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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Finding Help on a Faith Journey

Q U I C K S C A N

Is God Still Present?
Neumann or Newman?
Did Jews Write the Whole Bible?
Communion More Than Once a Day?
Is God Both Good and Evil?


Is God Still Present?

Q: I am 18 years old and a freshman in college. I was baptized Catholic but I have no faith. I would say I've lost it, but I'm not really sure that I ever had it.

I would like to reclaim and build on any faith I had, but I don't know where to start. I have many questions and I have a hard time believing many Bible stories. Why don't things like that happen today? Why doesn't God make his presence known now?

I realize that faith is a complex and difficult phenomenon and cannot be restored easily. I know that no one can give me faith, that it is something I must find myself. Can you recommend a starting point?

A: You have enough faith to ask some serious questions! Doesn't that suggest you are already on a faith journey? Your questions indicate that you may have more faith than you realize.

I am not sure that the God who worked wondrous things in biblical times has stopped working them today. For example, medical science can do many amazing things which people often regard as "science"—as though God deserves no share of that credit!

God's presence is revealed through the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments), through the sacraments and through the faith community, which nurtures that faith. One way the Church affirms God's presence is by recognizing saints as striking examples of people who cooperated with God's grace, expressing their faith in action.

As a Catholic, I believe that the Son of God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. I also believe that Jesus, who came to spread the Good News, entrusted that task to his followers because Jesus could not live forever as a human being.

I cannot grow in faith apart from that community of Jesus' disciples. That group, the Church, helps me understand the Bible. The faith community shows me how believers celebrate life's greatest joys and sorrows.

Faith grows as we grow, as we deal with our experiences of life's joys and sorrows. Chances are, you are now taking a second look at many things you once took for granted. Which things that you once accepted do you now question?

Is anything too fragile to bear up under your questions worth believing in? Our tough questions do not embarrass God!

Christians who are proud of being believers often draw a "line in the sand" in some strange places! For example, does the entire Bible stand or fall on whether God created the whole world in 144 hours (six 24-hour days) and then rested for 24 hours? If some biblical writer assumed that the sun went around the earth and we now know it's the other way around, does that completely discredit the Bible?

St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) defined theology as "faith seeking understanding." Faith needs to ask questions if it is to grow, if that person's faith journey is to continue.

You asked me to recommend a starting point. I'll offer two. First, draw close to a parish or Newman Center. Rub shoulders with other believers on a regular basis. Worship with them and try some of your questions on them.

Second, buy or borrow a good book on the saints, about holy women and men who worked through their challenges to faith. Although their faith won't make up a deficit in yours, it may help you recognize the faith you already have.

A five-year-old and a 90-year-old can believe in the same God, but in some very real way they cannot have the exact same faith because they have not faced identical challenges to faith.

You might profit from reading Your God Is Too Small (by J. B. Philipps) or Mere Christianity (by C. S. Lewis). Seek the food you need for your faith journey!

Neumann or Newman?

Q: Recently we had a discussion about Newman Clubs at universities. Are they named after St. John Neumann? Why the difference in spelling?

A: Newman Clubs are named after John Henry Newman (1801-1890). An Anglican priest, he became a Catholic in 1845 and was ordained a priest two years later. A famous preacher and tutor at Oxford, he later organized Ireland's Catholic university. The foremost Catholic writer in 19th-century England, he was named a cardinal in 1879. He was officially recognized as "Venerable" in 1991.

St. John Neumann (1811-1869)—German speakers pronounce this "Noy-mann"—was born in Bohemia, came to the United States at the age of 25, was ordained here and then joined the Redemptorists. Made bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he helped establish the parochial school system for U.S. Catholics. He was canonized in 1977.

Did Jews Write the Whole Bible?

Q: This morning I heard on a TV program that the entire Bible was written by Jews—except for Luke, who was a gentile and a physician. Is this true? My husband and I can't believe it.

A: It is probably true, but why should that be surprising? The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were written by Jewish people!

The New Testament is 27 books long—all but two of them written by people who were born Jewish but died as followers of Jesus.

We tend to think of Jews and Christians as very separate groups, but that was not so obvious shortly after Jesus died. Most of his followers then had been born Jewish.

St. Paul, who was Jewish by birth, either wrote or was the model for 13 of those 27 books. Three of the four Gospels were written by people who were Jewish by birth. Three letters were by the Apostle John or someone influenced by him—the same for the two Letters of Peter. The writer of the Letter of James is clearly Jewish by birth.

You can find more on this subject by reading "Recognizing Our Common Roots" at this Web site.

Despising Jewish people hinders Christians in following Jesus.

Communion More Than Once a Day?

Q: If I go to daily Mass and then to evening Benediction on Wednesdays, can I receive Holy Communion a second time that day?

A: Canon 917 of the Code of Canon Law says, "One who has received the blessed Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only within a eucharistic celebration in which that person participates, without prejudice to the provisions of Canon 921, #2 [a person in danger of death]."

If one is properly disposed, the person can receive Holy Communion during a second Mass in which he or she participates.

This presupposes a separate occasion—for example, a morning weekday Mass and an afternoon wedding Mass. Simply going to a second Sunday Mass in order to receive Communion a second time is not proper.

A liturgy expert whom I consulted stated that it is not proper to distribute Holy Communion as part of Benediction.

Is God Both Good and Evil?

Q: My friend says that God is both good and evil because God is all-encompassing. I say God is only good. How can I defend my position?

A: This question has been discussed by people over the centuries. If God is both good and evil, isn't God divided, with parts competing against one another? Is that the God of the Bible?

The second creation story in the Book of Genesis (2:4b-25) affirms that the entire world as created by God is good and that evil entered the world by the misuse of human freedom.

In the ancient world, dualism, the belief that the world is composed of two equally powerful and warring elements, was very common. It seemed the best way to explain the mixture of light and darkness we see in life.

The biblical writers see things quite differently. According to them, evil was not created directly by God; its possibility, however, flows from God's creation. If you take away that possibility, you take away the freedom necessary for love, service and forgiveness.

If God is both good and evil, doesn't that eventually blame God for the evil I do? Isn't that starting with Original Sin (our wounded human condition) and then projecting it back onto God, creating God in my image instead of the other way around?

Doesn't your friend's solution to the problem of evil's origin create an even bigger problem? Doesn't it raise a much more serious question: Why trust a God who is only part good?

I believe that Judaism and Christianity agree that your friend's solution does not work.


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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