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 Miraculous Medal Shrine.

Send Your Question to Fr. Shea.

Question:

My husband and I were married by a minister. We now have children baptized in the Catholic Church and want to get our marital situation rectified. What do we have to do?

Answer:

All you need to do is go visit your parish priest and ask him to begin the process of having your marriage validated. It only involves filling out some forms and then going through a ceremony of vow renewal.

Question:

I recently went to Confession and was told by the priest that it was perfectly permissible to receive Holy Communion without having gone to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was under the impression that one could not receive in the state of sin.

Answer:

One must be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion, which means the absence of mortal sin, to put it negatively. Your priest was obviously referring to this when he said it is not necessary to go to confession before each reception of the Eucharist, and he was right. If, however, one is conscious of serious sin, then one must use the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question:

Why do Catholics pray to the Saints when Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man?

Answer:

Catholics agree that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, but that in no way makes prayer to the Saints useless or wrong.

Many times one finds the New Testament recommending intercessory prayer (Colossians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; James 5:16), and very few Christians seem to have a problem with taking the prayers of a fellow believer.

Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. No other person in heaven or on earth can take His place. The role of Mary or any other saint is still to lead the believer to Christ. This subordinate form of mediation derives its meaning and efficacy from the Lord Himself and is not something the saints possess on their own.

Intercessory prayer is a powerful expression of the beautiful doctrine of the communion of saints whereby the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the faithful on earth are involved and concerned with one another’s eternal salvation. Intercessory prayer declares our love for one another in the Church—and our faith that the bonds to Christ and His Church forged in baptism cannot be dissolved by death.

Question:

Why and how can the Church teach that Mary is the Mother of God? To be the Mother of God, she would have to be before God and thus the creator of all things. The Bible and the Church, however, teach that God is the creator of all.

Answer:

When the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as the “Mother of God,” the primary focus is on Jesus, not on Mary. The fifth-century Council of Ephesus insisted on according Mary the title of “Theotokos” (God – bearer) rather than “Christokos” (Christ-bearer) to emphasize Jesus’ Divinity.

In other words, early heretics had argued that Jesus was not coeternal with the Father, and they attempted to demonstrate this by pointing to Jesus’ origin in time from a human mother. The Church responded by distinguishing the Son’s existence as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity from all eternity and His assumption of a human nature from Our Lady in the Incarnation. To stretch the continuity between the Lord’s Divinity (not lost in the Incarnation), the council saw the appropriateness regarding Mary as the Mother of God, that is the Mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in His earthly life.

“Mother of God,” then, is Christological and not Mariological in its emphasis.

Question:

I am approaching my eighty-eighth birthday. Going out becomes more difficult with each passing day, so I rely on a local priest to bring me Holy Communion and to hear my confession. However, I am still upset about missing Mass and wonder if I am committing sin. Can you help me with this problem of conscience?

Answer:

First of all, let me congratulate you on your ripe old age, and secondly, for your obvious and great devotion to the Mass. So many people make a career out of finding excuses why they cannot or should not participate in Sunday Mass; your dedication is a breath of fresh air, and I hope it serves as a positive example for others.

That having been said, let us recall that God never demands the impossible. If you are truly incapable of getting around or of doing so only with the greatest discomfort, our Lord understands and loves you for your effort and desire. I am sure that your priest has told you the same thing. Watch the television Mass in your area and unite your prayers to those of the rest of the Church gathered in churches throughout the world. As a special intention on Sunday, I would urge you to pray for those who take their Sunday Mass obligation less seriously, that they will experience a true change of heart.

Question:

I was married for six years and then divorced. I remarried and was divorced again. I am single and have been for the past five years. I want to return to the sacraments. Can I be helped?

Answer:

Your situation is very easy to handle, as you are presently living as a single woman. All you need to do is go to the Sacrament of Penance, confessing all the sins since your last confession. Be sure to tell the priest that the second relationship is finished and that you intend to live by our Lord’s commandment, which forbids divorce and remarriage.

Thank God He has given you the grace to return. And welcome home!

Question:

What does it mean in the Apostles’ Creed by saying that Jesus descended into hell?

Answer:

This is a reference to the verse in the First Epistle of Peter, which tells us that between His Death and Resurrection, our Lord “went to preach to the spirits in prison.” (3:19) The traditional explanation of this passage is that Jesus went to the just souls (in hades, the underworld, sheol, limbo, or the hell of the just – all synonyms) who had lived under the Old Covenant and had died without hearing the Gospel preached. Jesus then shared with them the good news of salvation and thus, offered them the opportunity to avail themselves of this salvation.

Question:

Our priest recently said that there is no such thing as a devil or Satan, that these are simply metaphors used in Scripture to describe a presence of evil in the world. Is he right?

Answer:

When I was in grammar school, the sisters used to tell us that the Devil is never more powerful then when he is ignored or denied. That is surely the case today. The Scriptures are shot through with mentions of the Devil, Satan, the Evil One; hardly a page of the New Testament can be found without references to a real, personal Devil. The existence of such an individual is official Catholic doctrine, and both Popes Paul Vl and John Paul ll have restated this on several occasions, reminding people of the Devil’s reality, identity, and power. Or, as the word of God tells us “the devil goes about the world like a roaring lion seeking the ruin of souls.” Forewarned is forearmed. At the same time, Christians should not be unduly frightened by the Evil One, because “the one who is in you, Christ, is greater than the one who is in the world the devil“ (1 John 4:4).

Question:

Christ was a Jew. What happened to cause the break from Judaism? How do we know that Catholicism is right, after all?

Answer:

Yes, Jesus did have a Jewish mother and was, thus, legally a Jew. However, one must never forget that He was the Divine Son of God. Therefore, the positions taken by Jesus during His early life cannot be dismissed as simply coming from just any first-century Palestinian Jew.

 

We learn in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). We also know that in spite of the many disagreements Jesus had with the Pharisees, He agreed with them doctrinally (e.g., on the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels). The critical issue was His claim to be God‘s Son. Remember: the ultimate charge brought against our Lord was that of blasphemy. The final break between Judaism and Christianity apparently took place at the Jewish Council of Jamnia in the last third of the first century, when the followers of Jesus were excommunicated from the synagogue.

 

Many people then—and since—could accept Jesus’ social teachings, but the question of His divinity still divides Christians from any other people who regard Jesus as someone other than the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Our faith and certitude then, rest on the sure foundation of the God who “can neither deceive nor be deceived,” as we pray in the Act of Faith.

Question:

For whom is the Bible written?

Answer:

The Bible was written by people of faith as a testimony of God’s mighty deeds accomplished in Israel and in the person of His Son. Hence, it was intended to arouse others to faith. The Scriptures are also meant to sustain faith in people who already believe. Faith, then, is the thread running throughout.

However, even an agnostic or atheist can benefit from reading the Scriptures as long as he/she does not consciously block out Divine grace or go to the Bible for the wrong reason (e.g., to seek scientific data). The Bible can both console and challenge, and it must be allowed to do both, for “God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).

Increasingly, one finds Protestant scholarship growing more accepting of the Catholic Canon of the Bible because it is based on good, reliable, and historical evidence. As a result, many Protestant Bibles now include the so-called “apocryphal books,” even if only at the end.

« Previous PageNext Page »