Tag Archives: Al Kresta

Business’ Hollywood image opposes Christian reality

Al Kresta

Hollywood’s 2014 box-office smash, “The Lego Movie,” opens with the villainous “Lord Business” plotting mass destruction. The movie, inspired by a consumer product, cleverly introduces that product to a wider audience. Ironically, it then presents itself as a warning on consumerism and business. “Only in Hollywood” mused CNBC columnist Jake Novak.

“Hollywood” is a business. It produces commercial products and movies. Nevertheless, movie scripts portray business executives as enemies of the good. They exploit workers, decimate forests, desecrate Native American cemeteries, cheat clients, sabotage rivals, bribe senators, market unsafe toys on children’s networks. And worse, they do so without moral anguish or pangs of conscience. “If the securities business were an individual… it could sue for defamation,” joked one trader. In Hollywood films, business people are bad people.

Why? Critic Michael Fumento suggested “that somebody has to play the bad guy, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to find bad guys who don’t have lobbying organizations.” Producer Barney Rosenwieg speculated that “Blacks, women, Italians, Hispanics, [add LGBTQ and Muslim activists] everyone, really … writes letters complaining about how they’re portrayed on television. That’s why I love businessmen — they don’t write me letters.”

Investor’s Business Daily quotes a screenwriter: “It’s a closed shop policed very strictly through the Department of Labor. Scripts that are pro-business are seen as anti-labor.” Many producers maintain faith that socialism will triumph over capitalism. “It’s impossible for a screenwriter who doesn’t profess…these things to become very successful. You can’t use my name,” he added. “I’ve got a family to feed.”

Catholics see business through a different lens. Business is a divine calling to serve one’s neighbor. Ideally, the Catholic businessman is a quietly heroic, even godly figure engaged in a deeply humane enterprise. Properly understood, it can be a highway to heaven even with the
inevitable speed bumps.

St. John Paul II’s “civilization of love” depends more on business people than politicians, environmental activists, entertainers or leftwing antifa revolutionaries. Why? Because only
business creates wealth. Without businesses creating wealth, politicians would have nothing to redistribute! Environmental activists would lack donors. Entertainers would have no box-office receipts and left-wing antifa revolutionaries would have to move out of their parents’ basement.

According to the Catechism for Business and The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine (CCSD), business efficiently and creatively responds to consumer demands by producing useful goods and services. This creates wealth not just for the owners but for all of society (CCSD, 338).

Profit is a necessary indicator of a healthy business. By pursuing profit, business achieves broader social and moral goals like employment, cooperation, problem solving and a corporate culture in which workers enhance their skills. Business also cultivates personal virtues like accountability, punctuality, leadership, organization, patience, trustworthiness, honesty, good stewardship of time, money and materials (CCSD, 340).

Why, then, are movies so anti-business? Because the businessman recognizes limits. He prizes prudence, practicality, efficiency and thrift. These bourgeois virtues cramp Hollywood’s grand style. To succeed, Hollywood must appear larger than life, haloed with magnificence, transcending our conventional, petty concerns. But it’s all a mirage. Hollywood’s “fantasy factories” are subject to the same mundane business realities as the shoe manufacturer. Studios are businesses. The Hollywood ethos denies this. It enchants as it whispers: “We are real wizards. Pay no attention to that little mercenary business man behind the curtain.” Screenwriters and filmmakers traffic in fantasy, dreams, limitless possibilities. They resent those who remind us that we are mere mortals with material and moral boundaries, finite and fallen creatures.

“Lord Business” is ugly because his twisted desires respect no moral boundaries. In reality, however, businesses flourish best within moral limits. Let’s bear witness to that truth. St. Paul exhorts Catholics to be “living epistles” read by all men. People will read us. The only question is “What’s our message?” Has the Catholic faith, has Christ motivated, inspired, healed, guided, sustained, disciplined, consoled you in this moral drama of growing your business while not losing your soul? If so, share the good news. Our nation’s most powerful storytellers don’t seem to know that you can do well even when you are, first of all, committed to doing good.

AL KRESTA is president and CEO of Ave Maria Radio, author, and host of “Kresta in the Afternoon” heard on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.

Trend toward ‘revising’ Christianity

Today, a number of scholars are exploiting individualism and “revisioning” Christian origins to more easily fit into a global religious unity. Two representative figures are the late Joseph Campbell (1904- 1987) and Karen Armstrong (1944- ). Campbell, known for his Power of Myth, called for “obstinate” Christianity to abandon the doctrine of the Fall as a “primeval event,” along with the historic bodily resurrection, and the unique incarnation of the Son of God. Karen Armstrong, ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, is a former nun promoting her Charter for Compassion (2009) and activating the Golden Rule to unify the world’s religions.


Al Kresta

Redefining Heresy and Orthodoxy

The revisionists also include Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Karen King, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg and scores of others less well known. Some are members of the Jesus Seminar. Some occasionally cooperate on projects. Many hold compatible visions of Christian origins but disagree over the future of inter-religious cooperation.

Elaine Pagels (1943-), author of The Gnostic Gospels (1979), has exercised special influence. She wrote the first popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi documents, chosen by Modern Library Association as one of the most significant nonfiction books of the 20th century. She and others have been promising for over 40 years that the Nag Hammadi library (1945) would radically refashion our understanding of Christian origins. “These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was.”

Their work is revisionist and denies that early Christianity had an authoritative, doctrinal core or set of authoritative teachers. Heresy wasn’t error, it was just different. Diversity of belief, they say, characterized the earliest Church. The development of orthodoxy over a few centuries was purely a result of … forces entirely apart from God’s guidance ….

The Traditional Storyline: Truth Precedes Falsehood

The traditional storyline is represented by Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. Jesus proclaimed and advocated the “truth,” i.e., “orthodoxy” (from the Greek meaning “right belief”). He commissioned the apostles and their successors to guard, defend, apply, and transmit this truth from generation to generation until He comes again. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity was the score but some preferred to create their own doctrinal playlist. These were called “heretics” (from the Greek hairesis “a taking or choosing, a choice”). Heresies were deviations, corruptions of the truth. Orthodoxy preceded heresy.

The Revisionist Storyline: Diversity Precedes Orthodoxy

German theologian Walter Bauer (1877-1960), recast the tradition: “[O]rthodoxy was only one of several competing systems of Christian belief, with no closer links to any original, so-called ‘apostolic Christianity’ than its rivals…[I]t owed its victory…more to what we might call political influences than to its inherent merits.”

Excerpt from Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents ©Al Kresta. Published by Our Sunday Visitor, www.osv.com. Used by permission.

AL KRESTA is a broadcaster, journalist, President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications, host of the nationally syndicated Catholic talk show “Kresta in the Afternoon”

Catechism 101

Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2089

Why are we called Catholics instead of simply Christians?

It’s not a case of either/or but of both/and. “Christian” was first used to describe the followers of Christ at Antioch. It probably originated among our enemies as a contemptuous nickname (see Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). But by the time St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the first decade of the second century, the believers had gladly accepted it.

kresta“Catholic” is simply derived from the Greek word catholikos, meaning “universal.” We call ourselves Catholic because it describes the scope of Christ’s saving mission and the extent of the community he founded. Christ died for the sins of the whole world, and his Church is open to members of every nation, kindred, tongue, region, generation, locale, race, gender, class, and culture. ŠThe Catholic Church is the “universal” community founded by Jesus Christ, the savior of the whole world (see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Rv 5:9; 7:9; 14:6).

Wonderfully enough, it’s St. Ignatius of Antioch who gives us our first recorded use of the term “Catholic” to describe the Church. Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch, a major teaching center in the early Church that had breathed some deep apostolic air. Saint Peter had served as bishop just before he went to Rome, and Ignatius was himself mentored by the apostle John.

On his way to martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius left us a body of correspondence that was highly revered in the early centuries of the Church. ŠThere he wrote: “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

“Catholic” is not, as many people imagine, a denominational title. It simply describes a quality or mark of Christ’s Church. “Denominationalism,” strictly speaking, didn’t arise until the breakup of the Western Church in the 16th century.

Today the Catholic Church is sometimes referred to as the “Roman Catholic Church.” Certain Anglicans, not Catholics, originated the phrase. ŠThey wanted to be regarded as the true “Catholics” in contrast to the merely “Roman” Catholics. So they sought to exploit a contradiction in terms. How can one be “Catholic” — that is, universal — and yet merely “Roman” at the same time? It was a clever play on words that was intended as a sneer.

Today we often hear Catholics themselves claiming to be “Roman” Catholic. ŠThis is an attempt to turn the tables on the critics and redefine the phrase. “Yes, we are ‘Roman’ Catholic, meaning that we accept the primacy of Peter and the teaching authority of his successors, who traditionally operate from Rome.” ThŠese Catholics wear the phrase “Roman Catholic” as a badge of loyalty to Church teaching.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001

Catechism 101

ThŠe Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him the fullness of the means of salvation which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. ThŠe Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #830

Why do Catholics put so much stock in the Church Fathers?

Just as the natural family rightly honor and gives great weight to the words of the father who gave it biological life, so too does the supernatural family of God revere those apostles, bishops and teachers who have transmitted the spiritual life that animates the Church.

Al Kresta

The practice is taken from scripture, where Abraham is called “the father of all who believe.” Paul is a “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15) and calls the people he pastors “my children” (1 Thess 2:11). John also encourages a filial devotion from his disciples by addressing them as “little children” (1 John 2:11), and Peter refers to “the fathers” who have fallen asleep (2 Peter 3:14).

Some try to argue from Matt 23:8-12 that “no man is to be called father on earth for we have one Father, who is in heaven.” Likewise, according to the same passage, we are to call no man “teacher” or “master.” If the exaggeration in this passage is misconstrued as a literal command, then the above “paternal” passages are wickedly misleading, enticing us to do the very thing Christ forbids.

Furthermore, Paul specifies that God the Holy Spirit has given “teachers” to the Church just as he has given “apostles” and “prophets” and “workers of the miracles” (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). The literalistic interpretation of Jesus’ prohibition against calling anyone father or master or teacher on earth puts Paul and other teachers in the silly position of modeling for us what Christ has forbidden.

“Fathers of the Church” is an affectionate and popular term rather than an exact title. Depending on whose list you are consulting, the fathers number about 100 early Christian teachers. While most Church histories focus on creeds and councils, persecutions and prefects, emperors and exiles, the Church sees itself as a household of faith held together by strong fathers who strove to protect their spiritual children from danger, to discipline them and to teach them the Way of Jesus. These “fathers” also presided over the Eucharist and guarded the family’s patrimony from thieves who tried to break in and steal.

The term father is not restricted to bishops or even to those of unimpeachable orthodoxy. The appeal to the “unanimous consent of fathers” as a collective of sound teachers whose authority was generally recognized began in the mid-fourth century. Within a century it was common to invoke “the fathers” as one of the authorities to settle disputes.

They are a diverse lot, cut from very different cloth. While baptism immerses us into Christ and forms one mystical body, it does not impose one type of personality. Only an infinite number of personalities can image the infinite-personal God, so when God creates any one of us, he can afford to break the mold.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Are Catholic So Concerned About Sin?” Servant Books, 2005.


Catechism 101

Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life — not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis.

Periods of renewal in the Church are also intense moments of catechesis. In the great era of the Fathers of the Church, saintly bishops devoted an important part of their ministry to catechesis. St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, and many other Fathers wrote catechetical works that remain models for us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #7-8

Why do Catholics call Mary ‘co-redemptrix’?

AL KRESTA says that the title Co-Redemptrix doesn’t make Mary equal to Jesus . . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

by Al Kresta

Just to be clear, Jesus is the redeemer of humanity; Mary is not. While “Mary, co-redemptrix” has been part of Catholic thought and devotion, it’s not yet clear whether this title will receive dogmatic definition.

This designation of Mary has long been part of the devotional life of the Church and further developed during the pontificates of Popes Pius X, Pius XI, and John Paul II. The Church usually considers co-redemptrix in connection with two other titles: mediatrix and advocate.

The first reference to Mary as co-redemptrix dates back to the 14th century. The concept, however, is already present in the writings of Irenaeus and Justin Martyr in the idea of the “Second Eve.” Just as Adam and Eve killed the life of God dwelling within them by disobedience, so too do the New Adam and the New Eve restore that life by obedience to the will of God. Eve hands the instrument of death to Adam in the Garden: Mary hands Jesus the instrument, a body, which brings eternal life.

Unfortunately, in English co-redemptrix sounds like co-chair or co-captain, implying that Jesus needed to split the office of Redeemer with someone else because the task of dying for the sins of the world was just a little too much for him. Rather, the “co” in co-redemptrix refers to a “cooperator” or “collaborator” with the Redeemer.

The Word of God never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ. Mary is everything that she is through Christ. She needed a savior, and her savior was Jesus. But her divine maternity is an unparalleled sharing in the mysterious work of the divine Redeemer. To say that she plays a singular role in salvation history is not to claim that she is equal to Jesus.

Redemption is first prophesied immediately after the original sin (Gen 3:15). In this protoevangelium or “first gospel,” we hear the ground bass motif that will recur throughout salvation’s song: “the Woman” is “with the Redeemer.” This pattern is heard repeatedly in scripture.

Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation and her motherhood at the Nativity begin her union with her son in his work of salvation. Jesus’ mission of redemptive suffering causes profound suffering for her as well.

The title “co-redemptrix” is not a claim to equality with Christ, but an obedient and free cooperation with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel. While a hot brick warms, it receives its warmth from something other than itself — a heat source like a furnace. While the furnace is the “warmer,” the brick warmed by the furnace mediates the furnace’s heat to others. In this sense, the brick can be called a “co-warmer.”

Mary is “co-redemptrix” because of her unique maternity. She holds the title for all of us since she is the Mother of all Christians. Under her feet, the God of peace will crush Satan.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Are Catholic So Concerned About Sin?” Servant Books, 2005.

Catechism 101

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation…. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.

By pronouncing her “fiat” at the Annunciation and giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #969, 973

Purgatory is more a process than a place

Catholics are always asked where purgatory in in the Bible; here’s the answer . . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

Though most popular imagery presupposes purgatory as a “place,” it is better to think about it in terms of “process.”

Our journey to heaven begins on earth. But if heaven is a place of mutual and unhampered love between God and human beings,  then it appears that most of us end our earthly journey as flawed lovers, still inept at deep and sustained love. The purification begun on earth continues until we are rendered completely fit for eternal union with God.

Someone might object, “But aren’t we forgiven in Christ? What remains to be done?” Forgiven, yes; transformed, not yet. While God loves us the way we are right now, he loves us too much to let us stay that way. He accepts us where we are in order to move us to where he is.

We often die with an unhealthy attachment to sin. At the hour of our death, our souls may not be fully fixed on evil but neither are they fully fixed on the perfections of God. We aren’t unrepentant, just unperfected.

How are we to enter heaven in which can dwell no unclean thing (Rev 21:27)? How are we to dwell with a God whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity (Heb, 4:13, Lev 11:44, 1 Pet 1:16)? How are we to enjoy fellowship with a God infinite in perfections when we lack perfection (Mt 5:48)?

We might compare purgatory — or the final purification as I like to call it — to the antechamber of heaven. Imagine that you, a lame beggar, have received an invitation to the king’s wedding supper. The invitation specifies that you arrive healthy, clean and in your best attire. The king’s mansion is far away and can only be reached over perilous terrain. You fear you don’t have the stamina, wardrobe or courage to present yourself successfully.

Nevertheless, the king has called you. So you set off, growing in anticipation of intimate communion with the king and his guests. Along the way, your travel is full of travail. Yet it strengthens you. The rigorous exercise rids you of a respiratory condition you feared  might disqualify you, and your atrophied leg begins to generate new muscle. The mud and briars, however, ruin your best clothes.

When you arrive, the king’s steward looks at the invitation and, pleased, says, “I can see you are in the king’s good graces.” He tries to usher you in for inspection before you are seated, but you demur. “Is there a place,” you ask, “where I can shower and wash my clothes?”

The steward says, “Of course. We’ve provided all you need.” He then lays out bathing oils and the robes you are to wear. Before you know  it, you are indeed fit for a king.

As John Paul II taught: “Life’s earthly journey has an end which, if a person reaches it in friendship with God, coincides with the first moment of eternal bliss. Even if in that passage to heaven the soul must undergo the purification of the last impurities through purgatory, it is already filled with light, certitude, and joy because the person knows that he belongs forever to God” (General Audience, July 3, 1991).

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001.

Catechism 101

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends alms-giving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death  they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1032, 1030

Dangers to the Faith

Al Kresta deftly points out the cultural and spiritual dangers to the Church . . .

krestaDangers to the Faith
Al Kresta
Our Sunday Visitor, 2013
208 pages, $14.95 paperback

A popular Catholic broadcaster and author, Kresta pulls back the curtain on the challenges the Church faces today. Subtitled Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st Century Opponents, he examines the cultural storm brewing in society and its treatment, views and activities toward the Catholic faith.

Some are subtle, others are more brazen — New Age thought, “creedless” Christianity, relativism, scientific skepticism, the triumph of technology, and even the self-styled spirituality of Oprah Winfrey. Kresta’s insights and analysis help his reader navigate our often bizarre culture and find firm footing in the truths of the Catholic faith.

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

How does the Church approve an apparition?

Al Kresta writes that investigations are empirical, rational, moral, and theological . . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

When there is credible evidence of an apparition, the Church engages in empirical, rational, moral, and theological investigation. From the beginning, the Church assumed responsibility for investigating unusual supernatural phenomena.

The local bishop usually has the task of investigating allegedly supernatural claims, and his is normally the last word as far as the Church is concerned. While the pope can overturn the judgment, he is unlikely to do so unless there are some extenuating circumstances.

The bishop looks at three basic areas: the content of the message; the means by which the message was transmitted, such as trances, ecstasies, voices, visions, and so on; and the character of the spiritual fruit displayed in the life of those influenced by the message.

He might assemble a commission to investigate. He may close the apparition site for a while and call in experts in moral and dogmatic theology, forensic pathology, optics, photography, medicine, abnormal psychology, chemistry — even meteorology, if weather conditions significantly played into the claims. Can this phenomenon be explained away as natural or perhaps even diabolical?

The investigators interview the seers. Is there evidence of hallucination, grandiosity, schizophrenia, or self-delusion? Inquiries regarding the character of the visionaries are made among their friends, families, acquaintances, spiritual directors, and pastors — as well as those who have attended any public sessions where supernatural manifestations allegedly occurred. Devotion, however, is no guarantee that a revelation is authentic.

The investigators gauge the moral and spiritual impact on the seers and the proponents of the apparition. They pore over any alleged messages from Christ, Mary, or the saints to see whether these messages contradict Scripture or Sacred Tradition.

It’s important to keep special supernatural manifestations in perspective. Saint John of the Cross wryly observed, “One act done in charity is more precious in God’s sight than all the visions and communications possible — since they imply neither merit nor demerit — and many who have not received these experiences are incomparably more advanced than others who have had many.” Normally, the local bishop’s disapproval buries the claim. In the case of St. Joan of Arc, however, the bishop’s decision was reversed. The apparitions at Medjugorje (since 1981) have faced strong and repeated rejection by local bishops. Other prominent theologians and churchmen, however, have disputed the bishop’s judgment. A definitive decision in this case is probably far off.

After looking at all the facts, the bishop’s commission may conclude that these particular private revelations are “probable.” Usually that’s about as much “approval” as they will give. Nobody is required to believe these apparitions. The approval of a private revelation may simply be “negative” — that is, there is nothing against faith and morals in the revelation or the phenomena emanating from it. It is “worthy of belief” and people are free to believe it.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001.

Catechism 101

The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 66, 67

What are relics and why are they important?

Al Kresta says scripture favorably describes and nowhere forbids venerating relics . . .

Al Kresta

Biblical people have always reserved items associated with holy persons and events. Relics of ancient Israel’s past — the manna from the wilderness, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the Law — were all set aside, deposited and reverenced in the Ark of the Covenant.

Scripture favorably describes and nowhere forbids the venerating of relics. Since the early days of the Church the remains of martyrs and holy persons have been called relics, from the Latin reliquiae, meaning “remains.” A reliquary is a vessel that contains and displays these remains.

The martyr was celebrated as the disciple who most faithfully imitated Christ in his death. His willingness to die for the name of Jesus bore witness par excellence to the life of the age to come, a life superior to this world that was passing away. Early Christian worship developed over the gravesites of those who had been martyred, since the martyrs were those who were thought to have been special vehicles of the Holy Spirit.

This was no mere idealizing of the dead. The martyr was an intimate of God who was still a living member of the Church. When his tomb and the Church’s altar were joined, the Roman world was jolted. Graves were now “non-graves,” private places were now public, township sites once reserved for the dead were now being inhabited by the living. Life was replacing death. A distinctive sign of a growing Christian community in late antiquity was the presence of shrines and relics.

Eventually, when churches were built in territories that had no martyrs, a fragment of a martyr’s remains would be embedded in or around the altar. By the Second Council of Nicea in 787, each church building had to contain a relic before it could be consecrated.

No, Christians weren’t worshiping the martyrs. Relics are simply mementos, not idols. A brick from the Berlin Wall or a scrap of a Tchaikovsky score all receive places of honor in a person’s home or library. We are grateful to let such contemporary “relics” stimulate our memories and affections, but we don’t worship or offer sacrifice to our deceased grandfather’s violin even though we hang it prominently in our foyer.

The Church is very cautious in investigating and approving relics. Anyone who makes or knowingly sells, distributes, or displays false relics for veneration incurs ipso facto excommunication reserved to the bishops. All relics must be authenticated and can only be publicly displayed if they have supporting documentation.

A first-class relic is the corpse of a saint or any part of it. Second-class relics include any object sanctified by close contact with a saint or Our Lord. Third-class relics are objects or cloths touched to either first- or second-class relics. Relics are one more way that God demonstrates the fitness of the physical world to be a carrier of his grace and mercy.

Reprinted with permission from “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the Stations of the Cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.

These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1674-1675

Why Catholics believe in guardian angels

Guardian angels, like everything the Catholic Church teaches, are completely Biblical . . .

Al Kresta

Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels on Oct. 2 because every individual has a guardian angel, and awareness of our guardian angel can be a comfort and aid in our spiritual growth.

Belief in guardian angels is a common-sense implication from many passages of Scripture. For instance, “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Ps 91:11-12).

Such angelic personal care shows up often. The Hebrew heroine Judith said, “His angel hath been my keeper both going hence, and abiding there, and return from thence hither” (Jdt 13:20 Douay). In the New Testament, the task of angels as “ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (Heb 1:14) is revealed even more clearly than in the Old Testament.

When Jesus urges us to develop the trust and unpretentiousness of little children and then warns those who would despoil the souls of these little ones, he concludes with what may seem to us a curious statement: “See that you do not despise one of the little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). Each of these little children has his or her own angel before God in heaven.

Christ’s original audience wouldn’t have found the reference puzzling. Jesus was drawing on the Hebrew revelation that angels are guardians of nations and individuals, adults as well as children, and they perform various assignments.

God casts each human person in a dramatic story of redemption. The future of the universe hinges on our choices. He has discharged guardian angels to assist us in our roles.

Referring to Christ’s words above, St. Jerome commented, “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” Saint Thomas Aquinas further taught that our guardian angels could act upon our senses and imagination, though not upon our will. He added that they would also remain with us after our final union with God.

I suspect that many people dismiss guardian angels not because they’ve examined the data of Scripture or considered how eternity might penetrate time, but because of an adolescent prejudice: Guardian angels look like “imaginary friends” who are just projections of our own need for consolation in an unsafe world. But the fact that some spiritually stunted people find comfort in the notion is no argument against the actual existence of guardian angels.

It’s like saying that because a frightened child finds peace in the notion that the police are watching over him while he sleeps, then police don’t exist. Why shouldn’t other rational spirits share the same space as we do?

This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.

Catechism 101

As purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #330, 334, 336