Monday, June 18, 2018

If I follow my conscience, why should I follow the Church?

This question goes to the independence that many adolescents desire. But am I my own measure of good and evil? If that were so, then anything I wanted to do would be good because I decided that it was good.

We don’t decide what is good and evil, we discover it. We all have the desire to do good. That is where conscience comes in. God gave us this law “to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil” (par. 1776) inscribed on our hearts. The Catechism defines conscience as “a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed” (par. 1778).

So it is absolutely necessary to follow our consciences. But a conscience also needs to be formed properly with sound principles and guidelines: “Don’t do evil to achieve good;” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and so forth. Where do these principles and guidelines come from? We can use reason, but Revelation also confirms what reason and truth tell us. That is where the Church comes in. The Church is the community formed by Christ to guide us to God. Therefore we need to listen to the Church in her wisdom. She guides us in making moral decisions that conform to what God wants of us. Read more about conscience in the Catechism, par. 1776-1802.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

Why do we have to confess our sins to a priest?

Is there anything more embarrassing than admitting to someone else your faults and failings, especially to an authority figure that is definitely not a personal friend? How much more so for an adolescent? It doesn’t seem fair or right! I can tell God my faults without having to tell somebody else! That way nobody has to know what I did.

And yet, that is what we the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires. Why? In the early days of the Church, when someone committed a mortal sin like murder or adultery or denying the faith, one had to publicly confess it and then show public penance. Even the Emperor Theodosius did this before he was accepted back into the Church. When the Irish monks re-evangelized Europe they brought with them private confession, with private penance. No more admitting to everyone what had been done.

But the requirement of telling a representative of the Church, the priest, was still important. In giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit Jesus said: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn. 20:22). This presupposes that the sins are somehow communicated! We need to confess our sins for our own sake. We need to hear out loud the evil we have done and own up to it. Only when we repent can we be forgiven and reconciled with God. Read more about the acts of the penitent in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catechism, par. 1450-1460.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

Why does God kill people in the Bible?

This is an important question because it has to do with reading the Bible properly. For example, it says in Exodus that “the Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:29) and again, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Put your sword on your hip, … and slay your own kinsmen, your friends and neighbors!” (Ex. 32:27) and in Joshua, the Israelites “observed the ban by putting to the sword all living creatures in the city [of Jericho]: men and women, young and old…” (Jos. 6:21). Isn’t that enough to show that God kills people and is a vicious God?

The Bible IS the inspired Word of God, but it is written by the Israelites about the Israelites and their relationship with God as they understood it. So we need to read what happened within the context of their situation. In Egypt they were being persecuted as slaves and they were engaged in a war. When they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai they had just committed the sin of idolatry which divided them amongst themselves and against God. In Jericho, they were at war again. God was THEIR God against all the other gods, the Egyptians, the golden calf, and the Canaanites. They were struggling just to survive. This led to the interpretation that God killed on their behalf or ordered them to kill in order to live. God is against killing. Exodus also teaches, “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous” (Ex. 23:7). Read more about the fifth commandment in the Catechism, par. 2258-2267.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

What is the Magisterium?

Every organization has someone in authority, the person or persons in charge, who make the decisions, and who are responsible for handing on the teachings to the next generation. That, in essence, is what the Magisterium does. The Magisterium is the living teaching office of the Church and it consists of the pope and the bishops in communion with him. It is responsible for giving authentic interpretation of the Word of God. It is in service to the Word of God, whether it be in Scripture or Tradition. The Magisterium comes to us from Jesus who named Peter and the apostles as the leaders of his Church and so on to the pope and bishops today. This is called the apostolic succession.

There are also different expressions of the Magisterium. The pope can exercise the supreme Magisterium when he proclaims an infallible dogma of the Church, or with the bishops in an Ecumenical Council. The ordinary Magisterium of the Church is expressed when “a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals” is proposed by the bishops in communion with the pope, even though is not an infallible definition. Read more about the Magisterium in the Catechism, par. 85-100 and 888-892.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

Why can’t priests marry?

Priestly celibacy is a gift that allows priests to share themselves completely with their parishioners. A married couple promises to be in an exclusive relationship with each other, but a priest is called to be in relationship with all the children of God under his care. That is why he is called “Father”. They are his spiritual children. Priests freely embrace celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” They consecrate themselves completely to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord.”

Priestly celibacy is not a condemnation of marriage. The Church celebrates marriage as well. But we look to Jesus as the perfect role model for living a life of service to the Church and her children. Having said all that, celibacy is a matter of discipline in the Roman Catholic Church, not a dogma. There are exceptions, as when a Lutheran minister or Episcopalian priest becomes Catholic, he is allowed to become ordained in the Catholic Church, even though he has a wife. However, once ordained he may not marry.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

Why should I belong to the Church? It wasn’t my choice.

There are two major points to this question. One, belonging to the Church is like belonging to any organization. Two, I have the right to choose what I want. 

So let’s address each point: The Church does have the elements of an organization. But it is more than that. It is the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is Mystery. The Church is a divine, as well as human, institution. God gives us the gift of Heaven and the Church is the best way to get there. We are welcomed into the Church through Baptism, usually in infancy.

That leads to the second point: Our parents decided for us what was best for us as children because they love us. And what is the greatest gift they can give to us? God’s love. They share with us their faith in God by having us baptized in the Church, the best place to learn about, love, and serve God. However, each of us has free will to accept or reject God and his Church.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.

What is the meaning of life?

To ask the question is to imply an answer, that there is meaning in life. We are not random mutations that came into existence haphazardly in a random universe; we are children of God who have a special calling. We are called to become one with our Creator. And who is our Creator? Our Creator is God who we come to know by reason and through Revelation, in Tradition and Scripture; through the teachings of our parents and ministrations of our priests. Our Creator is a loving God. According to 1 John (4:16): “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” So therefore we are called to love as God loves us. Finally, we are called to share with others our love and knowledge of God. We are called to serve, to share our faith, to work toward bringing about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

The Baltimore Catechism had it right: “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.” That is the meaning of our lives. What joy we can have in doing God’s will, for it is what will truly give us blessedness and happiness.

Know your faith. Live your faith. Teach your faith.