Q. In Matt. 10:38, we read Jesus’ words, “and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” This is repeated in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23. The only reference to a cross that I could find in the Old Testament is in Gen. 40:19, where Joseph is interpreting a dream of the Pharaoh’s baker that within three days the Pharaoh will have the baker hanging on a tree and the birds will tear his flesh. Without any other particular history of the “cross” that the apostles and others at the time would have been familiar with, what would have been their understanding of taking up one’s cross? — L.E., via e-mail.
A. Although it is true that death on a cross is not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, the manner of Jesus’ death was foreshadowed in the Book of Numbers (cf. 21:8-9), when the Lord told Moses to make a serpent of bronze and mount it on a pole so that those who looked at the bronze serpent would recover from poisonous snakebites. In his conversation with Nicodemus many centuries later, Jesus indicated that those who looked at Him on the cross would be healed of the poison of sin when He said: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Crucifixion is also hinted at in Ezek. 9:4 where the Lord tells the prophet to “pass through the city [Jerusalem] and mark an X on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within it.” The X refers to the Hebrew letter tau, which had the form of a cross and which St. Jerome saw as a symbol of the cross of Christ.
But the apostles did not need biblical references to the cross to know about this cruel punishment that had long been practiced by the Romans, but was abolished in the fourth century by the Roman Emperor Constantine, a convert to Christianity near the end of his life. It was such a terrible way to die that no Roman citizen could be crucified, so it was generally inflicted on slaves and on those guilty of such crimes as murder, robbery, piracy, rebellion, and treason. Jesus was crucified after being falsely accused of the latter two crimes. Had His punishment been left to the Sanhedrin, He would have been stoned to death for blasphemy.
If the apostles did not at first know what Jesus meant by taking up one’s cross and following Him, or if they did not understand His prediction that His enemies would “hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified” (Matt. 20:19), they certainly got the message when they saw their Master carrying a heavy cross to Calvary.
Q. In view of all the propaganda in favor of providing the birth control Pill to women, aren’t there some serious side effects associated with this contraceptive? — M.K., Florida.
A. There sure are, and it’s no secret. Even the commercials on TV are filled with scary warnings.
But before getting into the side effects, we should note how the Pill works. According to an article by Sr. Clare Hunter, FSE, in the October 2013 issue of Ethics & Medics, a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, “the birth control pill works by releasing a mixture of estrogen and progesterone, which prevents ovulation, thickens the cervical mucus to block sperm from reaching the egg, and thins the lining of the uterus to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting there. [This latter effect causes an early abortion and is the reason why the Pill is not just a contraceptive but also an abortifacient.] These mechanisms of action prevent pregnancy and in effect stop the reproductive organs from functioning according to their original design. The woman’s body is tricked into believing that it is pregnant.”
An estimated 16 million women in the United States are on the Pill and, according to Janet Smith, 50 percent of those who start on the Pill stop within the first year because of unpleasant side effects. “So these side effects are really largely those of the 16 million who continue,” she said, “so you can imagine how bad they must be for the 50 percent who stop.”
Dr. Smith, who is professor of moral theology and life ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, has written and spoken widely on the issue of contraception. Her audiotape “Contraception: Why Not” has been heard by millions of people. You can visit her web site at www.janetesmith.org.
According to the Ethics & Medics article, Dr. Sherrill Sellman has listed the “minor” side effects of the Pill as “decreased immune system function, disturbances in liver function, fluid retention and bloating, hair loss, hay fever, asthma, skin rashes, loss of libido, migraines, depression, mood changes, secretions from the breast, weight gain, systemic yeast infection, urinary tract infection, venereal warts, and varicose veins.”
The major side effects, said Dr. Sellman, include “disturbance to blood-sugar metabolism (possibly contributing to diabetes or hypoglycemia), greatly increased chance of suffering a stroke . . . increased chances of hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure, increased risk of blood clots, increased risk of gall bladder disease (gall stones), liver tumors (increasing with duration of Pill usage), possible link with cancer of the endometrium, cervix, ovaries, liver, and lungs, significant risk of ectopic pregnancy, strong probability of more rapid development of pre-existing cancers and progression of cancer of abnormal cells, three to six-fold increase in risk of heart attacks (according to age), [and] osteoporosis.”
The article said that one contraceptive pill known as “Yaz” (Yasmin) was vigorously promoted by Bayer Pharmaceuticals not only to avoid pregnancy but also to get rid of acne. More than 10,000 users of this pill have sued Bayer after experiencing dangerous side effects, including blood clots and strokes.
Another major side effect of the Pill is increased risk of breast cancer, which has gone up worldwide by huge numbers as the use of the Pill has increased. In fact, the World Health Organization has labeled the Pill a Class A cancer-causing agent, in the same category as cigarettes.
But you will find little acknowledgment of these facts in the mainstream media or in national politics. Instead, you will find praise heaped on a Georgetown Law student who at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 demanded free contraceptives for women at a time when a month’s supply of the Pill could be purchased for nine dollars.
It should be abundantly clear that the real “war on women” is being waged by those who would fill female bodies with dangerous and life-threatening chemicals.
Q. Can a Catholic who believes in millenarianism be in good standing with the Church? — M.G., Alabama.
A. The theory of millenarianism, which comes from chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, talks about a thousand-year peaceful reign of Christ before the final battle with the Devil at the end of the world. The Church has expressed her agreement with St. Augustine that the thousand years is not a literal number, but rather a symbolic one that refers to the spiritual reign of Christ from His birth in Bethlehem until His Second Coming. Your Catholic friend may be mistaken in his adherence to this theory, but it is not the same as rejecting an infallibly defined doctrine of the Church, such as the Immaculate Conception or a male-only priesthood.
Q. I had to laugh at a recent Wanderer article about public education and how it supposedly emasculates boys. Isn’t Christianity, with its demand that all be meek and humble, the most emasculating thing in the universe? — G.P., Florida.
A. Please! To emasculate means to deprive a male of virile or procreative power or to weaken masculine vigor and spirit. That has nothing to do with being meek. Our dictionary defines meek as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” Who does that remind you of? How about Jesus? It wasn’t an emasculated man who patiently and freely endured brutal torture and then carried a heavy cross on His wounded shoulders for half a mile before being executed on that cross. It took a strong and virile man to suffer in this way in order to bring about our salvation.
The same can be said for the apostles and for the thousands of men, and women, whose blood has been the seed of Christianity for two millennia. Being meek and humble, as opposed to boastful and arrogant, is a sign of a strong and vibrant Christianity for when we are weak, as St. Paul said, then we are strong (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10).