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:

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.

Question:

Is it right for a young couple who do not want any children to enter into Holy Matrimony and, at the altar, promise to raise their children in the Catholic faith when deep down they really don’t want any children?

Answer:

An openness to children is an essential element of Christian marriage. Love and life are the primary goals of the married state: love manifests itself in new life; life is the fruit of love. Spouses must see themselves as co-creators with Almighty God. God‘s love was so great that one could say His love could not be contained within the “confines“ of the Trinity but “had“ to spill over into the work of creation. Similarly, the love between a husband and wife must take on flesh in procreation; anything less than a willingness to see that happen is a defective form of love.

Christian spouses need not always positively desire children, but they cannot morally act to prevent new life. Furthermore, a firm and absolute resolve at the outset permanently to exclude children renders a marriage null and void.

Question:

As a layman who is reasonably “well off,” I often wonder about what I need to do to be saved—in light of Mark 10:17–30. Does Jesus require one to sell all his assets and give all to the poor, literally?

Answer:

The passage to which you refer contains our Lord’s call to discipleship. As such, it serves as the ideal toward which all Christians should strive: a refusal to rely on material possessions and a determination to have God‘s providence as one’s only protection.

Not everyone has the vocation to live a life of evangelical poverty; if one has that calling and does not heed it, then his or her eternal salvation is jeopardized. The Vatican ll Decree on Religious Life notes that religious who embrace this radical form of lifestyle serve as a challenge to all others in the Church to be similarly reliant on Almighty God.

Some people, however, are called to live in the world with their wealth, which Our Lord never condemned. In fact, it appears in several Scripture passages that both Jesus and the apostles depended on the generosity of just such individuals for their own needs.

In the Christian scheme of things, neither wealth nor poverty are guarantors of a particular station in the afterlife. Rather, it’s a question of what is done with them. The rich who advance the Kingdom of God will be rewarded; the poor who rebel against their status and curse God for it will be condemned. The rich and poor will be rewarded or punished to the extent that, by the grace of God, they live the two great commandments.

Question:

What is the difference between a sermon and a homily?

Answer:

A sermon is a talk on any religious topic, while a homily is a talk devoted to an exposition of the Scripture texts of the day, with an application to daily life.

Question:

At my brother’s funeral all nineteen of his children and grandchildren were present. Only one daughter and her children go to church regularly; however, at communion everyone went up to receive. Is this permitted now?

Answer:

No, it is not. Unfortunately, it is all too common an occurrence—so much so that the American bishops have directed that missalettes carry the notification that Holy Communion may be received only by Catholics in the state of grace.

 

It is understandable that family members would want to receive Holy Communion at a relative’s funeral, but sacrilegious communions do no one any good. A helpful pastoral practice employed by many priests is offering people the opportunity to go to Confession at the funeral home the night before, as well as reminding them at that time about having the proper disposition for Holy Communion.

Question:

Can people who have committed suicide now be buried with a Mass? This recently happened in my parish; I was quite taken aback.

Answer:

In the past, the Church generally denied Christian burial to those people who committed suicide on the presumption that they succumbed to an act of final despair, thus denying the infinite mercy of God.

With the advent of modern psychology, we now understand that most people who commit suicide are not emotionally stable and are thus incapable of giving either the full reflection or the full consent necessary to commit a mortal sin. As a result, the Church does provide such individuals with Christian burial, both to console their families and to pray that they may experience in death the peace they so lacked in life.

Question:

On Easter morning, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him. A week later, He told Thomas to touch Him. Why the contrast and inconsistency?

Answer:

Both passages you identify are post–Resurrection appearances of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John. Some Fathers of the Church thought Jesus was asking Mary Magdalene to have a greater respect for His risen and glorified body than to try to relate to Him in a purely physical manner. However, that brings us to the Lord’s encouragement for Thomas to do just the opposite. Why the difference? Only conjecture is possible.

One explanation might be that the invitation to Thomas to touch was an invitation to believe, with a physical act merely as a way to bring about the deeper spiritual reality. Or again some authors suggest that Jesus was telling Magdalene not to sully Him with mundane contact in His new mode of existence.

No absolute answers exist for many dilemmas posed in Scripture, especially those connected with the awesome mystery of the Resurrection. Hence, some degree of ambiguity should not only be tolerated but even accepted willingly, lest we attempt to box God into our own neat categories—making Him our creature rather than the other way around.

Question:

To what extent is a Catholic obliged to register at the parish in which he resides?

Answer:

The 1983 Code of Canon Law is much less restrictive on where a person must register. The 1917 Code considered registration in the parish (within whose boundaries one lived) to be necessary unless one belonged to an ethnic parish. The new law envisions the possibility for people to have specific needs which cannot be met within the geographical bounds of a particular parish.

In your situation, I would approach the pastor and tell him why you are not comfortable with membership in his parish and indicate your intention to register elsewhere. Then go to the pastor of the church with which you wish to associate yourself and ask him to register you there.

While you are well within your rights to do this, I would caution against the practice of “parish hopping’’ or “shopping around for a parish,” which often takes place for less than noble reasons (e.g., a desire to avoid hearing the Gospel in all its fullness or an effort to sidestep parish support).

Question:

Is it proper to interrupt the Mass after the Gospel to say the Rosary?

Answer:

Nothing should ever interrupt the proper flow of the Mass. To insert the Rosary into the Mass is an aberration of the first order. I know of many parishes where the Rosary precedes daily Mass by fifteen minutes—or follows it—but I have never heard of what you mention.

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