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Q. A lot of my Protestant friends talk about the Rapture. Can you explain what this is and what is the Catholic approach to it?
—Verona Dunn, Grand Rapids, Mich.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Rapture means literally “to seize, to take,” and for some Protestants it refers to a number of passages in the New Testament about the end of time. In the Gospel of Matthew we read: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day the Lord will come” (24:40-42). In First Thessalonians we receive the admonition: “For the Lord himself with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (4:16-17).
Protestant adherents to the notion of the Rapture believe that at the end of time the saved will be spared all the upheavals of the end of history and will be lifted up to heaven, while the rest of humankind will stay on earth as the great tribulation breaks out. The evangelist Hal Lindsey states in his book “The Terminal Generation” (Bantam): “I expect to be evacuated from this planet in a mysterious way before the worst part of this [tribulation] breaks loose.” Evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell explains: “You’ll be riding along in an automobile; when the trumpet sounds, you and the other born-again believers in that automobile will be instantly caught away — you will disappear, leaving behind only your clothes. ... The unsaved person or persons in the automobile will suddenly be startled to find the car moving along without a driver, and the car suddenly somewhere crashes.”
The problem with this kind of interpretation is that Lindsey and Falwell draw out from the biblical imagery more specific information than is warranted.
For the Catholic, the appropriate way to approach apocalyptic imagery in the Bible is to look at the broad picture and not obsess about the details. The fundamental message to which we should attend is that which undergirds all of Jesus’ preaching: Be vigilant about the coming of the Kingdom and act justly in the present. Stay awake!
Death Penalty and the Inquisition
Q. Concerning the Catholic inquisition: Did (and if so why) the Catholic Church kill or murder people.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Inquisition was an office established by Pope Gregory IX in 1231. Its task was to combat heresy and from its beginning the Church engaged secular authority to carry out the Inquisition’s programs, especially its penalties. These were usually prison sentences, but capital punishment was not unknown, although neither ecclesiastic nor civil leaders seem to have been eager to carry out the more severe punishments.
In its earliest days the Inquisition strove to defend the faith in Germany, but its mission spread to France, Spain and Italy — countries that had, historically, lived under Roman law. It had little or no effect in England or Scandinavia.
The power of the Inquisition grew, and with it, increased criticism, until a Church council was held in 1311, which strictly limited the Inquisition’s authority. Little more is heard of it until King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sought its reinstitution in Spain at the end of the 15th century. Over the protests of Pope Sixtus IV, the Spanish Inquisition became a powerful tool of Spanish civil authority. Recent historical inquiries raise doubts whether the Spanish Inquisition was actually as violent as legend reports, but the death penalty was sometimes imposed.
What Acts Are Grave?
Q. What acts are considered grave? Some acts are obviously grave — for example, murder, masturbation, contraception, etc. But many sins can leave a person wondering if he committed a mortal or a venial sin. Why does the Church not specify exactly what acts are grave?
Leo, via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Many persons might share your concern and also wish for a specific list of mortal sins. However, it is impossible to list every conceivable mortal sin. Not only would such a list be endless, but whose criteria would you use for making the list?
There is also another insuperable factor. Sins we would all agree are in themselves venial may in fact be mortal. Suppose I speak harshly to someone who has offended me. That’s a venial sin; I should have responded charitably. But suppose further that in my heart I deeply hate that person. I know hatred is grave matter, and I harbored that hatred in my heart, giving full consent to it. In that seemingly venial sin I have committed mortal sin. Any venial sin I can think of could under certain circumstances be mortal sin. So, you see, an endless list of grave sins necessarily would have to list all venial sins as potentially mortal sins.
If a devout Catholic wonders whether one of his sins was venial or mortal, to be safe he should regard it as mortal and take it to confession at the earliest opportunity. The more you and I grow in our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, the greater must be our utter abhorrence of all sin. In the light of God’s love and mercy, though a sin may not be “mortal,” it is always serious.
How to Close an Abortion Clinic?
Q. I remember reading a few years ago that women were being steered away from abortion by giving them a blessed rosary. I’m wondering if there has ever been an attempt to sprinkle holy water or blessed salt, or planting blessed items at an abortion clinic. Because of the evil of abortion, this would seem to be a wonderful way to cleanse the area, especially when accompanied by prayer and fasting. Would appreciate any comments.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Using rosaries, blessed items and sacramentals to close down an abortion clinic are all good measures, especially when accompanied by prayer and fasting. Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by fervent family prayer of the Rosary, is the best way to protect innocent life. We must remember that the Blessed Mother is the one who changed the hearts of the evil human-sacrificing Aztec culture at Guadalupe. In the protoevangelium (see Gn 3:15) and in the Book of Revelation, the Blessed Mother is typified as battling with the devil to protect the child. It is the Blessed Mother who will crush the head of the ancient serpent, public enemy No. 1 of the human race. To attack the human race, he goes right to the source: the unborn child. With no children, there is no future.
There are other strategies that can be employed to end abortion, such as education, crisis-pregnancy centers and changes in the law.
It is a scandal that the majority of Catholics in the United States continue to vote for pro-abortion politicians. In other places and at other times, the canonical penalties of interdict, suspension and excommunication were employed with marvelous effect to change attitudes and behavior of the faithful. One wonders if it might not come to that again?
In the end, abortion has no future, and it cannot continue, or the human race will collapse. The generations that have failed to protect the unborn over the past 40 years will be rejected as the enemy of the young in the coming 40 years. The younger, depleted generation will be unable to carry the burden of caring for the older, feeble generation, and euthanasia of the elderly will be as common as abortion of the unborn is today. You reap what you sow.
The Immaculate Conception
Q. Our Catholic Church having recently celebrated the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, which many of the faithful have for many years confused with the Virgin Mary's conception of Our Lord, I would like to pose this question: If her conception was “immaculate,” that would seem to indicate that St. Anne’s spouse (our Blessed Mother’s human father) was not in any way involved in her conception? If he was, then why was not original sin transferred to her by her human parents as have all of the offspring of Adam and Eve?
I can understand the Pope declaring that indeed her conception was immaculate; that this is an “infallible” declaration, and it does make sense that our Holy Mother should not have the stain of sin on her soul if she is to bear our Savior. But I cannot get past the assumption that the Holy Spirit should also have had to be involved in her conception.
— Guy A. De Gagné, Pismo Beach, Calif.
When we speak of Mary’s Immaculate Conception we must distinguish between her physical conception and the grace that preserved her from sin. God played a vital — although different — role in each of these acts.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us “that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents” (No. 366). Mary, no less than we, became human the moment God united a soul with the fertilized seed produced by the marital act of her parents. We should note, however, that while God’s part in our conception is essential it does not replace the part played by our parents.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, defined by Pope Pius IX, in 1854, refers not to Mary’s physical conception, but to God’s applying to her, before her birth, a superabundance of the eternal grace, merit and blessing won by Christ, and that we receive at baptism. “The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first moment of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son’” (Catechism, No. 492).
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