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Ordinary Treatment Must Be Accepted
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Why Kill People for David's Sin?
Would Telling Her Make Things Worse?
Where Is It in the Bible?
Eucharist and the Poor
Who Added That Line?



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 David’s sin?

A: This puzzling reading (2 Samuel 24:9-17) is used on Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time (Year II).

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 things worse.

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 happy marriage?

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 morally good.

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 good?

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 moral guidance.

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. 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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