Tag Archives: karl keating

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

The Ultimate Catholic Quiz

Karl Keating
Ignatius, 2016
210 pages, paperback $14.95

One of the pillars of the Legatus mission statement is to “learn the Catholic Faith.” Keating’s new book, subtitled 100 Questions Most Catholics Can’t Answer, is almost tailor-made for Legates. He offers a fun and challenging way to see how well readers know Catholic teachings, practices and history.

The book is laid out in an easy-to-read format with the question and five possible answers on one page, and the analysis of each of the five answers (noting the correct one) on the next page. The questions and the possible answers are written with thought, precision and sometimes a little humor to make for engaging reading

OrderAmazon, Ignatius Press

Must Catholics go to Confession once a year?

Close, but no cigar. The Church’s precept about Confession is slightly, but importantly, different: Every Catholic conscious of a mortal sin must go to Confession at least once a year.

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

This precept or rule of the Church — a violation of which is a sin of disobedience to legitimate authority — is binding on all Catholics over the age of reason. You must go to Confession at least once a year if you’re aware of having committed any mortal sin, that is, a grave or serious sin.

If you have not committed such a sin, you are certainly not obliged to go to Confession. But unless you already wear a halo, you no doubt have committed lesser venial sins and should go to Confession to be absolved of them so you can receive the grace of the sacrament to help you avoid occasions of sin.

Nowadays some Catholics, although acknowledging mortal sin exists, think they are nearly incapable of committing it. Perhaps they have swallowed the erroneous notion that the only remaining mortal sin is a complete rejection of God — hard for even the most wicked person to accomplish. Or they imagine mortal sin as something so heinous they would be locked up for years for committing it. But the “they” could be “we.” Mortal sin is much more prevalent than we suspect, and it may well be prevalent in our own lives.

For a sin to be mortal, three requirements must be met. First, it must involve a serious matter. Second, there must be sufficient reflection on its seriousness. And third, there must be full consent in the committing of it. What is a serious matter? Many sins listed in the Ten Commandments or contrary to Scripture or the moral teachings of the Church could qualify: murder, envy, abortion, artificial birth control, thievery, adultery, sodomy, fornication — to list only some of the serious sins popularized by the media.

How much time is needed to achieve sufficient reflection on the proposed act? It depends on the sin, but a few seconds often are plenty. You don’t need to ponder all day to realize that robbing a bank is a grave sin. What about full consent? It means just what it says: Someone forced into an act doesn’t give full consent to it. A drunken person is incapable of giving full consent. A young child is incapable of giving full consent. Ditto for someone asleep, comatose, senile or held at gunpoint.


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, 1995).

Catechism 101

According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.”Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to Confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1457

Does the Church still give indulgences?

You don’t hear much about indulgences anymore — at least not in Catholic circles. If it could be said that at one time they were overemphasized, it’s certainly true that today they are underemphasized.

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Many Catholics simply don’t know what indulgences are. A few Christians even believe indulgences are “permits for indulging in sin.” They aren’t trying to be cute with the language. They really think popes have given the OK for licentious activity — provided the right amount of cash is laid down first, of course.

Here we get back to the Reformation. As every schoolboy knows, the Reformation was all about the “sale of indulgences,” right? Wrong. The main issues were quite different. The use of indulgences just happened to be a side issue that allowed the movement to get off the ground.

To learn what indulgences are, there is no better place to turn than Echiridion of Indulgences — the Church’s official handbook on what acts and prayers carry indulgences. An indulgence is defined as “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.” The first thing to note is that forgiveness of a sin is separate from punishment for the sin. Through sacramental Confession we obtain forgiveness, but we aren’t let off the hook as far as punishment goes.

Indulgences are of two kinds: partial and plenary. A partial indulgence removes part of the temporal punishment due for sins. A plenary indulgence removes all of it. This punishment may come either in this life in the form of various sufferings — or in the next life in purgatory. What we don’t get rid of here, we suffer there.

If you uncover an old holy card or prayer book, you’ll notice pious acts or recitations of prayers might carry an indication of time. If you perform a pious act labeled as “300 days’ partial indulgence,” then you’d spend 300 fewer days in purgatory. Misinformed Catholics might scurry around for years, toting up indulgences, keeping a little register in which they add up the days so they can go straight to heaven. That’s a waste of time because there are no days or years in purgatory — or in heaven or hell, for that matter.

The indication of days or years attached to partial indulgences never meant you’d get that much time off in purgatory. What it meant was that you’d get a partial indulgence commensurate with what the early Christians got for doing penances for a certain length of time. But there has never been any way for us to measure how much “good time” that represents. All the Church could say, and all it ever did say, was that your temporal punishment would be reduced — as God saw fit.

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.


Sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth or after death in the state called purgatory.

This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1472

Without children, is a marriage valid?

KARL KEATING: Catholic couples who are not open to children are not validly married . . . 

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Of course it is! If that weren’t the case, then no couple would have a valid marriage until their first child was born. A marriage is valid as soon as the vows are exchanged and the marriage is consummated — that is, when the first sexual union takes place.

Until a child is conceived and born, a husband and wife can’t be sure they will have a child, no matter how much they might want one. Perhaps they are unaware of a medical problem that makes it impossible for them to have children.

That said, there is a sense in which the claim is true. If a bride and groom never have children because, right from the first, they never intended to have children, their marriage is invalid — not because of the absence of children, but because they did not meet the requirements for a sacramental marriage.

Marriage has two aspects, the unitive and the procreative. A man and woman join themselves in holy matrimony. They perform the marriage themselves — they aren’t “married by” the priest. The priest only serves as the Church’s chief witness. A deacon could also serve as the Church’s chief witness. Once the couple gives proper consent, the two are married. This consent must include an openness to the goods of marriage — both the unitive (“the two of them become one body” Gen 2:24) and the procreative (“be fertile and multiply” Gen 1:28). If this openness is absent, the consent is imperfect, and no sacramental marriage results. Although the parties live together, they aren’t really husband and wife. They have no marriage.

Some people think that married people aren’t really Catholic unless they have many children. Children, of course, are a great blessing, and it is a wonderful thing to see large families. But not every couple is able to have many — or even any — children. The validity of the marriage and the worth of married people as Catholics are not measured by the number of their offspring.

As Blessed Pope Paul VI discussed in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), every marriage must remain open to new life, and that is all God requires. This openness means that contraception is always a grave evil and is never morally right. Yet, if there are serious circumstances (such as the poor health of the mother), parents may limit the number of children they have through abstinence or modern, scientific, natural family planning, which takes account of a woman’s natural infertile periods but does not, as contraception does, eliminate all openness to new life.

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.

Catechism 101

Conjugal love … is open to fertility. By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves.

God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1643, 1652, 1654

Everyone goes to heaven, right?

KARL KEATING writes that many people mistakenly believe they are heaven-bound . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Is that so? Haven’t you been reading the headlines? Many people behave as though they’re basically evil, including many who never make the news.

Is the abortionist a good fellow? What about those who seem to build their lives around a particular sin? Have they given their hearts to Christ — or to their passions?

True, God created everything good, including every person. But we have free will, which we can use or abuse. We all abuse it at times, and we call such abuse sin. Some people will continue in sin until the end, at which time they will take the down escalator. Others will repent of their sins and die in the state of grace; they will take the up escalator. How many will be on each escalator? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us the proportion outright, but there are unpleasant suggestions: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life” (Mt 7:14); “many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14).

When asked whether only a few will be saved, Jesus replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13:24). Indeed, in the New Testament hell is mentioned about 30 times. Our Lord refers to “eternal fire” (Mt 18:8) and “fiery Gehenna” (Mt 18:9). Paul wraps it up by saying that when the Lord returns, he will inflict with “blazing fire those who do not acknowledge God” (2 Thes 1:8-9).

The idea that most people will go to heaven arises, perhaps, when people lack a sense of the seriousness of sin — and when they concentrate on God’s mercy to the exclusion of his justice. More than that, the idea is that he will save even those who don’t want to be saved. He won’t force his mercy or his salvation on anyone.

Salvation is a free gift, which, as with any gift, can be declined. We have no good reason to think that there will be only a few decliners. It isn’t so much a matter of God consigning anyone to hell as of the unrepentant sinner consigning himself there. The damned choose to go to hell by choosing self over God. They remain there, impenitent, unable to repent because they have grown absolute in their hatred of God.

This is all a consequence of the most frightening and glorious of our attributes: free will. God allows us to choose him or to choose ourselves. He gives us free rein to decide where we’ll go. He gives each of us enough grace to gain heaven. Only those who reject the grace go elsewhere.

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.”

Catechism 101

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1035, 1037

Faith is reasonable

On faith and reason, the Church takes a higher ground and establishes a higher truth . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Faith is a gift from God. You can’t earn it, and you can’t reason yourself into it. But if you don’t use your reason first, you may never grab onto it.

Through reason we can grasp the reasonableness of Christianity. This allows us to overcome stumbling blocks. Even nonbelievers can come to see that Christianity “hangs together.” Such a realization isn’t faith, but it’s a necessary prelude to faith. Put another way, one cannot be argued into faith, but one can be argued past obstacles to faith.

If Pelagius (354-420 AD) were stood on his head, his name would be John Calvin (1509-1564). Pelagius taught that human nature itself could perform all acts necessary for salvation. You could, said Pelagius, pull yourself up by your bootstraps—all the way to heaven. Not so, said Calvin. Reason is unavailing since it can’t bring you closer to God.

The Catholic Church says no to both, but it doesn’t just take a middle ground. It takes a higher ground and establishes a higher truth. It says that knowledge of God and the moral law is within reach of our natural reason.

With this knowledge of God, we can undertake a natural preparation of the intellect, getting it ready so it will let the will respond properly when moved by grace toward faith. Through reason, we can get rid of the distractions and misinformation that keep us from acting on the grace God offers us.

Reason itself doesn’t produce faith, since faith is an act of the will which is initiated by and then cooperates with God’s grace. But reason can remove obstructions to our view.

Grace is a gift from God. Grace is necessary for the beginning of faith, for perseverance in the grace already received, and for avoidance of sin. Paul ascribes all his virtue and the good results of his work to the grace of God (see 1 Cor 15:10).

There are two kinds of grace. Actual grace doesn’t abide in the soul or sanctify it. You might think of it as a supernatural push toward the good given by God to the soul — a push that enables the soul to do certain things it couldn’t do on its own. Faith is due to actual grace and is the first step on the road to sanctifying grace.

Sanctifying grace, which elevates the soul so it’s capable of living in heaven, is a permanent quality by which we share the divine life, become partakers in the divine nature, receive adoption as the children of God, and are made temples of the Holy Spirit.

We lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin, regain it through Confession, and increase it through other sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.

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.”

Catechism 101

Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations, it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions — or to trust their promises.

Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 154, 159

Is the Church obsessed with sex?

Karl Keating says that, rather, it’s the world that is obsessed with sex  . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

The Church has always shared her Master’s holy unpopularity. But never before the “Sexual Revolution” did her (and his) unpopularity center almost exclusively on sex.

In all eras and cultures, fallen man has never been very good at obeying any of God’s commandments. Man has always failed to practice what he preaches. But today he denies the preaching, the ideal itself… but only when it concerns sex.

A cross-section of popular movies and TV will reveal that most other areas of traditional morality are still assumed to be rightful and attainable ideals. But traditional sexual morality is almost always assumed to be unhealthy and unattainable — and the Church is usually portrayed as obsessed with sexual morality.

This obsession with sex is not the Church’s but the world’s — though the world often projects it onto the Church, its critic. We should not expect the Church’s teachings to coincide with “the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 1:20) in any age or culture, for her teachings do not come from this world but from heaven, not from man but from God.

Man has gone off the track set for him by God, so God’s track has always appeared to fallen man as “a stone that will make men stumble” (1 Pet 2:8), just as Christ himself did. We should expect that. G.K. Chesterton said, “I don’t need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong; I need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right.”

There are three things we need — holiness, happiness, and health — because there are three levels on which we live: spirit, soul, and body; our relationships with God, with ourselves and others, and with the material world.

Living according to God’s laws makes us holy, happy, and healthy. Violating them makes us unholy, unhappy, and unhealthy. This is as true of sex as of anything else.

First, sexual sin is sin and separates us from God. Second, since God loves us and wants our happiness, disobedience to his plan for us will necessarily bring us unhappiness. Worldly statistics confirm this heavenly logic: Adulterate sexual love brings with it a catalogue of miseries. Divorce, for example, means the destruction of society’s most indispensable foundation, the family, and it will inevitably stamp the same destructive marks on society at large as it already has on its immediate victims, millions of children.

Third, sexual sin has obvious and radical health effects. But the most notable physical effect of the Sexual Revolution is death. The human victims in just one generation of the abortion holocaust in most Western nations already vastly outnumber the victims of all the wars in their history. It’s high time to turn our attention to God’s alternative.

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

Catechism 101

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

Lust is disordered desire for — or inordinate enjoyment of — sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2337, 2351

Will fallen-away Catholics go to hell?

Karl Keating writes that some fallen-away Catholics will make it to heaven . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Some will, some won’t. We don’t know the proportions, but leaving the Church is always a blunder. Let’s look first at what makes one a member of the Church.

Pope Pius XII put it concisely in his encyclical On the Mystical Body of Christ, 1943: “Only those are to be accounted really members of the Church who have been regenerated in the waters of baptism, profess the one true faith, and have not cut themselves off from the structure of the Body by their own unhappy act or been severed therefrom, for very grave crimes, by the legitimate authority.”

So three things identify the full Catholic: (1) valid reception of the sacrament of baptism, (2) profession of the Catholic faith, and (3) participation in the communion of the Church. By manifesting these marks, one comes under the triple office of the Church: priestly (baptism), teaching (confession of faith), and pastoral (obedience to Church authority).

When you were baptized, an indelible mark was placed on your soul. You never need to be baptized again because there’s no way to undo your baptism. Not even the worst sin, including heresy and apostasy, can remove a valid baptism.

Catholic tradition has held that those dissociating themselves from the Church voluntarily cease to be full members of the Church. In short, neither heretics nor schismatics are considered full members of the Church.

People leave the Church for various reasons. Some never were “in” it except out of habit. Their faith, if not dead, was a candidate for the intensive care unit. One day they simply stopped going to Mass, and that was that.

Others want spiritual nourishment but can’t seem to find it in their parishes, so they go elsewhere. There is an irony in this, of course, since the greatest spiritual nourishment is the Eucharist, which is available in every parish.

Still others leave in good faith, thinking that the Catholic faith is untrue and some other faith is true. If they and the others don’t realize their actions are wrong, they remain related to the Church spiritually, even though they cease to be legal members of it. They still may achieve justification and salvation, but these are harder to achieve the further they distance themselves from the complete truth, found only in the Catholic Church, and ordinary sources of grace, the sacraments.

If people leave in bad faith, then they have adopted for their motto what Dante put above the gates of hell: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” No one knowingly abandoning the truth and failing to repent can be saved.

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

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.

The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body… do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2089, 817

Should churches be magnificent or mundane?

Karl Keating argues that magnificent churches allow us to commune with God . . .

Karl Keating

Take a look at an older church in your city. It’s probably ornate. The rich decorations were donated by members of the parish in praise and thanksgiving to God. Catholics believe there’s much sense in ecclesiastical art, so we’ve always been generous in underwriting lovely churches — this was especially true of Catholics who lived centuries ago and who, though poor by today’s standards, took pride in making the house of God a real house, not just a barn.

In the Middle Ages peasants contributed to the erection and maintenance of their cathedrals. Some labored in stone and brick, others hauled lumber, some prepared meals for the workers. The best architects and stonemasons vied for the honor of constructing magnificent churches. In many towns construction lasted decades, sometimes centuries, and much of the labor was donated.

In this the people followed scripture. Recall that God ordered the Jews to build a magnificent temple in Jerusalem (2 Sam 7:13). Jesus commended the poor widow for contributing to the upkeep of the temple (Lk 21:2). All of this argues in favor of the churches that some people disparage. Remember: Jesus is God and is entitled to worship, and worship can be enhanced through magnificent surroundings. We are spirit and body, and the body has senses, and it is reasonable to make use of those senses in worship. One way to do that is to use finely appointed churches.

I recall visiting the impressive parish church in Mount Angel, Ore., a small town settled by immigrants in the 19th century. They erected what may be the loveliest church on the West Coast. Its intricate wood carvings and stunning ceiling reminded me, as no bare-bones church could, that the greatest beauty found on earth pales next to God’s own beauty. This little-known church did precisely what good architecture should do — it raised my mind to God.

While praying there I was reminded how Paul Claudel, French poet, playwright, and diplomat, was brought back to the practice of the faith while visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The beauty of the building and of the liturgy brought to his mind the beauty of God. In some inexplicable way a mental stumbling block was removed, and he became again a fervent and pious Catholic.

Keep in mind that the construction of fine churches never seems to undermine contributions to the poor. In fact, the more generous people are toward God — and one way of being generous toward him is by praising him through great architecture — the more generous they are toward other people. Perhaps you have noticed that it’s almost exclusively the rich who complain about fancy churches, while it’s the un-rich who contribute to their building and upkeep, just as it is the un-rich who give the bulk of the funds which keep charitable causes afloat.

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, 1995).

Catechism 101

A church, a house of prayer in which the Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, where the faithful assemble, and where is worshipped the presence of the Son of God our Savior, offered for us on the sacrificial altar for the help and consolation of the faithful — this house ought to be in good taste and a worthy place for prayer and sacred ceremonial.

For this reason, bishops … should see to the promotion of sacred art [and] remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1181, 2503