Tag Archives: Catholic Christianity

Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person

Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller, Ph.D.
Emmaus Road Publishing, 240 pages

Time was when, in the popular mind, having a “vocation” meant one was called to the priesthood or consecrated life. While God certainly calls each person to a particular state of life, he also calls each to a personal vocation, a way of using one’s gifts and talents in the service of God and neighbor. This book offers a plan by which individuals might be led to contemplate their calling and whereby Church leaders, teachers, coaches, and other mentors might guide young people toward discerning and living out their own personal vocation.

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The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times

George Weigel
Ignatius Press, 223 pages

This collection of essays and lectures by Catholic intellectual George Weigel surveys recent history and contemporary concerns from an authentically Catholic perspective. The times are “turbulent” because we face challenges and changes resulting in a weakening or loss of order — in our country, in the world, and in our Church. “Order is not self-maintaining,” Weigel writes. “Order is an achievement, and it must be attained, over and over again.” His focus here is on “diagnosis, not prescription,” yet there is a theme of hope: Catholics can help restore proper order if we remain faithful to the truth and to our mission as “the light of the world.”

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Should Catholics evangelize?

Catholics don’t always outwardly evangelize like other Christians because they think actions speak louder than words. No doubt many think like that, but it’s no libel to suggest that such an excuse often masks other reasons — including embarrassment and timidity.

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

No great Christian evangelist ever relied on actions alone to the exclusion of words. On the first Pentecost, Peter “raised his voice and proclaimed” to the Jews assembled in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14). He preached and wasn’t satisfied to evangelize only through setting a good example. In this he followed his Lord, who sent his apostles out in pairs to preach repentance and to heal (Mk 6:7-13). Paul undertook perilous journeys not so Jews and Gentiles alike could make a cool appraisal of his actions, but so they would hear his urgent pleas to convert.

Think of Patrick preaching in Ireland, Cyril and Methodius telling the Slavs about the Christ, Robert Bellarmine arguing eloquently with Protestant Reformers, John Paul II traveling around the world and insisting on the necessity of the whole Catholic faith. They weren’t satisfied with actions alone. Yes, a person who acts well may be called a good Christian, but for many people that designation today means little.

An American delegate to the United Nations, when asked by the press some years ago how to solve the Middle East crisis, replied, “The solution is really quite simple. All we have to do is to get the Arabs and Israelis to sit down together and talk things over like good Christians.” The poor man had no idea what he was saying. Arabs, at least the large majority, and Jews are not Christians. They may talk with one another like good Christians. But, short of conversion, they never will be good Christians, no matter how often they mimic good Christians in their actions.

Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed the apostles and, derivatively, all Christians “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). He didn’t say, “Go out, set a good example, and be satisfied with that.” He told us to preach and teach the faith. Evangelization that isn’t outwardly visible isn’t evangelization at all.

Many other Christians and pseudo-Christians realize this. They’re not afraid to take their messages to others. Think of the street-corner fundamentalist preacher and the evangelical televangelist. In fact, the most successful in terms of new converts are precisely those pseudo-Christian sects, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which emphasize door-to-door evangelization.

Catholics are starting to wake up to this fact. It’s about time, since about half of all new converts to Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not to mention fundamentalism, are former Catholics.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission
from his book What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995).

Catechism 101

Christ … fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy … but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word. To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.

Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life. For lay people, this evangelization … acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world….The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers … or to the faithful.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #904-905

Why do Catholics offer Masses for the dead?

Christians know that death is not the end of life but the real beginning. Freed from the imperfections of earthly existence, the dead are more alive than we are. They are with us, and we still live with them in love.

Mike Aquilina

St. John tells us about the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation. It’s more beautiful, more glorious, than we can imagine. “But nothing unclean shall enter it,” he adds (Rev 21:27). So the Catholic Church tells us that there is a purification after death. St. Paul hints at it when he writes to the Corinthians about building on the foundation of Christ:

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:11-15).

In metalworking, fire burns off the impurities, leaving only pure metal. Paul sees the same sort of thing happening on the Day of the Lord. Whoever has built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will be saved, but first “fire” will purify us. This purification is what we call purgatory. There all our impurities are cleaned away and we are made ready to enter heaven. We offer Masses for the dead as a way of speeding that purification for them.

Offering sacrifices for someone else is certainly no new idea. It was common practice in Old Testament times. “Job’s sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4-5)

Job, who was “blameless and upright,” offered sacrifices for his sons just in case. Offering sacrifice for another is something a good person was expected to do.

If indeed the dead are still with us, and even more alive than we are, then it would be shameful neglect not to pray and make offerings for them as much as for the living. The second book of Maccabees tells us how Judas Maccabeus offered prayers and sacrifices for his dead soldiers when he discovered that they had sinned.

We Catholics pray and offer Masses both for the dead and for the living — and for exactly the same reasons.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers (Servant Books, 2011).

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 almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1032

Peace and the just war doctrine

The Church is both idealistic and realistic about war. On the one hand, “the Church [urges] prayer and action so that the divine goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war” (CCC #2307).

Peter Kreeft, Just War

Peter Kreeft

On the other hand, “insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ.” Therefore, “as long as the danger of war persists … governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense once all peace efforts have failed” (Gaudium et Spes #79). The same moral standards apply to collective self-defense by nations as to self-defense by individuals.

No war is just in itself. War is a sinful and barbaric invention. It is murder on a mass scale. But the choice to go to war can be just, if it is necessary self-defense. The aim of a just war (that is, a just “going to war”) is peace. The aim is not taking lives but saving lives: the lives of the innocent victims of aggression. The end that makes a war just can only be peace.

The “traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine” are the following “strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force” (CCC #2309). Defense: As implied above, a just war cannot be aggressive, but only defensive, a response to aggression. (Interestingly, the Quran teaches the same doctrine to Muslims: “Allah hates the aggressor.”) Grave damage: “The damage inflicted by the aggressor … must be lasting, grave and certain.” Last resort: “All other means of putting an end to [this grave damage] must have been shown to be… ineffective.” Hope for peace: “There must be serious prospects of success” and the ultimate aim and intention must be not war but peace.

Not graver evils: “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. Rules of war: It’s not true that all’s fair in love and war. The mere fact that war has broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.

There has been a tradition in the Church of principled Christian pacifism, as well as a tradition of “just war.” Church doctrine does not pronounce in a final and authoritative way on all moral questions, leaving many up to prudential human judgement. Pacifism — the refusal to bear arms — is not a requirement for Christians, nor is it forbidden. It is an honorable opinion.

Therefore, “public authorities should make equitable provisions for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve … in some other way.” (CCC #2311).

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war:

Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2317

What happens after we die?

Scholar Peter Kreeft writes that death teaches us the infinite value of human life . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

Nothing brings home to us the importance and value of human life more sharply than death. We seldom appreciate life until we realize how fragile it is, when friends and family are taken from us by death.

Death clarifies our perspective, sharpens our sight, and brings our whole life to a point, like the single summit of a many-sided mountain. Death teaches us all the truth of Jesus’ words: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk 10:41). That “one thing” is God. Only God is necessary in his own being, and only our relationship with him is absolutely necessary for our being.

I don’t know any specific facts about you. I don’t know your present life, whether you’re believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner, young or old. I don’t know your past. I don’t know your future, what the rest of your life in this world will be like or whether you’ll spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Only one concrete fact do I know with certainty about you: You will die.

The Church knows that about you too, but the Church also knows the meaning of death. The Church comes to you as a newspaper reporter with a startling piece of good news about death — and life after death — from the Man who claimed to be God and proved it by rising from death. The skeptic asks, “What do you know about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there?” And the Catholic answer is: “No, but I know Someone who has, and I believe him.” We Catholics know Him — that is the essential thing we know and the essential reason to be a Catholic — and therefore we know the meaning of death, through his witnesses, his apostles and their successors, the Church.

Death is both very bad and very good (if we are in Christ). It’s very bad because what is lost is very precious: life, the body, the whole world to the individual who dies. Christ wept at his friend Lazarus’ grave, and so should we if we love life as He did. But death is also very good if we die in Christ, because what is gained is infinitely more than what is lost. For if we live in Christ, death means only more of Christ and more of life. This body dies, like a precious little seed, but a greater body rises, like a greater and glorious plant (see Jn 12:24 and 1 Cor 15:35-53).

PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from the book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2001).

Catechism 101

It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt. In a sense, bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact “the wages of sin.” For those who die in Christ’s grace, it is a participation in the death of the Lord so that they can also share his Resurrection.

Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: Remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1006, 1007