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Bible Verses Need Interpretation
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Will Heaven Cease to Exist?
Two Troubling Questions
Questions on Baptism, Anointing and Confession
Pro-life Investing
Determining a Person's Patron Saint

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 teaching.

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 different.

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 initially taught.

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 decides.

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 the Rite.

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 decide accordingly.

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 these.

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 might also be helpful.

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. 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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