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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Was the Incarnation Always Intended?

Q U I C K S C A N

Why Did Jesus Come?
Why the Immaculate Conception?
Why Light Candles?
What Kind of Body on the Cross?
Gifts/Fruits of the Holy Spirit?



Why Did Jesus Come?

Q: If God knows that we are weak and prone to self-satisfaction—basically good but few St. Thérèse of Lisieux's among us—then why did God send his Son to "save us"? I cannot believe it was "to redeem us and open the gates of heaven," as the catechism used to say.

God the Father could have done that anytime, without the sacrifice of Jesus. Although I cannot imagine for a split second life without Jesus, can you tell me why the Son had to do what he did?

Why did God the Father have to send God the Son? What is the difference between us and the people before Jesus came? My father says that God the Father was slowly preparing the world for Jesus. In a pre-Jesus world, God the Father used "mighty clouds and a strong voice."

Why did God the Father send Jesus to save us? How could the blood of Jesus open the gates of heaven?

A: Your question is actually more Christmas-related than Good Friday-related. At least, I choose to answer it primarily from a Christmas perspective.

Believe it or not, there have been (and are) Christian theologians saying that God the Son would have become a human (without ceasing to be God) even if Adam and Eve had never sinned!

Why? Because if all creation was made through and for Christ (Colossians 1:16), then Jesus Christ is the summit of creation and was always intended—independent from the question of redemption.

Christians often speak—as you do—of the three divine persons as acting separately: God the Father (creation), God the Son (redemption) and God the Holy Spirit (sanctification). In fact, because of the Trinity it is not possible for one divine person to act independently of the other two.

The God-man known as "Jesus of Nazareth" is a unique revelation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus' death on the cross gives a new and incredibly deeper meaning to the expression "God loves us."

Some theologians have explained Jesus' death in terms of "expiation" or "atonement." Other theologians have pointed out that in not shielding Jesus from such a death, God reaffirms the importance of human freedom—and our need to use it wisely.

The Book of Genesis tells us that the world we experience is not exactly as it was created by God; human freedom brought sin into the world. The New Testament tells us that all is not lost, that God's grace will triumph over sin. We must decide to cooperate with that grace or not.

The Old Testament forbids making images of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus is a unique image of God, a unique way of continuing God's revelation to the human family.

Jesus' birth in poverty in Bethlehem tells us something about God's humility. Jesus' crucifixion by the Romans in Jerusalem shows us how deep God's love is.

One of the strongest supporters of the view that the Son of God would have been incarnated in Jesus even if Adam and Eve had never sinned was Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan theologian who died in 1308. Adjusted to our terminology, Scotus argued that Jesus' Incarnation was Plan A—not Plan B, formulated only after Adam and Eve sinned. See Ken Overberg, S.J.'s article Light Over Darkness: The Meaning of Christmas.

Francis of Assisi and the greatest saints have never seen Christmas and Good Friday as contradicting one another. May we allow both feasts to teach us the depth of God's love for us!

Why the Immaculate Conception?

Q: Why was Mary born without sin like Jesus? I do not understand this. Is it found in the Bible? I am not Catholic but am interested in knowing about this.

A: Gerald O'Collins, S.J., and Edward Farrugia, S.J., authors of A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Paulist, 2000), explain the Immaculate Conception:

"A Western feast held on December 8. It celebrates that, by a unique privilege and in view of her Son's merits, Mary of Nazareth was free of all sin, even Original Sin, from her very conception. Several passages from Scripture have been constantly understood to point in this direction (Genesis 3:15; Luke 1:28).

"Although the doctrine was defined by Pius IX only in 1854, the feast is known to go back at least to the seventh century. Partly because of differences over the notion of original sin, the Orthodox [Christians] do not honor the Mother of God as immaculately conceived but as achrantos (Greek immaculate) and panagia (Greek all-holy)."

Catholics affirm that this teaching is consistent with (in harmony with) the Scriptures although the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not found in the Bible as explicitly, for example, as the Sacrament of Baptism is.

Luke praised Mary by saying, "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (2:19) and by adding "and his [Jesus'] mother kept all these things in her heart" (2:51). The Catholic Church's teaching about the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Assumption flow from the Church's prayerful reflection over time on Mary's role in God's plan. These two teachings are the result of that reflection.

If someone objects that this still provides no ironclad scriptural support for this teaching, I ask: Why do you accept the Church's direction as to which books belong in the Bible but not accept the Church's assistance in interpreting the Scriptures? Why should the Church be trustworthy on the first matter and not trustworthy on the second one?

Why Light Candles?

Q: Can a non-Catholic go into a Catholic church and light a candle for someone? Why light candles? My husband, who was a Catholic, died in an auto accident two years ago.

A: A burning candle is like "stretching out" one's prayer and for Christians is a reminder of Christ, the light of the world.

This custom has brought comfort to many people over the years. Last September the nationally televised fund-raiser responding to the September 11 attacks included many lighted candles on the New York and Los Angeles sets.

There is no special procedure to follow in church. Usually a sign indicates the monetary offering for the candle. Most people remain in prayer for a short time after they light a candle.

May the Lord be your comfort and your strength.

What Kind of Body on the Cross?

Q: We just completed building a new church, and I feel the interior committee did something very wrong. They put a risen Christ on the beautiful cross at the back of the sanctuary. I feel this goes against the instructions from Rome.

Am I wrong or are they? It just doesn't seem right to me. The risen Christ was never near a cross.

A: In the history of crucifixes, various images of Jesus Christ have been used: Jesus in royal robes, Jesus in priestly robes, Jesus wearing a loincloth and obviously suffering, Jesus as a member of various ethnic groups, the risen Christ—to name only a few.

At this moment, the Catholic Church does not have a worldwide regulation about which image of Christ must be used on a crucifix in a sanctuary. The not-yet-official General Instruction on the Roman Missal (4th Edition) speaks of the image on the cross as the "crucified Christ." Bishops' conferences can seek an exception ("indult") on this.

The risen Christ may not have stood next to the cross on which he died. By placing him there, however, an artist emphasizes Jesus' triumph over sin and death. Even though the risen Christ did not have blond hair and blue eyes, many crucifixes have shown him that way. Artists create with an audience in mind. The work of artists, ancient and contemporary, has helped Christians appreciate Jesus' death and resurrection.


Gifts/Fruits of the Holy Spirit?

Q: The homilist at Mass last Sunday gave us homework: to learn the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit. Can you help me? Are there seven or eight? Is Galatians 5:22 the only place where I can find them listed?

A: A Sunday homily with homework—you are giving me ideas! I think the number "seven" should have been associated with the "gifts" of the Holy Spirit (first listed in Isaiah 11:2-3, then repeated with slight variations in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

The 12 "fruits" of the Holy Spirit are given in Galatians 5:22-23 (Latin Vulgate text). The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the gifts (#1831) and fruits (#1832) of the Holy Spirit. When we cooperate with God's grace, we experience both of these!

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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