Q: In Mark 12:29, one of the scribes
asks Jesus, Which is the first of all
the commandments? He responds: The
first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our
God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord
your God with all your heart, with all your
soul, with all your mind, and with all your
Can you help me understand this verse?
How can I live my life to fulfill this command?
At times, it seems impossible!
A: In the passage that you cited,
Jesus is quoting the shema, the
foundational prayer of Judaism
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The next verses
say: Take to heart these words which
I enjoin on you today. Drill them into
your children. Speak of them at home
and abroad, whether you are busy or at
rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign
and let them be as a pendant on your
forehead. Write them on the doorposts
of your houses and on your gates (6-9).
Jesus is saying that we cannot think
of God as someone who fills in peripheral
parts of our lives; God must be at
the center. God must be all or nothing,
according to St. John of the Cross,
a 16th-century Carmelite and Doctor of
We are tempted to compartmentalize
our lives into Gods part and our
part, some areas where we accept Gods
values and others where we live by different
The greatest danger in the Old Testament
was that the Chosen People
might eventually consider the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as simply
one god among many. After all, their
neighbors all believed in many gods.
Followers of Jesus can fall into a similar
danger by thinking that they can
give part of their lives to God (90 percent,
for example) and then act as
though God ought to be very satisfied
with that much.
Allow me to use an analogy: Gods
grace is like helium gas newly introduced
into a closed room. It disperses
itself through the total volume available.
In this context, sin resembles trying
to protect part of that room from
the gas. Sin always attempts to seal off
some portion of a persons life from
Gods grace, to build a defense but
argue, Its no big deal.
Whenever someone converts, he or
she is tearing down some defense and
allowing Gods grace to touch more of
his or her life. Whenever that happens,
that same grace helps this person
respond generously to it.
Although I cannot say which areas of
your life you may have sometimes declared off limits to Gods grace, prayer
and reflection on your part can probably
identify one or two examples. The
same is true for all of us.
Jesus saying quoted above does not
ask anyone to do the impossible or to
become paralyzed by the challenge of
allowing God to become ones all. That
saying, however, reminds us that God
can never be squeezed into peripheral
parts of our lives. God must be our centereverything in all of youas
one translation of 1 Corinthians 15:28 reads.
After the verse from Mark quoted
above, we read, The second [commandment]
is this: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. There is no other
commandment greater than these
The birth of Jesus and his later ministry
show that both commandments
can be lived out generously. May the
Child of Bethlehem always be your
strength as you deepen your conversion.
Was Mary a Virgin During Childbirth?
Q: From time to time, I have heard
the expression that Mary, the
mother of Jesus, was a virgin in partu.
What does this term mean?
A: The expression means in the
act of giving birth. Some Christians have thought that belief in the
perpetual virginity of Mary requires
saying that Jesus did not come through
Marys birth canal when he was born.
Thus, those same people speculated
that Jesus was born in some miraculous
They have also pointed out that the
pain of childbirth was connected to
Eves punishment for her part in the
first sin (see Genesis 3:16). If Mary did
not suffer from Original Sin, they reasoned,
she could not have suffered the
normal pains of childbirth for Jesus.
Thus, they could speak of Mary as being
a virgin before, during and after the
birth of Jesus.
Although respected theologians have
used the expression in partu, I very
much doubt that today the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith would
say that the Catholic Churchs belief in
Marys perpetual virginity requires
believing that Jesus was born miraculously
and not by passing through
Marys birth canal. Believing that Jesus
birth occurred normally would not
destroy belief in Marys virginity before
and after the birth of Jesus.
Q: I am a high school sophomore.
Today I asked my theology teacher
a question that has bothered me for quite
some time: If you watch Mass on TV, does
that count as going to Mass on Sunday? My
teacher suggested that I pose this question
A: The Church allows the Mass to
be televised primarily for the
benefit of those in hospitals or nursing
homes or people confined to their own
homes. Televised Masses also enable
people around the world to participate
in some way in papal Masses for Christmas,
Easter, World Youth Day, beatifications,
canonizations or other special
events (for example, the funeral of Pope
John Paul II, the Mass during which
Pope Benedict XVI was installed in his
ministry as pope, etc.).
Someone who is well enough to go
to Mass on Sunday, however, cannot
fulfill his or her obligation to participate
in Mass by choosing to stay home
and watch a televised Mass. Why not?
That would be privatizing what should
be a community celebration. Vatican IIs
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy calls for
full, conscious and active participation
in the Mass (#14). If you could go
but choose not to, you are not fully
By Baptism, we become members of
the Church. Through directly sharing
in the Eucharist, our baptismal identity
is reinforced and our conversion to
Gods ways is deepened.
We become Church by praying as
Q: Shortly after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans and wreaked
havoc nearby, some Christian preachers said that this was Gods
way of punishing New Orleans for being gay friendly.
Are hurricanes acts of God? Do they have free will? What do I
say to people who say that God caused all those deaths and
destruction of property?
A: Hurricanes have no free will because they arise from climatic
conditions and disperse when those conditions dissipate. God does not
send hurricanes or other natural disasters as punishments for anything.
Insurance companies usage of this term is poor theology.
Yes, Katrinaand later Ritadid immense damage. Most of the people
who suffered, as well as those who have donated time, money or goods
to help in the cleanup, believe in God and live good lives. They understand
God much better than the preachers you mentioned.
The support that people give to the Red Cross, Catholic Charities or
other relief efforts indicates their solidarity with those who have suffered
because of Hurricane Katrina and their belief that God encourages such
compassion. On this Web site, you can keep up with the
Catholic Churchs work for hurricane relief.
Gifts of the Magi: Used copies of St.
Anthony Messenger, other magazines
and books will be gratefully received by
Brother James Broderick, P.O. Box 179,
Aitape, Sandaum 553, Papua New
Guinea. He writes, Pre-loved books
and magazines can be loved again and
your concern and care will go on and
on and on.
The Assumption Sisters (Box 17,
6140 Grahamstown, Republic of South
Africa) will also be glad to accept the
materials listed above, as well as
rosaries, crucifixes and other sacramentals.
The same is true for Bebu
Ukatia Maria Apostolate, No. 11
Emejulu Street, OSE, P.O. Box 13784,
Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria.
Another Help for Scripture Study: A
reader notes that the September 2005 Ask column listed several Scripture
resources but failed to mention the
Little Rock Scripture Study Program,
a highly successful program developed
in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas,
30 years ago and now promoted in
partnership with Liturgical Press. Visit
www.littlerockscripture.org for more
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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