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June 10, 2016 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Editor’s Note: One of the more difficult Catholic teachings to explain is how the gift of the Holy Spirit known as Fear of the Lord can be reconciled with a God of love. Fr. George Rutler, pastor of the Church of St. Michael in New York City, has offered a good explanation:
“The one thing God cannot do is contradict Himself. This is proof of His omnipotence, for as Truth, to lie would be to cancel Himself out. Consequently, when there seem to be contradictions in His inspired Scriptures, the task for humans is to figure out why apparent contradictions are really hidden consistencies. For instance, God told Abraham: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Gen. 26:24) and when, as Christ, He rose from death, He told the women at the tomb the same thing (Matt. 28:10). How is it, then, that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom . . . ’ (Prov. 9:10)? And why does God say, ‘My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me . . .’ (Mal. 2:5)? And why is the Fear of the Lord one of the ‘gifts’ of the Holy Spirit?
“The apparent contradiction is reconciled by God himself: ‘And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul’ (Deut. 10:12). That love is born of holy fear, or what we would call ‘awe,’ and it is an awe as transportingly joyful as the dark fear — which ‘perfect love casts out’ (1 John 4:18) — is frightful.
“Dread, or ‘servile’ fear, in Hebrew is pachad. Synonymous with that is yir’ah, but that can also mean holy wonder, or awe. Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation of the love that uttered all creation into existence, casts out the terror of pachad and infuses the soul with the bliss of yir’ah.
“In the Eucharist, the Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, is penitential in tone but only because it is inspired by awe at God’s majesty. It is an acclamation and not a gasp of horror, as when St. Thomas joyfully cried out, ‘My Lord and my God!’ at the sight of Christ’s wounds. Like breathing, which we take for granted even though we would die without it, there never is a moment when the Holy Mass is not being prayed somewhere in the world, but to take it for granted would be to forsake awe at knowing that Christ grants it.
“This Sunday, one of our parishioners, John Wilson, will offer his First Mass, having been ordained to the priesthood the day before. But if we are faithful to the Holy Spirit’s gift of Holy Fear, each Mass should be as our First Mass, our Last Mass, and our Only Mass. Without Holy Fear, there would be only dread. Perhaps that explains why our culture is so burdened with ‘phobias’ and so unacquainted with awe at our Eucharistic Lord. ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20).”

Q. As a longtime Wanderer reader, I find reactions to Pope Francis’ leadership most interesting. It seems to me that our Pope is cautioning us against a different type of “cafeteria Catholicism.” Specifically, one might say, “I never miss Sunday Mass, I pray daily, I am faithfully married, good parent to my children, no abortions, etc., so I must be pretty good? Right?”
But Jesus also called us to love and care for the less fortunate. Francis reminds us we shouldn’t get too comfortable. Jesus calls all to Himself through the Church. If our first reaction to lost sheep is condemnation, we will never get the opportunity to bring them back. With mercy and understanding, maybe we have a chance. Again, we shouldn’t be too comfortable.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t think Francis does either. The question, though — that’s easy: What would Jesus do? Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable? What do you think? — R.J.S., Illinois.
A. First of all, we don’t think that those who never miss Sunday Mass, pray daily, remain faithful to their spouse, etc., deserve the title “cafeteria Catholic,” which as you know usually refers to those who pick and choose which Catholic teachings to observe and which to reject. We know a lot of Catholics who do the good things you listed, but who also love and care for the less fortunate. A Catholic who truly lives his faith will do both.
Second, we agree with Pope Francis that our first reaction to the lost sheep should not be one of condemnation, but rather mercy and forgiveness, but this should be balanced with a reminder of what God expects of us. Jesus gave us the example to follow in His treatment of the woman caught in adultery (cf. John 8:1-11). He first expressed love and compassion for her, but then told her not to commit that sin again.
Another example involves those courageous souls who prayed for years in front of the abortion facility in Texas where Abby Johnson worked. Their prayerful and loving witness, not condemnation of those whose daily job was to kill babies, eventually led Abby to leave the abortion industry and to become an eloquent advocate for the unborn and the women who aborted them. Her story is told in her book unPlanned.
Would she have chosen this same path if those outside the facility had only screamed epithets at her?
Finally, despite the impression you get from the media, and from some of the Holy Father’s spontaneous press conferences, that he is undermining long-held Church teachings, Pope Francis has actually spoken out quite forcefully against, for example, abortion and same-sex “marriage.”
But then he makes statements off the cuff that bewilder Catholics. For example, his statement in March, when someone held up a photo of the late Mother Angelica, that “she’s in Heaven.” Those who knew Mother Angelica and her vast contributions to the Catholic faith hope and pray that she is in Heaven, but Popes don’t make pronouncements like this until a thorough canonization process has taken place.
Offering some perspective on this incident, a Catholic Answers apologist said that “you’ve got to love the Pope because he acts like a regular guy. His response is one many people would have about someone like Mother Angelica. But sometimes you also got to cringe because the Pope acts like a regular guy. Should a Pope, because he’s the Pope, resist the perfectly human impulse to declare that a recently deceased person’s soul is in Heaven? Should he take special care to exercise prudence to not act in ways or say things that may result in people conflating the imperfect human with the divinely appointed office?”
The apologist asked, “Has the Pope’s ‘She’s in Heaven’ statement been misinterpreted by some? No doubt. It’s only more fuel for the smolder of debate about whether the Pope’s approach of spontaneity and preeminent emphasis on love — which has attracted people never before attracted to the Catholic faith but also caused confusion among the faithful — is a good thing or not. I know what the eye-rollers would say. But it’s a debate that looks to be nowhere near resolution.”

Q. Has the Catholic belief in Purgatory been thrown out? I ask because I have recently attended Catholic funerals and rosary vigils presided over by priests, deacons, or lay bereavement ministers where the presiding ministers proclaimed that the deceased is now in Heaven with Jesus. None of them mentioned Purgatory. I sent a letter to one of them asking why and advising him that he missed a great opportunity to impart Catholic belief in Purgatory. None of them asked the people to pray for their souls, implying that they are all in Heaven.
Am I wrong? I thought about sending a letter to our archbishop, but I didn’t do it because I didn’t think it would do any good. — W.C., via e-mail.
A. No, Catholic belief in Purgatory has not been thrown out. It is still, as 2 Maccabees says (cf. 12:45), “a holy and pious thought” to pray for the dead, and this dogma has been reaffirmed by the Second Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence (1439), the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Vatican Council II (1962-1965), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).
“From the beginning,” the Catechism says, “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” (n. 1032).
None of the people you heard at wake or funeral services has any idea if the deceased is in Heaven and should not make such a claim. Not only does this wishful thinking contradict the prayers at a funeral Mass, but it also deprives the deceased of prayers that might speed his or her entry into Heaven. I have told my family members not to let anyone canonize me, but rather to encourage prayers and Masses for my soul.

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Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

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Catholic Replies

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