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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Can Catholics attend seances?/Why can they pray to dead saints?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                  and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Short answer: no, Catholics cannot attend seances. 

Slightly longer answer: Seances are an attempt to conjure the dead, which the Catholic Church has always condemned.

From the Catechism:
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

Peter Kreeft in his book Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven says the reason for “this stricture is probably protection against the danger of deception by evil spirits. We are out of our depth, our knowledge, and our control once we open the doors to the supernatural. The only openings that are safe for us are the ones God has approved: revelation, prayer, His own miracles, sacraments, and primarily Christ Himself…The danger is not physical but spiritual, and spiritual danger always centers on deception.”

So the question may arise:  how is it that the Church does not condemn praying to saints?  Is that not "conjuring up the dead"? 

The answer lies in our intentions.  If we are intending to conjure up the dead through, for example, a seance, or the Ouija board, in an attempt to manipulate knowledge and gain information, we are forbidden to do this. 

Praying to saints is simply giving honor to one of God's friends and asking for their intercession. Not to mention, in praying to saints we do not have the expectation of hearing from them and enjoying a dialogue with those who have passed on; while in conjuring up the dead, there is that expectation.

That provides a nice segue into another objection to praying to saints made by some Protestants:  how can the saints hear millions of prayers at the same time? Doesn't that make them omnipotent?  And isn't only God omnipotent?

The simple answer comes from Scripture: "For nothing is impossible with God!"--Luke 1:37. If God wishes to give the saints the power to hear millions of prayers, why couldn't he?  God can empower his saints in heaven with knowledge beyond their natural abilities.  He has done this on earth multiple times (see the numerous Scriptural references* to God granting human beings with supernatural knowledge); he can certainly do it for his beloved saints in heaven!

*Daniel in the OT was given "special knowledge" of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream
*Peter in the NT was given the gift of knowing that Ananias had retained part of his alms-giving for himself, and was struck dead.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholics Come Home

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Sunday, December 11, 2011

30 second apologetics: What does the word "until" mean in Scripture?

So we're going to hear it sometime during the Christmas Masses:  St. Matthew's gospel says that Joseph "had no relations with her UNTIL she bore a son."

And it will inevitably prompt the question from those who object to the Church's teaching on Mary's perpetual virginity:  why does the Church teach that Mary remained a virgin when it says specifically in Scripture that she and Joseph "had relations"?

In light of  the second reading a few Sundays ago, I thought I'd revisit  this question.

From 1 Corinthians:  For he must reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Clearly, when we read this verse we understand that the Scriptures are not saying that Jesus reigns at one point, and then when he has "put all his enemies under his feet", he reigns no more.  There's not a Christian around who believes that the word "until" here indicates a change in an event subsequently. 

Thus, this verse demonstrates that the word "until", at least in Biblical language, is not an indicator of anything happening subsequently, but only verifies a statement before the preposition.

And that is how we are to understand the verse in Matthew. St. Matthew was illustrating a very important point:  Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph.  That is the point of the verse. Not what happened between Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Revisit: Why do Catholics call priests "Father" when Scripture specifically says, "Call no man father!" (Matt 23:9)

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                 and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

In light of this Sunday's Gospel which proclaims Matthew 23:9:  "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven," this is a re-visit of a previously posted discussion.  New/updated comments in green.

This is an odd objection to Catholicism, in my humble opinion.  Clearly, those who criticize the Catholic Church's tradition of calling priests "father" because it seemingly contradicts Matt 23:9, do not take it literally in other contexts.  That is, we never hear non-Catholic Christians objecting to "Father's Day".  We often have heard a Christian say, "My father used to read the Bible to me."  Indeed, some even teach their children a Bible song about "Father Abraham".

So it does seem inconsistent that there is an objection to the Catholic tradition of calling priests "father".

It appears that the objection is to calling a living man a spiritual father, as it equates a priest with God the Father.

Clearly, when Catholics call priests "father" we are acknowledging his spiritual fatherhood, i.e. his spiritual leadership, to us.  We are not elevating the priest to the level of God the Father.  Catholics, of course, recognize the sovereign Fatherhood of God alone!

There are many, many verses in Scripture in which the inspired writers call spiritual leaders "father".
Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel  -1 Cor 4:15
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. -1 John 2:13

Incidentally, in Matt 23 Jesus also invokes us not to call anyone "teacher" or "master".  "
As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers." Yet many non-Catholics have no problem calling someone "teacher"; and use the word "doctor", which is Latin for "teacher". 

If you want to interpret the above verses to mean that Catholics are woefully sinning by calling their priests "Father," and that Jesus meant we are to never literally call anyone "father," "rabbi," "master," or "teacher," then for consistency's sake you'd better stop using the following words and phrases: Mister (means "Master"), Master of Ceremonies, Maitre d', master of the house, master sergeant, magistrate (from the Latin "magistratus" for "master"), Master of Arts (M.A.), founding father, city father, snake doctor, and witch doctor, teacher, substitute teacher, student teacher, and so forth. And you'd best never let me hear you calling your Dad "father" and you'd better start addressing the guy who works at the synagogue as "hey, you" and wax as indignant toward Jews who won't buy your ideas as you are toward Catholics. You might also want to start getting extremely indignant at the forced blasphemy every time you fill in a government form asking for "Father's Name." source.

Finally, just a little off-the-subject comment related to an earlier passage in this Sunday's Gospel:  "Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example."  This verse, I think, speaks volumes about the command Jesus gives us to obey our leaders (that is, our priests, bishops and pope)--even in their great sinfulness, even if they are as hypocritical as the pharisees.  We understand that they may be great sinners, and perhaps even mistaken, but as the Israelites followed Moses into the desert, even when he was often going the wrong way, we, too, as faithful sheep, must follow the visible Shepherds (the pope/bishops) here on earth. (Note:  this is within the purview of faith/morals.  If a bishop, even in his role as a successor to the Apostles, were to, say,  command us to give him the keys to our car, well, of course we need not obey!)
For more in-depth study visit these websites:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why are we not bound by all the laws in the Old Testament? Doesn't it seem arbitrary that some of the things in there we follow (i.e. "Thou shalt not kill"--Exodus 20:13) but not the other things ("Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard."--Lev. 19:27)

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                                  and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

So this question arose out of a discussion one of my daughters was having with a neighbor's daughter, who are evangelical Christians, regarding tattoos.  The neighbor's daughter said, "The Bible says that tattoos are wrong." 

And indeed the Bible does say this regarding tattoos: 
"Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves.  I am the LORD."--Leviticus 19:28.

Yet the Catholic Church does not forbid tattoos. 

Is this a case of:

a)the Church teaching something contrary to the Scriptures?


b) the Old Testament admonitions needing to be understood in light of the New Testament?

Of course, as the Church cannot teach anything contrary to Scripture, the answer is B.

The precepts given in Leviticus (regarding tattoos as well as the example of not clipping "your hair at the temples" given in the original question) are part of the Mosaic Law**.  We are not bound by the Mosaic Law.  The Mosaic Law was given in order to separate the Israelites from their pagan neighbors.  They were required to eat a certain way, look a certain way, worship a certain way in order to say, "We are NOT like the others!".  It was a way of making the Israelites culturally distinct from the Canaanites and other pagan tribes.  There were ceremonial laws, dietary laws, sacrificial laws and moral laws, all designed to separate and elevate God's Chosen People from the rest of the world.

Those laws in the Old Testament which transcend culture and time--that is, the moral laws--are the ones to which we are bound.  Thus, the OT injunction to "Keep holy the Sabbath day" is binding to all Christians, even if it would have been mentioned only in the OT and not the NT.  The OT law "Thou shalt not kill" is binding on Christians as it is a moral law, not a ceremonial or dietary prohibition. 

So how do we discern which prohibitions/law are still binding on us and which are part of the Mosaic Law which have been fulfilled (not eliminated) in Christ?  Firstly, I think some common sense would apply.  Thus, the injunction in Deuteronomy 22:8 that states, "
When you build a new house, put a parapet around the roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt upon your house if someone falls off" can reasonably be determined to be a cultural prohibition that is not applicable to us today.  However, "Keep Holy the Sabbath day", is indeed binding on all Christians.  It proclaims "the moral obligation to set aside adequate time for the purpose of divine worship. This could never be abrogated, as it is rooted in the natural law." source

In the end, if we are unsure whether a verse in the Old Testament is binding or not, all we have to do is seek counsel in the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).  It's nice that when we don't really know, we can indeed be assured that someone (that is, no less than  a successor to the Apostles--the bishops of the Catholic Church) has made the correct decision and pronounced it authoritatively for us.

So, for example, in this Sunday's responsorial psalm we proclaim from Psalm 96 in the Old Testament:  Worship the LORD, in holy attire; tremble before him, all the earth.  There may be a Christian who reads this verse and decides that it's a command from God for men to dress in suit/ties and women in long-sleeved dresses when worshiping. He feels so strongly that the Holy Spirit is commanding him to start a new church, "one that actually follows the Bible", that he leaves his current congregation and becomes pastor of a his own church.  According to the Protestant paradigm, he's certainly right to do this.  He is simply following his own interpretation of the Bible.  According to the Catholic paradigm, he is separating himself from the One Flock, creating disunity and splintering among the Body of Christ.  For there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).

**Mosaic Law:  The Mosaic law begins with the Ten Commandments and includes the many rules of religious observance given in the first five books of the Old Testament. In Judaism, these books are called the Torah, or “the Law.” source

For more in-depth study visit these websites:
Why We Are Not Bound by Everything in the Old Law
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, October 7, 2011

Didn't the Catholic Church used to forbid the reading of the Bible?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
                                 and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Short answer:  No, the Church never forbade the reading of the Bible.

Now, it is a sad testament that many a Catholic, prior to the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s, hardly ever opened a Bible. And I do remember a beloved uncle telling me, "No, we're not supposed to read the Bible because we may be danger of misinterpreting it."

So, somehow the message was getting out to the flock that we were forbidden to open the Bible, but it was never a teaching of the Church. 

And it's true that most of our Protestant brethren can run rings around Catholics when it comes to quoting Scripture--this is something we Catholics could learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  (That, and the wonderful, welcoming atmosphere many Protestant churches have in comparison to the often un-friendly faces that fill many Catholic churches.  I remember hearing Catholic apologist and convert Tim Staples say, when he first went to Mass, "Why does everyone look so mad??" Sadly, this seems to be quite common in our Catholic churches.)

However, it is also true that most Catholics who attend Mass regularly can quote Scriptures, even if they don't know they can, and even if they can't cite the chapter and verse--we know it through the beautiful hymns we sing, which are often taken directly from the Bible (i.e. "You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day"--Psalm 91).  And the prayers we recite at Mass ("Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!"--Luke 2:14) are lifted from the pages of Sacred Scripture.  In fact, practically everything the priest and the laity recite at Mass comes from the Bible!

So why is there the misconception that Catholics aren't supposed to read the Bible?

Firstly, it's because from the earliest days of Christianity most folks were illiterate, so no one (relatively speaking) read the Bible.  The gospel was orally transmitted during the Liturgy and pictorially depicted through the beautiful stained glass windows, statues and other religious artwork that the illiterate masses could view.  Secondly, before the invention of the printing press most Bibles would cost up to 3 years' wages.  Thus, very, very few Catholics were fortunate enough to have a Bible in their homes.

Also, partially in response to the Protestant Reformation, many Catholics, rightly or wrongly, had a reactionary attitude about reading the Bible--"Protestants believe we're supposed to be able to read the Bible and interpret it ourselves.  Well, we're going to respond by saying, 'No, we can't interpret it ourselves' because we're stopping this Protestant movement in its tracks!"

And while the Church may never have banned the laity from reading/owning a Bible, perhaps a parish priest, in a misguided attempt to steer his parishioners away the chaos and confusion of tens of thousands of Christian denominations that arose out of this error-saturated private interpretation paradigm, may have told his parish not to read the Bible. 

What the Catholic Church actually professes is Catholics see that the Scriptures as "strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life." Dei Verbum Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation  We can read and personally interpret what a chapter/verse is speaking to us. What we can't do, however, is interpret it independent of the voice of the Church.  That is, we are free to read about, say, the Multiplication of the Loaves and interpret it personally as saying, "I need not worry about having enough food for my dinner party.  God is telling me to chill out!" But not to read it and say, "Well, I now believe that the Eucharist is simply a symbolic multiplication of the loaves and Jesus was speaking only figuratively about the Eucharist." 

Here's some examples of the Church encouraging the reading of Scripture:
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ--St. Jerome, 4th century
“Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels - not merely from time to time, but every day.” --Pope Pius X
"...earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8).--Dei Verbum
In fact, the Catholic Church even grants indulgences for reading Scripture. The Handbook of Indulgences states, "A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read Sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is for at least one-half hour" (p. 80).

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Papal Encyclical:  On the Study of Holy Scripture

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Isn't our faith all about a relationship with Jesus? One's religion, then, shouldn't matter as long as one has a personal relationship with Christ.

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Well, yes and no.  Or, with the oft-repeated Catholic apologetics phrase:  it's not either/or but both/and.  It's not either a relationship with Christ or a following one's religion.  Catholics have a relationship with Christ AND it's through our religion (i.e. through the Church) that we can have this relationship.

Firstly, if anyone ever approaches you and asks if you have a "personal relationship" with Jesus, we as Catholics must give a hearty, "Indeed, we Catholics do have a personal relationship with Jesus! The most personal and intimate that we can have in fact!"  For we Catholics enjoy the Eucharist (that is, the One Flesh Union with Christ), and, truly, there is no other religion that has as close or "personal" and intimate relationship with Jesus than Catholicism (and, of course, the Orthodox who also share in the Real Presence of Christ in their liturgy and Eucharist).  I mean, really, how much more "personal" can one get in one's relationship with Jesus than being One Flesh with him???

Secondly, it's true that the entire reason for our existence is to be in a relationship with Christ.  But to say that one doesn't need religion for this relationship is to be a bit nonsensical.  For the word "religion" comes from the Latin word "religare", which means:  relationship (to bind or tie together).  In other words, when someone says, "I don't need religion to have a relationship with Christ" what they are saying is the illogical, "I don't need relationship to have a relationship with Christ."

Thirdly, the only way, really, that any Christian knows anything about Christ is because, well, because the Catholic Church told them this.  It was the Catholic Church which discerned which of the over 400 ancient Christian texts  (not all listed on that website) were inspired.  It was the Catholic Church which codified and preserved that which the Apostles taught us.  Thus, we know that "God is love" only because a religion--the Catholic religion--preserved this teaching.  We know that "Jesus saves" only because of religion--again, the Catholic religion--discerning this to be part of God's revelation. So without "religion" we could not know a single thing about Christ's message of love and redemption.

Fourthly, the question posed seems to be saying that it doesn't really matter what one believes, as long as one loves Jesus.  This simply cannot be true. Doctrine (what we believe) matters because Truth matters.  For without knowing exactly who Jesus is (what we believe) we cannot love Jesus.  In fact, Jesus commands us to know him with our entire MIND (see verse in Matt 22:37 at the top of each apologetics post).  Knowing God with our entire MIND means knowing what he taught, wrestling with the teachings that are unpalatable, unattractive and difficult, and then conforming our minds to the Truth.

Love of Jesus and love of each other ought never be separated from the Truth.  As Pope Benedict XVI so eloquently said, "
Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are blended. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like “a clanging cymbal” (I Cor 13:1). It is precisely from union, I would like to say from the symphony of perfect harmony between truth and love that an authentic beauty emanates, capable of eliciting admiration, wonder and true joy in human hearts. The world in which we live needs the truth to shine brightly and not to be obscured by lies or banality; it needs love that enflames and that is not overwhelmed by pride and egotism. We need the beauty of truth and love to strike us in the intimacy of our hearts and make us more human."

Finally, we can see the fruit of this disunifyng paradigm that it doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you love Jesus and love each other.  So they may claim that it doesn't really matter if, for example, baptism is necessary; but now we have confusion and chaos--millions of folks disagree now on just this one verse in the Bible: 
"This prefigured baptism, which saves you now."--1 Peter 3:21.  Does baptism save?  Should it be done on infants?  By sprinkling? Or by immersion?  Is it a sacrament or an ordinance? Should it be done in "Jesus' name" only or using the Trinitarian formula?   Because some folks say that it doesn't really matter what one believes we have allowed division, uncertainty and confusion to prosper in our Christian community.  As Scripture says, there is only ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism--Eph 4:5.  But, sadly, because of the above paradigm, what we see is multiple faiths, each teaching its own version of Christianity.  I simply cannot see how it is a good thing that millions of folks have a myriad of understandings about this once concept, baptism.  Does not it matter that people are disunified on this point?

So, yes, doctrine matters because TRUTH matters.  Jesus wants us to be ONE as he and the Father are ONE.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:
Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Can Catholics practice Reiki?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, 
         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Reiki (pronounced ray-kee, or sometimes ray-EE-kee) is a New Age spiritual practice that is creeping into Catholic Churches, Catholic retreats and Catholic hospitals that attempts to harness and manipulate a universal healing energy.  "It uses a technique commonly called palm healing as a form of complementary and alternative medicine and is sometimes classified as oriental medicine by some professional bodies. Through the use of this technique, practitioners claim to transfer healing energy in the form of ki through the palms." source.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has written an article on this, Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy, and said, essentially, it is a superstitious practice and ought to be avoided.  The principle from which Reiki is founded upon borrows from the occult and ancient forms of sorcery and magic. 

Reiki's foundational tenet is that disease is caused by an imbalance in one's "life energy".  By manipulating and controlling this life force Reiki practitioners attempt to influence the healing power of this life force energy.  The Bishops caution that
"neither the Scriptures nor the Christian tradition as a whole speak of the natural world as based on a 'universal life energy' that is subject to manipulation by the natural human power of thought and will." 

Catholics may be enticed by some of the Christian language espoused by Reiki and believe that it is compatible with Christian principles.  Some Reiki practitioners may even add a prayer to Christ in an attempt to "legitimize" this practice with Christians or make references to God as the "divine healing mind".  However, according to the US Bishops:
"The fact remains that for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique..."  Even if the Reiki practitioner invokes Christ's name or speaks of the "Divine Consciousness", Reiki is still a technique that attempts to channel this "universal life energy" at the disposal of human thought and will.  "For this reason Reiki and other similar therapeutic techniques cannot be identified with what Christians call healing by divine grace."

From Jonette Benkovic: "In an effort to “Christianize” this pagan practice, some Reiki practitioners assert that the universal life force they are channeling is actually the Holy Spirit; however, this is a specious argument."

"Nowhere does Scripture teach us to ‘channel energy’ in the way characteristic of Reiki,” writes Father Gareth Leyshon, a Cardiff-trained astro-physicist. “And in fact, presuming that God will assist in a way which He has not revealed to be His will constitutes the sin of ‘tempting God.’”
Some go so far as to claim that Jesus used Reiki to perform miracles because of how He used His hands to heal. But this argument is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the use of the hands during Christian prayer. In the Christian tradition of laying on of hands, the hands are used as a “sign” of intercession, not a means of channeling energy."

However, we are not to understand this cautionary note against Reiki to be a condemnation of all non-medical healing practices.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that some human beings have been given a special healing charism, so as to
"make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord."  CCC 1508. 

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15