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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Following Jesus Influences Everything

Q U I C K S C A N

Does the Gospel Affect Social Issues?
Raising Children in Two Religions
Why Natural Law?
Frozen in Unforgiveness
What Is the Origin of the Advent Wreath?


Does the Gospel Affect Social Issues?

Q: Recently I have been reading about several 20th-century Christians who applied Jesus' teaching to social issues. That prompted a number of questions in my mind. Is this an essential aspect of the gospel message? Why is it necessary that the life and message of Jesus be embodied in new ways in each historical period?

A: The Good News of Jesus Christ affects all our relationships—not simply those with friends and family members but also relationships with people we will never meet.

Jesus did not preach a privatized religion that influences only a fraction of someone’s daily life. Anyone who tries to keep the Good News so tightly reined runs the risk of saying “Lord, Lord” but refusing to do God’s will (see Matthew 7:21). When Jesus told the parable about the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus taught that following him has implications for every relationship, for every attempt to reflect divine justice.

Social justice needs can evolve over time. There was no atomic bomb in Jesus’ day. Does that mean the Good News has nothing to say about possessing nuclear weapons?

Slavery was much more common in Jesus’ day than it is now. One reason it is rare today is that Christians have recognized that “owning” people is not compatible with the Good News of Jesus. Every historical period contains social justice challenges for the followers of Jesus.

On December 25, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, fully divine, fully human, the savior of the human family. Jesus did not come so that his followers could go out and separate people into who is worthy of God’s love and who is not. He sought out many lost sheep.

In their final document, Justice in the World, participants at the 1971 World Synod of Bishops wrote: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation” (Introduction).

One of the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions addresses God by saying: “Open our eyes to the needs of all; inspire us with words and deeds to comfort those who labor and are burdened; keep our service of others faithful to the example and command of Christ.

“Let your Church be a living witness to truth and freedom, to justice and peace, that all people may be lifted up by the hope of a world made new.”

Jesus’ followers do not always live up to this, but the Good News tells us that following Jesus must influence every relationship.

Although there may be legitimate differences of opinion among Christians regarding specific strategies to correct social injustices, Jesus’ followers cannot resolve such differences by saying that religion is private and has no role in public life. The Babe of Bethlehem invites us to live out our Baptism in an honest, persevering and generous way.

Raising Children in Two Religions

Q: My fiancé is Methodist and I am Catholic. We are both very happy in our religions; neither of us wants to convert. I was raised in a Catholic school, and it is important to me to be married in the Catholic Church.

I want to raise our children as Catholics but he wants them to be raised in both religions. What can we do?

A: Your future children can be raised to respect both religions, but they cannot really be raised as genuine members of both.

Consider, for example, the Catholic teaching about the Eucharist. Even though a child could be presented with the Catholic teaching about it (real presence of Jesus) and the Methodist teaching about it (memorial presence), that child cannot personally commit to such divergent teachings. One must prevail.

Catholics recognize the Sacrament of Penance and Methodists do not. Catholics see the pope as exercising a ministry entrusted to the Apostle Peter; Methodists do not. A child cannot be raised in two religious traditions in all respects.

For more, see our Catholic UpdateInterchurch Marriages: How to Help Them Succeed.”

Why Natural Law?

Q: I am not a Catholic. The Catholic Church often speaks about natural law, but I think this concept restricts the freedom inherent in being a Christian.

Theologians whom I admire in other areas (like C.S. Lewis), however, favor the idea of natural law. Even so, I still don’t see where they are coming from.

A: The concept of natural law is a way of saying that people can know that some things (for example, stealing) are wrong even if they have never read the Bible. “Keeping holy the Lord’s day,” on the other hand, requires reading the Bible to know of such a command.

Put another way, natural law is a way of saying that we can know some things from human reason. In those areas we are not totally dependent on God’s revelation via the Scriptures because God is already acting through our reason.

Faith and reason cannot be opposed because they arise from a single source (God, who is truth). At times, people may think their faith triumphs over facts (for example, those who accused Galileo of heresy for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun). At other times, people may make false claims for human reason (for example, Enlightenment thinkers who denied the reality of Original Sin).

Rereading C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece Mere Christianity may help you see both the usefulness and limitations of the natural law concept in a new light.

Frozen in Unforgiveness

Q: My close friend Jim was going out with one of my more distant friends, Ellen. They both confided in me during their breakup. One day Ellen sent me an e-mail about Jim. I forwarded it to him, but with a note advising him that he might not want to read Ellen’s message.

Unfortunately, she hacked into his e-mail account and read my message. In a 45-minute Internet argument, she called me a backstabber and blamed me for their breakup, which had already happened.

I am now having a hard time forgiving her for what she has said and done to me. Although I have apologized several times, she still hates me. I know that forgiving her is the right thing to do, but how can I when she hurts me so badly and yet won’t apologize?

I have been struggling with this for months and desperately want to move on with my life and not feel her hatred.

A: You cannot presume that it is fair or morally good to forward every e-mail message you receive. You warned Jim that he might not want to read Ellen’s words, but you probably should not have forwarded them in the first place. If the breakup had already happened, what was the point?

If Ellen chooses to remain frozen in unforgiveness, that is her decision. There is nothing you can do to guarantee that she will make a different decision. Her choice to react that way, however, does not mean that you must remain frozen in resentment and frustration.

You and Ellen may never be friends again, but that does not mean that all your other friendships have to suffer because of that.

If you want to move on with your life, forgive Ellen in the sense of wishing for her what God wants for her: a share in divine life. Pray for her and move on with your life after you have learned what you can from this painful experience.

What Is the Origin of the Advent Wreath?

Q: Where does the Advent wreath come from? What does it represent? Why do people use three purple candles and a pink one?

A: The Advent wreath is a Christian adaptation of a pre-Christian symbol, combining a circle (symbol of eternity), evergreens (symbol of unending life) and candles (symbol of life). Christians use it to represent Christ, the Light of the World.

Three candles are purple because the Catholic Church uses violet vestments during Advent. The pink (or rose) candle is connected to the Third Sunday of Advent (traditionally called "Gaudete Sunday") when rose vestments can be worn.

Gaudete is Latin for the first word of Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" Until the cycle of Sunday readings was revised in 1969, this verse began the Epistle for that Sunday.

You can find answers to common questions about the Advent-Christmas season by going to www.americancatholic.org/Features/Christmas/faqs.asp.

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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