everlasting life.”  (Jn 6:68)

     One of the major stumbling blocks concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for some Catholics and non-Catholics alike is that it seems so impossible that Christ could be really and substantially present in the Eucharist when it looks, tastes, smells, and feels like bread and wine.  It is a mystery and it goes against what our senses are telling us.  Our senses perceive what appears to be bread and wine, when in fact, through the power and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the substance itself has been changed from bread and wine into Christ himself.  This doctrine of transubstantiation literally means “change of substance.”  This is relatively simple miracle for us to comprehend, much more so than the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation or the Resurrection of Christ.  Let’s look at how all this happens.

     To better understand this doctrine, we need to do just a little philosophy.   We need to delve into some metaphysics, or the study of being.  Now, everything that exists has what we call its substance and its accidents, or properties.  For example, if I have an apple, the substance put quite simply, is what it is objectively apart from it’s individual characteristics: an apple or its “appleness.”  Now, the accidents or properties of the apple are things like size, shape, taste, color, texture, etc.  So, if I am holding an apple, the substance is an apple and the accidents would be red, round, sweet, crunchy, smooth, etc.  Now, could it be possible to change the accidents of a substance, but the substance remains the same?  Sure.  Let’s say I put the apple in a blender.  What happens?  The accidents change, but the substance remains the same.  It is still an apple, but now it is liquid, yellow, etc.  Let’s take another example.  How about water?  Here is a substance that remains the same while the accidents change quite drastically.  It can be a liquid, solid or gas, but regardless it remains water. 

     Now that we have a better understanding of substance and accidents, we can better comprehend that what God does in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of the accidents changing in the bread, it is the substance which changes.  When the priest says the words of Jesus, “this is my body” over the bread, the Holy Spirit suspends, or keeps the same, the accidents and appearance of bread, but changes the substance from bread to Christ himself.  The very substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, though the accidents remain those of bread.  Therefore, though we see the accidents of bread and wine, the reality of the substance is truly the Son of God who chooses such a humble means to present himself to us and come in our hearts to dwell.  Not a hard miracle for God to perform, but it really throws our minds for a loop!

     Now we need to do some epistemology, or the study of knowledge.  How do we come to know things?  Our intellect or mind is part of our soul, but it interacts with the physical world through the information from our senses to come to know things.  Our mind relies on our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to know and understand the physical world.  Our senses, however, only perceive the accidents of a substance.  When my mind perceives furry, small, four legs, and bark, it knows the object as “dog.”  Our minds completely rely on the accidents of a substance to know what it is.

     However, in the Eucharist, God has changed the substance of bread and wine into Jesus, but has kept all the accidents of bread and wine the same.  Thus, our senses are still telling our mind that the Eucharist is bread and wine, which is all that our senses can perceive.  This is where we must make that intellectual and spiritual “leap of faith.”  Christ has revealed, both through his own words and through the teaching of the Church, that He is truly present in the Eucharist.  So while our senses are screaming to our intellect that what we hold in our hands is ordinary bread, our faith tells us that God has changed the substance to Christ himself!  St. Thomas Aquinas writes a beautiful depiction of this mystery in a much loved traditional hymn of the Church, the Tantum Ergo:

Down in adoration falling,
This great sacrament we hail.
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

 

Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the fullness of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they burst out of the upper room and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This feast is one of the most important events in salvation history for two reasons.  First, Pentecost fully reveals the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The strong driving wind and the tongues of fire that fell upon the apostles are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son poured forth transforming the apostles and empowering them to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth thus fulfilling the words of Christ:  “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     The coming of the Holy Spirit also institutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all four of these marks of the Church are present at Pentecost.  When you carefully read the Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke makes it very clear that this is not just an individual experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit by the apostles and other disciples, but is in fact above all an ecclesial event.

     First, St. Luke makes it clear that all the nations of the ancient world are present in Jerusalem, and, in fact, if you had a map of the ancient world at the time, Luke mentions almost all of the major regions and cities that encompassed the entire world at this time.  And yet, each person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is able to hear the Gospel of Christ preached in his own language.   What is happening here?  St. Luke is making strikingly clear that the same humanity that was scattered in the Book of Genesis at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) is now being intimately united in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  A humanity that was once scattered and divided in sin is now, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, newly created as the Body of Christ, the Church.  Thus, we see that this gathering of the human family at Pentecost is the Church that is both one and Catholic, or universal.  In other words, the Holy Spirit brings about the Church that is intimately united in the Spirit and also knows no boundaries, for the Church is open to every person of every race, language and culture. 

    Secondly, we also see that this Church is holy, first and foremost because it is filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also see that those who are joined to the Church are joined to her by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism through which they die to their old sinful selves and become a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit sent by Christ not only inaugurates the presence and mission of the Church, but that same Spirit makes the Church holy.

     Thirdly, we also see in the Pentecost event that the Church is Apostolic in that it is Peter and the other eleven apostles that are charged with handing on the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to them by Christ.  This is the profound beauty of the Church, that Christ instituted the Church upon the Rock of Peter and the other apostles, and then filled them with a unique charism of the Holy Spirit to hand on, protect, and interpret the Deposit of Faith to each generation.  This handing on of the faith beginning at Pentecost and continuing to this present day in the successors of the apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, is guided, protected, and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Two years ago, I had the awesome privilege of visiting Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter.  Above the altar at the very front of St. Peter’s is the famous stained glass window of the Holy Spirit pouring down from heaven over the Chair of St. Peter.  This was one of the most moving experiences as I truly sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as he guides and protects the Church throughout the centuries.  It is this presence of the Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost that inaugurated the mission of the Church that has also protected and kept the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alive and well as the instrument of salvation in the world for over 2,000 years. 

     As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us not only give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but for the great gift of the Catholic Church that is truly the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

The Advent of Christmas

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The reason we celebrate Christmas at all should be obvious: The birth of Christ in the “fullness of time” is the most significant event in human history. Despite secularist efforts to change how we reckon time, even our calendar is divided by what occurred “Before Christ” and After Christ, “in the year of the Lord” (anno Domini, or A.D.).

But why December 25th? And when did the Church work this into her own liturgical calendar? After all, the Bible is far from clear on the point. [more]

The conventional explanation is that December 25th was chosen by the Church as a means of “baptizing” the pagan worship in ancient Rome and thereby evangelize the culture. It is true that on December 25, 274 A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelian declared the sun god the principal patron of the empire. This gave rise to the feast of Sol Invictus, or the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. The celebration took place on the Winter Solstice in late December, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, which of course would be a fitting date to celebrate the birth of the sun.

And so the common view is that the Church adopted this date to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the fourth century. Christians of all generations have understood Christ to be the “light of the world,” the “Sun of Justice,” and “morning star,” so selecting this date would be in essence a counterpoint to paganism. If that in fact is the case, that doesn’t render Christmas a “pagan feast.” But rather than pursue that line of discussion, the more interesting question to me is whether in fact this is really how it all came about.

There is evidence that the early Church was interested in the date of Jesus’ birth quite apart from pagan feasts. There was a widespread belief among Jews of Jesus’ day that great prophets were born or conceived on the same day on which they died. This belief carried over into the early Church.

There were two competing dates in the early Church as to when Jesus actually died on the Cross. The Jewish calendar date of 14 Nisan translates to April 6th in the Greek solar calendar and March 25th on the Roman calendar.  Early on, the second date won out, and the feast of the Annunciation–which marks the date of Jesus’ conception by the power of the Holy Spirit–was established on March 25th. Yet we still see the effects of the two separate traditions.

The East celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6th, the West chose December 25th, which as noted above are nine months after the calculated date of the Passion of Jesus and thus the date of His conception. Eventually East-West cross-pollination brought us December 25th as Christmas and January 6th as the Feast of the Epiphany, or “Three Kings.”

The belief of the early Church that Jesus was conceived the same day He suffered may well have played a key role in dating the Nativity on December 25th. The idea is best attested in the Church in North Africa where Tertullian asserted that Jesus’ conception took place on March 25th. The idea is echoed a century later in an anonymous North African treatise called On Solstices and Equinoxes, where March 25th is again put forth as the day the Lord was conceived.

In De Trinitate, no less an authority than St. Augustine wrote, “Jesus is believed to have been conceived on March 25th, upon which day he also suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried . . . but he was born according to tradition, on December 25th.”

This treatise by Augustine can be dated to about 400 A.D. But it is unlikely that Augustine believed this “tradition” of December 25th to have been established in his own lifetime. In other writings of his against the Donatists, he mentions that they remained attached to Christmas festivals on December 25th while they rejected January 6th as an innovation. Since the Donatists were the fierce “ultra-traditionalists” of their day who came about as a result of the Diocletian persecutions of around 312, it is likely that the December 25th date was well established by then. If this is true, the date of Christmas did not arise in response to paganism.

Other factors support this theory as well. Aurelian’s establishment of the birth of the sun feast at the Winter Solstice was a type a pan pagan revival to unify the various cults around a common holiday and thus shore up divisions and decay within the empire. Of the various cults then in existence many, such as Persian-based Mithraism, had a devotion to the sun. None, however, had any record of a feast associated with the Winter Solstice. This feast appears to be an innovation of Aurelian himself and it is not unthinkable that he adopted it to co-opt Christmas (can anyone say “Kwanzaa”?), even though there are no explicit records of Christmas being celebrated as a liturgical feast in 270 A.D.

While this point merits further research, in the first centuries of her history the Church was not in the habit of “baptizing” pagan customs. Rather, the pastoral priority was to draw a sharp division between paganism and Christianity, as the latter was a persecuted minority religion that could only survive by jealously guarding its identity. The pattern of “baptizing” pagan practices did not generally arise until after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire later in the fourth century.

And of course, a source no less than St. John Chrysostom (347-407) advanced the date of December 25th based on elaborate calcuations stemming from Zechariah’s priestly service in the Temple as described in Luke 1.

But I guess regardless of how the feast eventually ended up on December 25th, whether on biblical or historical calculations, because of the Winter Solstice or to co-opt a pagan feast, the key is that all Christians, from very early times, have known full well what–or Whom–we celebrate on Christmas. May we remain focused on Him as we prepare yet again for His coming into the world.

This article, in edited form, originally appeared on the CUF Blog in 2007.

The Gift of Faith

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I recently received this question via email: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

I think this is a most timely topic to consider, especially with Christmas just around the corner. (I actually heard Christmas music while driving home from Fargo yesterday!) What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others” comments and insights on this subject.

“If we mean by ‘faith’ an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

“And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

“While I cannot pretend to know ‘God’s thoughts’ on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways, I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

“First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

“Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation to all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him. In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents is useful. As Catholics we have been given 10 talents, so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if he or she fruitfully uses whatever talents they were given.

“How God works with those who do not have faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our ‘10 talents’ well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.”