Have questions about your faith? Want to know more about a particular Catholic teaching? This summer, our priests are answering your questions! A new question will be answered each week and will be featured in the Cathedral Weekly.
Blessings are sacramentals, meaning that they are part of the treasury of prayers, symbols, gestures, and objects which the Church gives us to more readily receive the grace of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and in the celebration of the seven sacraments. When an object is blessed, it is set apart in a special way for the service of God. This is usually done by means of a prayer, sprinkling with holy water, and making the sign of the cross over it (when done by a priest or deacon). In fact, pretty much anything can be blessed, because we are supposed to offer all aspects of our lives to God! The Catechism quotes Vatican II and says, “For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (CCC 1669).
To answer your question, it is impossible to know whether an object has been blessed just by looking at it. In rare cases, some holy people have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to sense what has been blessed, and what has not been. (On a side note, when somebody is especially influenced by evil, he or she can also tell whether an object is blessed, but for the opposite reason!) To avoid confusion on what has been blessed, and to remember the blessing, I would recommend making some sort of note on objects that are substantial. For example, on the back of a painting or bottom of a statue, you could use a marker to write, “Blessed by Fr. John, 2022.” Then, in the future, the person who ends up with the statue will always know that it was blessed and by whom. With things like rosaries or medals, this is not possible.
This leads to a more challenging problem that you bring up in your question – what to do about holy objects that are just “out there” in the world, like at thrift stores? There is no ideal solution to this. Hopefully, these blessed objects will eventually end up in a “good home” and be used for their intended purpose as a devotional item. If you have reason to believe that an object will be used for something irreverent, or God forbid, sacrilegious, it would be best to try to acquire the item yourself to save it from disrespect. The best way to solve this problem happens one step before it gets to a thrift store. Items that have been blessed should generally not be bought or sold. This principle might come into play in the situation of an estate being closed or a moving sale. Blessed objects such as statues or rosaries should be given away, and not put on the auction block. However, if an object ends up at an antique store, it would not be sinful for the owner to sell it, as long as they are not selling it because it is blessed.
In the case where it is time to dispose of a blessed object, burning or burying are the two traditional ways to respectfully do this. There may be times when neither of these are possible, in which case a different method of respectful destruction or disposal may be carried out. When an object loses its integrity, meaning that it is has become something else through destruction or decomposition, it is generally understood that the blessing no longer applies to the physical matter.
If it is unknown whether an object is blessed, there is no harm in getting it blessed again. Also, some things that are blessed, like cars or houses, are not specifically set apart for sacred use, so there is no problem with buying and selling them, even when they are blessed. Blessings are one of many ways that God’s grace can enter our lives. Thanks for your question, and thanks for the special care that you show for holy objects out in the world!
And you were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. … If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 2:12; 3:1).
I start my response with this quote from St. Paul to remind myself that, in a certain way, we already share in the Resurrection of Jesus. We can have a glimpse of what heaven will be like (and what we will be like in heaven) by observing God’s presence in our own lives now and by the foretaste of heaven that we experience on Earth. Our Baptism ties us to Jesus, like two strings being knotted together, and this knot gets stronger or weaker, depending on how receptive we are to God.
After death, our souls are judged in the presence of God, and we are sent on our way to eternal union with him, or eternal separation from him. At the end of time (the general resurrection) our bodies will be reunited with our souls for all eternity.
A personality is a way or pattern of expressing our “personhood.” We all express thoughts, feelings, and desires differently. Sometimes we can know somebody so well that we know exactly how they will react to a certain situation. The variety of personalities that we exhibit is part of God’s beautiful and diverse creation. The world would sure be a boring place if everyone were shy and reserved, but it would also be chaotic if everyone were proud and loud!
So, do we keep our personalities after death? Since we are the same person after death, and a personality is a way to express our personhood, I would say that we absolutely keep our personalities after death! However, they will be perfected and complete in a way that we cannot yet fully comprehend right now. Dr. Peter Kreeft once wrote, “everything on earth is analogous to something in heaven. Heaven neither simply removes nor simply continues earthly things.” To think that heaven is just a continuation of something on earth is thinking way too “small-scale.” Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him. Because of our sinful tendencies, our personalities tend to go to the extremes, and we need to practice healthy mortification to keep ourselves in check. There are different traditions and vocabularies for categorizing personality types, but I will just speak broadly about two personality types for the sake of an example: outgoing verses shy.
Is it better to be outgoing or shy? It depends who you ask! The short answer is that God made both outgoing people and shy people, so they are both good. However, each personality can have different strengths and weaknesses. Consider a young man who is very outgoing in his school. He likes to be the life of the party, and he is recognized as an excellent public speaker. However, some people may be offended by him because he tends to talk over others in conversation, and often he turns to gossip because he always has to be talking about something. Being outgoing is not bad, but this young man has taken it to the extreme, and now he dominates the world around him. This means that his personality needs to be balanced out through correction, personal reflection, and self-control. He may need to be very intentional about cultivating the skill of listening to others and becoming more aware of people around him. If he does this, he has certainly grown in virtue, and his personality has become closer to how God intends it to be.
Now consider a young man who is very shy and quiet. He is known as the quiet kid in class, but he’s also known to be one of the nicest people who never says a bad word about anyone. However, he doesn’t have many friends because he does not have the courage or the desire to open up about his life to anyone. After school, he goes straight home to do his homework. In this situation, this young man’s personality tends toward being more reserved, and he has allowed that to go to the extreme to the point where it has limited his growth into maturity. To grow in virtue, he must be intentional about going outside of himself and seeking the good that can be found through engaging others and becoming less reserved. He doesn’t need to stop being quiet or shy, but he does need to become a more balanced individual.
These are two very simple examples, but I hope they get the point across that God made us all with good personalities. We need to be intentional about cultivating our personality to be a healthy, balanced expression of our inner life. In heaven (maybe through purgatory) this process will be completed and perfected, and we will all be able to give and receive love in a unique way.
For further consideration, I would encourage all of us to review some of the accounts of Jesus’ encounters with his friends after his Resurrection. His personality seems to be the same, and he can sometimes be recognized by the way he speaks. What does the voice of Jesus sound like in your imagination?
This is an excellent question and one that the Church has dealt with in different ways over her history. Let’s start with a few key principles that we know to be true, and go from there. You are correct that if a person dies with the guilt of mortal sin on their soul, their eternal destination will be hell. This is not God being unfair, but simply the result of a person’s free choice to no longer serve God and neighbor in his or her actions. The Catechism says, “Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation” (CCC 1856). Notice that forgiveness of mortal sins is “normally” accomplished by the sacrament of reconciliation.
It is also true that most people do commit mortal sins in their lifetime. When St. Therese of Lisieux was a sister in the Carmelite order, she and her spiritual director discerned that she had never committed a mortal sin in her lifetime. This is quite remarkable and shows that God had given her many special graces to remain very close to him even in adolescence, when many young people make poor and sinful decisions. Even good Christians who are raised in good homes tend to make poor decisions at some point in their youth. Before mortal sin, the human race is also separated from God by original sin, which is typically forgiven through baptism.
It is good to call to mind a key sentence from the Catechism regarding the reception of forgiveness and grace from God. “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1257). This statement also applies to the sacrament of Penance. God has bound himself by the Covenant of Christ’s body and blood to always give the graces of the sacraments when they are celebrated and received with a good disposition. However, God is also free to give graces outside of the seven sacraments, as he sees fit. This is good news for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Ideally, a Catholic should live in accord with God’s teaching, pray every day, receive frequent Confession, and attend Mass every Sunday. Before death, one should receive the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum. However, the “ideal” is not always what happens in reality, and sometimes Catholics die without the benefit of receiving Confession and Anointing. This is very sad, and every effort should be made to receive the sacraments before death. However, God in his mercy can give graces of salvation that others are unaware of.
While never discounting the seriousness of sin, we should not assume that a person has gone to hell, even if they lived or died in a way not in accord with God’s will. One common example is suicide. Suicide is one of the most tragic events that can affect a family or community, and for various reasons, many people have the impression that if someone dies by suicide, they automatically go to hell. This is not true, and the Church does not teach this. It is true that suicide is gravely contrary to God’s law and to our natural inclination to live in solidarity with our family, nation, and other societies. However, we do not despair of the salvation of those who die by suicide. “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (CCC 2282-83).
We can pray that many people who have never been baptized or who have committed mortal sins may repent and be forgiven of this sin before their death. It is a work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead, and we should do so every day. Especially at Mass, the Church prays for the salvation of the whole world.
I love this kind of question because it asks us to delve into the behind-the-scenes of our most common prayers, and invites us to take a closer look at the words and actions that we use in our liturgies and devotions. We know that Christians in the 200s were already being signed with the cross by their priests at baptisms, exorcisms, and confirmations and would sign themselves with that symbol as they began their day in prayer, as well as when confronting any temptation. Tertullian goes so far as to say that: “Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross” [cfr. Tertullian, De Corona, 30] and St. Hippolytus a decade later boldly described the power of this gesture:
If you are tempted, seal your foreheads reverently. For this is the Sign of the Passion, displayed and made manifest against the devil, provided that you do it with faith, not to be seen by men, but by presenting it with skill like a shield. Because the Adversary, when he sees the strength of the heart and the inner man which is animated by the Word – the interior image of the Word, formed on [his] exterior – he is made to flee by the Spirit which is in you. ... By sealing the forehead and eyes with the hand, we turn aside the one who is seeking to destroy us. [Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 42.1-4, 215 AD]
At that early age, it seems that the sign was simply made upon the forehead. This gesture remains in the sacrament of confirmation when the bishop smears the chrism in the form of a cross on the forehead of the confirmandi, as well as making up part of the triple-signing that the priest is to do before he proclaims the Gospel. This second example is something that many lay people also do as well in preparation to hear the Gospel, praying “Lord be in my mind, upon my lips, and within my heart” while marking each with a cross (something we know was happening by the 900s).
Beautifully, we have an Old Testament foreshadowing of this gesture in the book of Ezekiel: “And the Lord said to him, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark [tau] upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” [Ezekiel 9:4]. That mark, literally said to be the letter tau, comes through Egyptian and Phoenician marks shaped like an “X”, which get stretched over the centuries to end up being shaped in modern Hebrew like so: ת As the shape continued to morph as alphabets came and went, it became the basis for the Greek tau (Τ) and thus, in our day, in the Latin as well as Cyrillic “T”. Thus, Christians have long realized that what the Lord spoke of to Ezekiel He fulfilled in the cross of His Son, and in the following Christian generations marking themselves with that shape of the cross.
It seems that marking one’s entire body with the sign of the cross – forehead to chest, and across the shoulders – is something that arose in the 400s to emphasize the two natures of Christ, human and divine, in one Divine Person (pushing back against the Monophysite heresy, which argued Jesus had only one nature [mono = one; physite = nature]. Three fingers were held together in reference to the Trinity, and the two remaining fingers were pressed against the palm to refer to Jesus as both human and divine. 800 years later, the gesture was still going strong, with Pope Innocent III saying: “The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity. …This is how it is done: from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left).” Funnily enough, it seems that we have gotten into the habit of going from left to right because when the priest turned to face the people and blessed them, going from his right, to his left, they mirrored the motion, going from their left, to their right. No problem, says Innocent III: “Others, however, make the sign of the cross from the left to the right, because from misery (left) we must cross over to glory (right), just as Christ crossed over from death to life, and from Hades to Paradise.”
Ok, so we’ve covered a lot of ground, but not yet answered the above questions: what about during the Glory Be, and after receiving Holy Communion? Perhaps surprisingly, the laity are only asked to make the sign of the cross on two occasions during the Mass: at the opening doxology (In the Name of the Father...) and at the closing blessing (May Almighty God bless you, the Father ...) The priest does so a handful of additional times: if blessing a deacon before he proclaims the Gospel, the signing of his own forehead, lips, and heart before the Gospel, and over the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer at the epiclesis. However, before Vatican II the priest made many more signs of the cross over the offerings, upon himself, as well as with the Blessed Sacrament while distributing Communion, something that seems to hearken back to practices we see in our Eastern brethren and the earlier Church. There, in the Eastern “lung” of the Church, the sign of the cross is made dozens of times during the Divine Liturgy, by priest and people: before and after various prayers, whenever one references the Trinity, when entering or leaving the Church, or when passing the altar or venerating an icon.
For these reasons, I am inclined to conclude that the practice of making the sign of the cross during the Glory Be and after receiving Communion are both ones that have ancient, and venerable, heritage in the Church. The first seems to derive from when the sign of the cross was stretched across the whole body as a defense of the truth of the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union, and so this action came to be connected to any reference to the Trinity. The second seems to follow from the cruciform gesture that the priest would make when distributing Holy Communion in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, with the person making the sign to reflect that of the priest.
Now, does that mean these gestures are “old” and to be discontinued or avoided? I don’t think so. In certain things, the Church desires a unity in the gestures of the congregation: we all stand for the Gospel, we all kneel for the Consecration, we all bow when professing our belief in the Incarnation at the creed, and we all offer a sign of peace after the Our Father. These, and all gestures, are meant to incarnate our interior dispositions, and so the Church asks everyone to do them together at certain moments of the Mass. But private gestures can also deepen and focus our personal devotion and prayer, and so, as long as they do not distract from the communal prayer of the congregation, seem to be putting into effect precisely what Vatican II called for when it desired people to “actively participate” in the Mass. The sign of the cross, especially, is a powerful defense against the Evil One and a profession of our faith, so to make it when reciting the Glory Be or after receiving Communion, since it does not distract from anyone else’s prayer, seems to me to be an eminently fitting and beautiful way to focus on what is truly happening in those moments of the Mass.
You are correct that anyone can baptize, even people who are not themselves baptized. This can be surprising to hear at first, because bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers of baptism in our Church. The reason that anyone can baptize is because God wants his salvation to be offered to as many people as possible. A person simply has to intend what the Church intends when they perform a baptism, while invoking the three persons of the Holy Trinity. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit” (John 3:5). Jesus is referring to the sacrament of baptism in this conversation with Nicodemus. Since baptism is necessary for salvation, it is fitting that it be validly celebrated even in communities who do not share the fullness of the Catholic faith. Of course, we never despair of a person’s salvation, and God has ways of reaching even the hearts of people who were not baptized in ways that we cannot understand.
One situation where I can think of a non-Christian baptizing somebody would be in a Catholic hospital, where a nurse may administer the sacrament at the request of a parent in an emergency. I have personally never heard of this happening, but it is possible. Also, in parts of the world where Christians do not have a stable presence, it is possible that someone could come to faith in Christ with no Christians around to baptize him. So, in danger of death, he could ask a friend to pour water over his head while saying the correct words, and it would be a real baptism.
We recognize that we share a common baptism with Christians of other traditions. Baptism is sacrament which gives all Christians a unity in Christ. Our unity is not complete, however, which is why we do not partake of Communion at other Christians’ liturgies. The Catholic Church has a different understanding than other Christian communities of the role of baptism in the Christian life. We believe that in baptism, even of a baby, a person is restored to friendship with God through the infusion of sanctifying grace into the soul. Other Christians may think that Baptism is a nice ceremony which marks the occasion of someone’s conversion, but nothing more. However, even if the understanding is not there, we believe that God’s grace is still effective through the baptism.
The Vatican ruled several years ago that the baptisms of the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is invalid. This means that they are not Christians, and their baptism is not a sacrament. If a Mormon hears you say this, they will probably be offended (this happened to me once), but it is simply what our Church teaches. The reason for this teaching is that Mormons do not believe in very basic Christian beliefs such as who God is, who Jesus was, and what salvation is. However, any other group that celebrates baptism we would consider to be Christians who have received the sacrament of salvation.
To receive all of the gifts that Jesus left for his Church, we need to have the sacrament of Holy Orders. Only a validly-ordained priest can celebrate the Eucharist, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. So, Protestant and other Christian communities only have two of the seven sacraments: Baptism and Marriage. A priest does not technically celebrate a marriage as its minister; he is simply the official witness of the Church.
Baptism is the doorway to salvation and to the other six sacraments. We need to continue to pray for the unity of all Christians so that we can share the gifts that Christ has given to each of us. We have five more sacraments to offer to other Christians, and they have their own gifts to share with us, too. A lot of the renewal of healing prayer in our country and other ministries has come about through non-Catholics in the past fifty years or so. God’s grace is certainly present through their baptism, and we are all blessed through it.
Every news cycle for the past eighteen months has contained information about the coronavirus, and more recently, the Covid vaccines and their varied effectiveness. Some Catholic media outlets have rightly done some investigations into the moral liceity of receiving these vaccines. We need to be careful about the sources we read, because not all are equally informed. Pope Francis and the proper departments at the Vatican have offered the Church guidance on receiving the vaccines, and with the common good in mind, Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to get vaccinated if they have a serious reason to do so. Jesus Christ gave authority to the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals, and as Catholics we are bound by faith to give assent to the teachings of the Church. This does not mean that we cannot ask questions, not does it mean that everything a pope says is official Church teaching. Pope Francis has not violated our Catholic tradition by recommending that Catholics receive a Covid vaccine.
The science of bioethics is complicated, so it is helpful to look to the experts for our information. Fr. Tad Pacholczyk is the most credible voice in our country when it comes to Catholic bioethics, because he received his doctorate in neuroscience before becoming a priest, so he is truly an expert in both science and the Church’s moral teaching. He has the best articles available on the Church’s teaching about vaccines and other bioethical resources. Fr. Tad has explained that our participation in the evil of abortion by receiving a vaccine is extremely remote. In response to this, some people say, “I don’t want to do anything that has any participation in abortion.” This is a noble sentiment but is simply not realistic or even possible in our day. One example of this is that the State of Illinois uses taxes from her citizens to directly fund abortion procedures in our state. One fourth of Planned Parenthood’s $1.3 billion annual income is received from private donations, including corporate gifts. Companies that give substantial gifts to Planned Parenthood include Microsoft, Nike, Pepsi, Verizon, and Facebook, among many other well-known corporations. My point in saying this is that there are currently thousands of babies being aborted in our country every single day, largely funded by organizations that all of us support. The Church does not teach us that we have to boycott every single one of these organizations, which would make it impossible to live our daily lives. It is certainly possible that some Catholics have received a special call from God to live a prophetic witness to the world by boycotting all of these companies, but most people are not called to do this.
The Covid vaccines were not produced in perfectly ethical ways. However, abortions were not performed in order to make these vaccines. Some labs in which vaccines are tested still use a cell line which was started in 1972 from an abortion at that time. This was certainly a grave sin, but our reception of the Covid vaccine was not the cause of the abortion, not does it imply that we approve of the abortion which happened 49 years ago. Some Catholic media outlets have given the impression that doctors are performing abortions in labs in order to make these vaccines. This is simply not true. I do not know the specifics of how cell lines or vaccine testing work, and nobody on the street does either, so we need to trust our Catholic teachers who have spent decades of their lives studying both the teachings of the Church and various scientific fields.
It is always a good thing to stand up for the dignity of life, which is the first gift that God gives us. However, boycotting the Covid vaccines is not a good way to do this. There are much more concrete ways that we can do this, such as peacefully praying outside Planned Parenthood on Bruns Lane, donating time or money to First Step Women’s Center, or volunteering with Springfield Right to Life. It can also be helpful to contact pharmaceutical corporations and encourage them to discontinue the use of cell lines derives from aborted fetal cells in the 1970’s.
For those who feel passionate about this issue or want to learn more, I recommend reading several of Fr. Tad’s articles which can be found at www.frtad.com.
Last week I tried to answer most of this question, so please see last week’s Weekly for the meat of why Jesus told his disciples to not talk about his miracles. This week, I hope to address the second part of this question: what effect did the disciples’ disobedience have on Jesus’ ministry? One clear effect of the word being spread was that Jesus was not able to enter some towns openly, as he had before. Mark tells us: “The man [cleansed leper] went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45). This was at the very beginning of the Gospel, and it’s hard to know what effect this had on Jesus’ ministry. He could not enter a town openly, but we see him at the beginning of chapter 2 entering Capernaum with no visible problems or crazy crowds. I would guess that towards the beginning, “not entering a town” was a mild inconvenience, while later on Jesus’ fame could have spread between towns and become a serious burden to his work.
One of the mysteries of Christ’s passion is how the free decisions of many people worked together toward a result that was predicted in the Old Testament and by Jesus himself. Judas’ betrayal and locating of Jesus on the night after the Last Supper was a necessary part of the story, but we still believe that he was totally free to choose to betray Jesus or not betray Jesus. I don’t know whether ‘the blabbers’ specifically had an impact on the Passion, but whatever happened, God used even their disobedience to bring about Christ’s salvific death.
We can learn about obedience from those who did not obey Jesus’ directions to tell no one about his miracles. It must have been baffling to those who witnessed Jesus’ actions that he would ask them to tell no one what they had seen. It is natural to want to share with others something that we observed which was extraordinary or even miraculous. Jesus could have been more forceful in his commands, and he could have added a brief explanation, such as, “Don’t tell anybody about this because I have many more things to accomplish, and if people know right now, it’s going to be more difficult for me to do good work.” But God doesn’t always tell us the whole plan, and even if we hear the whole plan, it may not even make a difference. Sometimes little children want an explanation for their parents’ decisions, and even when a parent patiently and logically explains why they can’t have a cookie before dinner, it is not a compelling argument to a child. Sometimes God’s plan for our lives is unexpected, and if we knew about it before it happened, it would only make things worse.
We see in the Gospels that when the Apostles dropped everything to follow Jesus, he did not tell them what would happen or how most of them would die. He only asked them to take one step at a time in following him. May God give us the grace to trust him and be obedience, whatever our current situation in life!
I have some more thoughts about this, and I’ll save them for next week! To be continued…
We are in “year B” of the Sunday reading cycle, meaning that we hear mostly from the Gospel of Mark. Just looking back at several previous Sunday Gospels, I see that in the gospels of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Sundays in Ordinary Time, Jesus commanded his followers to tell no one about what they witnessed him do. For example, on the 24th Sunday, after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Mark tells us, “Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:30). This certainly seems counterintuitive, because we hear Jesus later command his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Scholars have come to call these commands of Jesus the “Messianic Secret,” meaning that his disciples knew that he was the Messiah, but they needed to keep the secret from outsiders. It seems that there were several contributing factors to Jesus’ desire to keep his identity a secret. Jesus never comes out and explicitly says, “Keep it secret for this reason,” so it is possible to have different understandings and even disagreements about exactly why Jesus said this. One reason is that many people did not understand what God’s plan for the Messiah was. There were different prophecies and predictions about different types of Messiahs in the time of Jesus. Generally, there was a hope for a priestly, prophetic, and kingly Messiah. We believe that Jesus fulfills all three of these offices, and we share in these three offices through our baptism into the life and death of Christ. Notice that shortly after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus explains that he would have to suffer and die. He is trying to reconfigure their understanding of the Messiah, and Peter rebukes Jesus for this.
At the time of Jesus, there was a group of Jews who called themselves the “Zealots.” We hear that Jesus called Simon the Zealot to be one of his twelve apostles. The Zealots were a militant political group who hoped for the coming of the Messiah to return Israel to its former political independence and glory. They must have been trying to raise some forces to support the messianic king when he did come. The Messiah was seen to be a Davidic general who would raise an army against (presumably) the occupying Romans. Jesus is asked in one of the gospels, “Have you come to restore the kingdom to Israel?” This seems to be a question from the political point of view. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus explains that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate seemed confused about how one could be a king, but not of this world (John 18:33ff). So, when Jesus wanted his identity to be kept secret, one of the reasons was probably to avoid involvement with the Zealots and others who had great political aspirations for Israel. Of course, Jesus’ spiritual kingship far exceeds any political kingship, because his kingdom lasts forever.
Another reason for the Messianic Secret is that the Apostles did not yet understand the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. This is similar to the first reason, but more focused on the Apostles’ preaching of the Gospel. If we think back to the Acts of the Apostles, the preaching of Peter and the Twelve always focused on the events of the Paschal Mystery: his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Without being witnesses to these events, their understanding of Jesus’ role in salvation history was incomplete. They could not preach the good news of the gospel until the mission of Jesus was complete; they were still in a preparation period.
I have some more thoughts about this, and I’ll save them for next week! To be continued…
St. Augustine famously said once (or wrote), “Love God, then do what you will.” We make countless choices every day of our lives, some big and some small. Big decisions might have to do with working on a relationship or looking for a new job. Smaller decisions, like what to have for breakfast, seem unimportant in the big scheme of things. Peter Kreeft is a prolific Catholic author who has taught at Boston College for many years. In an article on discerning God’s will, he gives seven guideposts. I find his clarity very helpful. Here are seven ways that God reveals his will to us:
- Scripture – The Word of God is living and effective and has a way of speaking directly to our hearts. The words of Jesus in the New Testament can help guide our daily lives.
- Church teaching – God continues to speak through the Church’s teaching office. Some issues didn’t exist in the time of Jesus, but thankfully Jesus gave the Apostles and their successors authority to teach on faith and morals in his name.
- Human reason – All truth comes from God, and our minds were made to seek truth, goodness, and beauty.
- The providential situation – Sometimes God’s providence is only clear in hindsight. He places us where he needs us to be at a particular time.
- Conscience – We all have an interior voice, nudging us to do the right thing. It can be formed well by the teachings of Christ and the Church.
- Our individual instincts or personalities – God gave us a unique personality, and we don’t need to change who we are to do his will (although we may need to correct some imbalances).
- Prayer – Prayer is a conversation with God, and prayer can inspire us or change us in surprising ways. We can ask God to show us his will for our lives.
We shouldn’t obsess about trying to discover what God’s will is for a particular decision in our lives. God made us to live lives of joy, peace, and love. This doesn’t mean that we run from challenges, but that we face them head-on, empowered by his grace. When I was in the seminary, we all had to learn at some point that seminary is not always easy, and challenges don’t mean that God is calling us out of the seminary. It can be exhausting for a seminarian to think he is called to the priesthood one day, then the next day he feels called to leave, then the next day he feels called to stay. Oftentimes, we are the fickle ones, not God. Our priestly formators invited us to simply embrace the experience of formation while God had placed us there. Eventually, many of my classmates did leave the seminary, and this was usually a joyful decision which was the result of prayer, conversations with friends, priests, and teachers.
The same advice of embracing our current situation can apply to all of us. God has placed us at a certain moment in history, with particular family members, at a certain stage of life. We know that we should avoid sinful situations as much as we can. We should actively seek out ways to serve our parish and our community. Most of all, we should love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If we do these things, God’s will is being accomplished.
Sometimes, God places a desire on our heart to do something new to follow his will, such as beginning a new form of fasting, reaching out to a friend, or beginning a new ministry. If you think that God is calling you to do something, go for it! We can’t always get clarity in discernment by simply thinking about something; we have to try it and see what happens. Most of all, trust in God, who made us to know, love, and serve him.
Dr. Kreeft’s article Discernment: How can I learn God’s will for me? can be found at catholicculture.org.
In the Apostles’ Creed, the Church professes that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” The meaning of the word “hell” in this sentence means something very different than our common understanding today. Today, if someone “goes to hell” it means that they have chosen to be eternally separated from God. This is a state of “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed” (CCC 1033). Hell is the opposite of heaven where God and the souls of the just now dwell. In the Scriptures, the word “hell” is used to translate Sheol (from Hebrew) and Hades (from Greek).
In the Apostles’ Creed, the hell that it is referring to is a place that is now empty, which we can call a realm of the dead. With Adam’s sin, the gates of heaven were closed, and only when Jesus died on the cross were they reopened. Before Christ’s death on the cross, souls could not get into heaven, so they went to a sort of holding place, waiting for someone to redeem them. When Jesus died, his human soul also went to the realm of the dead, like countless dead before him. However, he did not go there to stay but to lead all the holy souls to heaven. Imagine Jesus entering a room filled with millions of people, who are waiting for someone to lead them to heaven. When Jesus enters, he is recognized as the Savior by the holy ones, and the devil finally realizes that he has been duped. Up until that point, the devil probably did not know that Jesus’ death would lead to the gates of heaven being reopened. Jesus then led a great army of holy people into heaven, including Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, and John the Baptist, and all the holy people we read about in the Old Testament.
The sin of Adam caused the gates of paradise to be closed, while the death of the new Adam (Jesus) caused the gates of paradise to be reopened. There is a tradition in art of depicting this great meeting between Jesus and Adam, commonly called the “harrowing of hell.” An ancient homily puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead” (CCC 635).
Christ’s work of salvation was possible because he was a divine person with two natures (human and divine). He became subject to the laws of our nature so that he would be able to experience human death and pay a price that no other human being could. However, because he was God, he had the power to destroy the hold that death had on the human race since Adam’s sin. Jesus acted as a sort of “secret agent” entering Hell with his human nature, then using his divine power to open the gates of heaven and lead all the holy souls there. I realize that comparing Jesus to a secret agent falls far short of the great mystery of his Incarnation, as all analogies do. However, I hope it serves to illustrate what happened when Jesus descended to the realm of the dead before his glorious resurrection.
Sharon Sexson Expand
Questions involving the resurrection interest many Catholics, myself included. This is a good thing, because “belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings” (CCC 991). Your initial understanding is correct. When we die, we face Jesus in judgment and our souls go to heaven, hell, or purgatory (in preparation for heaven). However, our bodies experience decomposition on this earth, which means that our bodies and souls are divided from the point of death until our own resurrection.
The Last Day is also known as the Second Coming of Christ, or the Parousia, which is a Greek word. On the Last Day, Jesus will return in glory, and the bodies of the dead will be raised, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). At this point, our bodies and souls will be reunited, either in heaven or in hell. Before the final resurrection, our souls already experience the goodness of God in heaven. Our bodies will be glorified like Jesus’ was after his Resurrection: able to walk through walls, not subject to destruction, etc.
On the Last Day, there will be another judgment after the resurrection of the dead, called the general judgment or final judgment. In this judgment, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death” (CCC 1040). In a person’s individual or particular judgment, God judges the person based on his or her decision to love God or not love God. In the final judgment, the consequences of people’s actions will be manifest to the whole world. Mother Teresa’s actions of love are still reverberating around the world, while some people’s historical actions are still causing negative consequences to this day. These will all be made known on the Last Day.
At the Last Day, we will experience the fullness of Christ’s resurrection as members of his Body. However, we as Christians have already begun to experience Christ’s Resurrection through our experience of the Sacraments. St. Paul said, “And you were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 2:12, 3:1). In the Creed, we pray together every Sunday, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” This does not refer to Jesus’ body, but to our bodies which will be raised up on the Last Day.
Rev. John Mary Irenaeus St Cyr, a native of Lyons, France, came to America in 1831 following his seminary studies and was ordained by Bishop Joseph Rosati in St Louis, MO. In 1833, Bishop Rosati sent Rev St Cyr to attend to the needs of Catholics in Chicago. He wrote a letter to Bishop Rosati after a return journey to Chicago from St Louis, dated June 11, 1834. In his letter he mentions that he attended to the Catholics of Sugar Creek, South Fork and Springfield for their Easter duties. He was transferred to Quincy in 1837, where he continued to administer to the Catholics of Springfield. He humbly encouraged that the new Episcopal See be in Springfield due to its central location to minister to all the Catholics of Illinois. He retired in 1839 and died a few short years later.
In the fall of 1838, Rev George A Hamilton took over the ministry of the Catholics in the Sangamon Valley, including Springfield. He struggled to raise funds and manage the money appropriately, but eventually the first church in Springfield was built, St John the Baptist. Along with the assistance of Rev. Phillip Conlon, St John Church was built in 1848, on Adams Street between 8th and 9th Streets. According to the sacramental records the first baptism at St John the Baptist was August 6, 1842, with Rev. Joseph B. Raho, C.M. officiating.
This evidences that St John the Baptist was the first Catholic church built in 1848, but sacraments were performed and recorded as early as 1842. At this time, the new Episcopal See was erected in Chicago. This church remained until 1857, when the disputes between the German and Irish Catholics of the parish could no longer be resolved. The parish split with the Irish Catholics establishing the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the German Catholics erecting the parish of Ss. Peter & Paul. St John the Baptist was abandoned completely in favor of these two new parishes.
The history of St. Aloysius, North Arm, began in 1817. At the time, pioneers ventured from Bardstown, K.Y., and ended their journey at the north arm of Coal Creek in what is now eastern Edgar County. The group, led by Aloysius Brown, settled in 1817. Services were held in the Brown home until a log structure was built for the purpose of gathering to worship and celebrate Mass.
A cemetery was also established behind the Church. As the Church community continued to grow, they built a second church in 1837. The area thrived until the late 1840’s when it was decided to place intersecting railroad tracks in Paris. The resulting demographic shift led the Bishop of the Springfield Diocese to create a parish in Paris. Father Thomas Ryan moved from St. Aloysius to St. Mary’s Church in Paris in 1858.
This suggests that the faith community began gathering as early as 1817, but a church was not built until 1837. A resident priest was not assigned until 1844.
Alongside this story, is that of St. Boniface, Quincy. The first Catholics arrived and settled Quincy in 1821. Mass was celebrated in the home of Adam Schmitt and in 1834, the Catholics of Quincy petitioned for a resident priest.
Rev. St Cyr was ordered to take up residence in Quincy by Bishop Rosati of St Louis in 1837. Rev. St Cyr moved to Fulton County while Rev. August Brickwedde became the first resident priest in Quincy. The first church of St. Boniface was completed in 1840, but a new church would be built ten years later as the community continued to thrive and grow.
This suggests that the faith community began to gather as early as 1821, but a church was not built until 1838. The first resident priest was assigned in 1837.
Also, in the extreme eastern section of Illinois was the town of Teutopolis and the parish of St Francis of Assisi. A group of German Catholic prospectors from Cincinnati, OH moved west and established the settlement in 1833. The first resident priest was Rev. Joseph Masquelet, who had a log cabin built to serve the community and the first Mass was celebrated in 1839 with the first Baptism performed on November 26, 1839. This church was dedicated to and called St. Peter, which would change to St. Francis of Assisi in 1860 with the influence of the Franciscans arrival in 1858.
Rev. Joseph Kuenster arrived in 1845 from Belleville and records that he was the first pastor of the Teutopolis church (primus pastor Ecclesiae Teutopoliensis) in the marriage register of the church. He oversaw the construction of the church and seminary of the Franciscans.
This suggests that the faith community began to gather as early as 1833, but a church was not built until 1839. The first resident priest was assigned in 1845.
The ability to “read souls” is an ability God has given to various saints throughout history. Essentially, when a saint “reads” someone’s soul, they are given a supernatural knowledge about another person’s soul, usually for the good of the person whose soul is being “read.” I put the word “read” in quotation marks because it is not an exact term, and we do not really have an exact term for this spiritual reality. This is not a New Age spiritual practice but is something that I would describe as a charism of the Holy Spirit. Charisms are gifts from God which are for the building up of the Church.
On one occasion, St. Faustina was given a special insight into the soul of her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko. In her journal, she wrote, “I came to know his anguished soul. This crucified soul resembles the Savior. Where he expects, with good reason, to find consolation, he finds the cross. He lives among many friends, but has no one but Jesus. This is how God strips the soul He especially loves.” In this case, God saw some good which would come from St. Faustina seeing into the soul of Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael was experiencing a closeness with Jesus by a trial of loneliness which united him with the cross. I’m sure St. Faustina was inspired to pray for her spiritual director to be strengthened. Since this line was included in her published diary, it also may have inspired other Christians to seek closeness with Jesus through the cross.
Some saintly priests have been known to read the souls of penitents in the Confessional. Sometimes dishonest people would come to St. Padre Pio for confession just because he was famous, and they wanted to see what the hype was about. In these cases, Padre Pio would deny absolution and tell people to leave. He once said, “Through Jesus, I see and hear all – I see your soul just as you see yourself in a mirror.”
It should be noted that the devil can sometimes perform an imitation of reading souls. One sign of a demonic presence is that a person has supernatural knowledge which they have no other way of knowing about. Sometimes during an exorcism, a possessed person will try to scare a priest by listing sins that the priest has committed. Because of this, priests and other laity who are involved in deliverance ministry receive frequent Confession and Communion. To be clear, demonic possession is rare and I only use this example because it is interesting. We can use some simple discernment to discover if the reading of someone’s soul is from God or the devil. Does this person pray, attend Mass, receive Reconciliation and the other sacraments? Or is this person involved with an occultic group which seeks contact with evil spirits?
Sometimes a priest may ask just the right question in Confession, and I have heard people say before that they felt like the priest was reading their soul in that moment. (To be clear, I was not this priest!) This may or may not be a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit. It is possible that the priest had a good spiritual sense and his experience guided him in asking a question or making a comment. However, I never want to limit the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is definitely possible that the priest had an insight into their soul at that moment.
A gift like reading souls is somewhat rare in the life of the Church. God gives it to a saint occasionally to call Christians to holiness. The next time you go to Confession, imagine that the priest is going to read your soul. Would this change the way you go to Confession? In reality, it is God himself who forgives our sins in Confession, and he always sees the state of our soul. The more honest we are in Confession and the spiritual life, the more quickly we will grow in holiness.
A person who only attends Mass on big feast days such as Christmas or Easter, or even on Sundays only, may be surprised at the simplicity of the Church’s daily Masses. There are two reasons that we might say some prayers at certain Masses but not at others. The first reason is that there are multiple options that the priest is allowed to use whenever he celebrates Mass. The second reason is due to the principle of progressive solemnity.
There are several parts of Mass that may not always look or sound the exact same because the priest chooses to use a variety of options. The priest is not allowed to change just any part of the Mass. Individual priests did not invent the Mass, and when priests change things based on their personal theological opinions or the desire to be novel, it is a betrayal of their office. At ordination, priests promise to celebrate the liturgy and sacraments faithfully, which means being faithful to the rubrics handed down by the Church. However, it is also true that there are many options for parts of the Mass which can be used at the discretion of the priest. A noticeable option at the beginning Mass is the penitential act. The two most commonly used options are the prayer called the Confiteor (which means “I confess”) and the tropes. The tropes are a triple invocation calling upon Jesus for his mercy, such as saying, “You were sent to heal the contrite of heart; Lord, have mercy.” Both of these options invite us to repentance and call to mind our sinfulness, and the priest can use either at his discretion.
Another option the priest has at every Mass is which Eucharist prayer he chooses to pray. You would probably recognize the three most common options. Eucharistic Prayer I is the most ancient and traditional, and it is often used for feast days and Sundays. (It is also the longest Eucharistic Prayer, which is the honest reason it is not used very often!) Eucharistic Prayer II is the shortest and simplest and is often chosen for daily Masses. Eucharist Prayer III is of medium length and is often chosen on Sundays. There are actually seven other options besides these three, and the priest celebrant can choose to use them at his discretion. On weekdays, the homily and intercessions are optional, so you may see them omitted occasionally.
The second reason we say certain prayers for some Masses is because of the principle of progressive solemnity. This principle is the idea that the more solemn, or important, a certain day is, the more we celebrate it. Sunday is Resurrection Day and is the most important day of the week, so we celebrate it by praying the Gloria and Creed every Sunday. Other feast days such as Christmas, Easter, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc. are also celebrated by praying the Gloria and Creed. In addition, it is best to have hymns or antiphons sung on special days in the Church’s calendar. There are four “levels” of solemnity in the Church, and from lowest to highest they are ferial days, memorials, feasts, and solemnities. Which level a certain day falls under dictates which prayers are said on that day.
The external experience of a Mass on Easter Sunday will be very different than one on a weekday during ordinary time. However, Mass is always Mass, and the sacrifice of Jesus is equally present at every Mass. The different prayers and hymns of the Mass help us to open our hearts to receive God’s love and give glory to him!
There is a short, practical answer to this question and a longer, theological answer. I’ll start with the short one. In 2011, a new English translation of the Mass was published for the United States with the intention of having a more literal translation from the original Latin. Since 1970, the English-speaking world had been saying, “And also with you” in response to the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you.” This was a translation of the Latin phrase, “et cum spiritu tuo.” Even without any training in Latin, one can see that the word “spirit” is clearly present! The phrase, “and also with you” was simply not a literal translation of the text.
Translation is not an easy task. Most parts of the Mass were celebrated in Latin until 1970, when the liturgical reform allowed for Mass to be celebrated in the local language, at least in parts. There was and still is debate as to whether our translation should be more literal or should have less formal language and still try to capture the sense of the text. Today, the Church is leaning more literal whereas in the past, many translations were looser and less formal. “And also with you” is an example of the loose, informal translation.
Now on to the more theological question. What does the phrase, “And with your spirit” actually mean? In researching for this answer, I have read several articles and the answer is not as clear-cut as I hoped it would be! However, this does not mean that the dialogue is any less valuable or should be changed simply because its meaning is mysterious. It seems to have been in use in Christian liturgy since the 200’s, or even earlier, and St. Paul used this type of phrasing in several of his letters. At the conclusion of 2 Timothy, Paul said, “The Lord be with your spirit.” Today, it is a response that is given only to ordained clergy in the context of the liturgy. It is part of a sacred dialogue that transcends our everyday conversations. Because of its use in the liturgy, the word “spirit” seems to be referring to the spirit that the priest received at his ordination. Especially in the liturgy, the priestly presence of Christ is present in the celebrant in a unique way, which was shared with the twelve apostles and has been handed down to priests ever since.
St. John Chrysostom (347-407) explained this phrase in a homily on Pentecost Sunday: “If the Holy Spirit were not in our Bishop when he gave the peace to all shortly before ascending to his holy sanctuary, you would not have replied to him all together, “And with your spirit.” This is why you reply with this expression … reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but is it the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice.”
In an article by Louie Verrecchio, he described the importance of this greeting which reminds us that it is Christ himself who celebrates the Eucharist: “We’re acknowledging that the priest who stands before us is not just another member of the congregation. He’s not even just the “presider.” Rather, the priest who stands before us does so as one uniquely configured to Christ, present in this place to serve in Persona Christi – in the Person of Christ – and most certainly not by his own resources.”
For a fuller explanation, I would recommend looking up the two articles which I have cited in footnotes one and two. The formal language of the liturgy is a way for us to step out of daily life and prepare for an encounter with God. It is also a reminder for priests that the Mass is not a performance, and our personalities should not set the tone for Mass, but rather reverence and the honor due to Jesus should characterize the words we speak and gestures we perform. I am grateful for your question, as I learned a lot in my research for this answer.
It is true that in recent years, especially since Vatican II, the Church has taken a broader view of hope for the salvation of people who die without baptism or knowledge of God. This does not come from a change in belief about baptism or the necessity of Jesus for salvation. As St. Peter said, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). Rather, this broader view has come from a better understanding of God’s grace working with free will, along with a more realistic understanding of the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel.
The only ordinary means for someone to go to heaven is to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the sacrament of Baptism. However, even from the earliest days of the Church, theologians began to talk about other types of baptism, such as baptism by blood and baptism by desire. As you mentioned, many men and women of old have lain down their lives for Christ. Some of these died as catechumens, or people who were preparing for baptism. Baptism by blood is not the same as actually being baptized. However, the Church never doubted that these people had gone to heaven as martyrs. The same is true of those who die from sickness or an accident while they are catechumens, in which case we hope they had experienced the baptism of desire. It is important to remember that these other two types of “baptism” are not actually the sacrament of baptism. Their souls never received the “character” or mark of baptism which we received at our baptism. What these examples prove is that from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have known God to give the grace of salvation even without being baptized. Technically, what is needed for salvation is not baptism in itself, but rather the effect of baptism, i.e. the forgiveness of sin and infusion of grace into the soul.
The examples I just gave are pretty easy to understand. If a person is honestly seeking the sacrament of baptism, it would not be reasonable for God to deny that grace. However, what about a person who has never heard of Christ, or is not actively seeking baptism when he dies? The Church’s view of the possibility of salvation of these people has become more positive over time. A key text from the Second Vatican Council says, “Those also can attain to salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (#16). Note that the Council does not say, “As long as you are a good person, you will definitely go to heaven.” The requirements that the Council lays out are fairly specific and could be considered an implicit faith in Christ, and it would be assumed that if the Gospel were proclaimed to them, these people would seek baptism.
Any grace that comes to people, either with or without the seven sacraments, comes through Christ and his Church. There are no exceptions to this. Nobody is saved without Christ and at least an implicit faith in him. God’s grace works mysteriously even in the hearts of unbelievers. Sadly, the Church’s ability to be a witness to the Gospel has been tarnished by her many sins throughout history. In the Middle Ages, some theologians thought that Christ’s mandate to proclaim the Gospel to all nations had been completed. The discovery of the New World made the Church rethink this claim. How could God send entire continents of people to hell for thousands of years if, through no fault of their own, they never even had the chance to hear the name of Jesus? Or what about babies who die before birth? The Church fervently hopes for their salvation, and especially in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we pray for those who die without sacramental baptism.
The Church still affirms the saying, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (CCC 846). This statement needs to be understood correctly, in the context of what I have previously explained. There was a Jesuit priest in the 1940’s named Fr. Leonard Feeney who began to interpret this statement to mean that only baptized Catholics could go to heaven, with no exceptions even for baptism by blood. He was excommunicated for several reasons, but the main reason was that he became a heretic by taking it upon himself to interpret both Scripture and the teachings of the Church privately.
Today, many people still suffer and die for the faith. I once heard that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other century since Christ. Our trust in God’s mercy even for the unbaptized cannot discourage us from the great need to evangelize and perform sacramental baptisms for those who accept faith in Christ. If a priest or a bishop ever says that being baptized has no advantage or does not matter for salvation, he is wrong.
This past week, we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul. Jesus entrusted St. Peter and the first Apostles with being the authentic interpreters and teachers of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Our bishops in union with the Pope carry this same authority today. If a teaching of the Church seems to contradict the scriptures or previous Church teaching, it is always good to do research and ask questions, as you have done! Thank you very much for sending us your question, and I hope my response was helpful.