Q: Over the years, I have read and
reread the Book of Job. Many people
who suffer go on to end their lives. I’ve
seen the results of silent suffering. What if
they try to have a deeper awareness of God
through prayer, fasting, attending Mass,
confession and Holy Communion—and yet
they still don’t see God acting in their lives
because of the pain of depression?
A: Yes, it is unfortunate that some
people who suffer go on to end
their lives. We entrust them to the
mercy of God, who alone can assess
all the factors involved. Numbers 2282
and 2283 of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church address this tragedy.
Clinical depression can paralyze a person
into being unable to think correctly
and make good judgments.
I think our experience shows that
most people who suffer greatly do not
commit suicide. My faith and life experience
suggest that in the face of great
suffering people have two basic
options: We can move in the direction
of greater compassion or we can move
toward bitterness. This appears to be
true whether we directly experience
the suffering or are touched by the suffering
of a friend, relative, co-worker or
Years ago, the German theologian
Dorothy Söllee spoke of people who
suffer as being “God’s martyrs” or “the
devil’s martyrs,” meaning that how
they deal with their sufferings encourages
others to a greater or a weaker
faith in God. We can choose one direction
over the other.
Psychologists describe depression as
anger turned inward. The depressed
person may require a therapist’s help,
as well as medication to deal with this
condition, but I think we have all seen
that depression need not lead to a single
result. Saints are not saints because
they have had easy lives but because
they chose to deal with suffering in
On pages 20-23 in this issue, we present
Bert Ghezzi’s article, “Jane de
Chantal: A Saint for the Depressed.”
Jane knew sorrow firsthand before her
death in 1641. Her mother died when
Jane was 18 months old. Six of Jane’s
children died in infancy. Her husband
was killed in their seventh year of marriage.
Establishing the Visitation community
of nuns later, Jane strove to
improve her very difficult situation.
We try to live wisely, avoiding suffering
wherever possible. If, however,
we dedicate our energies to avoiding
suffering at all costs, we will inevitably
become ruthless people. The virtue of
compassion is never developed apart
from a person’s experiences.
In his autobiography, The Seven Storey
Mountain, Thomas Merton reflected
that those who try the hardest to avoid
suffering will, in the end, suffer the
most because smaller and smaller
things will cause them to suffer.
The Book of Job is indeed a treasure.
Its author clearly intended that readers
reject the position of Job’s three friends
that all suffering is punishment for sin.
Beyond that, what we do with our suffering
depends on how we use our real
but limited freedom.
We need to see in our own lives and
help other people see in theirs that,
although we may not have all the
options that we might like, we always
have several options—and certain ones
are always better than others.
Jesus does not take away all suffering,
but his death and resurrection affirm
that suffering has the last word only if
we allow it.
Q: Genesis 6:1-4 tells the strange story
of the Nephilim, an ancient race of
giants descended from intercourse
between women and the sons of heaven.
At the end of the first and second readings
at Sunday Mass, the reader proclaims,
“The word of the Lord.” Are we obligated
to believe that this is part of God’s revelation
A: This very unusual story is not
read at Sunday or weekday
Masses. The New American Bible footnote
for these verses reads: “This is apparently a fragment of an old legend
that had borrowed much from
ancient mythology. The sacred author
incorporates it here, not only in order
to account for the prehistoric giants of
Palestine, whom the Israelites called
the Nephilim, but also to introduce the
story of the flood with a moral orientation—the constantly increasing
wickedness of mankind.”
Another footnote points out that
Numbers 13:33 refers to the Anakim,
inhabitants of Palestine before the
Israelites arrived, as a race of giants,
whom the Israelites linked to the
Scripture is the word of God in the
sense that God is its ultimate author
and that, except for Jesus, the Bible is
God’s best self-revelation. The Bible
was given to a faith community and
needs to be understood with the help
of that community. Biblical writers may
have used pagan legends in a completely
new context that supports God’s
Q: If a woman has an untreated ectopic
pregnancy, she and the baby will
both die. That is inevitable. In this situation,
is it permissible to have an abortion? The
fetus cannot come to full term and will
inevitably kill them both.
A: An ectopic pregnancy is one
where a zygote implants out of
place, usually in one of the fallopian
tubes. By definition, an ectopic pregnancy
is a pathological condition
because a fetus cannot grow to full
Catholic moral theology has taught
that the pathological section of a fallopian
tube can be removed.
moral theologians speak of the principle
of double effect. In this case, the primary
goal is to remove the pathology
that threatens a mother’s life. A growing
fetus implanted in a fallopian tube
will eventually rupture the tube, killing
the mother and itself.
Removing that section of the tube
has the secondary effect of ending the
life of the fetus—a necessary but clearly
regrettable action. This would not be a
direct abortion, which is forbidden.
Q: We have been told that when we
die we will be with God for all eternity.
Sometimes I think that, when you die,
that’s it—no heaven, God or anything. Is
what I’ve believed all these years really
A: Our faith affirms that there certainly
is an afterlife. There will
be a life where God’s values will prevail,
where God will finally be “everything
to everyone” (1 Corinthians 15:9, RSV).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “This perfect life with the Most
Holy Trinity—this communion of life
and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin
Mary, the angels and all the
blessed—is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is
the ultimate end and fulfillment of the
deepest human longings, the state of
supreme, definitive happiness” (#1024).
The Catechism’s article #1043 goes
on to say: “Sacred Scripture calls this
mysterious renewal, which will transform
humanity and the world, ‘new
heavens and a new earth’ [2 Peter
3:13)]. It will be the definitive realization
of God’s plan to bring under a single
head ‘all things in [Christ], things
in heaven and things on earth’ [Ephesians
To those who say that all this is wishful
thinking, I ask, “If you are correct,
how does that belief affect your decisions
today?” Denying the afterlife has
often been a way of asserting one’s
independence from God.
In fact, God is the source of our freedom
and has no desire to stifle it. God
wants us to use that freedom wisely
Saints and other holy people always
point us toward heaven, where they
enjoy unending life with God.
Q: When I was growing up, we had Sunday High Masses followed by
Benediction. All other Masses were called Low Masses, but I’m not
sure why. Are these terms still used? Why don’t we have Benediction
very often now?
A: The terms “high” and “low” referred to the presence or
absence of singing at Mass. They are not used in the 2000 General
Instruction of the Roman Missal, the guide for how Mass is
celebrated in the Roman rite. Singing is now encouraged at all
Sunday Masses, though it may be more emphasized at certain ones.
Having Benediction immediately after Mass might suggest that something
is missing without it. Not so. Benediction, a fine devotional practice
governed by the Church’s regulations, is part of World Youth Day,
eucharistic congresses and other celebrations. It can help us appreciate
the gift of the Eucharist and then go out to share the Good News that
Jesus brought us.
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