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Q. When the Gospel of Matthew speaks about the genealogy of Jesus, it says that He is the son of David and son of Abraham, understood to be their descendant. But Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and is the Son of God the Father, so Jesus does not have a biological father. Is that correct? Is the genealogy of the Blessed Mother ever considered in the genealogy of Jesus?
E.S., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.C.D.:
It is correct to say that Jesus is the Son of God the Father and does not have a biological father. But look at the pattern in Matthew’s genealogy (see 1:1-17): so-and-so the father of so-and-so the father of so-and-so, and so on. When the genealogy comes to the name of Joseph, however, it breaks the pattern.
Matthew 1:16 speaks of Joseph not as the father of Jesus but as “the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.” In the Jewish tradition, as the adopted son of Joseph, Jesus would receive all rights of inheritance and would be regarded as standing in succession eventually from Abraham.
Now go back to Abraham. In Genesis 12:3, God tells Abraham that through him “all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” That promise comes to sharper focus in Genesis 17:6, when God tells Abraham that “kings shall stem from you.”
To David, descendant of Abraham, God promises, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sm 7:16). Matthew’s genealogy shows that through His adoptive father Jesus shares in this line of descent, and this is His basic Messianic credential.
With regard to Our Lady’s genealogy: As a Jew, the Blessed Mother was herself a descendant of Abraham, making her Son, Jesus, a descendant of Abraham as well. In addition, St. Paul says that Jesus Christ “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3). Since Our Lord’s flesh came from Mary, this seems to be saying that she too was descended from David, and Marian tradition has often spoken of her that way — for example, the Marian title “Tower of David.” We also know from Numbers 36:3-4 that to safeguard a tribe’s inheritance, a daughter of Israel was supposed to marry only within her own tribe.
Some biblical commentators read Luke 1:26-27 in this light: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God . . . to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” These commentators insist that the last clause — “of the house of David” — does not refer to Joseph, but rather to Mary, who is the main character in the narrative.
To render this meaning, we could punctuate the passage this way: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God … to a virgin (betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph) of the house of David.” Unfortunately, there is no punctuation in the original Greek to help clarify the meaning.
Though the genealogy found at the beginning of Matthew is identified as that of St. Joseph, the 15th-century Dominican historian Annius of Viterbo suggested that St. Luke’s genealogy gives the pedigree of Mary. (St. Augustine had alluded to this opinion a thousand years before.)
Luke 3:23 can be interpreted to imply that Heli was the father of Mary: “Jesus . . . being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli”; or “Jesus . . . being the son of Joseph, as was supposed, the son of Heli”; or even “Jesus . . . being as was supposed the son of Joseph, who was [the son-in-law] of Heli.”
According to these explanations, though Mary’s name is not explicitly mentioned, it is implied, since Jesus would have been the son of Heli through Mary. (Again, the Greek has no punctuation to help us out here.)
Many scholars reject this interpretation of the text. But interestingly enough, we might note that the name “Joachim” could be a variation of “Heli,” or “Eliachim,” substituting one Divine name (“Yahweh”) for the other (“Eli, Elohim”). And, of course, the ancient tradition — first recorded in a second-century text called the Protoevangelium — is that Mary’s father was named “Joachim.” It’s an intriguing possibility.
Newly Approved Apparition?
Q. I heard that an apparition of Our Lady in France has recently received approval from the Church. Can you tell us more about that?
I.M., New York, N.Y.
A. On May 4, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco of the Diocese of Gap, France, officially recognized the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Benoite Rencurel at the sanctuary of Laus in the area of Hautes-Alpes, France, declaring that the apparitions were “of supernatural origin.”
The bishop made the pronouncement during a Mass in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Laus. Among those in attendance were the apostolic nuncio to France, Bishop Fortunato Baldelli, and 30 cardinals and bishops from around the globe.
The Church’s approval took nearly three centuries to be secured. Born in 1647, Benoite Rencurel was a poor shepherd girl. Our Lady began appearing to her in 1664, when the girl was still a teenager, continuing the visits throughout the rest of her life. Rencurel died in 1718.
During the apparitions, the Mary requested the construction of a church and a house for priests so that people could be motivated to greater conversion, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation. The site now draws 120,000 pilgrims each year.
A number of physical cures have been associated with the site, especially when oil from a particular lamp is applied to the body of the person suffering, according to the instructions given by the Blessed Virgin to Rencural.
Bishop di Falco, in his homily at the Mass, observed: “Benoite, an uncultured country girl, received her mission from Our Lady: For 54 years, she guided pilgrims, and called for conversion and mercy. To the poor and the small, God reveals himself. And Benoite, a laywoman, was the messenger of God. How can we not see in her the very example of the responsible layman? …
“[She] was a modern example of the engaged laity in the life of one’s community, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. She speaks to men of our time, she guides those who search, those who dig into this interior source for true life.”
Our Lady of Laus is the twelfth apparition to be formally approved by the Church, out of 295 cases that have been proposed for ecclesiastical review. It was the first such declaration by Church officials in France since the recognition of the apparitions at Lourdes.
For more information, click here, here, and here.
Pauline Year Indulgences?
Q. Are there any indulgences related to the Jubilee Year of St. Paul?
H.L., via email
A. Yes. According to a report from the Vatican New Service, a decree was made public on May 10, signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary. In it, the Holy Father announced that he will “grant the faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Apostle Paul. The Plenary Indulgence will be valid throughout the Pauline Year, which is due to run from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009.
“With the imminence of the liturgical Solemnity of the Prince of the Apostles … the Supreme Pontiff ... wishes, in good time, to provide for the faithful with spiritual treasures for their own sanctification, that they may renew and reinforce ... their purpose of supernatural salvation from the moment of the First Vespers of the aforementioned Solemnity, principally in honor of the Apostle of the Gentiles, the two-thousandth anniversary of whose earthly birth is now approaching.
“In fact, the gift of indulgences which the Roman Pontiff offers the Universal Church, facilitates the way to interior purification which, while rendering honour to the Blessed Apostle Paul, exalts supernatural life in the hearts of the faithful and spurs them on ... to produce fruits of good works.”
The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are these:
“All Christian faithful — truly repentant, duly purified by the Sacrament of Penance and restored with Holy Communion — who undertake a pious visit in the form of a pilgrimage to the papal basilica of St. Paul on Rome’s Via Ostiense, and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, are granted and imparted Plenary Indulgence for the temporal punishment of their sins, once they have obtained sacramental remission and forgiveness for their shortcomings.
“Plenary Indulgence may be gained by the Christian faithful, either for themselves or for the deceased, as many times as the aforementioned acts are undertaken; it remains the case, however, that Plenary Indulgence may be obtained only once a day.
“In order that the prayers pronounced on these holy visits may lead and draw the souls of the faithful to a more intense veneration of the memory of St. Paul, the following conditions are laid down: the faithful, apart from pronouncing their own prayers before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, ... must go to the altar of the Confession and pray the Our Father and the Creed, adding pious invocations in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul; and such acts of devotion must remain closely linked to the memory of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter.”
“Christian faithful from the various local Churches, under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion, prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) and completely unattached to any form of sin, may still obtain the Plenary Indulgence if they participate devotedly in a religious function or in a pious exercise held publicly in honor of the Apostle of the Gentiles: on the days of the solemn opening and closing of the Pauline Year in any place of worship; on other days determined by the local ordinary, in holy places named for St. Paul and, for the good of the faithful, in other places designated by the ordinary.”
Finally, the document notes, the faithful who, “through sickness or other legitimate or important reason,” are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain the Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, “spiritually unite themselves to a Jubilee celebration in honor of St. Paul, offering their prayers and suffering to God for the unity of Christians.”
Q. I’ve heard that Catholics tend to give less of their income to the Church and other charities than Protestants give to their congregations. Is that true?
P.K., via email
A. Sadly, yes. Numerous surveys confirm this trend over many years. Many estimates suggest that Catholics give an average of about 1.2 percent of their income. According to one group of researchers, conservative Protestants give more than 3 percent of household income on average; black Protestants, 2.5 percent; and “mainline” Protestants (those belonging to the historically older denominations), 2 percent.
In 2007, 84 percent of all American adults donated some money to churches or non-profit organizations. Evangelical Protestants (who would most likely fall in the other study’s “conservative Protestant” category) proved to be (as in earlier surveys) the most generous.
More than four out of five Evangelicals (83 percent) gave at least $1000 to churches and non-profit organizations that year, far beyond the levels of other population groups studied. While nearly two thirds of Americans (64 percent) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of worship in 2007, and one quarter of these (25 percent) donated at least $1000, a full 96 percent of Evangelicals gave money to a church, and 81 percent of them gave at least $1000.
Unbelievably, the average proportion of income given by Americans as a whole in the middle of the Great Depression was higher than it is now.
Regional differences in the U.S. in charitable giving are striking. According to a recent study using figures for 2005, people in the South give the most of any region (2.1 percent of available income, with an average of $1077.70); those in the Northeast give the least (1.2 percent, average of $453.84).
In this study, households making under $40,000 reported giving a higher portion of their after-tax income to charitable institutions than any other group. Older Americans also contributed a higher percentage of income to charities.
A survey of Americans in 2007 who practice the biblical custom of tithing (giving 10 percent of income to God) shows the most generous groups in this regard were evangelical Protestants (24 percent of whom tithed); self-described conservatives (12 percent); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12 percent); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11 percent); and registered Republicans (10 percent).
Protestants as a whole (8 percent) were four times as likely to tithe as were Catholics (2 percent).
Several groups were extremely unlikely to tithe: those under the age of 25; atheists and agnostics; single adults who have never been married; self-described liberals; and “downscale adults.” Only one percent or less of those surveyed in each of these populations tithed in 2007.
One charitable giving analysis actually states that among the three “main economic and social factors that were found to negatively affect giving” was “Catholic Church membership.” How humiliating!
By the way: The usual response to such statistics, that Catholics give less because they have to pay for parochial education, doesn’t hold water: Statistics show that families who pay Catholic school tuition give on the average more than those who don’t.
No Set Age for Confirmation?
Q. Why does the age when confirmation is allowed seem to vary so widely, even within a particular diocese? And why is the age usually set much later than was once allowed in this country? It seems to me that young people today desperately need the graces of this sacrament before they reach the difficult teenage years.
L.M., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Yes, we all need the graces! And that’s why it’s helpful to promote frequent confession and Communion for everyone, and this includes adolescents.
According to canon law, confirmation is to be conferred “on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the conference of bishops has determined another age” (Canon 891).
In the United States, “the National Conference of Catholic Bishops authorizes diocesan bishops to determine the age at which the sacrament of confirmation is conferred in their dioceses” (NCCB Complementary Norms, Page 11). This regulation explains why the age for confirmation can vary so widely, even within the same diocese — each bishop can decide.
The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens us with the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that bonanza of grace is a good reason to receive confirmation as soon as possible. However, it’s not absolutely necessary for our salvation, and therefore some may find it pastorally appropriate to confirm youths in their teenage years, in order to keep the youngsters enrolled in CCD for a longer period of time.
In the best of all possible worlds, I think, youngsters would receive confirmation by age 12 and be required to continue formal instruction in the faith until 21 years old. Well, I can hope, can’t I?
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