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.
What About Satan?
Q. I’ve always had trouble understanding [Church teaching about] Satan. I tend to think of evil as a human condition — sin, abuse of free will, breaking God’s laws, a purely human condition — and not as an entity with horns and a pitchfork. Is Satan just a name for evil within me, or is Satan truly a fallen angel with a spiritual presence, a physical structure, a being who can speak to me, control me, tempt me to sin with a greater force than is normally within me? Can I be possessed by him, and can his nature overrule mine — making me end up like a possessed spirit in “The Exorcist”? -- J.T., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Evil is not an entity; it is always the distortion of some good. Human sin is a prime source of evil, but there is evil in the world that is not the result of sinful human choices. I think of natural disasters, for example, which cause great loss of life and human suffering.
Satan (from the Hebrew word meaning “adversary”) and the other demons are spiritual beings, and therefore have no physical structure. They once were good angels. They became evil and therefore fallen through their own choice.
As the poet John Milton put it in his work “Paradise Lost,” Satan’s proud declaration to heaven is this: “I will not serve.” The Church teaches that the fallen angels’ sin is unforgivable because of its “irrevocable character” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 393).
The word “devil” comes from the Greek diabolos, which means “to throw across.” Satan is always at work to oppose God, to throw himself and all those whom he can enlist “across,” against, God’s plan of salvation.
Satan does bring us temptations, but he has to find fertile ground in which to sow temptation. That fertile ground is our fallen nature. By choosing to sin we cultivate and make that soil receptive to Satan’s temptations. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas 1:14).
Satan cannot possess us without our consent. Persons may unwittingly give consent by dabbling in the occult, for example. You may recall that in the book by William Blatty, “The Exorcist,” the girl who became possessed had opened herself to Satan’s power through playing with a Ouija board.
Never forget that because he is a creature, Satan’s power is limited. He is always subject to the power of Jesus Christ. When temptation comes we should turn to Christ instantly.
A Guardian Angel for Jesus?
Q. Every human being has a guardian angel. Did Jesus have one while lived on earth? -- K.B., San Diego, Calif.
A. The Scripture tells us that angels ministered to Jesus, both when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan (see Mt 4:11 and Mk 1:13) and during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:43). Since Jesus became like us in all things except sin, I think it safe to conclude that He had a guardian angel. Some Christians have thought that St. Michael the Archangel was assigned this task, but that’s of course only speculation.
The Two Witnesses?
Q. I have been chatting with a friend about the end times. I was sharing the Catholic perspective and some of the things I found interesting in your book The Rapture Trap. They asked me a question which I didn’t know the answer to, and I was hoping you might have some insight.
The Book of Revelation speaks of “two witnesses” (11:3-12) who prophesy God’s word; are put to death by the “Beast” (which some see as the Antichrist); and are finally raised from the dead by God and taken to heaven. I know that some Protestant evangelicals say these are Enoch and Elisha, who will return to witness to those “left behind” since they never did die in the Old Testament. (Both seem to have been taken from earth bodily before death.)
Does the Catholic Church have any teaching regarding these two “witnesses”? -- K.T., via email
A. Within the Catholic tradition over the centuries, various biblical commentators have speculated about the identity of the two witnesses. One of the speculations is the one you mention: Enoch and Elijah. (I believe that’s who you meant; Elisha did in fact die.) Part of the reason for this speculation is as you noted: Since Enoch and Elijah did not die, this would be their time to do so.
Other Catholic commentators have speculated that it would be Moses and Elijah. Why those two? The “power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain” (Rv 11:6), ascribed here to the two witnesses, was traditionally associated with Elijah, whose prayer caused a great drought in Israel (see 1 Kgs 17:1). Also like Elijah, the two witnesses can consume their enemies with fire from heaven (Rv 11:5; see 2 Kgs 1:10). Then, like Moses, the two witnesses “have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague” (Rv 11:6; see Ex 7:14-21).
Still other commentators have concluded that the “witnesses” are simply two believers of the “last generation” whose names we wouldn’t recognize. And many biblical scholars insist that the “witnesses” aren’t literal men at all, but rather symbols of the witnessing Church.
In any case, the Catholic Church has never spoken definitely on the matter and leaves it open to question.
For more on this topic, our readers may want to see the book you mentioned, which I wrote to address topics related to the “end times”: The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to “End Times” Fever (Ascension, 2001). Click here»
Babies Born in the Pope’s Bedroom?
Q. I recently heard that a number of babies were born in the bedroom of one of the popes. That sounds crazy. Is this true? If so, under what circumstances? -- Y.I., New York, N.Y.
A. You’re probably referring to the papal bedroom in the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, where popes in recent times have enjoyed summer vacations in their “second home” in the Italian countryside.
The births did indeed take place, and under extraordinary circumstances. During World War II, Pope Pius XII opened the Villas to provide a place of refuge for people fleeing the German officers who were trying to arrest them. A number of those who came through were pregnant women, and they were allowed to use his personal bedroom, since he remained in the Vatican. As a result, fifty babies were born in that room during the war!
An interview with the current director of the Villas, Saverio Petrillo, recently appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. Petrillo spoke of this matter, and noted that two of the children were twins. Their mother named them Pio (Italian for Pius) and Eugenio (Pope Pius’ given name was Eugenio Pacelli).
This historical anecdote confirms once more that Pope Pius was eager to help the victims of the Nazi regime and worked behind the scenes to do so.
For an English translation of the interview, click here»
Miraculous Medal Bracelet?
Q. I have a Miraculous Medal I wear around my neck. I put one on a bracelet for a friend. But I think I read a long time ago it must be worn around the neck. I was just wondering if there’s anything wrong with putting the medal on a bracelet. -- T.V., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
There is nothing wrong with putting a Miraculous Medal on a bracelet. But as the story of the apparition of Our Lady to St. Catherine Labouré is told, the Blessed Mother requested: “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”
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