Q: One of the daily Mass readings is
about God punishing King David
for initiating a census of the Israelites. God
told David to choose among three possibilities
as punishment: a three-year famine,
three months of David’s enemies pursuing
him or a three-day pestilence. David chose
the pestilence, which killed 70,000 Israelites.
Why would God kill innocent people for
A: This puzzling reading (2 Samuel
24:9-17) is used on Wednesday
of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
In King David’s day, the concept of
punishing all the people for their leaders’
sin or children for their parents’ sins is
strong. For example, Exodus 20:5b-6
says: “For I, the LORD, your God, am a
jealous God, inflicting punishment for
their fathers’ wickedness on the children
of those who hate me, down to the third
and fourth generation; but bestowing
mercy down to the thousandth generation,
on the children of those who love
me and keep my commandments.”
After the Exile in Babylon (roughly
500 years after King David), the concept
of personal responsibility becomes much
stronger. Chapter 18 of the Book of the
Prophet Ezekiel stresses this. Jeremiah
31:27-34 makes the same point. This
shift of ideas was crucial because, if the
former idea were absolutely true, then
repentance in the present could not
offset the sins of one’s ancestors.
The passage that you cited records
that, after David asked the same question
you posed (see 2 Samuel 24:17),
the Prophet Gad tells David to go up to
Jerusalem, build an altar and offer sacrifice.
That place became the site for the
Temple built by Solomon.
In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary,
J.W. Flanagan writes about verses
10-15: “The resolution legitimates
David’s actions, i.e., the centralizing
that leads to the census and the purchase
of a threshing floor, and it transfers
the guilt to an altar where it is
expiated through David’s offering.”
That would not be much consolation to
those 70,000 people!
The fact that many people are troubled
by this story indicates that they
have accepted what the Bible says about
individual guilt and punishment—
teachings that developed over time.
Would Telling Her Make Things Worse?
Q: I dated a co-worker, who was in
an off-and-on relationship with
another man for two years. It was “off”
when we began seeing each other. She
said that he had verbally abused her and
that she could not see a future with him.
When she decided to get back with him,
I tried to talk her out of it. He has moved
back in with her. I don’t see him as capable
of any major change; it seems that she
simply wants to be his caretaker. I have reason
to believe that he is using drugs.
Although I still care about her, I
promised myself that I would not challenge
her decision. Even so, part of me
wants to tell her how disappointed I am in
her for accepting this kind of behavior. If
I tell her that, I think it will only make
A: Thanks for writing. Unfortunately,
your feelings for this
woman are not mutual. You may be
right about the mismatch between her
and this man. You have, however, done
what you can and she has made her
decision. Accept it as final.
Your closing this door may be necessary
before God can “open a window”
for you. People are sometimes
more in love with an unreal image of
their lover than with the actual person.
That may be the case here.
You think she deserves much better
and you may be right. But you also
deserve much better than to put your life “on hold” (so to speak) over her
decision. If she has made very poor
decisions regarding this man, what is
the likelihood that her relationship
with you could ever have led to a
If your former girlfriend has fallen in
love with an ideal image and not a real
person, then don’t make the same mistake
for yourself. Seek to meet a woman
with whom you can develop a solid,
loving relationship. Best wishes.
Q: My 12-year-old daughter has been
raised by my ex-wife but with little
or no Christian values. My daughter recently
told me that premarital sex is O.K.
because the Bible never states that it is
wrong or a sin. Besides, so many Christians
are involved in this, she says, that it cannot
be wrong. What can I say?
A: It sounds as though your daughter
has her mind made up. She
accepts the Church’s judgment that
the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John belong in the New Testament
but the Gospel of Thomas does not.
Who made that decision? The faith
community, the Church.
Although she accepts the Church’s
judgment about the list of books that
belong in the Bible, she refuses to admit
that the faith community has any
right to explain the Scriptures. That is
curious logic. The Bible does not condemn
nuclear war or in vitro fertilization,
but that does not make these
To her argument that, because many
Christians engage in premarital sexual
intercourse, it must be morally
O.K., many Christians also lie and steal.
Are those morally good? Unfortunately,
some Christians abuse children.
Does that make such actions morally
The Catholic Church understands
that sexual intercourse already has a
meaning within the context of a permanent,
exclusive commitment open
to conception. It is not waiting for Fred
and Ellen (or whoever) to assign it a
meaning—which could be contradictory.
Whereas one person may think,
“This will certainly solidify our relationship,”
the other may be wondering,
“Will this person be as good as my last
partner? In any case, no commitment
now.” Who gets hurt in this situation?
The person who thought this action
indicated a deep commitment.
The Church has understood that premarital
chastity is specifically encouraged
by Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians
6:18-20 and 1 Timothy 5:2, but Jesus’
whole message supports it.
Whatever is not specifically condemned
in Scripture is not automatically
good. The faith community helps
Christians consider their options and
honestly ask, “Is this a good use of my
God-given freedom? Does this acknowledge
my dignity as someone made in
God’s image and likeness?” Teenage
years are trying for everyone, but in
time your daughter will appreciate your
Q: The Catechism of the Catholic
Church says that the Eucharist connects
us to the poor (#1397). If someone
failed to realize this, would it still be true?
A: Yes, it would still be true. The
Eucharist connects us to all poor
people (Catholic or not) because receiving
the Eucharist means that we must
live the Eucharist. Thus, we cannot speak
or act dismissively toward poor people.
In that sense, the Eucharist is a reality
check on our faith—to help us avoid
loving all people in the abstract but
showing disrespect to specific groups.
St. Paul chastised one group of
Christians for bringing their economic
divisions into the Eucharist (see 1
Corinthians 11:17-34). The Eucharist is
the foretaste of the heavenly banquet,
where people will not be seated according
to their earthly wealth!
Q: My RCIA group was recently discussing the wording of the Our
Father, especially the line “For thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” Someone said that it was
added by Protestants, but I cannot verify that. When was it added?
How do we know which text is the original one? Whenever I
attend Mass, that last line is added. What is going on?
A: Father Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., one of my former Scripture professors,
responds, “It is impossible to name names as to who is responsible
for this.” Although it is clear that the phrase, inserted after Matthew
6:13, does not occur in the oldest New Testament manuscripts that we possess,
it does occur in the Didache, a writing from the end of the first century
A.D. Perhaps this phrase, which echoes 1 Chronicles 29:11-13, was
used in the liturgy and then later added to some biblical manuscripts..
When Matthew’s version of the Our Father is prayed at a Catholic Mass,
this doxology (blessing) is not part of the Our Father. It is, however,
prayed aloud by the whole congregation two prayers later. Luke 11:2-4 contains
a shorter version of the Our Father. Click www.AmericanCatholic.org/Newsletters/SFS/an0101.asp for a good article on the creation of the
canon (list) of New Testament books. The believing community has an
important role in identifying the Scriptures and interpreting them.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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