By Father Ray Ryland - The Catholic Answer, 1/1/2012
Angels as Saints?
Q. I have a question about St. Michael the Archangel. My understanding is that the angels are spiritual creatures created by God and that saints are human beings who live according to God’s will and then become saints sometime after death. So how can one be a saint and an angel at the same time?.
Nancy Beal, Georgetown, S.C.
A. When we speak of a “saint,” we ordinarily refer to a person whose life reflects, or did reflect, what the Church calls “heroic sanctity” — that is, a life transparent to the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. Down through the ages the lives of many such persons have come to the Church’s attention, and she has recognized them with the title of “saint.”
Half a dozen of St. Paul’s letters are addressed to Christians as “saints.” In this context, the term refers to those individuals’ status as members of Christ’s Mystical Body. We speak of the Communion of Saints to designate the entirety of those who belong to Christ. The term “saint” does apply primarily to human beings.
Sacred Scripture singles out and names three great angels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. The Church applies the term “saint” to these particular angels because of their great significance in the history of salvation.
Therefore, Catholics use the term “saint” in several contexts.
What Is Dominionism?
Q. I have been reading a lot lately about something called “dominionism.” What is it and does it have anything to do with the Catholic faith?
Name withheld by request, via email
A. Because the term “dominionism” is applied to a wide variety of views, it cannot be defined with any exactitude. Its commonly assumed use has been taken from Genesis 1:28, King James Version: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them … have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” In accord with this divine command, dominionists believe our nation should be governed by Christians and in accord with Christian principles. It is an essentially Protestant phenomenon. I can find no evidence of Catholic involvement.
Some more radical dominionists claim that the basis of our national life should be Christian law, interpreted in a fundamentalist sense. Their opponents contend these dominionists are seeking to establish a theocracy in this country and restrict the freedom of non-Christians.
Obviously, secularists and atheists expend enormous effort and resources in seeking to have their principles govern our national life. A Catholic should hope and work for the election of Christian leaders of our government, and for incorporation of Christian principles in our laws.
But we cannot support an effort to enforce biblical (Old Testament) law on our nation. That would restrict or even destroy freedom of religion. The Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), a document of the Second Vatican Council, taught that “the human person has a right to religious freedom” — that is, “all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters” (see No. 2). In fact, “the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.”
Priests in the Bible?
Q. Someone asked me, “Where does the Bible state that we are supposed to have priests?” My friend argued that there is only one priest, but why do we need them to be saved?
A. Sacrifice in religion always involves a priesthood. We see this in God’s provision for the Levitical priesthood which offered sacrifice in the Jewish Temple. Jesus Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice. He has also commanded us to share in it. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you” (Jn 6:53).
At the Last Supper, Our Lord provided the means whereby we can share in His sacrifice: “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mt 26:26-28). Jesus thereby empowered His successors, the apostles, to be His priests.
From Pentecost down to the present day, that sacrifice has been offered to the Father by Christ’s priests. Acting in persona Christi (“the person of Christ”), priests make available to us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, under forms of bread and wine. Members of Christ’s mystical body have a complementary priesthood: “you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood’” (1 Pt 2:9). They exercise this priesthood primarily by their participation in the Eucharistic action. All this is why we need priests.
Incidentally, ask your friend to tell you where the Bible teaches that the Church’s practices and faith have to be proved from the Bible. The Bible makes no such statement.
Thomas à Kempis
Q. I have seen the “Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas à Kempis, advertised as the second-most read and printed Catholic book after the Bible. I have read the story of Thomas à Kempis and notice that there has been no attempt to canonize him since 1688. Can you supply any reason why this great author has never been elevated to sainthood? Surely his book has been of more help than the Ignatian Exercises to Christians seeking piety.
Hamilton George, via email
A. St. Ignatius was not canonized because he wrote the “Exercises,” but because of who he was. The Church publicly recognizes persons as saints for what they have become, not for what they have accomplished. Thomas à Kempis was a faithful, obscure monk. Yet no evidence has been brought forth to demonstrate that he achieved “heroic sanctity.” The latter term commonly is used by the Church to describe the spirituality of her saints. Certainly, untold millions of persons venerate Thomas à Kempis for having been spiritually nourished and strengthened by reading his famous book.
Dogma vs. Doctrine?
Q. Could you tell me exactly what the difference is between a dogma and a doctrine? Which is infallible, and do we need to accept both? Thanks for making this clearer.
Andrew, New York, N.Y.
A. You must keep in mind the distinction between the Church’s “extraordinary” magisterium and her “ordinary” magisterium. A dogma is a teaching solemnly defined by the pope in the exercise of the “extraordinary” magisterium. Vatican II taught that our Lord Jesus Christ endowed His Church with infallibility “in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals.” The pope “enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful … he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals.”
A doctrine not solemnly defined, but taught by the pope and the bishops, comes to us through the “ordinary” magisterium. When the bishops, in communion with the pope, teach in matters concerning faith and morals, the faithful must adhere to that teaching “with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.”
Then the Vatican fathers added, “This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra (that is, when he is not giving a solemn definition).” In other words, his teaching regarding faith and morals must be “acknowledged with respect,” and the faithful must “sincerely adhere to decisions made by him” (see Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 25). We Catholics are bound — indeed, we are privileged — to submit to the teaching both of the “extraordinary” magisterium and the “ordinary” magisterium.
Prayer of Jabez?
Q. Would you tell me what exactly is the Prayer of Jabez? Was there a Jabez in the Bible?
Via email, name withheld by request
A. In 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, Jabez’s name occurs in a detailed listing of descendants of David. Jabez’s parentage is not specified: “Jabez was the most distinguished of his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I bore him with pain.’ Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: ‘Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! Help me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!’ And God granted his prayer.”
About a dozen years ago appeared a book by Bruce Wilkinson, entitled “The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking through to the Blessed Life.” The author urged Christians to use this prayer each day. His book was a best-seller. As a result, a whole line of Jabez merchandise has appeared on the market.
Q. In Exodus, chapters 25 and 40, there seems to be a foreshadowing of how God’s plan will be played out using much imagery — for example, the mercy seat and a propitiatory. Through these I see a foreshadowing of what eventually is to take place with Christ, the Paschal Mystery, and how it is woven into what happens in heaven in an eschatological way through the Eucharist. I know we must interpret Scripture through the lens of Catholic teachings and in light of sacred Scripture. Using the example above, my question is: To what degree is it OK to teach (via Bible studies, etc.) insights one receives from the Bible, especially when there isn’t any authoritative commentary on such insights?
Chris Foeldi, via email
A. The Church’s specific teaching interprets only a relatively small number of verses and passages in sacred Scripture. Apart from those, the study and teaching of sacred Scripture requires us to seek guidance by the Holy Spirit in correctly understanding God’s word.
At the same time, a Catholic must keep in mind a negative criterion for one’s opinions: Does this in any way contradict or detract from anything the Church does teach?
Q. I have a question about Matthew 1:24-25: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” In other versions of Scripture, I have read “relations with her” without the word “until” being used. As the Catholic Church teaches, the Virgin Mary was “ever-virgin,” imbibed with the Holy Spirit as was Joseph. Are we now lessening our beliefs and interpretations to a Protestant view?
Joseph Caro, via email
A. The answer to your final question is a categorical no. The Holy Spirit guides the Church in developing and unfolding her beliefs, but she is never allowed to change them.
The word “until” plainly appears in the original Greek of Matthew 1:25. You speak of versions which omit the word “until.” Do they read, “he had no relations with her she bore a son?” That is literally true, but it does not make good English sense.
Consider that word “until.” Ordinarily it suggests that something did occur after a certain point. This is not the way the sacred writers typically used the word “until.” They used it simply to indicate that a specified event did not take place up to a certain time. Period.
Take these examples in the Old Testament. Consider the raven Noah released from the Ark. “It flew back and forth until the waters dried off the earth” (Gn 8:7). Yet we know from Scripture the raven never returned to the ark.
Or recall the passage about the location of Moses’ burial place: “but to this day no one knows the place of his burial” (Dt 34:6). The fact remains, no one knows now either.
“Get Behind Me Satan”?
Q. An evangelical friend and I have been discussing Matthew 16. We disagree, of course, on what or whom Jesus intended to be the “rock” of His Church. My friend claims that even if the “rock” was Peter himself, he quickly disqualified himself with his blunder at Caesarea Philippi. When Jesus began to tell His apostles of His coming suffering and death, Peter protested, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22). Then Jesus used the harshest language he ever used about anyone: “‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” How should I respond to my friend’s argument?
Name withheld by request
A. Peter’s intentions were good. He could not bear to think of the killing of the Lord he loved and served. There probably was something else that motivated Peter’s rejecting the idea of Jesus’ being put to death. Peter shared the common Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a conquering hero; that he would free the Jews from Roman rule. The very idea of a suffering, defeated Messiah was repugnant to him.
When Peter made his confession of faith, Jesus said he spoke infallibly: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Mt 16:17). When Peter remonstrated with Jesus, he was only expressing his own opinion. Peter and his successors are all fallible human beings, subject to erroneous opinions apart from matters of faith and morals.
Remind your friend that later on Jesus twice commanded Peter to carry out His office of primacy. Just before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus reminded Peter to “strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). During His resurrection appearance at the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus told Peter to “feed” His (Jesus’) sheep and to “tend” (“govern, shepherd”) His sheep (see Jn 21:15-19).
Finally, you can remind your friend that the “rock” could not be Peter’s statement of faith. It is impossible to establish an institution simply on a person’s words. Or look at the result of the attempt to base the Church strictly on the Bible, which has led to more than 35,000 competing denominations, and the number grows steadily.
Breaking the Sabbath?
Q. I am writing to you because I need your help. I have a Jewish friend who said that Catholics are breaking the commandment “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” when we go to Church on Sunday rather than Saturday. He also said that St. Teresa of Ávila said all roads lead to heaven (not just through the Lord) and the Catholic Church covered it up so that we would not know the truth. He also said the Vatican should sell all of the art treasures, etc., and give it to the poor. How would you defend the Vatican if someone said that to you? I would surely appreciate your explanations. I will show him your response.
Patsy Miehi, Caliente, Calif.
A. Under God’s command, Jews observed the Sabbath because it marks the completion of God’s creation of the universe. Christians observe Sunday because it marks the completion of God’s redemption of the universe. Indeed, it marks the culmination of God’s eternal scheme of redemption. Sunday observance, therefore, gathers up into the new dispensation all the riches of the old dispensation and replaces it.
The alleged statement of St. Teresa of Ávila is pure heresy, something of which she was incapable. Ask your friend for written evidence (a) that she made such a statement and (b) that the Church covered it up.
Suppose your friend says he cannot produce the evidence because the Church has destroyed the evidence. Tell him C.S. Lewis’ story about the invisible cats. A man declares, “there are two invisible cats in that chair.” Another responds, “I don’t see any cats there.” The first man replies, “That just proves my point; the fact we can’t see them proves they’re there!” Is your friend suggesting the same about the alleged statement by St. Teresa? Is he saying that the fact he can’t produce that evidence proves that the Church did suppress it?
The Vatican holds its art treasures in trust for the countless millions who come to view those treasures. If sold, the treasures would be so scattered that relatively few persons could benefit from them. Moreover, distributing the proceeds from the sale would have no lasting effect on poverty. Handing out large sums of money may give slight temporary relief, but it solves no problems of poverty. In the last 50 years or so our government has expended over a trillion dollars in its “war on poverty,” which has been a failure.
Incidentally, is your friend also proposing that Jewish museums around the world sell their treasures and give the money to the poor?
God Alone Is Good?
Q. Could you please provide me some insights on the words of Jesus as recorded in Mark 10:17-23? In particular, I would like to know how verse 18 (Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”) can be true at the same time as the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. There must be a plausible explanation available from Catholic theologians as to how this verse does not erode or negate the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Is there an explanation?
Karl-Heinz Reilmann, via email
A. There is no contradiction between Jesus’ first words to this man and the fact of our Blessed Mother’s having been conceived without original sin.
Think about the circumstances of this dramatic event. Here is a rich young man seeking advice from a homeless prophet whose death was being plotted by the authorities. Notice how he came. He did not simply approach Jesus; he ran up to him. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus and asked his burning question. Obviously, he was under great emotion.
Jesus’ question “Why do you call me good?” was not a rejection of the young man’s tribute. Rather, Jesus sought to cool the young man’s emotions and raise his spiritual insights. The latter had spoken truly, but he thought only on a human level. The point of Jesus’ question seems to have been an attempt to lead the young man’s thoughts to the supernatural level. To attain eternal life the young man would have to see Jesus not simply as a good man but as the Redeemer, God in the flesh.
Tragically, the rich young man failed the test because of his attachment to his wealth. Daily we all need to ask ourselves whether there is anything in our lives which means more to us than does our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why Did Jesus Use Parables?
Q. In the Gospels I count 30 or more separate parables Jesus used in His earthly ministry. Can you imagine why He seemed to favor this kind of instruction?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. There are several possible reasons for Jesus’ frequent use of parables. A story catches our attention. Humans of all ages like to hear a story. A story is more easily remembered than a statement of principle, and is therefore an effective teaching device.
A deeper and probably more important reason is this: If taken seriously, the parables can lead us into self-examination. When I hear the story of the prodigal son, I tend to ask myself if I am in some sense also a prodigal son, or a self-righteous older brother. When I hear the story of the good Samaritan, I tend to ask myself about my sins of omission. When I hear or read about the Pharisee and the publican, I tend to examine myself for evidences of smug self-righteousness. Whatever else may be their purposes, I believe all the parables are aimed at inducing in the hearers and readers this kind of reaction. [Editor’s note: This topic will be subject of a feature article in coming months.]
What is Mammon?
Q. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). What does the word “mammon” mean?
A. “Mammon” originally was a Hebrew word which simply meant “material possessions.” The word mammon comes from a root term which means “to entrust.” Mammon once designated that which a person gave to a banker or some other custodian for safekeeping. Over the course of years, mammon came to mean not “that which is entrusted to another for safekeeping,” but rather “that in which a person places his trust.” And so mammon came to denote a rival to God himself.
This development of the meaning of mammon reveals a basic and ever-present temptation in our lives. It’s the temptation to put the things of this world — possession, even other persons — at the center of our lives, rather than God. Either we let God stand at the center of our lives, or we reject Him. There is no middle ground.
Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter's Church in the same city.
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