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Often Difficult to Make the Right Decision
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Selling Stock in a Pharmaceutical Company
'Lead Us Not Into Temptation'
Is There a 15th Station?
Donating Religious Items
What About Judas?


Q: Many years ago, my sister and I purchased stock in a drug company that was later taken over by a second company, one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the world.

I recently learned that it has acquired another company that makes the morning-after pill and probably intends to boost sales by acquiring companies that produce birth-control pills. We never directly purchased the second company's stock.

If my sister, who owns more shares than I do, sold her stock now, the proceeds would permanently increase her monthly Medicare premium by over $44—even though her income would soon return to its pre-sale level. Under these circumstances, what is her obligation and mine regarding the sale of this stock?

Also, are we obliged to buy pain-relief products only from companies not involved in selling contraceptive pills or devices?

A: This situation has several angles that must be addressed. First, you may want to recheck the tax information that you have received. If it is accurate, a sell-off over several years might be advisable. Keeping this stock raises the moral issue known as "cooperation in evil." Are you promoting something immoral (facilitating abortions) by owning this stock? Third, people have a responsibility to pay their just taxes.

Moral theologians speak of "formal cooperation" (direct) and "material cooperation" (indirect). Formal cooperation means making someone else's immoral action one's own, deliberately joining in it. Material cooperation contributes to another person's immoral action without truly assenting to it.

Someone employed by a clinic that only performs abortions is clearly involved in formal cooperation. A person who works for the United States Postal Service, which delivers the clinic's mail, is involved in material cooperation—unless that person knowingly supports the clinic's work in other ways, which then become formal cooperation.

A person's moral responsibility is proportionate to how direct the connection is to the immoral action, how much the person knows about that connection and what other options he or she has. Our increasingly interconnected world makes it very difficult to avoid all material cooperation in evil. The drug company with the patent on a life-saving medicine that I need—or the pain-relief medication that I have found to be effective—may also make drugs intended to induce an abortion.

Holding stock in almost any international company requires prudential decisions—about which conscientious people may disagree. Sometimes a company makes a perfectly legitimate product (T-shirts, shoes, pants, dresses) but knowingly profits from unjust or inhumane labor practices in another country. A boycott of that company's products may be justified but not morally required.

You clearly want to do the right thing. I encourage you to recheck the relevant facts and options, pray over this matter and then make your decision.

Q: A discussion in our recent Bible study class involved difficult phrases in well-known prayers. For example, in the Lord's Prayer we say, "Lead us not into temptation." But we know that God does not lead us into temptation.

Similarly, the Apostles' Creed says that Jesus "descended into hell." Why would he do that? If he did it, how long did he stay there?

A: These are indeed unusual phrases. In last December's column, I addressed the "lead us not into temptation" expression, noting that Sections 2759 through 2865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church offer a phrase-by-phrase explanation of the Our Father.

In section 2846 we read: "It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both ‘do not allow us to enter into temptation' and ‘do not let us yield to temptation.' ‘God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one' [James 1:13]; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle ‘between flesh and spirit' [#2516]; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength."

Footnotes in the New American Bible or other translations often explain puzzling biblical expressions. Father John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible addresses this passage in similar terms under its New Testament entry for temptation.

Regarding your second question, I wrote in the July 2004 "Ask a Franciscan" column that the term hell in the Apostles' Creed does not mean "place of eternal punishment." I continued: "This is actually a poor translation of the Hebrew Sheol (place where all the dead go, in the Old Testament understanding, regardless of the type of life they lived) or of the Latin ad inferos (the underworld).

"The Creed uses this expression to link the saving death and resurrection of Jesus with the salvation of all the good women and men who died before Jesus did. All the saints invite us to believe in God and act accordingly."

The Apostles' Creed is not interested in describing how long Jesus was in Sheol; it simply affirms that each person's salvation is linked to Jesus. Father McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible addresses this issue under its New Testament entry Sheol.

Q: During Lent, our deacon led parishioners in praying the Stations of the Cross each Friday. Although the pamphlet we had has 15 Stations, he used only 14.

The pamphlet said that Vatican II added a 15th Station, the Resurrection of Jesus, and that without that event the other Stations are meaningless. Was our deacon correct in not saying the 15th station?

A: Vatican II did not officially add this 15th Station to the 14 that were established by Pope Clement XII in 1731. In her February 2010 article, "A New Look at the Stations of the Cross," Managing Editor Barbara Beckwith noted this recent custom and wrote: "This is not universally accepted. Some people feel that moving to the Resurrection too soon diminishes the reality of Jesus' death and slights the desolation felt by his followers."

I think that this 15th Station was popularized by the Cursillo movement; it has certainly spread beyond that group. After all, popular devotions reflect popular piety.

I suspect that most Catholic churches do not have a 15th Station. Your deacon made a pastoral judgment about using the 15th Station in public devotion. There is nothing to prevent people from saying privately the prayers indicated for the 15th Station.

Q: Can you suggest how I can dispose of the many religious cards, novenas, holy cards, medals and rosary beads that I have received over the years? The amount is overwhelming!

I also have many back issues of St. Anthony Messenger and other Catholic magazines, plus booklets and pamphlets.

A: This column has published addresses for groups that accept donations of rosaries, medals, statues and other religious items. Because groups change addresses or cease this service, I recommend that you use an Internet search engine and enter "donate religious items" or "donate rosaries" or a similar phrase.

Readers who do not have Internet access at home can use a public library's computer or ask someone else to perform this search. You can ask that person to print out a description of any group that sounds like a good one to receive these items.

Regarding magazines and pamphlets, many prison chaplains are grateful for such items. The Internet, your parish or diocese may help you connect with people who ask for such literature. It is no sin to recycle it.

Q: I liked your response about whether God hated Esau (April issue). I know that Judas was sorry for betraying Jesus, tried to return the 30 pieces of silver and then hung himself (see Matthew 27:3-5). I still pray for his soul. In Mark 14:21, Jesus says regarding his betrayer, "It would be better if that man had never been born." There is much here that I cannot put together for my satisfaction.

A: We cannot know for certain that Judas is in hell. If you have Internet access, see my response to the first question in the April 2007 "Ask a Franciscan" column. God knows all the facts and judges accordingly—without human advice. We can safely say that suicide is always wrong—even if Judas may have repented of that too and been saved.

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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