Ask Fr. Shea

Faith-based questions and answers about a range of topics.

Answers are provided by Fr. Michael Shea, CM, Associate Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal.

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Question:

Catholic priests refuse to baptize infants unless the parents make solemn promises they are not sure they can keep. Why should innocent babies be thus penalized and remain “guilty” of Original Sin?

 

 

Answer:

Priests do not refuse to baptize babies; they may, for good pastoral reasons, delay Baptism until the proper conditions are in place. To administer any Sacrament, faith is required – either the faith of the individual recipient or, as in the case of infant Baptism, a “borrowed faith” (that of the parents). In the Baptismal Liturgy, the parents are asked if they intend to raise the child as a Catholic; they promise to do that. If they are “not sure,” they have no right to promise to do so. If they are reasonably certain they will not (based on their own pattern of Catholic practice), they commit sacrilege to make their pledge.

Logically, why should any parents present their child for incorporation into the Church if they find that life burdensome themselves? Removal of Original Sin is indeed an important aspect of the Sacrament, but the idea of membership in the Church is equally important and inseparable from the first: One is free from the clutches of the Devil only to be embraced by Christ’s Church. A lack of interest in that decision bespeaks a lack of understanding of the full meaning of Baptism. What is needed, then, is for the parents to obtain better information or to engage in the necessary conversion process, so that their lives may be models for their infant’s growth in faith.

 

Question:

What is the position of the Church on a married man viewing pornographic material?

 

 

Answer:

The Church’s attitude toward pornography is the same for everyone, married and single alike: Pornographic viewing (whether films or photos) is sinful, whether done alone or with others (even one’s spouse). Why? Jesus put it most succinctly: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Needless to say, that works the other way around as well. Pornography demeans the human person, both the one depicted and the one viewing the material, reducing a human being to little more than an animal in heat. Psychologists also now know the connection between this (which seems like a harmless private activity) and subsequent acts of violence. Sometimes people note that they get involved in pornography “to improve their marriage.” If this kind of smut is needed to improve a marriage, one or both partners should be seeking professional help from a physician, priest, or psychologist, or all three.

Question:

What does “INRI” stand for on the cross?

Answer:

They are the first letters of the Latin version of the inscription which hung over Our Lord’s head on the Cross: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum – Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews. St. John tells us this charge was written in the three major languages of the time and place – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – so that all the passersby would know the reason for the execution. The irony, of course, is that what the Jewish leaders had considered blasphemy and what the Roman officials had regarded as treason was the very Truth.

Question:

When we received a new pastor a few years ago, his first order of business was to remove the American and Papal flags from our church. This really caused quite a furor. We now have a new pastor and would like to approach him about returning them. What is the position of the Church on this matter?

Answer:

Liturgical regulations indicate that flags do not belong within the sanctuary. Aside from that, nothing else is mentioned. Many churches hang the flags from the choir loft or place them in the vestibule or in the back of the church. The reason is not to be unpatriotic, but to keep our focus – which is the worship of Almighty God.

If the flags are so important to so many parishioners, why not talk to your new pastor about returning them to the church, but in a place where they would not detract from the liturgy?

Question:

I don’t believe in the worship of Mary or that she appeared at Fatima. Does this mean that I am excommunicated?

Pregunta: No creo en la adoración a María o que se haya aparecido en Fátima. ¿Significa esto que soy excomulgado?

 

Answer:

No Catholic can “believe in the worship of Mary;” we worship God alone! Veneration of Mary and the other Saints and prayer to them is another matter. While no Catholic is forced to pray to saints, he or she cannot deny the doctrine that the Saints can be approached in prayer and with efficacy – this is defined dogma, and failure to accept this teaching is tantamount to maintaining a heretical position.

Accepting or rejecting apparitions is a purely personal decision, and the Church never does any more than say that a particular apparition is “worthy of belief,” but never that anyone must hold to such an event.

Respuesta: Ningún católico puede “creer en la adoración a María” ¡adoramos solo a Dios! Adorar a María y a otros santos y orar a ellos es otro asunto. Si bien ningún católico está obligado a orar a los santos, no se puede negar la doctrina de que los santos pueden ser abordados en la oración y con eficacia, este es un dogma definido y no aceptar esta enseñanza equivale a mantener una posición herética.

Aceptar o rechazar las apariciones es una decisión puramente personal y la Iglesia no hace más que decir si una aparición particular es “digna de creer”, pero nunca que alguien debe celebrar tal evento.

Question:

We just had a public Baptism in our church. Everyone involved was in some kind of irregular situation, as far as the Church is concerned. Is this proper? I’m not trying to be judgmental; I am just confused.

Pregunta: Acabamos de tener un bautizo público en nuestra iglesia. Todos los involucrados estaban en una situación irregular, por lo que respecta a la Iglesia. ¿Es esto correcto? No estoy tratando de ser crítico, solo estoy confundido.

Answer:

Church law indicates that baptizing an infant presumes the child will be brought up in the practice of the Faith. From what you describe, this was all rather lacking in the present case. While I think we need to be compassionate and certainly never give the impression of “punishing the baby” for the sins of the adults, pastoral prudence and a reverence for the sacraments requires a priest to address such situations very carefully. Minimally, the ceremony should not have been public, especially since you say “everyone” knew of all the difficulties. Furthermore, the event should have been used (and maybe was, but unbeknownst to the congregation) as a “teachable moment” in which the principal parties were invited to regularize their relationships with the Church.

Respuesta: La ley de la Iglesia indica que al bautizar a un niño éste deber ser educado en la práctica de la Fe. Por lo que usted describe, todo esto carecía en el presente caso. Aunque creo que necesitamos ser compasivos y ciertamente nunca dar la impresión de “castigar al bebé” por los pecados de los adultos, la prudencia pastoral y la reverencia por los sacramentos requiere que un sacerdote se ocupe de tales situaciones con mucho cuidado. La ceremonia no debería haber sido pública, sobre todo porque usted dice que “todos” conocían las dificultades. Además, el evento debió haber sido utilizado (y tal vez fue, pero sin que la congregación lo supiera) como un “momento de enseñanza”, en el que los principales participantes fueron invitados a regularizar sus relaciones con la Iglesia.

Question:

Is it a sin to view a movie which the bishops have rated as morally objectionable?

 

Answer:

I suppose you are referring to the rating system used by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. While this is not an infallible guide to the cinema, it is a good guide. If someone were to choose consciously to see a film he knew to be morally objectionable, he would have to have extremely strong reasons for the action – if he intended it to be a moral action. For example, someone may realize that a movie glorifies violence or sexual promiscuity and vividly portrays these things; however, he might see the film for certain compelling modems (a course requirement, for example). A person must know himself very well in order to depart from general viewing standards, lest he become infected with the disease himself: as computer-ese puts it, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Furthermore, no committed Christian should patronize films which offend against public morality; otherwise, the peddlers of indecency are receiving their support from those who should instead be doing everything possible to put them out of business.

Question:

I live in a Seventh-Day Adventist neighborhood and am constantly asked how the Church justified changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Can you refresh my memory on this?

Pregunta: Vivo en un barrio Adventista del Séptimo Día y me preguntan constantemente cómo la Iglesia justificó cambiar el Sabbath de sábado a domingo. ¿Puedes refrescar mi memoria en esto?

Answer:

As the Church began, the early Christians went to the synagogue for the Sabbath service and then met in their own homes on the evening of the first day of the week for the celebration of the Eucharist (Acts 20:7), in honor of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead on that day. When those first believers in Christ were eventually excommunicated from Judaism and thus expelled from the temple in the synagogue, they took the Sabbath service with them and simply tacked it on to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Hence the Mass in two parts, as we have it to this day.

Respuesta: A medida que la Iglesia comenzó, los primeros cristianos fueron a la sinagoga para el servicio del Sabbat y luego se reunieron en sus casas la tarde del primer día de la semana para la celebración de la Eucaristía (Hechos 20: 7), en honor a la Resurrección de los muertos del Señor en ese día. Cuando esos primeros creyentes en Cristo fueron eventualmente excomulgados del judaísmo y expulsados del templo en sinagoga, tomaron el servicio del sábado con ellos y simplemente lo añadieron a la liturgia de la Eucaristía. De ahí la Misa en dos partes, como la tenemos hasta el día de hoy.

Question:

As a recent convert, I am interested in some background on why Catholics light votive candles.

Me he convertido recientemente y estoy interesado en algunos antecedentes sobre por qué los católicos encienden velas votivas.

Answer:

Many Catholics have “foggy” notions on this topic, too, so don’t feel strange about the question. The lighted candle serves as a kind of prolongation of one’s personal prayer. Unable to remain physically in prayer beyond a particular time, the person lights a candle which does remain and symbolizes the desire for the prayer to continue. This practice is not unlike that of Orthodox Jews who, when praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, jot down their petitions on scraps of paper, which they then place in the cracks in the wall, enabling their prayer to be present to God even when they cannot be completely attentive to their petition.

Respuesta: Muchos católicos tienen leves nociones sobre este tema, así que no se sientan extraños frente a la pregunta. La vela encendida sirve como una especie de prolongación de la oración personal. Incapaz de permanecer físicamente en oración más allá de un tiempo determinado, la persona enciende una vela que permanece y simboliza el deseo de que la oración continúe. Esta práctica no es diferente a la de los judíos ortodoxos que, al orar en el Muro de las Lamentaciones de Jerusalén, anotan sus peticiones sobre trozos de papel, que luego colocan en las grietas de la pared, permitiendo que su oración esté presente a Dios aun cuando no pueden estar completamente atentos a su petición.

Question:

What is the difference between a Mass of Christian Burial and a Mass of the Resurrection?

Pregunta: ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre una Misa de Entierro Cristiano y una Misa de Resurrección?

Answer:

Some priests refer to the Mass of Christian Burial as the Mass of the Resurrection, but that is inaccurate. The only Mass of the Resurrection is Easter. What they are trying to stress is the Easter element in our Faith as we encounter the fact of death. Often associated with this is the use of white vestments and frequent strains of “Alleluia.”

While these are noble sentiments to foster, it is also important to allow people to engage in a very normal process of mourning – all within the framework of a Christian belief in the Resurrection, of course. Furthermore, at times, the joyous aspect is so highlighted that some people forget that the purpose of the Mass of Christian Burial is to pray for the deceased and not to the deceased.

Respuesta: Aunque algunos sacerdotes se refieren a la Misa del entierro cristiano como la Misa de la Resurrección, esto es incorrecto. La única Misa de Resurrección es la Pascua. Lo que están tratando de destacar es el elemento de Pascua en nuestra fe cuando nos encontramos con el hecho de la muerte. A menudo asociado con esto es el uso de vestiduras blancas y frecuentes tipos de “aleluya.”

Si bien estos son sentimientos nobles para promover, también es importante permitir que la gente se involucre en un proceso  normal de duelo,  todo dentro del marco de un cristiano que cree en la resurrección, por supuesto. A veces el aspecto alegre es tan destacado que algunas personas olvidan que el propósito de la Misa del Entierro Cristiano es orar por los difuntos y no a los difuntos.

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