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 email@example.com.
Meaning of the Sixth Commandment?
Q. I have always taught that any kind of sex outside of marriage is a sin against the Sixth Commandment. But a friend insists that the Sixth Commandment only covers married persons, forbidding only sex with someone other than their spouse. Who is correct?
L.H., via email
A. Here’s an answer from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The friend is incorrect in saying that the Sixth Commandment applies only to married persons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality” (no. 2336). In other words, it condemns as contrary to God’s will all kinds of sexual unions outside the bonds of marriage.
Sacred Scripture also repeatedly condemns all forms of sexual impurity (see Mark 7:21-23; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; and Romans 1:18-27).
Novel About Hell?
Q. I read on a Catholic blog the other day that you’ve written a novel that’s set in hell, based on Dante’s famous Inferno. Tell us more!
J.M., Garland, Texas
A. You probably read a review of the book, entitled My Visit to Hell, on Father Dwight Longenenecker’s blog, “Standing on My Head”; to read it, click here.
I don’t want to say much about the novel, since I don’t want to give away too much of the story, and I fear sounding self-promotional. Suffice it to say that I borrowed heavily from Dante’s Inferno, setting a similar story in the twenty-first century. An agnostic seminary professor stumbles into hell (while still alive) and must find his way out if he can. But in hell, the only guarantee is justice, and the only way out is down.
If you want you can check it out, with reviews both glowing and damning (pardon the pun), click here.
Meanwhile, check out two websites that allow you to learn your way around Dante’s hell; click here and here.
When Did Jesus Know Who He Was?
Q. When did Jesus know that He was God? During the gestation period? Infancy? Early childhood? Young adulthood? Or the final three years of His life?
F.S., via email
A. The matter has long been debated, with no definitive answer. St. Paul tells us that in becoming man, the Son of God “emptied Himself … coming in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). One aspect of that “emptying,” it seems to me, was the limitation in knowledge He willingly took upon Himself, for our sakes, in becoming fully human.
In that light, it’s reasonable, I think, to assume that as an unborn child or infant He would not yet have had such knowledge, just as He apparently was limited to the physical capabilities of a normal child in those stages of development. St. Luke tells us that the young Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom” and that He “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:40, 52 RSV), which implies a mental and physical development in His human nature as He matured.
At what point Our Lord’s knowledge of Himself as the divine Son of God incarnate was a full reality, we can only speculate. He was twelve years old at the time of the incident where His parents “lost” Him and finally found Him in the temple (see Luke 2:41–51). His remark to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49), certainly suggests that He had already developed by that time some awareness of His special identity. Had Our Lady perhaps by this time revealed to Him the unique circumstances of His conception?
It seems clear to me that by the time Jesus began His public ministry (at about the age of thirty), He knew fully who He was. The audible voice of God the Father coming out of heaven at His baptism, calling Him “My Son,” would certainly have clarified the matter, if by any chance He still had any doubts at that point. (The reality was confirmed by the Father Himself again at Our Lord’s Transfiguration; see Luke 9:35). And the Devil’s temptations in the wilderness immediately after Jesus’ baptism took for granted that Jesus knew He was “the Son of God” with supernatural powers; it was part of Satan’s strategy to challenge that conviction (see Luke 4:3, 9).
In any case, throughout His ministry Our Lord repeatedly referred to Himself as the Son of God and assumed the prerogatives of that identity, such as the authority to forgive sins. Check out Matthew 9:1–8; 27:54; Mark 14:61-62; 5:18, 26, 36; 8:54–59; 10:30; 11:4, 25–27; 13:3–4; 14:8–11; 17:1–3, 20–21; 19:7.
In this light, the one speculation we can rule out—though it is popular in certain circles—is that Jesus didn’t know He was God until the resurrection.
A Bishop’s Duty to Excommunicate?
Q. When does the Catholic Church consider it the duty of the local bishop to excommunicate someone from the Church?
M.J., via e-mail
A. Here’s an answer from TCA columnist and canon lawyer Father Francis Hoffman:
First, let’s clarify some concepts. The local bishop does not excommunicate persons; canon law does. For a person to be excommunicated, first, the law must be on the books; then, he has to know about it; and, finally, he has to break it. In such a case, he is either automatically excommunicated (latae sententiae) or excommunicated by the decree of the bishop or declaration of the sentence by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal (ferendae sententiae).
In this second case, the bishop or tribunal merely determines from the facts of the case that the law was indeed broken and the person in question is guilty. So, perhaps your question should be: “When should the local bishop inform someone that he or she has been excommunicated?” But first let’s take a look at the very notion of this penalty.
Excommunication is the most serious penalty that can be imposed upon a member of the Church. Those who have been excommunicated cannot receive or celebrate the sacraments until they have been forgiven through sacramental absolution and a competent authority has lifted the penalty. Since the Church is in the business of saving souls, the penal remedy of excommunication seeks to give the sinner a powerful wake-up call to conversion.
The most serious “crimes” trigger automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See, and they are: desecration of the Holy Eucharist; use of physical force against the Pope; absolution of an accomplice in a crime against the Sixth Commandment; consecration of a bishop without the approval of the Holy See; and breaking the seal of the confessional.
But other crimes also bring automatic excommunication, although they can be forgiven and the penalty can be lifted locally. Canon law lists four of these: apostasy, heresy, schism and abortion.
The bishop should make sure that the penalty of excommunication is applied according to the norms of canon law, which above all seeks to protect the good of the Church and the conversion of the person who committed a crime. With respect to automatic excommunication (latae sententiae), the bishop has a great deal of discretion as to how, when and whom he should inform about such matters. But when applying such penalties he must always keep two goals in mind: first, that there be clarity about the faith and morals taught by the Church, and, second, that such measures be a spiritual help to the person in question.
Archbishop Raymond Burke’s recent public notification prohibiting Catholic politicians from receiving the Holy Eucharist if they support abortion or euthanasia is not an excommunication, but the application of a general precept of the Church. Canon 915 states, “Those who . . . obstinately [persevere] in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
In the bishop’s notification we read: “A Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion or euthanasia, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others.” We should be united in praying for bishops everywhere that God give them the grace, wisdom and strength to carry out their ministry in an effective way.
Second U.S.-Born Saint?
Q. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first U.S.-born saint to be canonized, in 1975. Has there been another?
H. B., Baltimore, Md.
A. Yes. St. Katharine Drexel (1858–1955) was canonized in 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and her memorial is today.
Katharine was born to a wealthy Philadelphia banking family but gave up her life of privilege to serve African-American and Native American communities throughout the country. She eventually spent about $20 million dollars of her personal fortune for the work and founded a new religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
My second-favorite story associated with this saint: The sisters opened a school for African-Americans in Beaumont, Texas. In 1922, local members of the Ku Klux Klan posted a sign on the school door that read: “We want an end of services here. We will not stand by while white priests consort with n---r wenches in the face of our families. Suppress it in one week or flogging with tar and feathers will follow.”
A few days later, a violent thunderstorm tore through the city, demolishing the Klan’s headquarters.
And what is my favorite story associated with this saint? It comes from my dear friend Al Kresta, a popular Catholic radio broadcaster in Ann Arbor, Michigan (WDEO), and founder of Ave Maria Communications.
Al tells how a little old lady who had attended one of the sisters’ schools once called in to ask whether something that had been touched to the body of a saint was considered a third-class relic. When he affirmed that it was, she responded sheepishly, “Well, when I was little, I once got a spanking from St. Katherine Drexel!”
For more information, click here.
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