What Was Moses’ Sin?
Q. What was Moses’ sin on the occasion of his striking the rock to bring forth water at Meribah (see Nm 20:7-13)?
Tom Nix Jr., Oklahoma City, Okla.
A. You will recall that the Israelites desperately needed water. They complained to Moses for having led them into the dry wilderness. Moses and Aaron appealed to God in their distress.
God told them to call the people together “and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters. From the rock you shall bring forth water for the community and their livestock to drink” (Nm 20:8). Notice how Moses carried out God’s command. He spoke to the people in anger: “‘Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?’” (v. 10). It was also sarcastic. Evidently, Moses did not believe that God would work the miracle promised. That was Moses’ sin, as the next verse makes clear. “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you were not faithful to me in showing forth my sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead this community into the land I will give them’” (v. 12).
In Deuteronomy 1:19-38, in the first of three long addresses to the people, Moses stated still another reason he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. He reminded the people they had asked him to send scouts into the Promised Land to check it. He did so, and the scouts returned with an optimistic report. But the people refused to enter a campaign into Canaan.
“When the Lord heard your words, he was angry; and he swore, ‘Not one man of this evil generation shall look upon the good land I swore to give to your fathers’” (Dt 1:34-35). Evidently, because Moses did not compel the people to carry out God’s command, he fell under the same punishment. “The Lord was angered against me also on your account, and said, ‘Not even you shall enter there, but your aide Joshua, son of Nun, shall enter. Encourage him, for he is to give Israel its heritage’” (vv. 37-38).
Is It Idolatry?
Q. The Second Commandment forbids us to bow down before any graven image, any likeness of anything on earth. The Catholic Church has many icons and statues, often with kneelers in front of them. This seems to be inconsistent with the Second Commandment. We pray before these icons and statues, and to them. We venerate them and ask for intercession (Mary, the saints, etc.). To me this seems like “worship.”
Bill Sharp, via email
A. In Catholic Bibles, what you refer to as “the Second Commandment” is part of the First Commandment, not separate from it. (See the next question and answer.) Properly to understand the Church’s veneration of the saints, one must keep in mind the distinctions the Church makes in this regard. The cultus latria, worship, is directed to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To the Blessed Virgin we offer hyperdulia. “Hyper” means “greatly exceeding the norm” and “dulia” means service. To the angels and the saints we offer cultus dulia. We commonly speak of “praying to the saints,” but this can be misleading. We pray only “to” God, because only God can answer prayer. Strictly speaking, we do not pray “to” the saints. We ask the saints to help us pray, to intercede for us, to add their prayers to ours.
About those Commandments…
Q. Why is there a difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles in the numbering of the Ten Commandments? Catholic Bibles combine the First and Second Commandments given in Protestant Bibles. Furthermore, Catholic Bibles divide into two commandments what is contained in the Tenth Commandment given in Protestant Bibles.
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. First let me give the answer to this question that I was taught in a Protestant seminary. My professors assured me that Catholics do worship “graven images” in their “saint-worship,” especially their “worship” of the Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church, said my mentors, tries to gloss over this fact. It buries in the First Commandment the Second Commandment’s condemnation of worshipping graven images.
That’s not all the Church does, said her accusers, in the effort to change the Word of God. Combining the First and Second Commandments leaves Catholics one short of the list of Ten Commandments. So what does the Church do? It takes the Tenth Commandment (as found in Protestant Bibles) and splits it in two. As an ardent Protestant I was appropriately shocked.
Now for the facts. The “First” and “Second” Commandments in Protestant Bibles have the same theme: the condemnation of idolatry, of false worship. The so-called Second Commandment only expands on what is contained in the First Commandment. They belong together. The Church splits the Protestant Tenth Commandment in two because they are different commandments. The Ninth Commandment in Catholic Bibles warns us against lust. The Tenth covers covetousness in general.
Q. Why did the Church get rid of Communion rails? Will they ever come back? Someone told me that they might be reinstalled in some churches.
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. The Church herself had nothing to do with the removal of Communion rails. After the Second Vatican Council, it became a fad among most liturgists to “simplify” the interior of our churches. They decided Communion rails must go, and most were destroyed. The destruction of beautiful church interiors became almost a resurgence of the ancient heresy of iconoclasm. But the tide is turning. Yes, in some instances Communion rails are being restored. In some new churches you will find Communion rails. I believe this trend will continue.
Holy Spirit in the Bible
Q. I hear from time to time that there are no teachings about the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Could you tell me if that is true? Is the Holy Spirit found in the Bible?
Name withheld by request, via email
A. You have been grossly misinformed. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) informs us the books of the Old and New Testament have been “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (No. 11). The Holy Spirit shines through every page of the New Testament. Space does not permit citing all the New Testament passages dealing with the Holy Spirit. Here is a listing of Gospel passages you should consult: Matthew 1:18-20; 4:1; 10:20; 12:20; 28:19. Mark 1:8; 1:12; 12:36; 13:1. Luke 1:15; 1:35; 1:41; 1:67; 2:25; 2:29; 4:1; 4:14; 10:21; 11:13. John 1:32; 3:5; 7:39; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13. In the remaining books of the New Testament the Holy Spirit figures most prominently.
Q. In John 17:20, Jesus says, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” What “word” is Jesus talking about?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. The “them” and “their” in the verse you quote refer to the apostles for whom Jesus was praying. The meaning of the “word” comes out clearly in Acts 6. There, you’ll recall, we read about the disagreement in the early Christian community regarding the distribution of food. The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jewish Christians) claimed their widows were being shortchanged by the Hebrews (Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians).
To settle this dispute, the apostles called a meeting of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table” (Acts 6:2). The apostles told the community to choose seven men to carry out the distribution of food. The names of the men chosen indicate they were all Hellenists. This was a wise choice, forestalling any future criticism by the Hellenists.
The apostles said, “We shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v. 4). The latter phrase refers to proclaiming the Gospel, making available all the means of grace, administering the affairs of the Church. This is the ministry Jesus had in mind when he spoke of “their word.”
Who Is the Woman?
Q. We read in Genesis that God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman. . . . He will strike at your head” (3:15). I read that the serpent was Satan and that the woman was not Mary, but the Church. Is there any reason to believe it is the Church? Or is it Mary?
Name withheld by request, via email
A. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the ‘new Eve’” (No. 411). Recent magisterial pronouncements speak of the “woman” as symbol or anticipation of the Blessed Virgin — for example, Pope Pius XI, in his definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854); Pope Pius XII, in his definition of the dogma of the Assumption (1950); Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1987).
It was not customary for a Jewish son to call his mother by the title “woman.” Twice Jesus used this term for His mother: at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (see Jn 2:4); and when on the Cross, when Jesus gave care of His mother to St. John (Jn 19:26-27). The “great sign” in Revelation 12:1, the “woman clothed with the sun,” is another reflection of the significant role of the “woman” in salvation history, beginning with the proto-evangel in Genesis 3:15. One commentator stresses the connection between the “woman” of Genesis 3:15 and the “woman” of Revelation 12. He sees the two books containing these passages, therefore, as “bookends” for the whole of God’s plan of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
Exegesis for Matthew 24?
Q. Could you refer me to a thorough and orthodox exegesis of Matthew 24? This would hopefully include an insightful examination of Matthew 24:29. Many thanks.
Paul A. Forster, Clinton, Md.
A. The discussion of the Gospel of Matthew in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is very helpful. The Old Testament prophets had depicted chaos in the heavens as symbolic of what would happen to certain pagan kingdoms. Matthew 24:29 quotes Jesus speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (which took place 40 years later) in terms of cosmic catastrophes.
It is a passage troublesome for many. There Jesus declares that no one, not even himself, knows the day and hour for the Second Coming. His claiming ignorance of the day is an overstatement (hyperbole). Like the rabbis of His time, Jesus often used hyperbole in His teaching. (Note Matthew 5:34; 23:9; Luke 14:26.)
The three Divine Persons share everything, certainly their common knowledge. But Jesus makes it plain that the date of the Second Coming is not part of what the Father sent Him to reveal. As He told His apostles immediately before His ascension, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Repeatedly, Our Lord called on all of us to be vigilant, to be prepared, to be watchful. Imagine what might happen if He had told us the exact date for the ending of the world. That knowledge could divert us from loyalty to Him and focus our hearts and minds on the end of things. If it were far in the future, we would be tempted to be complacent. If it were a near date, we would be tempted to think about nothing else.
Dealing with Homosexuality
Q. Is there a recommended resource — book(s) or author(s) — for dealing with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality in layman’s terms. My closest friend is wrestling with demons in her struggle toward God, and one of the strongest is the death by suicide of her close childhood friend who was a lesbian. She has grave reservations about the doctrines concerning these things, and I need to be more fluent in them to help her. It is simply not enough to say to someone carrying such grief and anger that it is “just wrong and disordered to live that way.”
James Walden, via email
A. One basic resource is Persona Humana, a 1975 declaration on sexual ethics by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the context of an invaluable summary of Catholic teaching about sexuality, section 8 focuses on homosexuality. Another resource is, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see Nos. 2357-59). Here we read that same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered,” but the Church does not teach that the attraction itself is sinful. It becomes sinful when persons yield to it in sexual relations. Then it falls under the general condemnation of all sexual relations outside the bond of matrimony.
True to the spirit of her founder, in the Catechism the Church reflects a deeply compassionate attitude. Speaking of persons with same-sex attraction, the Catechism notes that “this inclination … constitutes for most of them a trial” (No. 2358). Same-sex relations may give temporary relief, but in them persons can never find the fulfillment for which they were created. And so, for many, the inclination becomes obsessive, even compulsive.
Then comes the Catechism’s call for true Christian attitude and actions toward persons so inclined. “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (No. 2358).
In all of this we must use language with care. Persons must not be identified either with, or by, their sexual orientation. This applies to all persons. Strictly speaking, there is no such being as a “homosexual” or a “lesbian.” Rather, there are persons who, for whatever reason, are oriented toward same-sex attraction — persons, that is, created in the image and likeness of God.
First and foremost, we must offer to persons of same-sex attraction a witness to Christ who is their Savior. Our witness, like all true witness, must be articulated. But it must also be expressed in our loving outreach to the persons we seek to bring to Christ.
Pray for the Spirit to guide you in helping your friend to offer her grief and anger to Christ, so that He can heal her.
Q. The Church teaches us that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With this in mind, do non-Christians adore Jesus when they pray to God, although inadvertently? And, would this inadvertent prayer still be pleasing to God?
Don Merrion, Littleton, Colo.
A: Paul’s Letter to the Romans assures us that God has left no one without some knowledge of himself. “For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (1:19-20).
Though all non-Christian religions contain error, they also have elements of God’s truth. Wherever God reveals His truth to any degree, He always reveals through His Son. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:27).
Whenever a non-Christian prays to God, whatever of truth he knows and whatever of true love for God he reveals, that person is in fact praying through the Jesus Christ he does not know. Whatever of God’s truth is in that person’s mind and attitude must be pleasing to God.
The Church teaches that persons who truly love and serve God as best they can know Him can be saved. But they are saved by the truth they profess, not the error which their religions have imparted to them.
That truth comes to them through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore the Church has to proclaim that, ultimately, no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ.
Burying St. Joseph?
Q. I am appalled that church gift shops and Catholic religious catalogs sell St. Joseph home-seller’s kits. It includes a statue, prayer card and booklet describing St. Joseph. It is claimed that burying his statue upside down aids in selling your home. Many blogging on Google.com under “St. Joseph statue” claim this action works. Are we so desperate that we will do anything to get what we want? We lower ourselves even to the point of being superstitious.
Tom Vormwald, Sun City Center, Fla.
A. One of my friends has sold a home, even before it went on the market, under unusually beneficial circumstances after burying a statue of St. Joseph on his property. Another friend bought a home previously not for sale after still another friend buried a St. Joseph statue on the property. Both families had special devotion to St. Joseph. I have just learned that a local Catholic bookstore stocks the seller’s kits you describe. Knowing the faith of these two friends’ families, I do not believe they were superstitious in using this method of invoking the prayers of St. Joseph. Beyond that, I have no opinion to offer about this practice. TCA