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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Waiting 'in Joyful Hope'

Q U I C K S C A N

Do Catholics Believe in the 'Rapture'?
Are Those Sacraments Valid?
Web Sites for Patron Saints?
Does God Determine My Actions?
Catholic Web Sites in Spanish?



Do Catholics Believe in the 'Rapture'?

Q: As a Catholic teenager, I have started to read my Bible very seriously. My Protestant friends speak about the “Rapture” when Jesus Christ will return for the people who have lived their lives for him, have accepted him into their hearts and are “saved.”

My Confirmation teacher and my priest say that the Rapture is not a Catholic belief. The Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 24), the Book of Revelation and other New Testament books present Jesus as speaking about the end times and his second coming.

Why don't Catholics believe in the Rapture when it is so clearly stated in the Bible? Also, why don't Catholics use the word "saved" more often? The Bible uses it. And isn't salvation granted by "faith alone," as the Bible says in numerous places?

A: Jesus wants his followers to be prepared for his coming again in glory. That's why he tells so many stories about being prepared at all times (for example, parables of the 10 bridesmaids and the servants entrusted with their master's money—Matthew 25:1-30).

Over the centuries, some Christians have not heeded Jesus' advice to avoid trying to pinpoint the day or the hour (Mark 13:5-7). St. Paul had trouble with a few Christians in Thessalonika whose interest in Christ's second coming led them to become troublemakers in that Christian community (2 Thessalonians, Chapter Two). Wilfrid Harrington, O.P., comments on this in our November 1999 Scripture From Scratch article "Understanding the Apocalypse," which you can read at www.AmericanCatholic.org.

Every few years someone will convince a group of Christians that Jesus is coming soon, that they should quit their jobs, leave their families if necessary, sell their belongings and gather at some prearranged spot for a front seat on the Last Judgment. Thus far, such incidents have usually ended only in embarrassment that the predicted Second Coming did not occur at that time. In 1997, the Heaven's Gate cult left 39 people dead—most through group suicide as they prepared for the Lord's return.

Salvation is possible only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it also involves a person's being open to God's grace and cooperating with it. Jesus specifically warns against those who say "Lord, Lord" but fail to do God's will (see Matthew 7:21). Non-Christians can share in this salvation.

People cannot "earn" salvation through good works. The Catholic Church accepts James 2:14-26 as the proper explanation of how "faith" and "good works" are related. St. Paul speaks of the importance of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

The expression "faith alone" is not found in the Bible; it comes from some theologians interpreting the Bible. Please allow the Catholic faith community to help you understand the Scriptures, which were, after all, given to a faith community.

In the Mass, after the Our Father, the celebrant prays, "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 Christ."

Your study of Scripture and your daily decisions should help you to "wait in joyful hope."

Are Those Sacraments Valid?

Q: When celebrating Mass and the sacraments, must the priest be in the state of grace? If he is not, can he receive the Eucharist that he has been instrumental in consecrating? Would it be sinful?

Also, what are the implications of his actions for the layperson or penitent? I couldn't find answers in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A: The priest, deacon, couple to be married or layperson performing an emergency Baptism—all of these should be in the state of grace when they celebrate the sacraments. That is not required, however, for them to "work."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them" (#1128).

In the fourth century, after the Roman persecution of Christians had ended, the Catholic Church squarely faced the issue of the connection between sacraments and the holiness of those who administer them. In time, the extreme assertion of the position that sacraments work only if their minister is holy at that time was called the heresy of Donatism (after its leader, Donatus).

The Catholic Church wants the ministers of God's sacraments to be in the state of grace when they act in its name. But requiring this for the sacrament to work opens all sacramental celebrations to doubt regarding their validity. This further suggests that human sin can overpower God's grace; this is certainly not true for the Sacrament of Penance—or any other sacrament.

A priest conscious of not being in the state of grace should try to make a perfect act of contrition, celebrate the sacrament in question and then seek absolution later. That is how moral theologians have usually resolved this apparent conflict of duties.

All the Church's members need to cooperate generously with God's grace—and thus become holy!

Web Sites for Patron Saints?

Q: From time to time, people ask me who is the patron saint of some occupation or for people suffering from a particular illness. I cannot always find what I am looking for. Can you recommend any Web sites for this?

A: When I asked Julie Zimmerman, managing editor of our company's Web site, for her recommendations about this, she suggested: 1) www. AmericanCatholic.org/Features/Saints/patrons.asp,
2) www.catholicforum. com/saints/indexsnt.htm, 3) www. scborromeo.org/patron.htm, and
4) http://saints.catholic.org/patron.html.

Does God Determine My Actions?

Q: If God knows all things, then God knows what I will do next, including the sins I may commit. If God has a plan for us, how can we have free will?

A: This issue has been a topic of discussion among Christians for centuries. Human beings are limited by time; we necessarily think in terms of past, present and future. The problem you raise, however, comes from imposing that limitation on God—for whom past, present and future are equally present. God cannot be limited in that way.

If your approach is correct, wouldn't God be equally responsible for the compassion of Florence Nightingale and the abomination caused by the 9/11 terrorists?

Doesn't such reasoning turn good and evil into personal preferences (for example, I like coin collecting but you like stamp collecting)? More importantly, doesn't it make God indifferent to both?

That cannot be. God very much prefers good (the proper use of human freedom) over evil (the distorted use of freedom).

"The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it," said a guilty Adam to God (Genesis 3:12). Eve blamed the serpent, which had accomplished its mission.

Adam and Eve misused their freedom and in talking this over with God, in fact, denied that they were indeed free. May God help us to avoid that mistake!

Catholic Web Sites in Spanish?

Q: I enjoy your Web site. Do you have it available in Spanish? My husband is a devout Catholic but he does not speak that much English. Thanks.

A: Our Web site, www.AmericanCatholic.org, is not available in Spanish. My brother Tom, who has extensive background in Hispanic ministry, recommends these Catholic Web sites:

http://celam.org

http://Socrates.barry.edu/lib-poneill/cathspan.htm

http://Socrates.barry.edu/lib-poneill/sepi.htm

http://www.maccsa.org

Last spring we published 12 popular issues of Catholic Update in Spanish. More information is available from Catholic Update en Español, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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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