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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

'If Only I Could....'


What Causes Addiction?
Numbering the 10 Commandments
Why the Pelican Symbolism?
Saved by Jesus? By Indulgences?
Are There Still Samaritans?

What Causes Addiction?

Q: Why does a person get addicted to Internet pornography, to alcohol or to sex? What drives certain people to become so addicted that they risk losing families, homes and jobs for a fix?

What makes someone turn on the computer and spend hours on a pornographic Web site? My daughter has left her husband because of his addiction to Internet porn. It's heartbreaking for her and for their children.

A: Some addictions have a physical component. A person can, for example, be predisposed to alcoholism. As long as he or she does not drink alcohol, that predisposition is inactive.

A person who has the disease of alcoholism and is drinking will experience withdrawal pains from not drinking. Someone who is addicted to pornography might have an extremely strong sex drive, which may be overstimulated in our society. In both situations, reasonable precautions must be taken.

The Catholic Church recommends that people seek to avoid the "near occasion of sin." Someone who wants to break an addictive pattern must reevaluate all activities and friendships previously considered normal.

The person who is addicted to Internet pornography will simply have to stop visiting certain Web sites, plus limit time spent on the Internet and perhaps even change the computer's location.

No addiction will be cured simply by avoidance. People need to use their freedom in more positive ways, in ways that were closed off because of a previous addiction.

Some people seem more prone than other people to "if only" thinking: If only I had different parents, had been born into a different family, had been the oldest child, had been the youngest child, were taller, etc.

People without a strong sense of their own identity are more ready to believe that "if only" they engage in some particular activity, then their life will be complete. If that were true, shouldn't that person's life have been complete long before he or she became truly addicted to________ (fill in some activity or substance)?

Jesus says that the truth will set us free (John 8:32), but all of us are tempted to look for freedom in the wrong places—just as the song describes someone who was "looking for love in all the wrong places." Is an addicted person more free while involved in addictive behavior—or while abstaining from it?

I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's situation. Perhaps her moving out with their children will be a wake-up call for your son-in-law.

Numbering the 10 Commandments

Q: I am considering becoming a Catholic, but when I looked at the 10 Commandments, I noticed that the Third Commandment ("Thou shall not worship graven images") has been removed and the last commandment has been split into two in order to make up the difference.

I am very upset by this. My best friend, who is Catholic, could not answer this question for me. I find it blasphemous that the word of God has been changed. How did this happen?

A: Relax. You are misinformed. Catholics have not eliminated any of the 10 Commandments.

You can find the two lists in Exodus 20:2-17 and in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Modern Jewish people and most Protestants count 20:2 and 5:6 in these lists as the first commandment. It is a statement of fact: "I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, [the/that] place of slavery." It is not a commandment in the sense of something that listeners should do or avoid—which is the case with the other commandments.

In order to preserve the number 10, those who count this verse as the first commandment need to put coveting your neighbor's wife in the same commandment as coveting your neighbor's house, slave, ox, ass or anything else.

Catholics and Lutherans have considered not coveting your neighbor's wife as one commandment and not coveting everything else as a separate commandment. A wife is not property!

Why the Pelican Symbolism?

Q: I have noticed that Christian art sometimes uses an adult pelican with young pelicans. Someone told me that this is supposed to represent Christ shedding his blood for the sake of his people. Is that the real story?

A: Yes, it is. Some ancient people believed that a mother pelican will sometimes peck herself and cause herself to bleed in order to feed her young.

It turns out that this story is not accurate, but Christians who thought it was considered it a fitting symbol or reminder of Jesus, who died on the cross to save the entire human family.

Saved by Jesus? By Indulgences?

Q: Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God." Jesus alone is the sacrifice for our sins. That means that we can do nothing of our own merit except to believe and have faith in our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Indulgences should not, therefore, be needed if a person has faith in Jesus Christ and his saving gift of salvation. Indulgences suggest that Jesus' death on the cross was useless.

A: Some people speak of faith as though it were exclusively an activity of the mind. Your "believe and have faith" statement sounds close to that understanding of faith. Other people believe—and the Catholic Church teaches—that genuine faith already includes a person's response to God's grace. In Galatians 5:6, St. Paul says, "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love" [emphasis added].

The Catholic Church understands an indulgence to be the full or partial remission of temporal punishment for a sin that has already been confessed and forgiven.

No one needs indulgences in order to be saved. But everyone who is saved does need a faith that is more than saying, "Lord, Lord," (Matthew 7:21). Jesus says that a faith-filled person must seek to do God's will (see Matthew 7:21).

Indulgences are linked to the concept of "temporal punishment due to sin" because every sin has built-in negative consequences, which have a life of their own.

I could tell a lie about you and later repent of it and be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Would my repentance guarantee that this lie will stop—even if I told the truth to everyone to whom I told that lie? No.

It is simply not true to say that repentance for a particular sin means that sin can no longer have any ongoing negative consequences. Jesus' disciples must learn to accept that part of reality.

The temporal punishment due to sin has immediate consequences for the sinner. He or she realizes that sin hurts a person's relationship with God; repentance is part of mending that relationship and of living out that relationship more completely.

Jesus alone saves. If I think, however, that saying, "Lord, Lord," is enough, I am mistaken. I need to acknowledge that every sin is, in fact, not a shortcut to something good but a dead end. God invites us to use our freedom in a way that is worthy of someone made in God's image and likeness.

Faith always involves a response—not to impress God but to allow God's grace to bear fruit, to affect our decisions radically.

Are There Still Samaritans?

Q: Whatever happened to the Samaritans, especially the people who believed in Jesus because of the woman at the well (John 4:4-42)? Wouldn't that make them Christians? Who are the Samaritans today?

A: According to, approximately 600 Samaritans live near Nablus (West Bank) and Holon (close to Tel Aviv). Historically, they are the descendants of Jews who intermarried with pagan Assyrians after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in 721 B.C.

They developed a hybrid, monotheistic religion, centered on their Temple at Mount Gerizim—in Samaria, the area between Judea (south) and Galilee (north).

At best, in Jesus' day the Samaritans were considered "half Jews" by other Jews. That makes the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of the woman at the well all the more striking because the main characters were presented very positively.

The Samaritans mentioned in chapter four of the Gospel of John presumably persevered as followers of Jesus. After Jesus' resurrection, other Samaritans became Christians (Acts of the Apostles, chapter eight).

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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