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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Everyone Deserves a Sabbath Rest

What About Work on Sunday?

Q: What is the Church’s teaching about work on Sundays? Many factories, utilities, retail stores, hospitals and other business are open on Sunday.

A: Work on Sunday should be avoided as much as possible.

Most hospital departments, however, must be staffed on Sundays, cows must be milked each day, firefighters, police and many others need to work on Sundays to ensure public safety and health.

From ancient times until our own day, Jewish people have realized that everyone is entitled to the Sabbath rest—from the richest individual to the humblest person. The Sabbath recognizes a rhythm in creation, inviting us to rest, pray and gather with our families and friends.

One of my favorite quotes about this comes from Rabbi Abraham Heschel (d. 1972): “Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”

In his 1998 apostolic letter The Day of the Lord, Pope John Paul II wrote that our relationship with God “demands times of explicit prayer in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue, involving every dimension of the person.

“‘The Lord’s Day’ is the day of this relationship par excellence when men and women raise their song to God and become the voice of all creation. This is precisely why it is also the day of rest.”

Without the Sabbath rest, we are in danger of seeing ourselves as valuable only because of what we produce or what we own. The Sabbath rest is a built-in reality check worth maintaining as best we can.

Christians observe the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the day Jesus rose to new life.

What About the Death Penalty?

Q: What is the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty? Jesus does not say much about it other than “Turn the other cheek.” I think that means we should keep from getting more angry and inviting more hatred.

A: Scripture scholars would point out that Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) was not given during a discussion about the death penalty.

After speaking of preserving the common good of society and correcting the aggressor, the 1997 revised edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person” (#2267).

Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life says, “Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom” (#56).

The pope says that the death penalty should not be used “except in cases of absolute necessity,” which he considers “very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (#56).

Pope John Paul II has often asked U.S. governors and political leaders around the world not to execute specific people. He and many other bishops have made abolishing the death penalty an important part of their Jubilee Year efforts.

Where Is Heaven?

Q: Is heaven a physical place? Since God, the angels and the souls of the faithful departed are spirits, are they “located” somewhere? Where is Jesus’ risen body and Mary’s?

A: It is tempting to say that heaven must be a place so that the bodies of Jesus and Mary can be there.

According to the New Testament, glorified bodies are both like and unlike normal, human bodies. The post-resurrection appearances assure the apostles that this truly is Jesus.

St. Paul says that glorified bodies are not exactly like human bodies. “It [the body] is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible....It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one” (1 Corinthians 15:42,44).

Considering all that the Gospels say about glorified bodies, I am not sure that they must occupy space right now. That would remove the pressure for heaven to be a physical place now—though heaven is still very real.

A New American Saint

Q: Which person in the United States has been most recently recognized as a saint? Has there been anyone since Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne was canonized in 1988?

A: On October 1, 2000, Mother Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) will be among several people canonized in Rome.

As a wealthy heiress, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891 to work with African Americans and Native Americans. In the course of her life she donated her $20 million inheritance to finance the building of schools and churches, as well as health clinics and other works of compassion, for these two groups of people.

The members of her community have set up a home page for her at It has a great deal of information about her. We will have a feature article about her in our October issue.

Isn't the Sin Already Forgiven?

Q: If a plenary indulgence is the total remission of a person’s temporal punishment due to sin, what does “temporal punishment” mean?

A: Going to confession recently is a condition for gaining any indulgence for oneself. I can gain an indulgence for someone deceased only if that person was truly sorry for his or her sins.

You may ask: Doesn’t going to confession wipe out the sins confessed? A sin can be forgiven and yet still continue to have a harmful effect. That’s what the “temporal punishment due to sin” idea addresses.

Once I commit a sin, that sin has a life of its own—no longer totally under my control. If I knew you and told a lie about you, I might later repent of that lie and be forgiven in confession.

Unfortunately, that lie would have a life of its own. Even if I went back and told the truth to each person to whom I told that lie, I could never guarantee that my efforts would undo all the damage caused by this lie. The truth may never reach everyone who heard the lie!

When I was in grade school, one comparison used in this regard was letting feathers out of a pillow on a windy day. Once they were out, I could try to collect them, but chances that I would be 100 percent successful are slim.

Another example from my grade school days strikes me as still valid. If I put a baseball through your window, I may be very sorry and you may forgive me—but you still have a broken window!

Depending on my age and other circumstances, you may expect me to put in a new window or pay someone else to do that. Saying “I’m sorry” is great, but it does not restore things to the way they were before I broke your window. If my contrition is genuine, it must include trying to undo the damage I have done.

There is always damage between the time I sin and the time I repent and begin repairing the damage. My sin may have encouraged others—and may still do so even after I repent.

All this is not to make people feel crushed by guilt but to be realistic: My sins, your sins, anybody’s sins have a life of their own, a life which does not instantly cease when a sinner repents and is forgiven by God.

The teaching about purgatory recognizes that a person may not be ready to meet God and enjoy the beatific vision at the moment of death. Some purification may yet be needed. This is why for centuries the Christian community has prayed and continues to pray for its deceased members.

Patron Saint for Computer Users?

Q: My students are asking if some saint is identified as the patron of those who use computers. Is there?

A: No one has been officially assigned. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) has been suggested, probably because he compiled one of the first encyclopedias, a summary of knowledge in his day.

St. Jude, patron of impossible cases, could be helpful on certain days. So could St. Anthony of Padua, finder of lost objects. I nominate St. Peter of Alcántara (d. 1562), a Franciscan with a reputation for extraordinary patience!

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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