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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Face Religious Differences Now

How Do Different Religious Backgrounds Affect a Marriage?

Q: My girlfriend is a Methodist and I am a cradle Catholic. I think that I would like to marry her.

Up to now, whenever the question of our different religions arose, we have said, “That’s a fight for another time.” Well, the time is here.

What is the Church’s view on mixed marriages? How can I discuss my religion and explain this part of my life? It’s part of who I am and it’s very important to me to be married in a Catholic Mass and everything!

A: Thanks for asking. Perhaps the most important question you can ask now is, “How important is religion to me and to my girlfriend?”

If a fervent Catholic marries a fervent Methodist, there may be fewer problems than if a so-so believer marries someone very serious about religion.

If two religiously lukewarm people marry, formal religion will probably not influence that marriage significantly.

Are you ready for years of going to Sunday Mass by yourself? Are you willing to assume responsibility for educating your children as Catholics? What does your girlfriend think about this?

The Catholic Church encourages its members to marry other Catholics. Why? Because of the spouse’s anticipated religious example and assistance within the marriage and with the religious education of children.

Some mixed marriages work out much better than the marriage of lukewarm Catholics. Why? Both partners in the mixed marriage may take their religion seriously enough to face their differences and how those will influence this marriage.

Marriage is the most beautiful, fundamental and complex human relationship. Facing religious differences now may strengthen your relationship tremendously—or reveal a problem bound to arise later. Now is the best time to address this issue.

Reminders of Jesus' Last Hours

Q: Who set up the 14 Stations of the Cross and why? When did this devotion begin?

A: Since the first century, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the land where Jesus lived. St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, made a famous pilgrimage in the fourth century, trying to identify where Jesus was born, died and was buried.

For a short time after 1099 when the crusaders captured Jerusalem and nearby territory, visiting these sites was easier. After the crusaders lost this territory in 1291, pilgrimages became much more dangerous and expensive.

The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, bring the Holy Land both to people unable to travel there and to those who have made that pilgrimage.

Francis of Assisi had two great devotions: Jesus’ Incarnation and his passion, symbolized in the crib and the cross.

The Franciscan friars popularized the Way of the Cross devotion, starting in the 14th century. People erected small stations inside churches and sometimes life-size ones outdoors. Soon, almost all churches had a Way of the Cross. A Franciscan wrote the Stabat Mater lyrics, often used during the Stations in the original Latin or in translation.

The number of stations and the events commemorated have varied over the centuries. Pope Clement XII (1730-40) fixed the present number and list.

Whether you pray the Stations alone or with a group of people in a parish church or outdoors, this devotion makes Jesus’ passion and death very real.

Is Confession Based on the Bible?

Q: I cannot find anything in the Bible about Christians confessing to another human being, like a priest.

My understanding is that we are to confess our sins to Jesus and ask for his forgiveness, which he gives to those who are truly sorry.

Even though I was brought up Catholic, I haven’t gone to Confession in years because I do not believe in telling my sins to anyone, including a priest.

Why doesn’t the Catholic Church have open confession during weekly Masses?

A: The Sacrament of Penance has evolved over the years, always in harmony with its biblical roots.

After his Resurrection, Jesus told the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23).

The Letter of James says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (5:16).

Confessing one’s sins to someone designated by the Church reaffirms our belief that God can act through created things and through people. That belief helps us understand Jesus’ Incarnation and the sacraments.

During his earthly life, Jesus was a visible sign, a sacrament, of God’s love. After Jesus’ Ascension, the Church continues that sign, although imperfectly this side of heaven. The Sacrament of Penance flows from Jesus’ Incarnation and his followers’ sense of communion with God and each other.

“Open confession” may sound good, but would it be the personal encounter which the present practice offers?

At a time when we see a tremendous flight from personal responsibility, do we want personal repentance to become “...and for whatever I may have done wrong”?

You may not intend that, but I suspect that’s where the open confession you describe would probably lead.

Last August, approximately two million young people attended World Youth Day in Rome. Many of them went to individual confession in the Circus Maximus. Would they have had a stronger sense of God’s love for them as individuals if a priest or bishop had given general absolution instead? Probably not.

Confession has been the occasion for many people to appreciate how much God loves them and how much they have resisted that love.

Most parishes schedule a Penance service during Lent, with opportunity for individual confession. Why not participate in one of them?

Why Meatless Fridays?

Q: Where did the law about not eating meat on Fridays originate? When was this changed to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?

A: Already in the fourth century, there was a Church law about abstinence (not eating meat on certain days). Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were once days of abstinence in the Western Church. By the 12th century, this was required only on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays—to remind Christians that Jesus died on this day. (Later, abstinence was added in connection with a few feasts.)

The U.S. bishops decided in 1966 to require fasting and abstinence only on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent and on Good Friday. Earlier that year, Pope Paul VI allowed conferences of bishops to select days of fast and abstinence.

Why abstain from meat? People like it and notice its absence. Christian fasting regulations once included milk and eggs. Fasting and abstaining show respect for God’s creation by using it more sparingly at times.

Why Didn't Jesus Keep a Journal?

Q: Someone in our Bible study group recently asked: “Why didn’t Jesus keep a journal during his ministry, writing to us in his own words, as St. Paul did?”

Our group found this question very puzzling and would like your answer. Please explain it theologically.

A: This is a very intriguing question! Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus had kept a journal.

If it reflected the culture in which he grew up, would some of that culture’s assumptions (for example, the sun goes around the earth) tempt later readers to discredit Jesus’ entire message? Would such a journal render the faith community unnecessary?

Could this journal have references to nuclear weapons or cloning? Would Christians think that Jesus had nothing to say about things not addressed in that journal?

What is to stop people from claiming at any time that they have found the type of journal you describe? How could we prove or disprove their claim?

Perhaps Jesus did not keep a journal so that his disciples (then and now) could more wholeheartedly, day by day, accept the Good News on faith. Keeping a journal might have hindered that goal because people would be tempted to ignore living witnesses to the Good News in favor of Jesus’ written words. To have their full effect, those words need to be incarnated in the lives of people today.

Let’s assume that God considered all the options and then picked the best one.

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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