It is right to say that God is almighty and does not need us or any creature, because all happiness and joy, all wisdom and goodness, all peace and contentment are in the Blessed Trinity eternally. So why did he create us? Certainly not because God lacked anything and wanted to be adored in the way a celebrity might want to be famous and admired. It seems that God created us out of sheer generosity, wanting us to share his joy and his glory. In fact he has given us the highest destiny of all, to become utterly like him and to see him as he really is in what we call "The Beatific Vision". This means that in seeing and knowing God we become as blessed as he is. Put simply: to know him is to love him. And to love him in willing obedience and reverence is to adore him, not for anything we can get from him, but for his own sake as the most perfect goodness, the most holy and the most wonderful of all that is. If we think of a baby looking up into the eyes of its mother or father, we could say that the baby naturally adores them because they are the child's world, their creator, their life and their happiness. This is as it should be. It follows the natural order and truth of things. In a similar but even more fundamental way, we should adore almighty God because this is the supernatural order of things. It follows from the truth of who he is and of who we are. This is why God commands it as the very first commandment. God gains nothing by being adored, but we gain everything because we are blessed by being drawn ever deeper into his presence, knowing and loving him more and more as he allows us to enter the endless mystery of his being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- If we can’t change the will of God, then why should we pray and fast? Whatever is going to happen will happen anyway.Close
Superficially, this seems an intractable problem. We feel the need to pray. Jesus teaches us to pray: that we might receive our daily bread, that we might be forgiven, that we might be delivered from evil. Yet how can human prayer possibly change the mind of God, Who is eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful? Well, the point is exactly that: God is eternal; He is outside time. So it is not a question of our prayers now changing something God had planned for the future. Rather, for God, all time is ‘now.’ ‘Past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ are human perspectives. But in God’s design there is no inconsistency in ‘future’ events taking into account our prayers and actions in the present. This is why Scripture can state: ‘The prayer of a just man has great power in its effects’ (Jas. 5:16).
1. The purpose of the Christian religion, which came to us through Jesus Christ, is to get us to Heaven and, since sin entered the world, to keep us out of Hell. Noone on their own can achieve this, the purpose of their existence. All need God draw them into His Life.
Jesus said, "I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance." No one is truly good except God alone, and we all fall short of the glory of God in some way. So we all need the grace of Jesus given to us through the Church if we are to be saved from the spiritual death of Hell and reach final happiness with God in Heaven.
2. What does it mean to be ‘good’? Goodness cannot be separated from Truth, which is uniquely revealed to us by God.
To know what is involved in being "good" in every way we need to know and love Jesus who is The Way, The Truth and The Life. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is "You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind and strength" and the second one, which flows from this, is that "You must love our neighbour as yourself". In order to do this we must belong to Jesus in his Church. The saints are the ones who show the goodness of God and the grace of Christ at work in human lives. There was a young man in the Gospel who told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments since he was a child. Jesus looked at him and loved him for that, but then he said "come follow me." The real question to ask is not so much 'why do we need religion', but 'why do we need Jesus Christ?' The answer is, because in Him is Life and Life to the full. That is the purpose of the Catholic faith.
3. Any living thing must come into contact with that which provides its fulfilment, otherwise it cannot flourish. Since human beings are created by God and for God, we must come into contact with Him to receive what we need for our fulfilment and happiness, since the material world alone is insufficient to meet all our needs.
It is true that we can meet impressive people and see acts of kindness and heroism outside the Church. Such goodness, wherever we find it, comes from the prompting of God through the human conscience which naturally seeks Him, even if we do not recognise it at the time. Those who follow their conscience and strive to do what is right in so far as they understand it will be drawn towards Jesus step by step (unless something or someone blocks the way by bad example or false teaching). The closer a person comes to God the better they will be.
Only God can inwardly transform us, moulding us into the person He designed us to be. Only God can provide the inner strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One. All this He does through giving us His grace, the sunshine of our soul. The Christian religion is designed by God to provide the spiritual eco-system where we can receive His transforming grace, making it possible for us to reach Heaven.
We’re not made simply for contentment, we’re made for God. So our lives will never be as contented and happy as they can be if we don’t assent to God in heart and mind. The extent to which there is true happiness without acknowledging God, this happiness would gradually become deeper by acknowledging God by lovingly taking up one’s Cross. Human beings have a spiritual soul which means that God, who is pure spirit, can communicate with us directly, and we with Him. It is God Himself who has placed the desire for Him in our hearts: as St Augustine said, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ Since we come from God and are going to God, we can say that the human person is, of his very nature, a religious being. We all seek happiness and fulfilment, and we who believe know that these come from God alone; many others, however, seek happiness elsewhere and, while this may satisfy them for a while, it cannot answer the fundamental questions that arise in the human heart.
- If something good happens after someone prays for it, and the same thing happens to someone who doesn’t pray for it, how can you prove that the prayer was answered?Close
God is free to bestow gifts on people even if they don’t ask for them! Does a parent only provide good things for their children if they specifically ask? Also, only God sees all things and knows what is necessary fo each of us. He created every one of us as unique indivdiduals, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how He answers prayers and gives gifts. It is not simply a matter of whether we are believers or not.
However, the non-believer does not recognise the hand of God in what happens, so the grace God gives doesn't deepen their love for Him. For those who do believe, the more you pray, the more you recognise God at work in our life, the more you understand of His ways. You come to understand that God always answers your prayers by everything working out for the good for those who love him. But prayer changes you more than it changes God. You learn to rely on God's care and providence and to ask for the right things (St. Paul said be ambitious for the higher gifts of faith, hope and charity).
In fact prayer is not first and foremost about asking for things. Prayer is about adoring God, giving him the praise that is His due and so raising our own minds and hearts to him to be in communion with his own most holy and perfect Mind and Will. This very act is a blessing for us as we are drawn into the life of the Blessed Trinity and our own lives are conformed little by little to God's purposes, shaped by his grace and guided by his providence. So we do not judge prayer by whether it "works". The more we listen to God, and the more we learn about how he does answer our prayers and guide our lives, the more we learn more about what to ask for, how to use his gifts, and how to trust him through good or bad times.
All prayers are answered, but not necessarily in the way we may expect or want at the time. All good things are gifts of God, but as we also know that all things work together for our good is we trust in God's goodness and love. Even if God allows us to suffer in some way, that can be an invitation to become more Christ-like, to become more generous and humble and to open oursleves to sharing the burdens of others. Suffering can also act as a purification of our motives and a chance to offer it as a penance for our past sins. So even suffering and loss can be a belssing in disguise.
God can and does shower his blessings even those if they don't believe. It may be that He does this to lead them close to him or try to awaken their souls to his love. Of course that could be because someone else is praying for them. In fact all blessings are because Jesus prayed for us on the Cross and continues to offer himself for us in heaven and in every Mass. Jesus said that the Father makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on good and bad men alike. But unlike the the unbeliever who fails to recognise God's blessings, the believer goes back to Jesus in deeper prayer and gratitude, so we grow in love of God, humility of heart, joyful trust and inner peace. This is the real fruit of prayer.
It is true that Christ did not come immediately after the sin of Adam, but Scripture assures us that when Christ did appear it was in fact the right time: “... when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). As explained elsewhere, the world was created for Christ’s sake and all human history is focussed on his coming. In fact the whole history and development of the world from the beginning was building up and preparing for God to become Man. His coming at the "fullness of time" is the completion and crowning glory of the Father's eternal plan to raise us up to share in his own life. Again Scripture says: "In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets of old, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Hebrews 1,1-2) So Jesus comes "at the end of the ages" to begin the final chapter of God's kingdom of grace and bring us the fullness of life through communion with the Blessed Trinity. In doing this he redeems us from the disaster of sin and death by offering his life on the cross.
This does not mean that God was absent during the time before the coming of Jesus. God's help has never been absent from human history, even after humanity’s Fall. He comes close to all who call on him from their hearts and seek him sincerely. God still revealed his Word through holy souls, raising up the his chosen People to give the world hope of healing and salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "Christians of the first centuries said God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ [gathering together] of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church”. The Catechism also explains that "This 'family of God' is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father's plan." and that "God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels' fall and man's sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world." (Catechism 759, 760).
We cannot yet know all the mysteries of God's plan, but it seems that Jesus came at the very beginning of the modern world when all nations have gradually become united in one global community, so the Church and the Gospel can be taken to every part of the earth. The Catechism again says that the Church is "already present in figure [in the community of our first parents] at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvellous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Covenant. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time." (Catechism 759)
God is not responsible for the brutality of the crucifixion. On the contrary, the crucifixion is the result of human sinfulness. This is because human wickedness has real consequences, and therefore our redemption (i.e. how God saves us from our sins) is not just about God “turning a blind eye” to our rejection of him. Rather in the redemption God actually takes the consequences of man’s sinfulness. This is what St. Paul means when he says that “in Christ God became sin” (2Cor 5:21).
Redemption is the healing of the damage caused to human nature by sin and the restoration of man’s lost relationship with God. By freely accepting his unjust condemnation Christ took on the ultimate consequences of human sinfulness. For, in putting Christ to death, we human beings not only rejected God’s love but sought to eliminate God entirely from the world. But in the very moment of the rejection of God by man, Christ - who is both fully human and fully divine – accepts the rejection and turns to God praying for the forgiveness of humanity “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” The effects of the redemption (the healing of human nature) are communicated to us through the Church, and especially through her sacraments.
- If God the father sent his son to die, doesn't that mean that those who planned his death and crucified him were just puppets being controlled by God?Close
God created human beings free and he never overwhelms our freedom. The fact that God knows all things does not mean that we are forced to do what we do – it simply means that God knows the results of our free choices before we make them. (In philosophical language: divine omniscience does not imply human determination). God, therefore, did not force those who crucified Christ to make the decisions they made – much less did he will their evil deeds. But, although he permitted them to abuse their individual free will he did not allow those individual choices to frustrate his overall providence for humanity. In the providence of God the evil choices of those who crucified Christ, therefore, became the occasion of his victory over sin and death.
When we talk about the actions of Jesus we need to be careful because He has two natures— He is fully divine and fully human—even though He is only one, divine Person—God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. Everything that Jesus does can be attributed to His one Person, but that Person acts differently through His two natures. For example, He works miracles through His divine nature—it is impossible for human nature to work miracles (that’s why they are miracles!). On the other hand, it is through His human nature that Jesus suffers—it is impossible for the divine nature to suffer. Hopefully we can now see the answer to the question. It is through His human nature that Jesus died on the Cross. The divine nature is immortal. It is Jesus’ human life, not His divine life, which came to an end on the Cross. Thus, even though He genuinely died on the Cross, this does not mean an end to His divine activity, including “upholding the universe by His word of power” (Heb 1:3). The same distinctions help us to see how Mary is mother of God. She is mother of the second Person of the Trinity—she is someone’s mother, and it’s no one else! But she is His mother through His human nature. She gave Him human life, not divine life. Indeed, through His divine nature Jesus created Mary.
It is part of our everyday experience that material things need causes. If you discovered an elephant in your sitting room, you would immediately ask yourself how it got to be there—you would not think, “Oh well, maybe it’s just here for no reason—elephants often just turn up like that.” Elephants need causing. Science is the study of material things; it attempts to explain why they happen and why they exist. (It is part of our scientific knowledge that elephants need causing!) Thus, everywhere science applies, the things it describes need causing. Crucially, the universe as a whole—in other words, the whole of matter—can be studied successfully by science. That is the science of cosmology, and it is one of the major human achievements of the 20th century. However, it follows from our argument above that the whole universe needs causing. Therefore matter needs a cause. It is worth noting that even Richard Dawkins basically accepts this fact. In The God Delusion (in the last section of chapter 4, p. 155 in the first edition) he admits that “there must have been a first cause of everything”—even if he is not prepared to call that cause God!
Science is concerned with the material universe and its ‘law-like’ behaviour. Catholic Christians believe that God created the universe and continues to hold it in being. Without God the universe cannot exist. So we should expect an interweaving harmony between science and doctrine, just as there is between reason and faith. This has always been the emphasis of the Church. She does not propose belief regardless of whether it fits in with other forms of knowledge, and the Catholic tradition has always affirmed the importance of learning form physical observation.
Discussion of the existence of God is a philosophical question. It concerns the interpretation of what humans perceive. Because God is not material, rather He is pure Spirit, there can be no physical 'experiment' to prove or disprove God's existence. However humans can and should interpret the 'laws' of physics. The interrelatedness of being within matter that lies at the heart of all natural science, begs the question: Why is the universe ordered as a unity? Why are the structured patterns of matter so constructive over space and time?
Matter does not control or direct itself, yet science as it progresses is gradually uncovering a sort of organic unity within the universe in which atoms become molecules, molecules link to form chemicals that form proteins, these link to form DNA, simple life forms evolve into more complex life forms, and so on. There is a general evolution of matter in complexity and organic unity up to human beings. We are increasingly aware that material beings are interrelated in a sort of hierarchy of dependence within a single 'ecosystem'.
The place of humans in creation is unique; in fact, the universe has precisely the right physical and biochemical constants and dynamics such that human beings could evolve. This is further evidence of Mind (and of the relationship of humanity to God and his eternal Son, Jesus Christ - but that's another question). Scientific theory concerns itself with discovering through careful observation the physical 'causes' of things. It fills out, often through mathematics, the patterns of the physical environment in which all human being live and perceive. In short the human explorer recognises that the things we observe are 'contingent', they are not necessary of themselves. If I turn on the light and it goes on, this is not necessary, it might not come on, but it is not random, there is causation: if the light does not come on, we assert that there must be some explanation: the bulb has 'blown', a circuit-breaker or RCD has 'tripped', a wire is loose or there is a power cut. We do not accept the failure of the light as just part of a capricious, random universe. We are always discovering anew a universal set of meaningful, lawful patterns that allow us to discern such explanations. Science, like all intelligent observation, is gradually unveiling and homing in upon these laws.
Not only do the physical things in the universe ‘obey’ the laws of nature, the universe itself obeys them! Therefore, the universe is contingent being, i.e. it depends on some other cause(s) for its existence - but on what? Some atheist scientists/philosophers object here that the universe really IS its own explanation, that it really is self-causing, yet there is no scientific evidence for this. The physical laws themselves as grasped by us, e.g. Newton's Laws of Motion, are not material things, but intelligent and useful descriptions of what we have observed of the physical world. Yet we consider them scientific and pretty accurate, even after Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Why there should be such meaningful and constructive patterns at all rather than randomness is a 'meta-physical' question, i.e. going beyond physical laws. A metaphysical principle that would explain the existence of scientific law throughout the universe is a MIND which controls and directs matter; matter cannot control and direct itself 'upward'.
This flows by analogy with our spiritual minds which discover such meaningful control and constructive direction. Indeed, in the image of the divine Creator, we add to the natural hierarchy of unities through our intelligent engagement with our environment – not least by our creation of artefacts.
Conclusion: This then is the grounds of a possible synthesis of scientific thought and Christian doctrine. There is a 'Unity-Law' within matter which is a result of God's creative action. Our positing of ‘laws of nature’ comes from our developing analysis of the material behaviour of the universe as ordered and unified. But such lawfulness cannot explain its own existence. For that we need a cause of the universe that forms it all from top to bottom, from beginning to end – that is “ex nihilo”. This Mind is NOT contingent being –but one that is necessary: this we call GOD, a Centre of Knowing and Loving beyond the material universe, one that was there before the universe existed and is present to keep it in existence; one that will continue to exist after the universe has ceased to exist, pure Spirit, necessary Being, uncaused First Cause, the Creator. In this perspective, the existence of God, far from being disproved by science is something pointed to clearly by the Unity-Law of material being and the universal, ordered inter-dependence within creation.
For a fuller explanation see http://www.faith.org.uk/prod/can-we-be-sure-god-exists , http://www.faith.org.uk/prod/catholicism-a-new-synthesis
If you are a fundamentalist, interpreting everything in the Bible literally, then Genesis is disproved by modern science (or vice versa). But then Genesis 1 is disproved by Genesis 2: in Gen 1 the plants are created on day 3 and man on day 6, whereas in Gen 2 Adam is created “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth”. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Genesis uses “symbolic” and “figurative” language in describing creation and the Fall (CCC 362, 390). Again, St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the Church’s greatest theologians, recognised that the six days of creation cannot be interpreted in a fundamentalist way: days are normally reckoned by the rising and setting of the sun, but the sun was only created on day four! (De Genesi ad Litteram, bk 4, ch. 26) And note that St Augustine was writing more than 1000 years before the rise of modern science. Thus it is clear that you should not be a fundamentalist if you are a Catholic. Once we accept that the language of Genesis is symbolic, then there is no difficulty in holding both what it really teaches about creation and what we have learned from modern science. In fact they fit together beautifully. And this is what the Catechism teaches: The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. (CCC 283)
- How can the church say that all these anathemas from the councils are divinely inspired and not just the work of men?Close
Someone or something pronounced ‘anathema’ is declared separated from God or accursed. The Catholic Church did not invent the concept; it is found in both the Old and New Testaments, e.g. 1 Cor. 16:21. From a very early date, anathemas were used by Bishops meeting in Council to teach the true faith and correct errors. An anathema is a solemn recognition that holding certain beliefs involves us deliberately separating ourselves from God and the Church. How can Bishops do this with authority? Because Jesus is the Son of God and, so His voice should continue to be heard in the world, He shared His divine authority with the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops. ‘He who hears you, hears Me’ (Lk. 10:16).
God has created different sorts of things. In particular He has created matter, which is simply controlled by His laws of nature (the laws we attempt to discover in the natural sciences). He has also created spiritual beings, angels and human souls, which have free will; they are also governed by God’s laws—His commandments—but they are free to decide whether or not to obey. This freedom makes spiritual beings more like God than matter is, and gives us much greater dignity and value. Ultimately, the reason for freedom is to enable us to love; for love, by definition, has to be freely given. It is therefore an indication of God’s infinite goodness and power that He has created such spiritual beings. Now it doesn’t make sense for God to give a being free will and then force it to obey His commandments. If God was going to do that, He might as well limit Himself to creating only matter. But if spiritual beings can disobey God’s commandments, then bad things can happen. Paradoxically, it is a mark of God’s goodness, power and love that He can create us with so much power that we can do bad things. We need to add one more point. God is also all-wise. He knows that even if bad things can happen, He is powerful enough to restore all things at the end of the world—and that indeed is our hope.
In order to address these, and similar, questions we must first understand how to read the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God written down in human words. This means that God is the author. This is why we can be perplexed by some of the things we read, especially in the Old Testament. We can be tempted to think that since it is written in the Bible, God must approve of it. But this would be to miss an essential aspect of the Bible itself. Since the Bible is written in human words, the books it contains have many human authors from many eras and cultures. The Church teaches that God inspires the human authors to write what God wishes to be communicated. All the while that they are being inspired, the human authors are conscious and awake, acting with their own faculties and gifts, and bringing their own personal style to the writing. They are not in a trance. God, as the divine author of the Bible does not dictate to the human authors every word, phrase and manner in which they should write. The Bible is God’s message communicated in a very human way. As a result, the human authors bring their own culture and understanding to what they write. We may find this understanding to be quite primitive and underdeveloped, especially in the books of Old Testament. In fact, we see on the Old Testament how God gradually forms and guides humanity from a primitive to a more enlightened understanding of God and His creation. Only with the coming of Christ, who is Himself the Word of God, are we able to grasp fully the nature of God and His dealings with human beings. All that has gone before was a preparation and, therefore, incomplete.
- In the Old Testament, why does God kill innocent people, such as the Egyptian first born and David’s child with Bathsheba?Close
As we read the Old Testament we must be clear that the human authors are expressing their own experience of their relationship with God. We are reading their view of God’s intervention into human history. This experience has not had the benefit of meeting Christ, who is the fullness of God, and so it is necessarily undeveloped and primitive in its expression. As a result, when we read of their perception of God, their viewpoint can by quite different from how we might express it. We have encountered Christ. They had not, and they needed many centuries of formation to bring them to readiness. What we read in the Old Testament are the perspectives of a people in transition and development. Their experience of God’s acts of mercy generally came through God’s protection and defence of His people in time of war, or through His providing them with food and shelter, or giving them rites by which they might express sorrow and receive God’s forgiveness. The descriptions in the Old Testament of such acts of mercy can now seem childish, ritualistic and primitive. It is not because God is any of these things, but because His people experienced His action in this way. Similarly, God’s justice is experienced and described by the people of the Old Testament in a primitive way. Justice seems, to them, to come through punishment, suffering and death. As a result, the death of the Egyptian first-borns and the death of David’s first son to Bathsheba, are interpreted as God’s acts of punishment. This is not because God deals out justice in this way but because this is how the people of the time experienced it, understood it and recounted it. Since we have encountered Christ in the Church and in the New Testament, we have come to know God’s mercy and His justice. We have experienced and understood them differently to our forefathers and we tell of them differently. Furthermore, the violence and hatred of human beings threatened the freedom and life of God’s people throughout their history. They saw in the destruction of their enemies the hand of God defending and preserving them. We now see the fullness of God’s intervention in our history carried out through Christ’s presence among us bringing mercy, forgiveness and judgement in His life-giving sacrifice.
- If we are not meant to do evil even if good can come of it, then why in the Old Testament does God use the enemies of the Israelites to punish them for their lack of faithfulness by killing, conquering and enslaving them?Close
The people of the Old Testament were on a long journey by which they gradually matured in their relationship with God, over long centuries learning about Him and discovering always more about who He is. Only with Christ is the full lesson apparent. The process of growing to maturity physically, emotionally and spiritually always brings pain and difficulties. Old habits are to be left behind, faults are pointed out and addressed. This is very much the case for a spiritual people growing spiritually, as we clearly read concerning the people of the Old Testament. They often experienced and expressed growing pains through their suffering at the hands of other nations. Coming to a realization that their relationship with God was far from perfect, they interpreted such catastrophic events as punishment at God’s hands. This is what we read in the Old Testament books. It is an expression of their relationship with God which is immature in many ways. God was able to use these events to draw them back and ever closer to Himself. They grew to know Him better until such a time that they were ready to receive Him fully in Christ.
The Church does not “make” saints, she merely recognizes them. A saint is a person who, at the end of their earthly life, is judged by God to be worthy of eternal bliss. The Church hopes, therefore, that there are many millions of saints in heaven. In particular cases, however, God makes clear through a miracle effected by the prayers of a particular saint that this person is in heaven. The process by which the Church recognizes that someone is in heaven is called canonization. The Church canonizes a person when his or her life is recognized as having heroic sanctity and being therefore worthy of imitation.
If that were true the following two states of affairs would follow. Neither of them are true:
1. It would imply that celibacy is a repression of the desire for sex, and that this desire is an urge that needs to be “released”. In fact sexual intercourse is meant to be a free gift of self in openness to new life. Certainly we can all, celibate or not, experience sexual attraction as the former urgent drive - this needs to be acknowledged as a temptation to selfishness. It is due to wounds which we have received, from Original Sin, from our own failings and from the hedonist influences which re becoming stronger in our culture.
All are called to live the virtue of chastity. This involves growing, by God’s grace, in self-control. Celibacy is one way of living this call freely to give of ourselves, and to grow in healing and the reintegration of our desires.
To consider sexual attraction as a Freudian impulse that must be released is the route to addiction and less freedom to love.
2. We would expect to see greater levels of abuse amongst groups in which celibacy is a normal way of life (such as Catholic priests), and by extension lower levels of abuse in groups in which celibacy is unusual. Yet the evidence shows the opposite of this. As explained at more length in a following answer, the number of Catholic priests who have committed the awful crime of abuse is too many but small, and smaller than professions in which celibacy is not the norm. By contrast, the class of people who are most responsible for abuse of children is, tragically, peers and family of the children themselves, who are usually not in the celibate state.
It’s no surprise then, that when the John Jay report (cited in the following answer) examined the causes of sexual abuse, it reported that “it is not clear why the commitment to or state of celibate chastity should be seen as a cause for the steady rise in incidence of sexual abuse between 1950 and 1980”. It affirmed the “obvious statistical observation that the vast majority of sexual abuse of children are committed by men who are not celibates”.
The reason why the false link between celibacy and abuse is made seems to be ignorance regarding the real reasons why sexual abuse happens. Psychologists report that people who sexually assault others do not do so because they need an outlet for their sexual frustration (there are many easier means of accomplishing that). Rather, abusers commit abuse in order to exert power and control over another human being. What they often perversely enjoy is the reduction or denial of the humanity of the person they are hurting. Sexual abuse is thus often a form of sadism and not a result of sexual frustration.
The claim that celibacy has helped cause sexual abuse is a claim that runs utterly contrary to the evidence, and unjustly moves responsibility for despicably evil acts away from the abusers, and onto some environmental condition such as the discipline of celibacy in a priestly life. Such a shift at best undermines, and at worst denies outright, the recognition that abusers have free will and culpability for the horrific assaults they commit. This double injustice should be corrected whenever it is asserted.
It is vitally important to recognise the truth, whenever the topic of sexual abuse is discussed, that there have been many cases of such evil and the cover-up of it by individual Priests, Bishops and others in various Catholic dioceses in the world. Wherever this has happened and been uncovered, it has been something that has appalled and sickened Catholics to a degree that is second only to the victims of abuse and their families or friends. Much in the same way that you would be horrified to find that your sibling, or parent, or uncle, or one of your mates, had engaged in the sexual assault of anyone, and would feel shame for the behaviour of your relative/friend, so such disgusting actions by Catholics appal and horrify other Catholics. Whenever such wickedness occurs, it must be fully exposed and condemned, and full justice must be applied by prosecution of all those individuals who share responsibility for this evil, either in their committing abuse or collaborated in it and its cover-up. Those in the media who have uncovered this wickedness have done the Church a great service. All of this is important to admit, and to assert.
A concern for compassion and justice for the victims, however, does not excuse a lack of faithfulness to the truth, and frequently the occasion of sexual abuse by Catholics has itself been abused in the service of dishonest propaganda against the Catholic Church, and our Priests in particular. Falsehood of any type does not serve the victims. A false perception has often been created (either by sensationalist commentary, or lazily prejudiced comments by stand-up comedians and others), that sexual abuse is wide-spread throughout the Clergy, and in some way a particularly Catholic problem. The evidence however, proves that this is the opposite of the truth.
In the United States, where the Church experienced a particular problem with clerical abuse scandals during the 90s and early 00s, their Bishops Conference commissioned a Report on the causes and nature of clerical abuse by the John Jay Institute, an independent legal research group, called the John Jay Report. This report found that a total of 10,667 people made allegations (just allegations) against 4,392 Priests – around 4% of the 109,694 Catholic Priests who served during that time – over a 52-year period (1950-2002). Of these accusers, 1,203 made allegations of sexual assault. 384 Priests were charged resulting in 252 convictions and 100 prison sentences. So, 0.35% of all Catholic Priests in America were charged with crimes, and fewer than that were found guilty. This is a strikingly tiny number, and clearly shows that abuse is an extreme rarity in the Catholic Priesthood. Similarly, in Ireland, the Ryan Commission report into abuse by Priests in Irish reform schools found that, over a 59-year period, just 68 people claimed to have been raped. Given the thousands of pupils who passed through those schools during those decades, that is a very small number indeed. We may reasonably conclude from the studies that have been done on this issue that, more often than not, the number of Priests who have abused is tiny in proportion to the number of Priests that have not ever done so. These facts are even more striking in comparison to other professions. Again in the U.S., a report by the U.S. Department of Education in 2004 found that “nearly 9.6 percent of [state school] students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career”, and that an earlier 1994 study had found that, in New York “of 225 cases of educator sexual abuse... all of the accused had admitted to sexual abuse of a student but none of the abusers was reported to authorities”. The author of this report, Dr.CharolShakeshaft of Hofstra University, commented that “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests”. Similar findings have been made of professions like sports instructors, but jokes and generalistic prejudice are not made about either the teaching profession or that of physical trainers. Indeed, according to the NSPCC, the vast majority of abuse of children and young people happens not by any particular kind of adult professional, but by peers (friends, boyfriends, etc.) and to a lesser degree family members (siblings, parents, etc.).
The idea then, that Catholic clergy are more likely to abuse, or that a significant number of them do or might abuse, is simply an anti-Catholic prejudice that runs totally contrary to the established facts. None of these facts excuses the sexual abuse by Priests that has occurred, but they, and recent scandals of abuse in institutions like the BBC, and (on a physical rather than sexual level) in the NHS, do provide the context to show that abuse of any kind is a human problem that has pervaded all of society, not a particularly Catholic one. Indeed, it is demonstrably less of a Catholic problem than in secular society. Finally, it is important to also recognise that where abuse has happened in Catholicism it has been a local affair. More often than not, when people talk about the ‘[Catholic] Church’, they often seem refer either to the Vatican – the centre of authority in the Catholic Church – or else are generalising about the entire world-wide Church. The truth is that the Catholic Church is actually an institution of over a billion people, the everyday running of everyday of life within which is hugely decentralised to individual Bishops and their Dioceses (the areas over which they have authority, each of which has its own bureaucracy and rules), or else the Bishops Conferences in individual countries. Consequently, when abuse and its cover-up has occurred, it has happened on the level of local Church authorities. This does not reflect anything bad about the entire Catholic Church, but only on those individuals in those dioceses in which abuse and subsequent cover-ups of it have happened. There is no evidence at all, however, of such evil activity at the level of the Vatican, or by Popes themselves. Indeed, quite the contrary, the last Pope, Benedict XVI, led the way in confronting and helping to rid the Church of what he called the “filth” of abuse. Before he became Pope, he oversaw a tightening of procedures and reform of the way that the Vatican deals with sexual abuse cases that come to it in order to deal with more cases, more efficiently and with greater justice for the victims. When he became Pope, he tightened them still further. Our current Pope Francis has followed his example by setting up a commission to advise him on what better to do to prevent abuse and help the victims and their families. In the United Kingdom, Catholics can have modest pride in our own Church for being an example to the rest of society in how to prevent and tackle sexual abuse. In 2000, the Archbishop of Westminster asked Lord Nolan to investigate and report on the issue of sexual abuse and child protection in this country. The resultant report led to a number of child safeguarding practices that now make the Catholic Church a model for how to deal with this issue, and one of the safest places for children in the entire country.
Human beings are a physical-spiritual unity. We were created this way by God. When God communicates with us, therefore, he communicates with us in a physical-spiritual way - proper to our nature. That is why God became man in Jesus Christ – and that is why Jesus continues to be present for all time in his Church. Through the Church Christ continues to speak to us in human words that we can understand and in the sacraments (physical ceremonies that communicate spiritual realities) he continues to feed, strengthen and heal us in an integral (physical-spiritual) way. Confession is the sacrament in which Christ forgives us our daily sins and that is why Catholics go to confession regularly.
We are made members of the Body of Christ through receiving three sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation, which we receive only once, and the Holy Eucharist which is Christ Himself. Confirmation completes and strengthens ('confirms') the spiritual “character” and belonging to Christ which are given at baptism. We are given a more perfect share in the identity and in the work of Jesus. He sends his Holy Spirit on us from God the Father to give us power and gifts (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord). We are enabled to live as a disciple of Christ, and can draw daily on the grace given by God in this sacrament so as to witness to Christ, fight against evil and defend the Church. Confirmation ‘tatoos’ your soul with the mark of Christ our King, a distinguishing mark of dignity which you carry with you into the next life
How we use these gifts will depend on our own unique and individual vocations. The grace given to us in confirmation enables us to grow to Christian maturity "... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3: 17-19)
The pagan Greeks and Romans cremated their dead, but the Jews who believed in the resurrection of the body laid their dead to rest in tombs. Of course Christians believe in resurrection when Jesus come again, and we also believe that our bodies are part of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit. So the Church naturally continued the Jewish tradition of burial, treating the dead with reverence and respect, especially the saints whose bodies are considered as sacred relics. From around the time of the French Revolution (1789) onwards some people expressed their contempt for Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and the existence of the soul by choosing cremation instead of Christian burial. In response to this, in 1886 the Church forbade Catholics from using cremation for funerals. Of course, cremation doesn’t actually affect God’s power to raise the dead and restore the body. After all, bodies may be destroyed in all kinds of ways by accident or acts of war. Forbidding cremation was a law of the Church at a particular time in history. The Church has authority from Jesus to “bind and loose” disciplines which govern the public religious practice of the God's people on earth — this is not the same as the Divine Law of God's Word and natural moral law. She still encourages burial as the preferred option, but acknowledges that the cost of buying a grave may be beyond some people, or there may be a severe lack of cemetery space in some areas, leading people to opt for cremation. This is allowed, providing it is not chosen for reasons contrary to Christian teaching. See Code of Canon Law, canon 1176.
Jesus is ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Is. 9:6). As St John Paul II said, war always represents a defeat for humanity. Yet the Church is realistic about the presence of sin in the world, including amongst her own members, which produces conflict. Thus, while individual Catholics may adopt a strictly pacifist position, the Church teaches that war in strictly defined circumstances may be justified as the lesser evil. The Crusades lasted for 200 years from 1095. The Crusaders’ motivation was complex. Some sought economic gain or military glory, but most were inspired by faith. Jerusalem had been occupied by Muslims for 400 years prior to the First Crusade, but on the whole, people of different faiths co-existed peaceably. The Crusades were a response to the new Seljuk Turkish rulers who destroyed the Holy Places and disrupted pilgrimages. While the Church promoted the recovery of the Holy Places, popes and saints were horrified by the outrages committed by some Crusaders. Possibly the worst excess was the sack the Christian capital of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade as the Venetians exploited Byzantine rivalries. Far from condoning this, Pope Innocent III excommunicated those involved. While not denying the wrongs committed, the Crusader kingdoms were at times relative beacons of culture and tolerance.
Celibacy is highly valued in the Catholic Church as an appropriate ways of living out the ministerial priesthood, being a Shepherd after the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Through the gift of celibacy, a priest can serve the Lord with an undivided heart. In the 20th century individual clergy coming into the Catholic Church from ecclesial bodies separated from the Catholic Church at the Reformation, were given special permission to be ordained as Catholic priests. The first were converts from the Lutheran Church in Germany in the 1940s. More recently John Paul II and later Benedict XVI have given permission on a case-by-case basis. John Paul II explained that this was to be seen as a gesture in recognition of the spiritual value of their previous ministry in the separated churches The conditions involved keeping the actual office of Parish Priest for celibate clergy. Put very simply, non-celibate priests are ‘exceptions that prove the rule’.
Grace is the effect of the Holy Spirit upon the human soul. It is a Gift of God ordered to the fullness of life. At its fullest measure, through the Gifts of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion, it is simply the Holy Spirit Himself salvifically “indwelling” in our soul. The effect of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is to make us a child of God, in the image of Jesus Christ, able to cry out from the bottom of our minds and hearts “Abba Father”. This sacramental, salvific grace gives the human being the Gift of Faith, supernatural Hope in God’s further gifts and divine Charity towards others. Before we have been baptised Grace is the Gift which draws us into personal relationship with God, knowing Him more as our “Environer”, preparing us to receive Faith, developing our natural need of him so that the Holy Spirit Himself may dwell within us. Thus we can call Grace the “sunshine of the soul”. It is what our minds and hearts are made for and are yearning for.
- How can you excuse the Catholic Church from some sort of complicity in the holocaust after centuries of Christian anti-Jewish persecution which must have paved the way for it?Close
Jewish-Christian relations have been marked with difficulties and contradictions from the outset. Jesus and the Apostles were observant Jews. Jesus came to fulfil, not to abolish, the Old Testament. Yet early Christians were persecuted by the Jewish religious authorities, including Paul. When the Roman Empire became officially Christian, some individual Christians held the Jewish people collectively responsible for the death of Christ and subjected them to restrictions. This was never Catholic doctrine.
It is telling that the Jews often looked to the Pope as their protector and, in all medieval Western Europe, the Jews were free from attack only in Rome and the Papal States. In the twentieth century inter-war period the Catholic Church spoke out strongly against all totalitarian regimes, Fascist, Nazi and Communist. The charges that the Catholic Church or Pope Pius XII were complicit in the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are unsustainable. Pius XII contributed to his predecessor’s 1937 anti-Nazi encyclical and in his own first encyclical repeated Paul’s assertion of the fundamental equality of Jews and Gentiles. He was guarded in his wartime comments, conscious of the repercussions Jews might suffer, but in his 1942 Christmas broadcast he condemned the slaughter of innocent victims on the grounds of race or nationality. In recognition of his role in saving the lives of thousands of Jews. After the War, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, whom the Pope had sheltered in the Vatican, converted to Catholicism, taking the name of Eugenio in honour of the Pope.
- Why is the church so homophobic? If two people love each other, they should be allowed to get married regardless of their sex.Close
The Catholic Church promotes the dignity and welfare of every human individual regardless of whom they are sexually attracted to. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that those with homosexual tendencies must “be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (2358) and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (2358) It does, however, teach that the meaning of human sexuality is found within the context of the life-long commitment of one man and one woman whose love (when enacted sexually) is potentially pro-creative. This means that any decision to engage in sexual activity outside of such a union is wrong; both for people attracted to the opposite and the same sex.
This teaching is founded upon the nature of the human person and of sex. Billions of years of the procreation driven evolution of life, under the design of God, has ensured that it is only the sexual union of man and woman that has the natural potential to procreate new life.
And new human life, body and soul, is made for eternal life with God. So the fostering of the human personality should be undertaken by the natural parents who have mutually, publicly and fully committed themselves to the task. This is the state of marriage. Marriage for Catholics is not merely a state of committed love between two (or more) people. It is oriented to the formation of family. This is even true of couples who are not able to have children. The faithfulness to their vows in myriad ways witnesses to and supports the goodness and meaning of married love.
It is for these reasons that civilised states, in recognising the foundational place of the family, have made the public, life-long commitment of marriage as a civil institution. It is for this reason that Jesus Christ and His Church have always taught that marriage is the only place for sexual union.
- Why does the church baptise babies rather than wait for an individual to choose if they want to be baptised or not?Close
Baptism washes away the stain of original sin and makes us part of the family of God. It is therefore a very good thing for anyone to be baptised. The Church encourages parents to have children baptised because she believes that every person is created by God and has the right to be brought up in the knowledge and love of God. Moreover, it is impossible for a child to be brought up in a moral vacuum – he or she will inevitably be influenced by the values of his or her parents. Such influences are natural and are not a violation of the child’s freedom because, obviously, children - when they have reached the age of reason - will make their own decisions about those values. Even from an entirely non-religious point of view, by having their children baptized parents are, therefore, simply exercising their human right to bring their children up according to their own cultural and ethical value system.
It is a mark of our secular society that we think it strange that our ancestors were concerned with the right belief of others. Yet the Church has a duty to safeguard the deposit of faith; we ought to be concerned by our neighbour’s eternal salvation. It is a question of the means employed. For the best part of a millennium, the Inquisition was an ecclesiastical tribunal, with specially-appointed judges, answerable to the bishop and the Pope to combat heresy and schism. Various points can be made. The judicial process of the Inquisition compared favourably to that of the civil courts of the day. Many were brought freely to see their errors and return to the Church. The abuses of the Inquisition have been massively exaggerated by the Church’s enemies. Physical punishment was administered by the State, not the Church. Non-Catholics, e.g. the Anglican Establishment in England, quite happily employed the same methods. Nevertheless, we have no hesitation in acknowledging that torture and capital punishment have no place in what touches upon a person’s conscience and we sincerely regret the abuses of the Inquisition.
Owing to the tragedy of Original Sin, suffering has become part of human life. Nobody can escape suffering in one form or another. Considered in the light of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, however, our trials are no longer a dead end; no longer meaningless. God the Father, who loves us with an infinite love, sacrificed His Beloved Son in order to redeem us from sin and death. Jesus, innocent though He was, willingly obeyed and died on the cross, in that place of utmost degradation and abandonment. In so doing, He who is both true God and true man assumed our guilt and experienced the fullness of our pain, thus transforming suffering into the means of salvation. So God does love us, and profoundly understands – from the inside – the extent of our suffering. He allows bad things to happen to us so that, uniting our suffering with that of Jesus’ on the cross, we will share in His great act of redeeming love and tap into that divine power which alone can make this world a better place. If we reflect on our own lives, we can often look back on tragedies that have befallen us or those we love and see that, in the Providence of God, a greater good came of it. God sees the bigger picture: what seems like a disaster to us, is actually, from a loving Father’s perspective, a means of bringing us one step closer to Him.
Mary’s protection from inheriting the wound of Original Sin, her Immaculate Conception, does not take away her free will. In fact it enhanced it. She is not forced to say yes to the Angel Gabriel but was fully free to utter her “I am the handmaid of the Lord”. She could have said 'no', which would have entailed the tragic dooming of humanity. All sin wounds freedom. When someone sins he freely turns himself against the right order of creation and salvation history. This wounds us all (and creation), making us less free, more slaves to disordered desires. We should be deeply grateful to Mary for having said yes, enabling our gradual healing and final redemption. Mary’s protection from original sin, her “Immaculate Conception”, makes her fit to be the Mother of God but doesn’t force her. Her particular role does have an incredible dignity, greater than the rest of us, but only in order that the rest of us might be saved. Only one (female) human being can have this dignity. So it’s not unfair to us. Her “protection” flows from this vocation of hers. It flows necessarily from the more foundational place she has in God's one plan of salvation and creation, relative to Adam and us his wounded progeny. Let’s remember that the virginal conception of Our Lord ensures that his humanity was “protected from Original Sin”. But it’s not so much a protection as the priority of the “Word made flesh” in Creation, “though whom all things were made”. (Jn 1:14, 3). The rest of humanity flows from His humanity, “in whom we were chosen from before the world began.” (Eph 2), and so the human nature of Christ cannot be intrinsically wounded by Adam’s sin as ours is. This is clearly not “unfair”. Now this virginal conception of the “first born of creation” (Col. 1) needed the perfect cooperation of a woman in the offering of her womb. This perfect personal complementarity of the Word made Flesh and the Mother of God founds the Church, His Bride. So Mary has a priority of divine “predestination” compared to the rest of us, including Adam. Her necessary cooperation with Christ in founding His incarnational work, intrinsically shares in His incarnational pre-eminence over all creation. Adam and the rest of us, in our being and our destiny, are founded upon this perfect, personal cooperation of Creator and Creature at the Annunciation. Indeed Pope Pius IX’s formal definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception affirms that her role flows from His. It states that her “immunity from the effects of Original Sin” was “by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race”. One, but only one, creature, must be first among us. It’s much more than fair to us all.
Not in the primary meaning of the word “worship”, which refers to that adoration and submission due only to the uncreated God. Mary is a creature like us. We are called to give her profound honour, to love her and invoke her intercession with her Son. She is the “highest honour of our race” because she cooperated in the most intimate and crucial way with the salvific work of God in Jesus Christ. She did and does this out of love for God and for us. She is thus rightly called Mother of God. Because we are the brothers and sisters of her son Jesus she is Mother of the Church. To fail to honour her and to ask her for help would be to disobey the fourth commandment, ‘honour your father and mother’.
God delegates a creative and intercessory power to us all. We are called to give each other honour and respect and to depend upon others for prayer, love and respect. Mary is owed such honour to the highest degree because of her unique and crucial role of complementing the coming in the flesh of the Word of God. This role is fulfilled by her being fully assumed into heaven body and soul as the first fruit of Christ’s redemption, the pledge and realisation of the victory of Christ’s work for us. She is the creature most worthy of our love. The saints are our brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to share the very life of God after their death. It is even more sensible to ask them to pray for us than it is to ask each other.
Because she is the essential complement of the Incarnation. And, in her Assumption into heaven body and soul, she is its completion, Therefore, through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, she is the perfect foundation of the Church. In order to become truly human, God needed the fully free cooperation of humanity through Mary personally offering her womb. Her role is so fundamental to God’s saving plan of Creation and Incarnation that it was, as the Church teaches, “predestined” from all eternity. Her life is something more foundational than that of any other human being and that includes Adam. Therefore it is not affected by the profound wounding of human nature caused by the sin of Adam which happened at the origins of our species. This wounding means that we need to be reintegrated or “reborn” in order to be capable of receiving the Holy Spirit. But God is already one step ahead of the tragedy of sin’s poisoning of human nature. He founded his plan “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4, & cf, Jn 1, Philippians 2) upon Lord Jesus, “the first born of creation” (Colossians 1), born from Mary conceived without sin. She is thus “predestined” to be free from the fall-out of original sin, and enabled to give herself entirely to the necessary foundation of the Church.
In the Old Testament God commanded his people to keep holy the Sabbath. The Church, which is the new People of God, observes Sunday as the Sabbath in commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ which happened on a Sunday. We keep holy our Sabbath by attending Mass and in this way obeying Christ’s commandment at the last supper: “Do this in memory of me.”
Sex is good and beautiful when its intrinsic meaning and purpose is respected. This meaning is twofold: to unify in love a husband and wife and to create new life. Only when there is openness to both these interconnected ends is the sexual act appropriate, truly giving and worthy of our human dignity. Masturbation is open to neither and is, therefore, a misuse of the sexual faculty. It is wrong because it distorts sex, which is meant to bring two human beings together, instead of closing the individual in on himself or herself. Because masturbation is a misuse of a fundamentally good and powerful human faculty it can easily become habitual or even addictive. For this reason, the Church recognizes that in certain cases the culpability of the act is diminished.
Before considering what nuns do, it’s more appropriate to reflect on what nuns are: regardless of the congregation or religious institute to which she belongs, making Christ present in the world is the nun’s primary mission. She does this by conforming herself entirely to the Person of Jesus Christ through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In poverty, she gives God her worldly possessions in the sure knowledge that He will provide for all her needs; in chastity, she offers Him her undivided heart so that she might be free to spread the Gospel and love all people with His love; in obedience, she offers God her will (through obedience to her superior) so that God’s will and hers may be one. In short, just as Christ Himself was poor, chaste and obedient, so must she be. The foundation of everything she is and does is prayer. Her daily life revolves around it, and because of it she becomes a point of intercession for the needs of many. She is a sign of hope that this world is not the end of the story and she is a sign of the eternal beatitude to which we are all, ultimately, called. There are contemplative and active nuns (although these last are technically not nuns at all, but religious sisters). For the contemplative, prayer is her work, essential as it is, and she is often engaged in hospitality at her monastery. On the other hand, the active religious sister’s conformity to Christ is expressed more visibly through a particular apostolate, for example, teaching, nursing, crisis pregnancy work and care for the homeless. It is through these that she serves Christ.
This refers to Ephesians 5:22 in which wives are instructed to obey their husbands in language that causes modern ears to balk. Yet this passage of Scripture, as with all the others, deserves a more nuanced and respectful reading. The short answer to the question is No. St Paul was not sexist. Both his writing and conduct in other parts of the Bible reveal that, far from undermining women, St Paul was actually ahead of his time in his dealings with them. In Acts, for example, he works closely with Aquila and other married couples - all, clearly, as equals; in Romans 8:17 he writes of us as 'sons' of God, 'co-heirs with Christ', by which he means that, in Christ, all men and women are equal. In Eph. 5:22, Paul dies not mean that the husband should lord it over his wife and dominate her, since it is clear from what follows that the loving relationship that exists between a man and his wife flows directly from their love of Christ. He is the motivation forging the bond that unites them - He who is, after all, Lord of both spouses. Feminists conveniently forget that St Paul speaks of spouses being 'subject to one another', which therefore means subordinating themselves to the other. Yet they do this happily, since, of its nature, love compels one to give way to the beloved. Nor is this a half-hearted love: St Paul tells husbands to love their wives even as Christ loves the Church, that is, by taking on her suffering and enduring death on the cross for her. And so, that which is true of Christ as regards the Church, and true of a husband as regards his wife, is also true of anyone who is 'head' or has authority: it is a leadership of service and self-sacrifice.
The Church is against murder, sexism, slavery and the like, because the Church is faithful to Christ and His teachings. What we read in the Old Testament should not be interpreted as God’s approval of such crimes against the human person, but rather we should see how far humanity had to mature, be healed and be guided by God in these times before Jesus Christ's revealing and redeeming work for us. It is Christ, the Son of God, who gives us the fullness of God’s teachings. It is the Church which has been entrusted with these teachings. It is also the Church which has the authority to interpret the Bible for Christians so that we do not get the wrong message from our reading. There is much recounted in the Old Testament which is not God’s will, nor a true and full account of His way of dealing with us. Because the Old Testament looks towards the coming of the Messiah (the Christ) it needs Christ to shine a light on its true meaning.
- If disease and death are a result of original sin, then how come disease and death affect organisms that cannot sin and predate the fall?Close
Properly speaking, it is human suffering and death which are a result of the Fall, not disease and death in the purely material creation. Clearly, if God gave humans and animals the plants for food (Gen 1:29-30), then He envisaged that plants would die before the Fall. And presuming that we are not fundamentalists (see FAQ 41), carnivores, created before the Fall, would have eaten other animals—what else did God create a tiger’s teeth and claws for? We make a mistake if we attempt to equate animal suffering and death with human suffering and death. Because we have spiritual souls, and therefore have true self-consciousness, whereas the animals do not, the two realities are not properly comparable. In fact, it is one of the results of original sin that we are not fully aware of our souls or the dignity that they confer on us. Thus we can be tempted to treat humans as mere animals, e.g. though slavery or abortion, and to sentimentalise animals as if they were human. It is because we have immortal souls that, apart from sin, we would have been immortal in body as well. Everything else in the material creation exists for a time, fulfils the purpose it was created for, and then passes away; and this is part of the goodness of creation.
Papal Infallibility refers to the fact that the Pope is divinely preserved from teaching error in his formal teaching on faith and morals. It flows from the divinity of Christ in the Church. God is infallible, and He has irrevocably entered the human realm by becoming man. The Church is the continuation of this Incarnation, continuing Jesus’s “But I say to you” in her teaching and continuing his healing and life-giving touch in her sacraments. The Office of Peter (the ecclesial role assumed by the man who becomes head of the Church) involves the ability and responsibility to define truths concerning doctrines of faith and principles of morality, especially to “confirm the brethren” (Luke 22:32) when there is disagreement on important issues. The first exercise of formal papal infallibility was St Peter’s statement “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” which Jesus himself confirmed was uniquely inspired “not by flesh and blood but by my Father in Heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Thus papal infallibility is effectively exercised when according to the “manifest meaning and intention” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, n.25) of the teaching, the Pope invokes the authority of Christ to confirm and define a traditional doctrine of faith or morals. It is an essential gift to the Church in order to maintain the impact of the Incarnation, and the consequent unity in truth and charity.
No. The Pope can and does sin like the rest of us. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility merely correctly predicts that the Pope will, as a matter of fact, never formally teach error.
The Pope maintains the public unity of the Church. This unity in belief and witness is essential if Jesus’s role of humanly forming and feeding us with Himself is to be continued. The Apostle Peter was the first to be given this role, as is shown in Holy Scripture. The Pope is his “Successor”. Peter was one of the first twelve men sent out by Jesus to extend his own ministry of teaching and sanctifying. The successors of the apostles today are the bishops of the Catholic Church. With priests as their co-workers they continue to extend the ‘Kingdom’ or the ‘Reign’ of Christ in the world. St Peter and his successors have an additional role. St Peter was told by Jesus Christ that he was to be the ‘Rock’ (Matthew 16. this is what the name 'Peter' means, his original name was Simon) on which he would build his Church. The Church is on-going and so the Rock is still needed. Even as Jesus foretold Peter’s actual betrayal he confirmed his choice of Peter as the only one who could confirm his brothers (his fellow apostles) in the faith whenever they became confused about the truth and how to govern the Church - the phrase Jesus used was that they would be ‘sifted like wheat’ (Luke 22:32). The pope exercises this ministry chiefly by teaching as ‘Successor of Peter’. He can teach without error on behalf of all the Bishops in an extra-ordinary way when he solemnly defines certain teachings as infallible. He also teaches without error when he unequivocally confirms the Church's belief as handed down from the Apostles. As successors of the Apostles the bishops also govern and guide the Church. They are shepherds of God's people on behalf of Jesus who is "The Bishop and Shepherd of our souls" (1Peter 2: 25). The Church is not like a global corporation with a chief executive, it is a Family of families united in Christ. The Pope is the focus and head of that global family. The Pope does not run whole Church on a daily basis, that is done by the bishop in each diocese. But in order to be part of the Catholic Church, the bishops must believe and act in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Pope is the final court of appeal for matters of faith and Church law. Although not used very often he can also intervene directly with ‘immediate jurisdiction’ in any part of the Church in any part of the world. If we want to be in full communion with Jesus Christ we need to be in full communion with Peter’s successor in Rome.
- Christians believe Jesus healed people physically during his time on earth if they asked him sincerely for help. However today many people pray for cures and recoveries from all sorts of illnesses in a similar manner and their prayers are not answered. Doesn't this mean Jesus is inconsistent? Why were people in that time looked on more favourably?Close
It is true that the miracles of healing that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry do not seem to happen as often in the Church today, although they are by no means unheard of. There may be reasons for this we do not understand yet, but we can make certain observations. When Jesus healed people this was one of the prophesied ‘signs’ that the Kingdom or the Reign of God had begun. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the Good News is preached to the poor. (Matthew 11:5, Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, 42:7). It would seem Jesus was pointing in a rather spectacular way to the coming into the world of the power of the Kingdom and this will remain until the end of time. Jesus worked miracles to awaken the people's faith in himself as the Messiah who is God made Man. The Gospels always emphasize the response of faith, gratitude and discipleship in those who were healed by Jesus more than the miraculous events themselves. The people Jesus healed and even those he raised from the dead all died eventually. The permanent healing of our bodies must await the resurrection at the end time. The first and most important healing is from the wounds of sin. Jesus himself said that the miracle of healing was not as powerful as the miracle of forgiving sins (Mark 2). The forgiveness of sins remains in the Church today in the Sacrament of Confession. There is also a Sacrament of Healing we call the ‘Anointing of the Sick’. Essentially it is the healing touch of Christ. If Jesus lays his hand upon someone they are bound to be changed. Sometimes there is an improvement in a person’s physical condition. Traditionally it has always been seen as the healing of the senses to help people prepare for death before they go to Jesus Christ for judgment. From the perspective of faith, suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to someone. In the Sacrament of the Sick a person is encouraged to unite their sufferings in prayer with those of Jesus. Also, as an effect of being joined to the Body of Christ, the Church, they can actually help bring grace to others.
The Church recognizes seven sacraments because Christ instituted only seven sacraments and not twenty-five, or any other number.
The terms ‘Venerable’ and ‘Blessed’ are merely titles applied by the Church to a particular individual during the process of his or her canonization (see question 59 above).
We all need love, but what is it? What do we mean when we say we love someone? Love is primarily a spiritual reality. It is rooted in our souls. Love involves wanting all that is true, good and beautiful for the beloved.
Our bodies translate that spiritual desire into temporal action. Sadly, because of Original Sin, our bodies are not always good ministers of our souls. The harmony that existed between body and soul has been wounded and now, in our fallen state, that which feels ‘natural’ to our bodies is not necessarily natural, sometimes not at the service of others but of ourselves. So love is much more than pleasant feelings. These are an important result of love and personal communion, but they can come and go during our journey of growth into the Life in God. There are many ways of expressing love: some are not very pleasant; others are. Of those that are naturally pleasurable, not all are appropriate in every circumstance: expressing love to a fiancé will be different from expressing love to a grandparent! There are rules to loving.
When it comes to sex, this can be a very good expression of love, one of the highest expressions, in fact. But we all know that it can also be a very bad expression of love, as with rape or abuse, which has nothing to do with love and everything to do with power, domination etc. Sex is often referred to as ‘making love’ but in fact it doesn’t. If there is no love in a relationship, no amount of sex will create it. The truth is that, of its very nature, sex is actually very limited: it exists to enact that love which is called to becoming potential parents. Therefore it involves an openness to growing in self-giving and to forming children. This commitment is therefore until “death do us part”. The Church teaches that both elements of the act have to be present if sex is to be good for the two people involved. Only then is it a true expression and enaction of love. It’s great to be in love, and there are many ways of expressing that love – but unless you can honestly say that you want to give yourself entirely to the beloved in a life-long commitment in marriage and want to be parents, then sex will not deepen the generosity of your loving and living. In fact it can easily become a selfish drive. True love always waits. As Caryll Houselander wrote “Joy must gestate.”
This is a very deep question which cannot be given a simplistic answer. The first thing to note is that the problem of suffering in the world is not really a logical objection to God's existence, which can still be argued from the unity and coherence of creation on rational grounds. However, suffering may make us question whether there is a loving God. Suffering comes from physical, emotional or spiritual pain, or all of these together. Physical pain is a response to physical damage, so it is a natural self protective mechanism. So, if creatures had no limitations there would be no pain. But only God is infinite and without limits, so it is not possible for creatures to have no limitations. Sometimes transient pain can act as a learning curve about safe and proper limitations (finding out that fire is hot for example!). But the much deeper emotional suffering comes from the disruption of our own well being or of those we care about. Spiritual pain is the deepest of suffering in response to the destruction of goodness, justice and beauty in the lives and souls of individuals and communities. God wants the ultimate happiness of his creatures and wills only what is for their good. Distortion and destruction of what is good is never God's will for creation. However, the world is no longer as God made it. The law and order of goodness and justice was broken by the first human beings, and this had a devastating effect on all of humanity since then. We inherit from our first parents a wounded nature and a broken world. The sinful choices of all human beings then further add to the chaos, injustice and misery we so often find in the world. The reason human beings are able to disobey the law of God and disturb the goodness of creation in the first place is because we have free will. This in turn is because we are spiritual creatures made in the image and likeness of God, so God does not force us to love him - that would be a contradiction in terms in any case. Love is free and unforced by its very nature. But the question remains: why did an all-powerful God allow us to disrupt his creation and bring so much suffering into it? There is a great mystery here, but The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels' fall and man's sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world" (CCC 760). Great love involves great sacrifice, and the greater the personal sacrifice the greater the love. In the sufferings and death that Jesus willingly and humbly accepts we see the greatest act of love as he offers himself in atonement for the selfish sins of mankind. We should do whatever we can to alleviate the sufferings of others, but Jesus also invites us to "take up our cross" each day and follow him by making our lives a sacrifice of love to God's glory and in the service of others.For more information see our video on Suffering.
- If no women are allowed to hold any position of responsibility in the church, how can it have any relevance for them?Close
The Church should not be seen as a career structure where we compete for power, prestige and position, it is the Body of Christ where rank is measured by the holiness of our lives and the glory we give to God. Both men and women have important roles in the mystery of salvation. There are many female saints who have exercised great influence on the life of the Church on earth and continue to do so in heaven (for example, St. Hilda of Whitby, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, among others). Of course, the first and greatest member of the Church is The Blessed Virgin Mary who was asked to take on the greatest responsibility of all, to be the Mother of God who became man through her consent and her body. This is the highest vocation anyone could ever have, which eventually led her to the foot of the cross where she accepted the responsibility of becoming spiritual Mother to all God's people. Assumed into heaven in her body as well as her soul, she is the most highly honoured of all the saints and she prays constantly for the Church on earth.
Yet it is true that women cannot be priests. This is not because women are considered inferior. Nor is it mere traditionalism. It is because there is a reason and purpose for the division of human nature into male and female in God's plan, which gives men and women different and complementary, but equally valuable, roles in the Mystery of Salvation. Even before the foundation of the world, God the Father planned to unite heaven and earth in his glory through God the Son becoming the perfect Man . He also redeems us from our sins through this same mystery (see Ephesians chapter 1). So there had to be a way for God the Son to truly take human nature as his own but without being created as a new human person, because he is God in Person.
We can see that in human beings and many other creatures, the power to bring about new life has been divided into two collaborating halves—the male which prompts the gift of life, and the female which receives, actively responds, nurtures and brings forth the fruit of life itself. We would say that this is done precisely so that Jesus Christ, who is God the Son in Person, could be born into our world without being "procreated" as a new person from the decision of two human parents. When God becomes man the woman is essential but the male is set aside for that Virgin Birth.
Mary is "The Woman" at the heart of creation. In her femininity she responds to God's Life-giving decree and gives birth to him with a true human nature through the consent of her will and the fruit of her womb. This also means that, flowing from Mary's role in God's plan, all womanhood is sacred and sacramentally (physically and spiritually) expresses the whole created world's call to co-operate with God in bringing God's children to birth and maturity in the life of God in the image of Jesus. Masculinity, on the other hand, expresses the other half of the mystery, standing for "The Son of Man" who brings and prompts that life through his own flesh and blood.
So Jesus is born as a male because he is 'other half', the Bridegroom of creation. His flesh and his sexuality is "priestly" towards us, because he brings us into communion with God. This is why men can be asked to be priests who minister the sacraments of Christ to the Church. However, priesthood is not the whole of the Church. In fact, strictly speaking priest are priests to and for the Church. The female sexuality stands for and brings about the Church (which has always been called our "Mother"), nurturing and building that communion in the family of God's children.
Men cannot be mothers, just as women cannot be priests. and there are many roles of great importance and responsibility in the life and mission of the Church which women can and should participate. St. Paul speaks in his letters of the invaluable contribution of women collaborators his ministry in building the early Church. It is true that cultural prejudice and human sin has at times in history limited women's place in ecclesiastical life, and Christian civilization has made significant strides in this regard. There is much to be worked out, but unlike the dominant secular view, we do not believe that male and female identities are arbitrary and interchangeable.