Q: During Advent we hear Gospel
readings about John the Baptist and his ministry. This month
we celebrate Jesus' Baptism by John. This, however, was
not a Jewish practice, was it? Why was John baptizing in
the first place?
A: You cannot find the word
baptism or any of its derivatives in the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament). Baptism was not an official part of Judaism
as it reshaped itself during and after the Exile in Babylon
(most of the sixth century B.C.). Baptism was, however,
practiced unofficially by some Jewish people in the century
before and after Jesus' birth.
In this context, baptism was a sign of general
repentance and thus could be repeated (as altar calls can
be among Protestants). At Qumran on the west side of the
Dead Sea, the Jews known as Essenes practiced a baptism
of repentance during Jesus' lifetime. Some scholars think
this group may have influenced John's ministry.
Around the same time, ritual baths for purification
became more common among Jews in urban areas. These were
obviously not possible during the desert years under Moses.
If you go to the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem
today, you can see houses with ritual baths dating back
almost 20 centuries.
Eventually, some confusion arose concerning
the baptism conferred by John the Baptist and the Sacrament
of Baptism given by Jesus' disciples. In Matthew 3:11, John
describes his baptism as being "with water" while Jesus'
Baptism will be "with the Holy Spirit and fire."
In Acts 8:14-17, the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and
John to baptize some Samaritans who had been baptized "in
the name of the Lord Jesus" but had not yet been baptized
with the Holy Spirit.
Later we meet Apollos, a Jewish man instructed
in the Way of the Lord (Christianity) but who "knew only
the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25). Priscilla and Aquila
explained to him the Baptism that Jesus' disciples used.
In Ephesus, Paul rebaptized those who had received only
the baptism of John (Acts 19:1-5).
The relationship of John's baptism to Christian
Baptism is directly addressed in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8
and Luke 3:16.
there a minimum age before someone can be designated as a reader at Mass? Must
that person be confirmed?
A: There is no minimum age, and having received the
Sacrament of Confirmation is not a requirement. Carrying
out this service to the Church is a matter of someone's
ability to read effectively in a faith-filled way during
The Evangelist, the newspaper for the
Diocese of Albany, New York, carried a story last August
about Jackson Raimo, who was only nine years old when he
began reading at St. Clare Church in Colonie, New York.
According to that article, some parishioners
consider Jackson one of the best readers they have ever
heard. Many people are edified at how seriously he takes
this responsibility and how effectively he proclaims the
Obviously, not everyone is comfortable reading
in public. That skill, however, is not confined to a particular
Q: I'm having a difference of opinion with a friend
who says that scrupulosity is a sin. I say it is not. What
does the Catholic Church teach on this?
A: Genuine scrupulosity is not a free choice
like preferring Snickers candy over Skittles. Scrupulosity
is influenced by many factors beyond a person's complete
control. Although atheists can be scrupulous, we tend to
describe their situation as seeking an impossible certainty
We associate scrupulosity with a religious motivation,
probably linked to a person's mental image of God. If that
is the case, there is some possibility of change once the
individual realizes that no single mental image can represent
Someone whose scrupulosity is religiously related
should seek the help necessary so that he or she can enjoy
the inner freedom that flows from being made in God's image
and likeness (see Genesis 1:26).
We certainly need to reflect upon our decisions.
Scrupulosity, however, is a continual agitation that maybe
I could have made a better choice or perhaps God is angry
with me over something that, in fact, a reasonable person
would regard as not that important.
Under the heading "Scrupulosity" in the New
Catholic Encyclopedia, Cyril James Harney, O.P., writes:
"Deriving from the Latin scrupus, whose diminutive
form scrupulus means a small sharp stone, scrupulosity
signifies habitual and unreasonable hesitation, doubt, coupled
with anxiety of mind, in connection with the making of moral
"The scrupulous person's life journey has been
aptly likened to that of a traveler whose pebble-filled
shoes make every step painful and hesitant. Scruples render
one incapable of making with finality the daily decisions
All the time and energy claimed by scrupulosity
should be available for generously cooperating with God's
grace in a person's life.
Q: In my retirement community,
a Protestant minister is offering a class on the Book of
Revelation. I have always found this part of the Bible very
difficult, if not impossible, to understand.
Is the Catholic Bible that different from the Protestant
Bible regarding this book? Would it be helpful to take this
course or would it be confusing for a Catholic to do so?
A: I suggest that you go at
least to the first class. Catholic and Protestant Bibles
begin with the same Greek text; they may differ slightly
For a good article by a Catholic Scripture scholar about
the Book of Revelation, click
Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., one of my Scripture
professors, highly recommends Apocalypse Then and Now:
A Companion to the Book of Revelation, by Roland Faley,
T.O.R. (Paulist, 1999).
The Book of Daniel is the start of the biblical genre known
as apocalyptic writing. For a good article on that, read
Beyond the Lion's Den.
For your studies, you may want to consult a
Catholic edition of the Bible because it will probably have
footnotes and cross-references. Some Protestant editions
lack those, possibly seeing them as compromising a desire
for "just the text." Such a decision, unfortunately, separates
a reader from the faith community's experience of meditating
on and praying over difficult passages.
The Book of Revelation should be appreciated
for what it is (the self-revelation of God, a message of
hope to persecuted Christians) and not turned into something
else (coded messages foretelling Attila the Hun, Napoleon,
Hitler, Stalin, etc.).
If the minister sounds sensationalistic regarding
this book (as though it were a first-century National
Enquirer), this course might not be for you. On the
other hand, it might be very profitable because the minister
has studied, prayed over and preached this book for many
years. Judge for yourself the worth of this class.
Q: Is it a sin to place a bet on a horse race? What about lotteries
or betting on sports contests? What does the Catholic Church think about playing
slot machines? At times it seems that the Church opposes gambling, but isn't
bingo a form of gambling?
A: Although gambling is not evil in itself (that is, under any
and all circumstances), it has become an addiction for many people. Some experts
say that more people are addicted to gambling than to alcohol. If someone bets
money that is truly recreational (for example, not money for housing or a family's
food, clothing and health care), that is not sinful. But many gamblers cannot
set a limit for how much they can lose without endangering their own welfare
or that of others.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Games of
chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary
to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive [people] of what
is necessary to provide for [their] needs and those of others. The passion for
gambling risks becoming an enslavement" (#2413).
That holds true for all forms of gambling.
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