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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?

Question:
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?

Answer:

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?

Question:

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?



Answer:

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?

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

Answer:

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?

Question:
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?

Answer:

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 www.companionsofstanthony.org/anointingoil.htm, 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?

Question:
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?

Answer:

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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Cyril of Alexandria: Saints are not born with halos around their heads. Cyril, recognized as a great teacher of the Church, began his career as archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, with impulsive, often violent, actions. He pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics (who required those who denied the faith to be rebaptized), participated in the deposing of St. John Chrysostom (September 13) and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians. 
<p>Cyril’s importance for theology and Church history lies in his championing the cause of orthodoxy against the heresy of Nestorius, who taught that in Christ there were two persons, one human and one divine.</p><p>The controversy centered around the two natures in Christ. Nestorius would not agree to the title “God-bearer” for Mary (January 1). He preferred “Christ-bearer,” saying there are two distinct persons in Christ (divine and human) joined only by a moral union. He said Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Christ, whose humanity was only a temple of God. Nestorianism implied that the humanity of Christ was a mere disguise. </p><p>Presiding as the pope’s representative at the Council of Ephesus (431), Cyril condemned Nestorianism and proclaimed Mary truly the “God-bearer” (the mother of the one Person who is truly God and truly human). In the confusion that followed, Cyril was deposed and imprisoned for three months, after which he was welcomed back to Alexandria as a second Athanasius (the champion against Arianism). </p><p>Besides needing to soften some of his opposition to those who had sided with Nestorius, Cyril had difficulties with some of his own allies, who thought he had gone too far, sacrificing not only language but orthodoxy. Until his death, his policy of moderation kept his extreme partisans under control. On his deathbed, despite pressure, he refused to condemn the teacher of Nestorius.</p> American Catholic Blog Father, I have come to the understanding that Jesus asks very little from us, only that we accept him as our friend and love him and care for one another. How simple! And yet how difficult! Please give me grace not to disappoint him, who has given his all for me. I ask this in Jesus's name, Amen.

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