Q: A few years ago, I overheard a
Catholic woman ask her friend,
"When did Jesus become a Catholic?" A
few of us laughed but did try to explain that
Jesus was the Christ. He was born Jewish
and died Jewish.
One of my Jewish friends asked me,
"When did Jesus become a Christian?"
Soon after that, a relative asked me, "Well,
when did he become a Catholic?" Please
address these questions in your column.
A: Yes, Jesus was born Jewish. By
the time that he was executed
by the Romans, however, many Jewish
people would have considered Jesus as
guilty of blasphemy because of certain
actions and his teachings about God as
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
At least since the sixth century before
Christ, the bedrock of Judaism has been
monotheism, belief in one God. God's
self-revelation in the Scriptures progressively
insisted on monotheism.
The Gospels record several incidents
where Jesus is accused of blasphemy
for directly or indirectly claiming divine
prerogatives. For example, when Jesus
cured the paralytic man lowered
through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), he saw
the man's faith and said, "Child, your
sins are forgiven" (v. 5). Similar passages
occur in Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke
"Now some of the scribes were sitting
there asking themselves, 'Why does
this man speak that way? Who but God
alone can forgive sins?' Jesus immediately
knew in his mind what they were
thinking to themselves, so he said,
'Why are you thinking such things in
your hearts? Which is easier, to say to
the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or
to say, Rise, pick up your mat and walk?
But that you may know that the Son of
Man has authority for sins on earth—he said to the paralytic, 'I say to you,
rise, pick up your mat, and go home'"
After Caiaphas, the high priest, commanded
Jesus, "I order you to tell us
under oath before the living God
whether you are the Messiah, the Son
of God," Jesus said, "You have said so.
But I tell you: From now on you will see
'the Son of Man seated at the right
hand of the Power' and 'coming on
the clouds of heaven.' Then the high
priest tore his robes and said, 'He has
blasphemed! What further need have
we of witnesses? You [members of the
Sanhedrin] have now heard the blasphemy;
what is your opinion?' They
said in reply, 'He deserves to die!'"
(Matthew 26:63-66, with a similar passage
in Mark 14:61-64).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark
and Luke, Pilate questions Jesus about
calling himself "the king of the Jews."
That scene is given in more detail in the
Gospel of John. "Pilate said to them
[the crowd], 'Take him yourselves and
crucify him. I find no guilt in him.'
The Jews answered, 'We have a law,
and according to that law he ought to
die, because he made himself the Son
of God'" (19:6b-7). Pilate orders that
Jesus be crucified for treason, for not
rejecting the title "king of the Jews."
Not all Jesus' Jewish contemporaries
considered him guilty of blasphemy—his mother, Mary, the apostles and the
disciples, for example.
To say that Jesus died Jewish may be
too simple; he saw himself as bringing
Judaism to a new level. Even so, the earliest
Christians continued to frequent
the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1-26
From the very beginning, the followers
of Jesus asserted that they were
monotheists, that the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit were not three gods in the
same sense that pagans, for example,
considered Jupiter and Apollo as gods.
Jesus' followers were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26)—only
after his death and resurrection. That
term and catholic (universal) were interchangeable
from the second through
the 11th centuries A.D.
Q: I am a big supporter of Glenn Beck
and all the work he is doing to save
the country. Today he is discussing social
justice, which is Marxism, and how the
government is trying to absorb the
churches to run them as everything else—as the Communists do. He said there is a
part of our Church that is tied into Marxism.
What is it and how can we stop it?
A: If you have described TV commentator
Glenn Beck accurately,
I can only answer that he is way
off the mark. Social justice was a concern
of Jesus' followers for 18 centuries
before Karl Marx was born. It remains
a vital part of living out the Good
Was Jesus preaching socialism when
he told the parable about the Last Judgment
(Matthew 25: 31-46) and identified
those who will be saved as the
ones who fed the hungry, gave drink to
the thirsty, welcomed the stranger,
clothed the naked or visited those who
are sick or imprisoned?
The Good News of Jesus Christ challenges
every person to compare what
he or she considers normal to Christ's
teachings. Yes, Christians can have
blind spots—as evidenced by their
acceptance of slavery in many places
for centuries. But Christians were
counted among those who took the
lead in calling for the abolition of slavery.
The same is true for exposing the
physical, economic and political exploitation
of children today.
Was it socialism for the author of
the Letter of James to write: "What
good is it, my brothers, if someone says
he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him? If a brother or
sister has nothing to wear and has no
food for the day, and one of you says to
them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat
well,' but you do not give them the
necessities of the body, what is it? So
also faith of itself, if it does not have
works, is dead" (2:14-17).
Was it socialism for St. Paul to criticize
the Christians in Corinth for bringing
their social and economic divisions
into the celebration of the Eucharist
itself (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-32)?
That, by the way, is the oldest liturgical
abuse recorded in the New Testament.
Yes, Communists have attempted to
manipulate Christianity, but our best
response to that is to live out Jesus'
teachings more wholeheartedly—not
to reject them because Marxists try to
mimic them for their own purposes.
For Jesus' followers, the best test of
loyalty is faithfulness to his teachings
as we find them in the New Testament.
Over time, all blind spots and unholy
compromises with any human party
or system will become obvious.
Q: The feast of St. Charles Lwanga and
companion martyrs (June 3) recently
raised a question for me. On July 17,
1794, 16 Carmelite nuns were guillotined
in Compiègne, France, for their faith. As a
secular Carmelite, I have always considered
them a beacon of love and uncompromising
faith. Doesn't the fact that they
were martyred for their faith automatically
make them saints? Why would any
miracles be needed?
A: God does not wait for the
Church's canonization process
in order to decide who gets into
heaven. The canonization process is to
the benefit of the Church on earth—not to keep God's records straight.
If two groups of people in different
centuries give up their lives for their
faith, does it make sense to discuss who
is more or less deserving of that title?
I applaud your devotion to the
Carmelite martyrs. Perhaps you will
live long enough to see them officially
Incidentally, in 1964 when Pope Paul
VI canonized Charles Lwanga and his
companion martyrs, the pope made
reference to several Anglican young
men who were killed by the same king
and for the same reason.
May all of us be as open to God's
grace as all the saints in heaven (formally
recognized or not) were.
Q: When I pray a petition, I can't help feeling that if I pray for one person
only, the prayer will be stronger or more effective than if I pray
for 20 people at once. For example, is "Please help David" a
stronger prayer than "Please help all my family"?
A: Prayer is certainly powerful, but I'm not sure that we should
spend time and energy on figuring out the relative power of
different ways of praying. What's more important than the
number of people prayed for is the purity of intention on the part of the
individual praying and that person's willingness to connect honest
prayer to generous action.
You seem to fear that praying for several people at the same time will
dilute the effect of your prayer. I think that may be imposing human categories
onto God. You probably want to avoid that because it suggests
that prayer is a human object rather than a response to God's grace.
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