Q: My husband and I, both Christians, are wondering about the legitimacy of spells cast by someone who practices witchcraft. Knowing that a particular woman has cast spells on us, how does that fact affect our lives?
We have prayed about this many times, but we have not found any solution. Should we ask a priest to bless our home? Several very strange things have happened to us in the last six years.
A: Spells and curses have only the power that people are willing to give them. If you allow them to have power, then they will influence your life. If you deny them power, they cannot affect you.
It would probably be a good idea to limit your contacts with the woman you suspect of casting a spell on you. The same goes for contacts with her friends.
If you have not had your home blessed, that would be a good idea, but this is not necessary to protect you from spells or curses. It simply acknowledges by whose values you intend to shape your lives.
When St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae (modern-day Turkey), he addressed their fascination with angels, with good and evil spirits. The Colossian Christians wondered and debated where Jesus Christ fit in, according to this way of looking at the world.
St. Paul assured them that, having conquered earthly powers and principalities, Jesus was leading these away in his triumphal procession (see 2:15).
Paul urged them to grow in virtue, to be faithful to their family obligations and to help other Christians to grow in faith. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).
According to one count, this fall’s TV lineup offers five shows that touch on the occult in some way.
Allowing the occult to have power over us is another way of rejecting the freedom in which we were created, the freedom of God’s sons and daughters.
Q: I am a Christian but not a Catholic. It seems to me that all the Christian Churches have at some time been cruel to non-Christians, to people whose lives looked very different to Christians.
Has the Catholic Church ever extended an apology to peoples who were abused in this way?
A: As part of the Jubilee Year celebration, on March 12, 2000, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John Paul II made a specific request to God for forgiveness for these seven categories of sins: those committed in the service of truth, those against fellow Christians, against Jewish people, against indigenous peoples, against women, against the unity of the human race (racism) and against fundamental human rights.
At www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/ jubilee_year/eventi_en.htm, if you click on “March,” you will get the live link for the prayers and the pope’s homily on this extraordinary occasion.
By searching for “Memory and Reconciliation” at the same Web site, you can find the official document giving background for the Jubilee Day of Forgiveness.
In 1997, Luigi Accattoli published When a Pope Asks Forgiveness (Alba House), a collection of 94 texts in which Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness for past sins of Catholics toward 21 groups of people.
In preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, all Christians should try to respect local customs, but that is not always possible. For example, Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose for the salvation of all peoples. That fact must challenge the caste system in India or any suggestion that God loves a particular social or racial group more than other groups.
The Good News of Jesus Christ leads people to accept the freedom in which they were created. Doing so will challenge some practices that a given culture considers normal.
Q: I see the term “vigil Mass” in liturgical texts. What does it mean? I am a Lutheran who is trying to understand more about Catholicism.
A: Although a Saturday afternoon or evening Mass may sometimes be called a “vigil Mass” for Sunday, the Sacramentary (the book from which the priest reads the Mass prayers) uses this term only for Masses before the Birth of John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul and the Assumption of Mary. It also has vigil Masses for Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
All these vigil Masses have distinct readings and prayers, as compared to those used on these feasts or solemnities.
Q: Where in the Bible does it say that the Mother of Jesus was assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life? If there is no biblical text to support this belief, why do Catholics have this feast in their liturgical calendar?
A: The Bible makes no explicit reference to Mary’s Assumption (celebrated on August 15), but neither does it contradict this belief. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate this as the feast of the Dormition [Falling Asleep] of Mary. According to Michael Walsh in his Dictionary of Catholic Devotions (HarperSanFrancisco), this feast was celebrated in the East in the fourth century and began in the West three centuries later.
The prayerful meditation of Jesus’ followers upon God’s words and actions eventually led Christians to conclude that the woman who was born free of Original Sin also did not experience the decay of death.
The Preface for the Assumption addresses God the Father and says, “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way. You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the incarnation.”
The Church’s prayerful reflection is not unanimous on whether Mary actually died before the Assumption. The Orthodox and Eastern Churches say that she did but that her tomb was soon discovered to be empty. Many Roman Catholics have presumed that she did not die, that she went from life on earth directly to life in heaven. Pope Pius XII carefully did not commit the Church on this issue when he solemnly defined in 1950 the dogma of Mary’s Assumption.
The Christian community’s prayerful reflection on Scripture is always needed. The Bible has no specific teaching about embryonic stem-cell research, but Christians who have read and prayed over the Bible have concluded that “raising” embryos for this purpose is immoral.
Although slavery was clearly practiced by some Christians in the years immediately after Jesus’ death (see 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22 and Titus 2:9), Christians later concluded that it could not be reconciled with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Scripture was given to a faith community and is always best interpreted within that faith community.
Q: I am a 16-year-old Christian who does not feel entirely protected from temptation. When I recite the Rosary at eight p.m. each day, I still feel that something is tempting me. I want to be a good Christian! What can I do to protect myself from any temptation that tries to lead me away from God?
A: You cannot protect yourself from all temptations, from all suggestions that God’s ways are too costly or too difficult. Every sin is a lie because it presents itself as some type of shortcut around God’s ways but, in fact, turns out to be a dead end. You can always pray that God will help you to resist temptations.
In fact, if you recognize every temptation to sin as some type of lie (“Do this and your life will be wonderful”), then your repeated decision to live in the whole truth about God, yourself and others should help you to do what you know is right.
Saints became saints not because they were never tempted but because they consistently tried to live in the whole truth about their lives. In time, that whole truth became their normal way of thinking and acting. The whole truth eventually makes far more sense than any of the lies leading someone toward sin.
Saints also confessed their sins after they yielded to temptation. Repentance may be difficult but is possible as long as we live. Praying the Rosary is good at any hour of the day.
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