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'That's the Way It Is' Doesn't Work
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Untangling Gospel Accounts
Seeking a Book on Catholic Social Teaching
Searching for God
Becoming a Catholic



Q: I am an 80-year-old Roman Catholic who has tried to adjust to many changes in the Church. Although I have discussed the questions below with several priests, I have never received a better answer than “That’s the way it is.” Can anybody explain these things?

Why does our Sunday worship aid speak of “the Gospel According to Luke” instead of saying “St. Luke”? When Judas betrayed Jesus, he received money according to the Gospel, but I was taught that it was 30 pieces of silver. Why the change? Didn’t Judas return the money and then hang himself?

At the Last Supper, Jesus blessed bread and wine, but a Gospel passage read not long ago has Jesus asking for food and then eating some baked fish. That passage had nothing about the Apostle Thomas asking for proof of Jesus’ Resurrection.

Is it true that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after the Resurrection?

A: Thanks for seeking answers to these questions. Faith grows through seeking answers, as you are doing. This includes trying to understand better the Scriptures we read and the liturgy that is our public prayer. Denying that questions matter or even exist simply gives them greater power.

The priest or deacon now introduces the Gospel at Mass by saying, “A reading from the holy Gospel according to ...” and then inserts the name of the evangelist. The Ordo Missae Cum Populo, printed in the back of the Sacramentary, indicates the Latin text as “Lectio sancti Evangelii secundum N.,” with “N.” representing the name of the evangelist.

In announcing the Gospel, the priest or deacon is acting like a herald, proclaiming the authority of what he is about to read. In the English and Latin texts quoted above, the emphasis is on “Gospel” rather than on the individual author whom God inspired.

Omitting the title “saint” in no way denies that for centuries the Church has venerated Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as saints. The feast of St. Luke, for example, is celebrated on October 18. I very much doubt that any of the four evangelists would feel slighted if he heard his Gospel announced without his being identified as a “saint.” The emphasis is on Jesus, not on the evangelist.

We hear different Gospels in their entirety each liturgical year. The Gospel of Matthew (Year A) says that Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver (26:15). Mark (Year B) and Luke (Year C) refer to “money” but do not specify the amount. Only Matthew 27:3-10 describes the death of Judas.

The story that Jesus ate baked fish (Luke 24:42-43) is after the Resurrection, not at the Last Supper, where he indeed blessed bread and wine. The story about Thomas’s desire to see Jesus’ wounds occurs in a different Gospel (John 20:24-29).

According to John 20:11-18, Mary Magdalene was indeed the first person to see Jesus after the Resurrection.

Your questions indicate the difficulty we sometimes have in keeping different Gospel accounts separate. They easily blend into a single text in our minds— and that’s not all bad. But we need to give the different evangelists credit for their distinct stories, each one emphasizing what God inspired that writer to record.

To get a sense of the uniqueness of each evangelist, you may want to set aside time and read a single Gospel from beginning to end. Then repeat that process on other days for the other three Gospels.

I encourage you to keep asking whatever questions you need to ask—and to remember that the correct answer may surprise you.

Seeking a Book on Catholic Social Teaching

Q: I understand that the Holy See has published a book that outlines Catholic social teaching from Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum until the present. Where can I purchase it?

A: On October 25, 2004, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Part One reviews general principles and Part Two has separate chapters addressing the family, human work, economic life, political community, international community, safeguarding the environment and the promotion of peace.

In March 2005 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops began distributing the 446-page English edition. You can purchase it through any Catholic bookstore, including St. Francis Bookshop here in Cincinnati.

Q: Although I am tortured by my search for God, I continue the struggle. The Book of Job is of some help, but I still find myself wondering about God’s role in our desperation and destitution. What does this say about God and human nature? I realize that a brief answer is impossible. Any suggestions about helpful books would be appreciated.

A: Thanks for writing. Please be assured that the search is worth the struggle. The Book of Job is a profound meditation on good, evil and God’s relationship to each. It was obviously written by someone who experienced and rejected several popular explanations of that relationship.

The Book of Job tells us two central truths: 1) The theology of Job’s friends is not reliable (They say that all Job’s problems are caused by unacknowledged sins; if Job admits them and repents, then God will take away the scourges), and 2) Job cannot question God as an equal (“Out of whose womb comes the ice?” asks God (38:29). Chapters 38 through 41 present God’s responses to Job’s accusations and constitute a masterpiece of theology.

In fact, God expresses anger at Job’s three friends, whose speeches take up most of the book, because they have not spoken rightly about God as Job has done (42:7). Job is to offer a sacrifice on their behalf and to pray for them.

Most of our suffering is not the result of “natural disasters” (floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.). Most human suffering arises from an abuse of human freedom, as the front-page stories in your newspaper verify daily.

God could have made a world without genuine human freedom, but such a world could hardly include genuine human love because such love cannot exist without freedom.

We easily shift the problem onto God (for creating a defective world) or onto the suffering person (as Job’s friends did), but neither approach truly works. The world that God created is not defective; some suffering is, in fact, totally innocent.

What books can I suggest? On a popular level, I have found Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce (all by C.S. Lewis) helpful. Paula D’Arcy’s Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter (available in print from Crossroad Publishing and as an audiobook from St. Anthony Messenger Press) addresses these topics. In On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (Orbis), Gustavo Gutierrez masterfully analyzes these issues. Books can help in your search, but so can a compassion that grows as we perform the works of mercy (see Matthew 25:31-46).

Q: I am interested in becoming a Catholic, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t have any good friends who are Catholic, and the thought of simply calling up a Catholic parish and stating my interest is pretty intimidating. Is there anything on the Internet that can help me get started?

Whether you have been baptized already or not, becoming a Catholic is a process of discernment and preparation. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) prepares the unbaptized for Baptism in the Catholic Church; it also prepares those already baptized in another Church for “reception into full communion with the Catholic Church.”

Most parishes have an RCIA group that usually begins in the fall and concludes in the spring at Easter. Participants receive instruction about Catholic beliefs and practices and begin to share in the faith life of that parish. You can find the parish nearest you through www.MassTimes.org.

On this Web site, if you go to the “Update Your Faith” section and click on Catholic Update and then “Archives,” you will find over 150 live links to past issues of that popular newsletter. You can start with any link that has “RCIA” in its title; many of the other live links there will also be helpful.

Best wishes for your continuing faith journey!

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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