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Learning the Bible's Terminology
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Did God Hate Esau?
Attending Mass on Holy Days of Obligation
Casual Sex on TV Programs
One-hour Fast Before Communion

Q: Malachi 1:1-3 says: "An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. 'I have loved you,' says the LORD; but you say, 'How have you loved us?' 'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' says the LORD: 'yet I loved Jacob, but hated Esau; I made his mountains a waste, his heritage a desert for jackals.'" Romans 9:13 quotes part of this passage, "As it is written: 'I loved Jacob but hated Esau.'"

Is it true that God hated Esau?

A: No, God did not hate Esau, but God did prefer Jacob (later known as Israel) over Esau. The Hebrew word used in these passages is translated as hate in The New American Bible, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and The New Jerusalem Bible. If God prefers one person over another, biblical writers may say that God loves the one and hates the other, although God cannot hate any person.

According to The NRSV Concordance Unabridged, the word hate occurs 83 times in the Old Testament and 17 times in the New Testament, not counting hated, hates and similar words. In the Old Testament, 78 of those usages apply hate in the context of one person to God, an individual, a group of people or some type of sin. Only five times do we read that God hates in the sense described above.

The New Testament's first usage of hate is a challenge to the idea that one person is allowed to hate another. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."

In Luke 14:26-27, however, Jesus employs the Hebrew usage described above when he addresses the great crowds following him and says: "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." The New American Bible's footnote for this passage notes the similar saying in Matthew 10:37 and explains, "The disciple's family must take second place to the absolute dedication involved in following Jesus (see also Luke 9:59-62)."

Other New Testament passages apply hate as happening between one person and someone else or in the Semitic sense of prefer.

God cannot do anything that contradicts what being God means. For example, God cannot be dishonest or unjust because that would contradict God's truthfulness or justice. The three persons of the Trinity cannot be in competition with one another because that would contradict God's unity.

Sometimes our language about God is deliberately very selective. Saying that God hates some people the way that humans sometimes hate one another could be interpreted as giving someone permission to do the same.

If we cite a passage such as Malachi 1:1-3 or Romans 9:13 to justify our hatred, we are taking that passage out of context and giving it a meaning contrary to how the faith community has understood it. God might say: "Don't use me to justify your hatred. Accept responsibility for your actions. Come to your senses and reject hatred!"

Q: Can the obligation to attend Mass on holy days be fulfilled before or after the actual day?

Likewise, can you fulfill the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday on some other day?

Christmas fell on a Friday last year. Was there an obligation to attend Mass the following Sunday? Someone told me that attending Mass that Friday already fulfilled the Sunday obligation. I disagreed.

A: The obligation to attend Mass on a holy day is separate from the obligation for Sunday. If Christmas falls on a Saturday, there is one obligation for that holy day and a separate one for the next day.

Attending a late afternoon or evening Mass the day before the holy day or on Saturday fulfills these obligations. There is no window, a couple days beforehand or afterward. Bishops can transfer some holy days to the nearest Sunday, as is the case for the Feast of Ascension in most of the United States.

My answer assumes that the person can attend Mass on these days without great hardship. If a priest is responsible for several parishes or missions, it might be physically impossible to celebrate the Eucharist in each one on every holy day or Sunday. If a person were so sick that he or she could not leave the house, then the obligation would not apply during that illness. But you did not indicate that was the case in the situation that you described.

Q: Many TV shows include sexual remarks or people sleeping with people to whom they are not married. I don't watch much television, but I do enjoy several hospital-based programs that have good plots but frequently include these situations, which are becoming more and more common.

Is it a serious sin for me to watch such programs? Do I need to confess such viewing?

A: Because of my Irish heritage, I will claim the right to answer your questions with a question—in this case, two: "How do you respond to the saying, 'You become what you choose'? Can you regularly choose something that contradicts your deepest and most important values without eventually undermining those values and accepting as normal radically different values?"

Watching a TV show in which extramarital intercourse is common will not make you do the same. But don't such shows eventually influence your sense of what is normal?

We cannot rewind our lives, so to speak, and rerecord any past part that we now regret. But we can decide which elements of our past life we want to reinforce in the future and which ones we want to dilute—in the sense of becoming less typical of us.

Many TV shows pride themselves on being honest and hard-hitting. But how honest is a TV show that implicitly portrays adultery as an activity where no one ever gets hurt as long as the adultery is never discovered? The damage is in the sin itself—not simply in its discovery.

I think that we are in danger of becoming a voyeuristic society that uses tabloids and certain TV programs to keep up on gossip about the extramarital affairs of sports stars, entertainment celebrities or politicians. Are we truly better off for knowing exactly how many extramarital partners a certain prominent person had or how he or she tried to cover up those affairs?

Can we regularly read these publications or watch those TV shows without eventually sharing some responsibility for the lowering of moral standards in our society?

Perhaps you are at a point where you need to confess watching those TV shows. Based on what you wrote, I cannot say. But I do know that it is always worthwhile for people to ask themselves: "Who am I becoming in the long run? Am I kidding myself that watching such shows is having only a positive effect on my life? Am I happy with what I consider normal?"

Q: Are we still expected to fast one hour before receiving Holy Communion? I have seen a woman chewing gum as she comes into Mass and is still chewing it as she stands in line to receive Holy Communion. I was taught that this is not permitted.

A: You are correct that this is wrong. The current rule is that, except for medicine and accompanying liquids, we are to fast from solid food and any liquid other than water for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.

The person who is chewing gum right up to receiving Holy Communion might argue that she is not eating and thus not breaking this rule. Unless she has been directed by her doctor to do this, I think a reasonable person would agree that this action hardly shows proper respect for the Eucharist.

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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