Q: If we are good enough when we
die, do we join our relatives and
friends in heaven? Are husbands, wives
and children reunited? Are we simply spirits
floating around? The way some people
talk, heaven sometimes sounds boring.
Can that be true?
A: Catholics believe that heaven
involves sharing God’s life fully,
sharing completely the divine life we
were always meant to enjoy. Unfortunately,
we may think of heaven simply
as the extension of earthly life rather
than as a completely new existence.
An incident in the Gospel of Matthew
is very helpful here. Several Sadducees
posed to Jesus the extreme case of a
woman who followed the Law of Moses
and married seven brothers in succession
because she was widowed with
no children by any of them. The Sadducees,
who did not believe in the resurrection
of the dead, wanted to know
whose wife she would be in heaven!
Jesus responded: “You are misled
because you do not know the Scriptures
or the power of God. At the resurrection
they neither marry nor are
given in marriage but are like the angels
in heaven. And concerning the resurrection
of the dead, have you not read
what was said to you by God, ‘I am
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob’? He is not the
God of the dead but of the living”
In heaven, God’s ways will be completely
normal. No one will be tempted
to question whether the Beatitudes
(Matthew 5:3-10) truly describe a
blessed state. Most Christians have presumed
that they will recognize family
members and friends there. The
Catholic Church teaches that Jesus and
Mary are already in heaven in their
glorified bodies, but everyone else will
be reunited to their glorified bodies
only when the world ends.
Satan fosters the idea that heaven is
boring. In The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Mark Twain has Huck observe
that, given the way many Christians
speak of heaven and the stingy, joyless
lives they lead, hell did not sound
so bad. Maybe going there would be
better. Twain here is satirizing some of
his Christian contemporaries.
C.S. Lewis, an Anglican professor of
literature and a writer, presented The
Screwtape Letters as the advice of an
experienced devil to his nephew, a
much younger devil learning how to
tempt people. This fictional work is
extremely truthful on many levels as
Uncle Screwtape explains sin’s attraction.
Lewis’s book The Great Divorce describes the inhabitants of hell on a
day trip to heaven. They find fault with
everything! What is boring is not
heaven, but rather their selfishness.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lived in
Galilee, died and rose in Jerusalem and
sent his apostles to spread the Good
News so that all people would come to
know how much God loves them. That
love is hardly boring here on earth and
certainly cannot be in heaven.
Q: Reading the Bible raises many questions
for me. For example, now I
need information about Melchizedek,
because I learned nothing about him in my
Catholic classes. Was he a pagan? A Catholic?
A: The story of Melchizedek, the
pagan king of Salem, is told in
Genesis 14:1-20. Abram (called Abraham
after Genesis 17:5) joined five
kings in battle against four other kings
in order to rescue Lot, Abram’s nephew.
After their victory, we read: “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread
and wine, and being a priest of God
Most High, he blessed Abram with
these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God
Most High, the creator of heaven and
earth; And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your
hand’” (Genesis 14:18-20). Abram gave
Melchizedek a tenth of the battle spoils.
In Psalm 110:4, we read, “Like
Melchizedek you are a priest forever.”
In Chapters Five through Seven, the
author of the Letter to the Hebrews
makes seven references to Melchizedek,
presenting him as prefiguring Christ.
Melchizedek’s parents are never mentioned;
he apparently did not inherit
from anyone his role as priest.
Many editions of the Bible have
excellent notes to explain how a person
or event may be cited in other parts of
the Bible. John L. McKenzie’s Dictionary
of the Bible is very useful. There are
also concordances that list all uses of a
word in the Bible. Each concordance is
based on a particular translation of the
Q: For many years the Our Father’s
petition “lead us not into temptation”
has baffled me. I’m sure there must
be an excellent interpretation of this phrase.
Certainly, Our Lord would not lead us into
temptation! Can you shed any light on
A: Both versions of the Our Father
(Matthew 6:9b-13 and Luke
11:2b-4) end with a similar petition.
Because we use Matthew’s text at Mass
and on most other occasions, I will
refer to it. The meaning of the corresponding
phrase in Luke’s text is virtually
In sections 2759 through 2865, the
Catechism of the Catholic Church offers
a phrase-by-phrase explanation of the
Our Father. The authors write: “It is
difficult to translate the Greek verb
used by a single English word: the
Greek means both ‘do not allow us to
enter into temptation’ and ‘do not let
us yield to temptation.’ ‘God cannot be
tempted by evil and he himself tempts
no one’ [James 1:13]; on the contrary,
he wants to set us free from evil. We ask
him not to allow us to take the way
that leads to sin. We are engaged in
the battle ‘between flesh and spirit’
[#2516]; this petition implores the
Spirit of discernment and strength”
The authors further explain that the
Holy Spirit helps us discern between
trials that are necessary for the growth
of the inner person and temptation,
“which leads to sin and death.” The
object of temptation “appears to be
good, a ‘delight to the eyes’ and desirable
[see Genesis 3:6], when in reality
its fruit is death” (#2847).
When Jesus was tempted in the
desert, he prayed and responded with
Scripture passages that challenged the
ones that the tempter had twisted out
In the Our Father, we pray for individual
and communal perseverance in
God’s ways. “The devil (dia-bolos) is the
one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s
plan and his work of salvation accomplished
in Christ” (#2851).
In the Collegeville Bible Commentary,
Daniel Harrington, S.J., writes: “The
three ‘we-petitions’ (vv. 11-13) ask for
physical and spiritual well-being in the
difficult period before the fullness of
God’s kingdom. They ask that God provide
the bread we need today, that the
forgiveness we receive from God may
lead us to forgive those who have
wronged us (‘debts’ is a metaphor for
sins), and that in the time of testing
accompanying the coming of God’s
kingdom we may not fall prey to the
You are absolutely correct that God
does not tempt us. Rather, God’s help
enables us to recognize temptations for
the lies and dead ends they are.
Q: During a recent family discussion, one person asked how long we
have had permanent deacons. I said that they were present in the
early Church. Someone else said that there were only deacons who
would soon be ordained priests. What’s the story here?
A: The roots for establishing the diaconate are described in Acts
6:1-7, which uses the verb diakonein (“to serve”). In Philippians
1:1, St. Paul greets that Church’s overseers (episcopoi) and
ministers (diakonoi). The office of diakonos is further described
in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Phoebe is called a diakonos (Romans 16:1).
Only over time did the Church speak of bishop, priest and deacon as
levels within the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
St. Stephen, one of the seven men chosen in Acts 6:5, was martyred
about 36 A.D. He is considered the patron of deacons. St. Lawrence, a deacon,
was martyred around 258.
In Western Christianity by the year 1000, the office of deacon had
pretty much become simply a step toward priestly ordination. There is,
however, a contemporary reference to St. Francis of Assisi, who died in
1226, as a deacon, though he is never described as a priest. Vatican II’s
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church envisioned the permanent diaconate
(#29), which Pope Paul VI officially restored in the Latin Church in
1967. The Orthodox Churches had deacons continuously.
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