Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annulments Required for Non-Catholics?
Q. Some time ago, my daughter married a Protestant in a Catholic ceremony. Two years afterward they divorced. Later she happily married another Protestant, at a Methodist church, who had been previously married. Now, twelve years later, she sincerely desires full communion with the Catholic Church and has submitted the paperwork for an annulment of her first marriage.
The priest told her that her present husband would also have to apply for an annulment of his previous marriage. He refuses to submit to the law of the Church. The more she pleads with him, the more anti-Catholic he becomes. Her leaving his bed in order to avoid sin has made him even worse.
She fears he will leave her over this, which would break her heart, not to mention the effect on the children. My advice to her is to pray, pray, pray. My question is this: Do you agree that the law of the Church requires him to get an annulment, even though he is not a Catholic? Can you give her any advice on this matter?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Yes, the law of the Church requires him to get an annulment, even though he is not a Catholic. Unfortunately, this is a messy but common situation. Let’s thank God that your daughter wants to get things straightened out.
The reason your daughter’s present husband needs to seek an annulment of his previous marriage is that all marriages — Catholic or not — are presumed to be valid. The competent Church tribunal needs to review the facts of his first marriage to determine whether it was valid. If that’s the case, he is not free to marry again until his first wife passes away. The same applies to your daughter.
I am assuming there are no children from his or her first marriage, and that the children they now have are from this second marriage. If that is the case, they have a duty of justice to stay together for the sake of the children.
This is a “Catch-22” situation — fairly common, unfortunately — which she has brought upon herself, and now it will take time to resolve: She cannot receive the sacraments because she lives with a man who is not her husband. Yet it would also be immoral to abandon this man and leave their children without a father or a mother.
I would suggest that she go ahead to seek annulment of her first marriage. Then she must wait and prays that her man comes around and seeks the annulment of his own marriage. In the meantime, though she cannot receive sacramental absolution — much less Communion — God knows her heart and will lead her home with His mercy.
Special Years on the Church Calendar?
Q. I have been trying to find the name of the last few years. For example, this year beginning in June is “The Year of St. Paul.” I am trying to find out what past years have been called and the dates. Can you help me get this information?
S. R., via email
A. Not every year has a special designation on the Church calendar. From time to time the Holy Father will designate a particular year as special in some way, usually to highlight some aspect of Catholic faith. Though the special year may follow the secular calendar year (that is, January 1 through December 31), more often it does not.
The Year of the Eucharist, for example, was convoked by the late Pope John Paul II. It did not coincide with the year 2005, but actually began with the World Eucharistic Congress in October 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and concluded in October 2005 with the Synod of Bishops held in Rome, whose theme was “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.”
October 2003 through October 2004 was declared by Pope John Paul II as the “Year of the Rosary.” Other examples of traditional yearlong observances include Jubilee years and Marian years. The year 2000, for example, was a Jubilee Year. More common are Marian Years, observed in honor of Our Lady. The most recent Marian years were observed in 1953/54 and 1987/88.
We should note as well that national synods of bishops may also designate special years for the faithful under their jurisdiction. For example, the bishops of the Philippines declared a National Marian Year for their country, which began in August of 2004 and concludes in December 2005.
Despite such occasional observances, however, most years don't have a “theme” declared by the universal Church. Nevertheless, as you note, we are now in the midst of the “Year of St. Paul,” which runs from June 28, 2008, through June 29, 2009. For lots more information about that, you might want to check out OSV’s wonderful “Year of St. Paul” special web section (click here). For more about the history of the Church’s occasional Jubilee years, click here.
St. Joseph, Real Estate Agent?
Q. We need to sell our home. A Catholic friend has suggested we bury a statue of St. Joseph in the yard upside down, because “it works!” Is this legitimate, or just a superstition?
R. R., Orlando, Fla.
A. St. Joseph is of course the patron saint of the home, so that probably explains the origins of this custom. Some folks view it as a form of superstition, and some folks sure seem to perform the act in a superstitious way, as if it works magically. But that’s the case with many Catholic devotions, even ones that are clearly endorsed by the Church.
I think it all depends on how you approach the matter. If you are tempted to think the statue is “magical,” guaranteed to “work,” then I’d say don’t do it. Just ask St. Joseph to help you.
On the other hand, if you are seeking the saint’s intercession; if you view this act as what I would call a kind of “concrete prayer” — that is, a meaningful action that symbolizes and embodies a petition made in faith; and if you recognize that the prayer may not be answered in the way you hope for; then I don’t see any problem with burying the statue.
Once the prayer has been answered, I’d encourage you then to follow up by excavating the statue, cleaning it up and placing it in a prominent place in your new home, to remind you to be grateful for St. Joseph’s assistance.
I would take the same approach, for example, to placing a coin under a statue of the Holy Infant of Prague to ask Our Lord for financial provision.
Full disclosure: Our house is currently on the market, and we do in fact have a statue of St. Joseph buried in the front yard (though not upside down — that condition somehow strikes me as irreverent, though this may simply be because I don’t grasp its symbolic significance). We’ve practiced this custom when selling homes in the past, and St. Joseph has always been faithful to help us in answer to this “concrete prayer.”
We’ll say a prayer for the sale of your home; please do the same for us. It’s a tough market out there right now, so we need all the prayers we can get!
Prayers for the Dead?
Q. Why do Catholics pray for the dead?
H.G., via email
A. For many centuries, praying for the dead has seemed to Catholics as natural as breathing. If we pray for loved ones while they are still on earth, why not continue to pray for them after they die?
Nevertheless, most Protestant Christians don’t pray for the faithful departed. They believe that immediately after death, you go directly to heaven or to hell. If you’re in heaven, they conclude, you have no need of prayers. If you’re in hell, prayers will do you no good.
Disturbingly, the latter view seems to be assumed these days by more and more Catholics. As evidence, witness the remarks at the typical Catholic funeral. Homilists and others often speak confidently of the deceased as if they were assuredly already in heaven — as if there were nothing left to do but to “celebrate the life” that is now finished.
The intention is no doubt pastoral; imagining a loved one resting perfectly in peace can be comforting. Yet to speak this way of the faithful departed may be doing them a terrible disservice.
It fails to recall their need for our intercession. It robs the bereaved of any sense of urgency to keep the beloved dead in their prayers. In short, it’s a subtle denial of the reality of purgatory.
What exactly is purgatory? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification” (nos. 1030-1031).
Before the dead in Christ can go to heaven, then, they must be purified. And our prayers can help them in that process.
Sacred Scripture and Tradition repeatedly affirm that God’s ultimate intention is for us to become perfect, as He is perfect (see Mt 5:48). Why? Because God wants us to live forever in friendship with Him, and He himself is completely holy — without sin or weakness of any kind. To see God face-to-face in heaven, and to know, love and enjoy Him there fully forever, we must be like Him (see Heb 12:14; 1 Jn 3:2-3).
In fact, heaven simply wouldn’t be heaven unless those who lived there had been perfected. If we were to bring along with us all the sins and weaknesses we have in this life, heaven would be just as full of troubles as our life on earth — troubles that would last for eternity.
Didn’t Christ die to forgive us our sins and save us? Yes! But even those who have escaped, through His infinite merits, the penalty of hell — an eternity without God — find that sin has countless other consequences.
It disorders our souls. It injures others. It leaves us overly attached to things we have chosen to love more than we love God.
If we are to live with God forever, then, repairs and reparations are necessary — that is, we must be healed, and we must make amends. If we’re selfish, we must learn to love. If we’re deceitful, we must learn to tell the truth. If we’re addicted, we must break the addictions. And if we’re bitter, we must forgive.
Suppose a driver injures himself and totals another person’s car in a collision because of his willful recklessness. As the ambulance arrives at the hospital, he expresses remorse for his misbehavior. So the other driver forgives him — that is, the other driver chooses to let go of the personal offense and not hold it against him.
Yet other consequences of the reckless driver’s sin must still be dealt with. His broken bones must be set. The wrecked cars must be paid for. His driver’s license must be suspended until he successfully completes a course that trains drivers to be responsible.
The process will not be pleasant. Having broken bones set is painful. Paying for a wrecked car is costly. Learning to change lifelong habits is wearying.
Even so, the process is restorative — a matter of both mercy (the repairs) and justice (the reparations). In the end, the reckless driver will be a new man.
The truth is that we’ve all wrecked our lives, and the lives of others, to one extent or another. Whether in this life or the next, however, God doesn’t wave a magic wand, bypassing our free will, to fix the situation. Instead, we undergo a procedure to undo what we have done: paying our debts, letting go of whatever binds us, straightening out whatever is crooked within us, learning to drive aright.
Of course, this process has already begun in the lives of the faithful on earth. Through doing penance and accepting in faith the inescapable sufferings of the present life, we can be purged of sin’s effects and grow in holiness.
Nevertheless, if we look honestly at those we know who have died — even if they were faithful Christians — we must admit that few if any were perfect when they left this world. They still needed, as we ourselves probably will, some “cleaning up,” a painful but purging “fire,” as Scripture calls it (see 1 Cor 3:14-15).
That’s precisely why we pray and offer Masses for those in purgatory. Our intercession helps them in their struggles now just as it helped them while they were on earth. No wonder, then, that Scripture urges us not to forget the faithful departed: “For it is . . . a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Mc 12:46, Douay).
Where Did Thomas’ Authority Come From?
Q. The Church in India traces its history, via a strong and ancient tradition, to the apostle Thomas. Assuming this tradition to be true, were holy orders in the “Thomas Churches” ever challenged in history based on John 20:22, where Our Lord commits his apostolic charism to the Church?
Since Thomas was not in the room that night, is it surmised that Our Lord breathed the Holy Spirit upon him the following week when He showed Thomas his wounds? Or is Thomas’ apostolic authority perhaps thought to come from the other 10 apostles — the first passing on of the charism via apostolic succession?
K. S., Dumont, N.J.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The appointment of apostles as Jesus’ successors is recorded in Matthew 10:1-14 and Mark 3:14-19. The Church teaches that Jesus conferred holy orders on the apostles at the Last Supper. Thomas’ absence from the Upper Room (see Jn 20:24), when Jesus first appeared to the apostles after His resurrection, would not derogate from his apostolic commission. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever questioned Thomas’ apostolic authority on the basis of that absence.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs