Q: Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will
pass away, but my words will not
pass away" (Matthew 24:35). What can
this possibly mean? I thought heaven was
forever. If heaven ceases at some point,
what happens to all the souls that have
already gone to heaven?
A: This is a puzzling verse if we
assume that the "heaven" mentioned
here means the state of eternal
happiness with God. The New American
Bible, the New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible all use the
term "heaven" in this verse.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, however,
uses the term "sky." This may be
closer to the original intention because
the expression "heaven and earth" in
this verse really means "all created
things." Of course, our word heaven also means "sky."
The point of verse 35 is to contrast
creation as we know it with God's word
that never passes away. Isaiah 40:8
makes the same affirmation.
The Christian concept of heaven as
the state of eternal happiness with God
is rooted in the New Testament but is
a development from those roots.
Although the idea of an afterlife with
reward for the virtuous and punishment
for sinners began to take hold in
Judaism only about 200 years before
the birth of Jesus, some parts of the
Book of Psalms may foreshadow this
Pagan beliefs in an afterlife assumed
that it is a continuation of earthly life;
they thought that people at the top
of the earthly socioeconomic system
would be equally well off in the afterlife.
Those who were slaves here, therefore,
would be slaves in the afterlife. In
that sense, decisions on earth by an
individual would not affect that individual's
experience of the afterlife.
Catholics believe that the souls of
the just go to heaven to abide with
God. Even so, those souls will enjoy
complete happiness only when they
are reunited with their glorified bodies.
The New Testament stresses that the
whole person will be saved.
St. Paul writes, "So whoever is in
Christ is a new creation: the old things
have passed away; behold, new things
have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The
new creation will be complete after
Jesus returns and leads the virtuous to
their eternal reward.
This answer may be longer than you
expected, but when we try to understand
puzzling biblical passages, we
must engage scriptural terms and the
beliefs that they reflect. Even though
the terms may sound similar to modern
ones, the biblical terms can be significantly
Q: I have been a faithful Catholic for
almost 90 years and I am puzzled
by two questions. Can someone who has
been married to a divorced person receive
the sacraments and do the readings at
Sunday Mass? Are people who have been
divorced allowed to receive Holy Communion?
I am beginning to lose faith in all that I
was taught many years ago.
A: Your desire to clarify these issues
indicates that you are open to
growing in your faith. That may require
information beyond what you were
The situation of the reader at Sunday
Mass, for example, might not be what
it appears. That person's present spouse
could have received a declaration of
nullity from the first marriage, enabling
the present marriage to be fully recognized
by the Catholic Church. Or
the reader's present spouse was indeed
once divorced but his or her ex-spouse
died later. Under those circumstances,
the reader's civil marriage could be
"convalidated" (regularized) by the
Catholic Church. All marriages have
civil consequences that must be respected,
no matter what a Church tribunal
Considering all the scenarios that
are possible, I cannot say that the Catholic
about whom you are inquiring is
forbidden to receive the sacraments or
read at Mass. Have you spoken to this
person about this?
Regarding your second question,
being divorced does not disqualify a
Catholic from receiving Holy Communion.
Being divorced and entering
a second marriage that the Church
regards as invalid does.
In 1884 the Third Plenary Council of
Baltimore enacted a separate excommunication
for divorced Catholics who
entered a marriage that the Church
cannot recognize. The U.S. bishops'
vote in May 1977 to abolish this separate
penalty was confirmed by the Holy
See's Congregation of Bishops in October
of that year. The Church's general
law about marriage still applies.
Also, when a divorced person's ex-spouse
dies, that marriage no longer
binds and the divorced person is free to
enter a new marriage. Even if the
divorced person's ex-spouse is still living,
a Church tribunal could give a declaration
of nullity (annulment) if the
evidence offered justifies that.
What we learned initially may be as
much as a teacher or parent could convey
to someone of that age and experience.
As those change, people need to
keep growing in their faith.
Q: Can a baby be baptized even
though the parents are not married?
Also, can someone receive the Sacrament
of the Sick if that person did not go
to Mass on Sundays? Can all sins be forgiven
when we receive absolution from
the priest in Confession?
A: The Catholic Church's Rite of
Infant Baptism presumes that a
child's parents are married and are willing
to accept the responsibility for
bringing the child up as a Catholic.
This question is posed several times in
A child of unmarried parents is not
automatically excluded from Baptism if
they are willing to accept the responsibility
of raising this child in the
Catholic faith. The Church sees marriage
as a great help in doing that.
The Sacrament of Anointing of the
Sick includes the possibility that a person
may receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation
before the actual anointing.
If the person is unconscious and cannot
make his or her Confession, the Church
allows the anointing to take place,
knowing that ultimately God knows
the truth about each person and will
All sins can be forgiven in the Sacrament
of Reconciliation. For a very small
number of "reserved" sins (for example,
desecration of the Eucharist), a confessor
may need to receive permission
from the local bishop or from the Holy
See before giving absolution.
Q: Many of my investments, made
through a financial advisor, are
spread over United States and foreign
companies. Some of those may make birth
control or abortion-inducing drugs. I
feel overwhelmed at wading through
them to get rid of certain investments like
A: Your moral obligation would
be much clearer if you were
investing in individual companies.
Mutual funds present a special challenge
because they invest in many companies.
Some funds say that they support
only companies that are pro-life. I am
not recommending that you switch to
either of these, but Ave Maria Mutual
Funds or Paladin Financial Group
might address your concerns. The site
www.MoralMoney.com might also be
Q: Whenever people begin to talk about their feast days and about
patron saints, I get confused. You see, I was born on May 26, the
feast of St. Philip Neri. Does that make him my patron? I was, however,
baptized with the name Maxine. Who is my patron?
A: It was once common to name a child after a saint whose feast
was celebrated on that child's birthday, but this has never been
a universal requirement. For example, I was born in late
May, but my patrons are Joseph (March 19) and Patrick
(March 17). Most Catholics whom I know are named for—and regard as
their patron—a saint who is important to that child's parents.
Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints lists seven women martyrs
named "Maxima." Your first name could be the feminine form of
Maximian (5 entries), Maximilian (7) or Maximus (35). You are free to
regard any one of these as your patron.
Body of the Blessed Virgin Mary: My
response to the question "Elijah's Body"
in our September issue should have
noted that the Catholic Church teaches
that Jesus and Mary are in heaven in
their glorified bodies.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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