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Respecting God's Judgment
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Is Judas Definitely in Hell?
Can a Bishop Seize Property?
Could People Who Died Before Jesus Be Saved?
What Is Jesus' Present Situation?
A Reader Responds to 'Not Interested in Community'

 


Q: In Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

In John 13:27 we read, “After he [Judas Iscariot] took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’”

From preachers and others, I have heard different views as to whether Judas is definitely in hell or perhaps was forgiven. Is there biblical justification for one opinion or the other?

A: In some ways, this might seem the easiest judgment of all to make. Judas betrayed Jesus, our savior, leading to his passion, death and resurrection. Judas obviously made a terrible decision.

Although we need to be clear about the objective content of any decision (for example, the unlawful taking of innocent human life is murder), it is another thing to say that we know all the factors relevant to that decision and can, therefore, pass God’s judgment as accurately as God can.

That is a form of blasphemy, in effect shoving God out of the way as though we fear that God cannot be trusted to make the right decision.

God’s judgment must always remain God’s judgment. We try to grow toward seeing things as God sees them, but if we cannot be sure that we see our own actions as completely as God does (and we cannot be 100-percent sure of that), then we cannot be absolutely certain that we see someone else’s actions as clearly and accurately as God sees them.

Shouldn’t it tell us something that after careful examination the Catholic Church is quite willing to say that a certain individual is definitely in heaven, yet refuses to say that someone else is certainly in hell? I am not aware that any Christian group has drawn up a formal list of individuals who are certainly in hell. Dante’s Inferno makes for interesting reading, but it does not necessarily reflect God’s judgment. Anyone’s list could be mistaken.

Although it is quite clear that some actions are very sinful, “grave matter” is one of three conditions for identifying a mortal sin. The other two are “full knowledge” and “full consent.” Only God can judge with absolute certainty the presence or absence of those two conditions.

Two things must be kept in mind: If I deny that eternal separation from God is a possibility, I would be guilty of heresy. If I claim to know absolutely that a particular individual is in hell, I would be guilty of blasphemy, of claiming as mine a knowledge that belongs to God alone. Human judgments do not give God a day off.

There is ample biblical justification for saying that what Judas did was gravely wrong. The same Bible, however, cautions us to leave God’s judgment of individuals to God.

For the good of society, we must make prudential judgments about how to handle people who murder, individuals who steal and so on. But those are human judgments and should not be assumed to reflect God’s definitive judgments.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church prays that no person be lost. It also reminds us “that God ‘desires all men [sic] to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26)” (#1058).

The story of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is important for Christians to know, but they can keep growing as disciples without knowing if Judas is, in fact, in hell. We can hope that he repented even if we are not sure that he did.

Can a Bishop Seize Property?

Q: Your November 2006 issue included an article by John Fink about St. Theodora Guérin. One subhead reads “Battles With a Bishop” and details efforts by Bishop Celestin de la Hailandière of Vincennes, Indiana, to control the Sisters of Providence religious community.

If a bishop seizes property belonging to a religious community, does that group have any recourse according to the Church’s law?

A: Yes, it does have recourse. In fact, Bishop Hailandière did not seize property belonging to the Sisters of Providence, but rather delayed giving them legal ownership of property that he had provided for their work.

The Western Church’s Code of Canon Law establishes the general framework of rights and obligations within the Church. Canons 1254 through 1310 address ownership issues. The Code of Law for the Eastern Churches spells out the procedures followed within those Churches. Church law defers to civil law on property ownership.

A religious community could present a property dispute to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. If its decision went against the local bishop, he could appeal it to the Apostolic Signatura, the Catholic Church’s highest court.

Q: Before Jesus was crucified, were people who died totally dead, that is, without any consciousness? After Jesus’ death, did they have a choice between heaven or hell?

What does the Catholic Church teach about this?

A: Most Jewish people at the time of Jesus did not believe in heaven, as Christians use that term. Instead, they believed in Sheol, a state of existence that was neither joyful nor sad. In their terminology, both Hitler and Mother Teresa would have gone to Sheol where neither of them would have had an advantage over the other.

Christian art for centuries has included representations of Jesus Christ leading the righteous dead into heaven after his crucifixion. That would include both Jews and gentiles.

The idea of a personal existence beyond earthly life was starting to grow within Judaism by the time Jesus was born, but it was a minority position.

The author of the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews was a Jewish Christian who believed in the afterlife. After recalling the faith of Abel, Abraham and Sarah, the author writes: “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.

“If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (11:13-16).

The issue of timing is natural for us because we live within minutes, hours and days. God, however, is not limited in that same way.

Q: Jesus Christ in his glorified body has ascended into heaven. In the Apostles’ Creed we pray, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.” Does Jesus do that in his humanity or in his divinity?

A: Once the Second Person of the Trinity became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we need to speak of him afterward as fully divine and human, even in his present condition.

It is true that the Church has taught about Jesus’ human knowledge and his divine knowledge or about Jesus’ human will and his divine will. To separate Jesus’ humanity and divinity as if each were a person would repeat the error of Nestorius, whose teaching on this subject was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. The bishops there affirmed that Jesus was a single person with two natures, divine and human.

“Regarding this item in the January 2007 ‘Ask a Franciscan’ column, I have never been at Mass where there was anyone talking and laughing during the distribution of Holy Communion.

“The priest should say something to the congregation, but he should not have to do that. If he cannot or will not do anything about it, I would go to another church.

“I am 84 years old and have never ever seen this disrespect in church. I am sure our priest would let us know about it. I can hardly believe what I was reading.”

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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