Q: My adult nephew recently asked
me: “How do I know that the Bible
is the Word of God and not simply a collection
of human writings? How do I know
that the people who decided what belongs
in the Bible didn’t simply include what
they wanted?” I need a better answer than
I have at present.
A: God’s self-revelation comes to
us through human beings chosen
by God. The Church, guided by the
Holy Spirit, assures us that the biblical
books are divinely inspired. God helped
believers to recognize that inspiration
and so collect these writings into a
unique library of books. This process
worked essentially the same way for the
Old Testament and the New Testament.
For example, Jeremiah was not the
only prophet active in Judea in the
early sixth century B.C. Many other
prophets tailored their message to what
the people wanted to hear. Their writings
are not part of the Bible, not
because there was a conspiracy to keep
them out but rather because they simply
do not reflect God the way that
the Book of Jeremiah does.
There exist Gospels of Thomas, Mary,
Mary Magdalene and other names associated
with Jesus. Why aren’t they in
the New Testament? The Christian
community did not recognize its faith
in these writings—no matter whose
prestigious name was attached to them.
Jesus as a child did not make clay
pigeons and zap them into life, as the
Infancy Gospel of Thomas says he did.
God’s self-revelation comes in human
history, not in some other time
sequence. People can and need to grow
in faith, as members of a community
and as individuals. The Bible belongs to
the whole faith community before it
belongs to any individual member.
Conspiracy theories can be great fun.
“They” wanted us to have only this
information and thus they withheld
certain facts. Witness the commercial
success of Dan Brown’s books The Da
Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. They
may make for engaging fiction reading,
but are no more than that.
Until you start assessing evidence,
every conspiracy theory is as valid as
any other. Why engage in them at all?
Conspiracy theories can empower people
who otherwise feel relegated to
spectator status, deprived of the power
that they feel they deserve.
You could ask your nephew, “Why
do some parts of Scripture challenge
other parts? Why does the Bible contain
stories that show biblical heroes
such as David and St. Peter in an unfavorable
The Bible needs to be read as a whole.
There is great variety within the Bible,
a variety that conspiracy theorists tend
The Old Testament’s Book of Job is a
cautionary tale. It rebukes Job’s friends
who offer a self-serving theology and,
in effect, say, “All suffering is a punishment
for sin. After you admit your
sin, God will forgive you and then
restore what you have lost because we
all know that wealth is a sign of God’s
favor and poverty is a sign of God’s
displeasure with that individual.”
God, however, says to Eliphaz, one of
Job’s friends, “I am angry with you and
with your two friends; for you have
not spoken rightly concerning me, as
has my servant Job” (42:7b). They carry
out God’s command to offer sacrifice
and Job prays for them (see 42:9).
Likewise, the Book of Jonah warns
against remaking God in our image,
assuming that God needs to take directions
from us about whom to love and
whom to hate. Jonah is the Bible’s only
prophet to complain that his preaching
was too successful! Although deep
down he hoped that the Ninevites
would not repent, they did—and that
made Jonah angry (see 4:1-11).
The New Testament’s Letter of James
is concerned that wealthy Christians
might look down on poor ones (see
2:1-13) or that some Christians could
think that proclaiming their faith could
substitute for living it (see 2:14-26).
Some people attempt to whittle God
down to a convenient size by saying
that God is simply a human projection.
Likewise, the Bible can be dismissed
by claiming that it is a “merely
human” document that resulted from
a small number of people seeking to
foist on others their distorted thinking
In the Bible, God chose to reveal
himself through both joyful and sad
events: the Exodus, the exile in Babylon,
the birth of Jesus, his death and
resurrection, as well as the persecution
of his followers.
There are genuine conspiracies—for
example, the plot to assassinate President
Abraham Lincoln. The Bible, however,
is not a human conspiracy. Rather,
it is the result of God’s self-revelation
over many centuries, made to a community
of believers but intended for all
The whole Bible is inspired by God—not simply the parts we may quote to
other people to justify our actions. Ultimately,
God is the Bible’s author. As
the world’s bishops wrote last October,
“Divine inspiration did not erase the
historical identities and personalities
of [the Bible’s] human authors” (Message
to the People of God of the XII Ordinary
General Assembly of the Synod of
The Bible must be studied by Jews
and Christians for what it reveals about
God. If, as your nephew suggests, it is
simply the result of a human conspiracy,
then studying it becomes a hobby,
something optional (“If that sort of
thing appeals to you”). God, our faith
tells us, wants to share divine life with
us—in part through Scripture.
Q: I was asked this question by a family
member and do not know the
answer. Who chooses: the bishop, the first
pastor, the parishioners? I’ve never wondered
about this until recently.
A: The bishop makes the final decision
about the name. According
to Canon 515:2 of the Code of Canon
Law, a bishop must consult his council
of priests before establishing, suppressing
or altering parishes.
Especially in the case of merged
parishes, a bishop may prefer not simply
using the names of two previous
parishes but may select an entirely new
name after consulting those directly
involved. For example, I am aware of
two places where three parishes were
merged into a new parish, each named
Sometimes a diocese may have
a series going (naming a parish after
each of the apostles, or one of the mysteries
of the Rosary) or may wish to
recognize a new saint with particular
significance for that country. For example,
there were no parishes named for
Elizabeth Ann Seton or John Neumann
until after they were canonized in 1975
and 1977, respectively. Now there are
Q: In my parish, after we say, “but
deliver us from evil,” the celebrant
recites a short prayer to which we answer,
“For the kingdom, the power and the glory
are yours, now and for ever.” In a parish
seven miles away, with gusto they say this
immediately after the petition “but deliver
us from evil.”
A: Your parish is following the General
Instruction of the Roman
Missal (GIRM). The prayer that the celebrant
says immediately after the Our
Father is called the embolism and reads:
“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and
grant us peace in our day. In your
mercy keep us free from sin and protect
us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful
hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus
According to Section 81 of GIRM,
the proper sequence is Our Father,
embolism and then doxology (“For the
kingdom, the power and the glory are
yours, now and for ever”).
Some biblical manuscripts conclude
the Our Father with this doxology, but
the more reliable manuscripts do not.
The Catholic Church has chosen to
add a prayer between the original ending
and the later ending.
Q: If someone receives the Sacrament of Confirmation but is not
in the state of grace at the time, does he or she need to be reconfirmed?
I have heard that Confirmation is one of the sacraments
that cannot be repeated. Is this true?
A: Confirmation, like Baptism and Holy Orders, involves a
unique “character” and cannot be repeated. It is better to
receive any sacrament in the state of grace. An unbaptized person
not in the state of grace needs to receive Baptism, and baptized persons
need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to return to the state of grace.
A sacrament is validly administered if the person intends to receive the
sacrament, the minister intends to confer it and the sacrament is celebrated
according to the intention of the Church and its authorized form.
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