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November 12, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. If you are to be teaching catechism, I would suggest that you start a new column and not use “Catholic Replies.” By virtue of its name, the column should be limited to answering questions submitted by your subscribers or others that relate to Catholicism and the Church. Monologues, however well-intentioned, do not seem a good fit. If you no longer wish to have a question-and-answer feature, abolish it. Perhaps your new teaching column could be called “Catholic Knowledge” or something of the sort. — C.W., via e-mail.
A. Thank you for your comments. The problem is not enough questions are being submitted, down from more than a dozen each week in the old days to less than a dozen a month now. When there are sufficient questions, we will do a Q & A column. Over the past few months, there have been nine Q & A columns and twelve catechetical columns, not a bad ratio considering the lack of questions. And some readers have a found the catechetical columns to be of value (see the next reply).

Q. In a recent column, you stated that “if you knowingly leave out a sin on purpose, the whole Confession is invalid.” That would be the case for mortal sins, since confession of venial sins is optional (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1493). I assume that is what you meant, but it may be confusing to some. Perhaps a clarification may be in order? I applaud your idea of placing relevant materials regarding basic information for Confirmation students in the paper. — R.G., Maryland.
A. Thank you for suggesting the clarification. You are right that only deliberately withholding mortal sins would invalidate a Confession. Here are the words of n. 1493:
“One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary by itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.”
Thank you also for your kind words about using this column to provide basic information for Confirmation students. Pastors have requested permission to use the material in their own religious education programs, and we have happily granted such permission.

Q. In recent weeks, two Catholics have told me that God doesn’t care what religion a person belongs to, that all religions are basically leading us to God. How would you respond to this person? — M.V., via e-mail.
A. This sounds reasonable on the surface, but it couldn’t be more wrong. The reason is that different religions teach false and even contradictory things. For example, some say that Jesus is God; some say He isn’t. Some say there is a Hell; some say there isn’t. Some say it’s okay to kill babies by abortion; some say it isn’t. Can religions that hold such opposite beliefs be equally true and pleasing to God? Of course not.
Or look at it this way. Would you rather live under Christianity, which preaches love of neighbor, or under Islam, which preaches death to those who do not worship Allah? Would it be better to follow Jesus, who advocated love of one’s enemies, or Mohammad, who advocated the destruction of one’s enemies?
The idea that one religion is as good as another is absurd, said Pope St. John XXIII in his 1959 encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram, because it makes “no distinction between truth and falsehood.” He asked, “How can God, who is truth, approve or tolerate the indifference, the neglect, and sloth of those who attach no importance to matters on which our eternal salvation depends?”
The late Holy Father said that this attitude “is directed to the destruction of all religions, but particularly the Catholic Faith, which cannot be placed on a level with other religions without serious injustice since it alone is true. Moreover, to contend that there is nothing to choose between contradictories and opposites can only lead to this fatal conclusion: reluctance to accept any religion either in theory or in practice” (nn. 17-18).

Q. My son who is preparing for First Communion asked me how Adam and Eve could have produced heirs if their only children were Cain and Abel. That question never occurred to me, but my seven-year-old wants an answer. Can you help? — M.C., via e-mail.
A. Kids are much more inquisitive today than we were at their age. Tell your son, first, that Cain and Abel were not the only children of Adam and Eve. We know that they had a son named Seth (Gen. 5:3-4), and presumably they had other sons and daughters. So where did their descendants come from? There are two possible explanations: (1) They married other human beings on earth who did not take their origin from Adam and Eve. (2) They produced heirs by intermarrying among themselves.
There is a theological problem with the first explanation. In his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII said that Catholics could not “embrace that opinion that either after Adam there existed on earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation through him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents” (n. 37). That opinion is known as polygenism, and the Holy Father said that it cannot be reconciled with the Church’s teaching on original sin, “which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual, Adam, and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”
There is a moral problem with the second explanation, according to modern standards, but God permitted the marriage of brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, for a limited time in order to propagate the human race. He most certainly protected the earliest human beings from the evils usually associated with intermarriage in families and, when these special circumstances were no longer necessary, God forbade such intermarriage.

Q. When I hear some Catholics suggest that non-Catholics are free to join in same-sex unions, I am reminded of comments by the late Fulton Sheen, who said something like this:
“The Catholic Church, as the keeper of the natural law, has led some to assume that only Catholics are bound by the natural law. No, no, no! All, Catholics and pagans alike, are bound by the natural law. If the Church were the keeper of the laws of physics and mathematics, I wonder if people would then say, those are Catholic laws and only Catholics need to obey them. The law of gravity and two plus two equals four only apply to Catholics.”
Your thoughts and comments, please. — D.M., via e-mail.
In addition to your paraphrase of Archbishop Sheen, consider these words on the natural law from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World (n. 16):
“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.”
When we speak about the natural law, we must emphasize that we are not talking about the laws of nature, which are physical and biological, but of the law of human nature, which is moral. Natural law is universal because, being based on human nature, it binds all human beings. It is immutable because human nature is the same at all times and in all places. Therefore, all acts contrary to the natural law, such as abortion, murder, theft, contraception, and same-sex behavior, will always remain immoral for all persons, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. No human authority has the power to dispense from, change, or repeal any precept of the natural law.

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