TCA Faith for January/February 2013

What about Medjugorje?

Q. Years ago I went to Medjugorje. What is the story of that beautiful, peaceful town? Has the Church addressed it at all in the last 20 years? 

R.T., via email  

A. In a recent interview Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, was asked about the status of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje. He clarified the Church’s teaching in three points. 

First, whether the events associated with Medjugorje are supernatural has not been decided — that is, they are neither confirmed nor denied. Second, in this time of indecision, formal diocesan pilgrimages to Medjugorje may not be conducted. The reason is, by their nature, such pilgrimages would imply official sanction and approval of the alleged apparitions. Third, pilgrims are free to go to Medjugorje, and are entitled to travel with bishops and priest who may provide them ministry. 

Cardinal Schönborn concluded his remarks by saying, “Most important for me are the overwhelming good fruits of Medjugorje.” Countless people who have been pilgrims to Medjugorje would agree with the cardinal. Still, while making no judgment about the events at Medjugorje, some commentators contend that the presence of good fruits does not in itself validate alleged apparitions. 

Regarding an official statement by the Church, owing to the ongoing controversy, in March 2010 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it had formed an investigative committee to look into Medjugorje. We await the results of the investigation.

Profiting on Foreclosure?

Q. Here are a couple of questions I would like answered which came to mind as I was watching the news: 1) Where do Protestants get the idea that they can remarry once they’ve been divorced while their previous spouse(s) is still alive? 2) There are many homeowners who have been foreclosed on by banks and other lending institutions, some illegally. Now those homes are offered at bargain prices. Is a would-be buyer obligated to steer clear of such transactions, knowing that the home was taken illegally by a lending institution? By buying a home like this, wouldn’t I be morally guilty of taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune? Wouldn’t I be promoting such actions like this? 

William J. Draeb, Kewaunee, Wis. 

A. In their rebellion against the Church, the Protestant Reformers rejected Catholic teaching about marriage. They maintained that marriage is not a sacrament and is not indissoluble. Both many Protestants and the Orthodox agree that in some sense marriage is indissoluble, but certain acts do break the marriage bond and allow for divorce and remarriage. (See the logic? Marriage is indissoluble — that means “cannot be dissolved” — but in certain instances it can be dissolved. Strange!) 

The early Protestants typically could not agree on what constitutes grounds for divorce. Martin Luther taught that marriage could be dissolved on grounds of infidelity, impotency, desertion and refusal of conjugal relations. John Calvin and Theodore Beza held divorce could be granted for adultery or desertion because of religious differences. 

The Radical Reformers (Anabapatists, Hutterites, etc.) taught that divorce could be granted for adultery, but they generally opposed remarriage after divorce. Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich and Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, Germany, allowed divorce for adultery, abandonment, insanity and endangerment of life. In fact, according to Bucer, a couple could divorce simply by mutual consent. He was the first Christian leader to hold this view, which has become the common secular belief. 

Regarding foreclosures, I commend your sensitivity on this point. Under Congressional pressure, lending institutions began making home loans to people who appeared to be great risks because of their very limited financial circumstances. All those loans were passed from institution to institution. Any sale of a foreclosed-mortgage home is doubtless far removed from possession by the original owner. In my opinion, therefore, to buy a home at bargain prices would not be taking advantage of another’s misfortune.

Silence of Jesus?

Q. Two questions: (1) I am wondering about “eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ” in receiving holy Communion. My current understanding is that Jesus Christ is now present in His risen Body which is not perishable. So how can we, with earthly bodies, absorb the imperishable Body of Christ into our bodies? (2) After the bread and wine has been changed into Jesus Christ, why doesn’t Jesus ever physically speak to us? Has anyone ever heard Jesus talk, or is He always silent? 

Jim, via e-mail  

A. First, recall the fact that all things are subject to Christ (see Mt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:27; Col 1:16-17). In the Eucharist, at the consecration, occurs the miraculous change we call “transubstantiation.” This does not mean that the King of Glory comes down from heaven to enter the bread and wine. No; instead of His coming down, He draws into Himself the essence (substance) of the elements while seated “at the right hand of the Father.” The liturgy makes this quite clear. You will recall these words from Eucharistic Prayer I: “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts [bread and wine] be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” Our divine Savior is not Himself changed into the substance of the bread and wine; they are changed into Him. 

To use rather crass terms, we may say our divine Savior does not take some of His Body and Blood and impart it to the bread and wine. In the miracle of transubstantiation there is no detraction from the integrity of Christ’s risen and glorious Body. Rather, He shares His Body and Blood with His worshippers by changing the substance of the elements. You might say He enhances the extent of His Body and Blood at each consecration in the Eucharist.  

Now, for your second question. Jesus speaks to us continually in our minds and hearts in prayer, and especially in receiving the Eucharist and the other sacraments. He speaks to us very frequently through other people our lives touch. 

As for speaking physically, Jesus does speak to us through those He left in charge of His Church. To His apostles and their successors He said: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16). Think about it! To reject the official teaching of the pope and bishops is in fact to reject Jesus Christ himself. On another occasion, He told those same apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Mt 10:40). The voice of the Church’s magisterium is the voice of Jesus Christ.

Angel’s Role?

Q. Are angels part of the Communion of Saints? Are angels part of the mystical body of Christ? Is the mystical body of Christ the same thing as the Communion of Saints? Jesus Christ is a part, the head of the mystical body, so is Jesus Christ also head of the Communion of Saints? 

Bobbie Chilimigras, address withheld by request  

A. Begin with the third and fourth questions. The mystical body of Christ is comprised of all Christ’s members on earth (the Church militant), all those in purgatory (the Church suffering) and all those in heaven (the Church triumphant). The term “Communion of Saints” refers to the interaction and cooperation of all members of the three dimensions of Christ’s mystical body. As head of His mystical body, Jesus Christ is head of the Communion of Saints. (New Testament references to the “saints” on earth use a word which means called, or set aside, by God, though not necessarily of heroic virtue.) 

As for questions one and two, we must say that angels are part of the Communion of Saints, therefore part of Christ’s mystical body. Though the angels in heaven had no need to be redeemed as do all human beings, they still live under the headship and grace of Jesus Christ. You may have heard the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying [is] the law of believing”). The Church declares her faith in her prayer. She reminds us that the entire Communion of Saints, the entire mystical body of Christ, shares in the offering of the holy sacrifice. The liturgy’s preface for apostles, for example, concludes with, “And so, with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the hosts and powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory.” Indeed, in varying ways all of the liturgy’s prefaces proclaim this theme.

Before or After?

Q. As linear time only exists on earth, was there a before or after in regards the Incarnation in heaven? Upon the incarnation of Jesus, did He leave heaven (“God so loved the world that he gave his only son” [Jn 3:16])? What was the Son’s relationship or role to the Father and to mankind from all eternity, before He became man and known to us as our Savior? Are Jesus and Mary (Ascension and Assumption) the only beings in heaven who have bodies? 

Peg Salkay, Plymouth, Ind.  

A. In eternity, as you say, there can be no “before or after.” In God, everything is present to Him. The Incarnation is a historical event which forever exists in that eternal present. At the Incarnation, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on human flesh, but He did not “depart” from heaven. The Son’s relationship to the Father is eternal, unchanging, before and after the Incarnation. So far as we know from the Church’s teaching, only our divine Savior and His blessed mother now share the life of heaven in their glorified bodies. All other denizens of heaven will receive their glorified bodies at the general resurrection.

Error in Matthew 5:39?

Q. Matthew 5:39 says: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (NIV). However, Jesus resisted evil when he drove out demons who were possessing people. He also resisted evil persons when he drove them out of the Temple (see Jn 2:13-16). I think it is essential that we resist evil. Is Matthew 5:39 in error? 

Name withheld by request, St. Peter, Minn.  

A. Whatever the problem Matthew 5:39 may raise in our minds, it must be due to our failure properly to understand Our Lord’s words. This passage cannot be a call for total nonresistance to evil. Romans 13:1-7 declares that God ordains governments to use force against evil. Both James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:9 call on us to resist evil. 

We must always pay attention to the context of any particular passage which is difficult to understand. In Matthew 5:38, we hear Our Lord rejecting the ancient lex taliois (“eye for eye and a tooth for tooth”). In other words, he forbids acts of vengeance. Then, in the next verse, He turns to a particular example, speaking of one “who strikes you on the right cheek” (NIV). 

Notice that Jesus specifies the right cheek. Keep in mind that almost all persons are right-handed. For an aggressor suddenly to strike a person on the right cheek, he would use the back of his hand. Jewish rabbinic law taught that to strike another with the back of one’s hand is far more insulting than striking another’s cheek with the flat of his hand. Jesus is telling us we must not respond to insults in a vengeful way. Remember how Our Lord bore the most hideous of insults throughout His adult life and especially during His passion. 

Finally, then, Matthew 5:39 cannot be an error. As the Church teaches, “the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, No. 11). 

Keep the Commandments?

Q. The Ten Commandments were given to the ancient Jewish people to guide them until the coming of Christ. Now that we belong to Christ, why are we obligated to keep the Commandments? Did not St. Paul tell us, “For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith” (Rom 10:4)? 

Name withheld by request 

A. Recall what Our Lord told us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place” (Mt 5:17-18). Or look at that word “end” in the passage from Romans 10:4. It translates the Greek word telos, which means “full performance,” “fulfillment,” “realization.” So the Romans passage is simply a paraphrase of Matthew 6:17-18. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved in the human heart” (No. 2072). 

In other words, we are justified by faith through grace. That faith has to be lived. The Ten Commandments give us the basic structure for living out our faith. 

Think of this: God operates his universe not only by His physical laws, but also by His moral laws. We call the latter His “natural moral laws.” They constitute the fundamental moral postulates of mankind. Do read a very important small book entitled “The Abolition of Man,” by C.S. Lewis. In an appendix, he draws from widely divergent pagan and philosophical sources the fundamental duties of obligations to deity; the duty of truth-telling; respect for other people’s property; the duty of benevolence; and so on. Throughout the history of humanity you find these moral laws accepted. Not always observed, of course, for we all do live after the Fall. Various cultures may interpret the moral laws somewhat differently, but the fundamental laws always remain.

Minor Changes?

Q. When I say the Lord’s Prayer and come to the phrase “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” I substitute “keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil.” This allows God to do what He can do [deliver us from evil] and eliminates what He cannot [lead us into temptation]. More than 40 years ago the Church made the minor change from “Holy Ghost” to “Holy Spirit.” Why not make a major significant change?

Herman Baumgartner, Houston, Texas  

A. The Church’s changing what she calls the third Person of the Blessed Trinity provides no precedent for changing Our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:13, or anywhere else. You note that to change the verse in question would be “a major significant change.” It would be totally unacceptable. The Word of God cannot be tampered with. Probably, many individuals like yourself have difficulty with this verse. Start with the fact there is a world of difference between saying “lead us not into temptation” and saying “tempt us not.” It would be a contradiction of our Father’s revealed nature if He were to tempt us to sin. It does not contradict His nature, however, to lead us into temptation. 

God commonly leads us to battle with evil for our own good — that is, by His providence He leads us into conflicts in which He calls us to conquer evil by our reliance on His grace. By those conquests we grow in sanctity. God makes of those conquests great blessings. They help us entrust our lives more and more to Him, to become more deeply conscious of our utter dependence on Him. And yet temptations to sin are dangerous events, great trials, full of peril, and so Our Lord allows us — indeed, commands us — to pray “Lead us not into temptation.” This prayer is somewhat like Our Lord’s prayer in the Garden: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). 

When Peter began to resist with a sword those who come to take Jesus to His cross, what did Our Lord tell him? “‘Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?’’ (Mt 26:53). 

When Jesus prayed, “‘if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,’” was He not praying, “Lead me not into this temptation to save myself by destroying earthly powers”? Yet what were His last words? “Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).

Purgatory Beginnings?

Q. May I know when purgatory was created by God? 

John Okka, via e-mail  

A. No one knows exactly when the state of purgation was established by God. Prior to the fall of Adam and Eve, there was no need for purgation of souls before they could be admitted to heaven. We can assume, however, that it became necessary and therefore available after the Fall. TCA 

What does Gehenna mean?

Q. Recently, I read that the word hell in our English New Testament is a translation of the Greek word Gehenna. What’s the origin and meaning of Gehenna? 

Name withheld by request 

A. Gehenna derives from the name of the Valley of the Sons of Himmon. This valley lies southwest of Jerusalem. In this valley, centuries before Our Lord’s time, children were burned alive as offerings to the god Moloch (see 2 Kgs 23:10). Condemning this idolatrous practice, the prophet Jeremiah predicted that the site would be known eventually as the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jer 7:32; 19:5-6). In New Testament times it was a city dump, where fires burned continuously. 

No one knows how many children were sacrificed in this valley; perhaps even hundreds. We are horrified at the thought of the torture of these children. But never forget that our whole country (to say nothing of other countries) has become a “Valley of Slaughter.” Yes, and on an almost unimaginable scale. Each day our culture sacrifices more than 4,000 unborn children to the gods of convenience — and with unspeakable cruelty. May God have mercy on the killers of babies, and mercy on us who do so little or nothing to stop the holocaust of abortion.

What are the fires of Hell?

Q. How are we to understand scriptural teaching about the fire of hell? Do those who wind up in hell literally burn continuously and forever? How is that possible? 

Name withheld by request  

A. Our Lord referred to hell multiple times (see Mt 5:29-30; 10:28; 23:15; Mk 9:45,47; Lk 12:5). He warned against “the hell of fire” (Mt 5:22; 18:9, RSV); against “the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43); and against “the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8; 25:41). Our Lord also spoke of a “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 13:42). 

We have no experience or knowledge of fire that is literally unquenchable. Again, we cannot imagine human bodies being literally and eternally burned but never being destroyed. Recall the words from the Creation story: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Gn 1:31). Through the processes of nature (like death and decay), God’s creatures are changed, but He never destroys them. 

The most agonizing pain is that of being burned. To be cast into “the eternal fire” surely refers to the keenest of suffering, but not to being forever incinerated. 

On the level of speculation about existence in hell, no one has written more eloquently or more extensively than one of our greatest poets, Dante Alighieri. In thirty-four cantos he details a journey led by Virgil through all levels of hell in his “Inferno.” At the sinkhole of hell Dante finds not fire but ice. Satan himself is completely sealed in ice. 

Dante’s chief modern interpreter and translator, Anthony Esolen, explains why Dante regards being frozen in a lake of ice as the ultimate suffering. For Dante, being eternally frozen, not being burned, is the most fitting punishment for the most depraved sinners. The reason is, evil has no existence in itself. It is only the corruption or absence of good. Fire, says Esolen, is an image of the divine power, while ice is an image of total inertness, “as far from the freedom and power of God as a thing can be” (Inferno, 511). 

Whatever one imagines “hell” to be, Our Lord’s words seem to leave no room for a hope that hell will be empty. The Church has condemned the heresy of universalism, which holds that no soul will be lost eternally. 

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.