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A Question That Keeps Reccurring View Comments
by Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Can Babies Who Die Before Baptism Be Saved?

Although I have been a Catholic all my life, in my twilight years I am encountering several changes that I do not understand. For example, what happened to all those babies who died before being baptized, who died when the Church was teaching about limbo? I had a family member who had a nervous breakdown because a child died before being baptized. Was her worrying all for naught?


I’m sorry for the nervous breakdown that your family member experienced. I have addressed this question several times over the years, but it remains an unresolved issue for many Catholics. How else can we explain why the same question is asked so frequently?

People are saved by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—even if they did not have an explicit faith in him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all [people] should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism” (#1261).

The Church’s teaching about limbo (a place of natural happiness) was never a defined article of faith, such as the full divinity and humanity of Jesus or his presence in the Eucharist. Limbo was a common theological opinion that tried to reaffirm Jesus’ role in the salvation of people while stressing the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism. Both of those elements are still true even if the Church does not ask people to believe in limbo.

For whatever reason, some people rather easily came to the conclusion that a just and loving God would not rule out eternal happiness for a child who died before being baptized. Informally, they long ago came to the same conclusion that the Church officially teaches today.

Was your family member’s worrying all for naught? That family member and the child whose death prompted the worrying were always in God’s loving care. Only God knows a person’s heart completely and thus only God can pass judgment on each of us.

Could Easter Have a Permanent Date?


If the date when we celebrate the birth of Jesus was selected rather arbitrarily, why couldn’t we select a permanent date for Easter? It would simplify things for many people!

The current “first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox” system causes Easter to bounce around like a yo-yo. Who wrote this date in stone? Can it be changed?


Yes, Easter could have a permanent date. The Roman Catholic Church has indicated its openness to this if a common agreement can be reached among all Christians. Because such an agreement already exists among Catholics and Protestant denominations, any change will involve discussions with the Orthodox Churches.

A bit of background may help here. In the earliest years of Christianity, Easter was celebrated on Passover (14th day of the month of Nisan, based on a lunar calendar). Eventually, most Christians came from a gentile background and began to look for a date based on the solar calendar. The dating system that Western Christians now use was confirmed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.

In the appendix to Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, we read: “The Sacred Council is not opposed to assigning the feast of Easter to a fixed Sunday in the Gregorian Calendar, provided those whom it may concern give their assent, especially the brethren who are not in communion with the Apostolic See.”

Ecumenical dialogues have not yet led to any official decision to change the present system.

The council went on to say in that same appendix that the Catholic Church does not oppose a permanent calendar in civil society, as long as it uses a seven-day week and does not introduce any days outside the week.

Why Were They Born?

If God made us to know, love and serve him, what about children born without all their faculties? Can they love God?


All life is from God and must be respected. Each person’s existence serves God, no matter what their faculties. They do indeed love God.

Caring for children with special needs can lead to bitterness or to compassion. No single outcome is inevitable; people always choose to follow one path or the other.

What Is St. Anthony's Oil?

Someone gave me a bottle of St. Anthony’s oil. What is it for? How does a person use it? What is the story behind its origin?


First of all, let’s talk about oil. It is used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick. It is also used as a sacramental—in the blessing of chalices, altars and people.
In this, it resembles holy water as a sacramental.

At, the Conventual Franciscans of St. Anthony Province (Ellicott City, Maryland) explain: “The custom of anointing with oil is part of the devotional tradition of St. Anthony of Padua. Special Anthonian oil incorporates blessed lilies into olive oil. It is believed that St. Anthony’s oil wards off the attacks of evil spirits, gives strength to withstand temptations against purity, heals the body, and brings the peace and grace of the Spirit of God.”

The friars go on to recall the ministry of anointing practiced by Father Matthew Swizdor, their deceased confrere.

Similarly, St. André Bessette, C.S.C., often used oil to bless people who visited the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Quebec.

Holy people make no sense apart from God. Similarly, their devotional practices are best understood as pointing us to God.

Must You Die Penniless in Order to Be Saved?

I’ve heard it said that someone who dies with riches cannot enter heaven. Does that mean that, if you die with money that you saved during your lifetime, you won’t get into heaven? How can that be?


You are right to be skeptical. Although money can encourage a false sense of security, possessing it is hardly a sin if the wealth was obtained legally.

Women from Galilee who followed Jesus and ministered to him (Matthew 27:55) obviously had some wealth. Jesus was buried in a tomb provided by the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57). Ananias and Sapphira had a right to keep the money from the sale of their property (Acts 5:1-4). From the Christians in Galatia and in Corinth, St. Paul collected money to help the Church in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

True, money can be idolized. 1 Timothy 6:10a warns, “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” The New Testament’s Letter of James was apparently written to a Christian community that had a number of affluent members. This is reflected in 1:9-11, 2:1-9 and 5:1-6. St. Paul chastised the Christians in Corinth for allowing their economic divisions to dictate how they celebrated the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Money need not, however, become an idol. Leaving money to friends, family members or groups whose mission you support is perfectly legitimate.

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.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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