Recent Questions
updated 1 October, 2013

(The questions and answers on this page are also posted in their respective categories below. As they are replaced here with new q & a, they will remain in their permanent categories for future reference. This process will be repeated in future postings)

Q 1: I have a quick question as it relates to universal salvation. As you know I have come to believe in this through you--though readings like today cause me to question and wonder if I've totally bought in on Universal Salvation. The gospel today according to Luke talks about the rich man who ignored Lazarus outside his gates. Time comes they both die and Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man ostensibly to hell (Jesus calls it "the netherworld.") Do you think this story was merely apocryphal or is it possible the place of torment the rich man was in was purgatory? You have never denied the possibility of purgatory.

A 1: The first thing is to identify that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. And the most important thing about a parable is that is not an allegory. Parables have one point only to make. The story is simply the milieu it is set in. In this particular case, it is about the right use of money. In this case, it was not the rich man's wealth that was his downfall, but his poor stewardship, i.e. not seeing the suffering of Lazarus and not responding to his distress.

It is also important to see this parable in context. Jesus addresses the use of wealth back in Chapter 12 and returns to it here with this story and the preceding one about the dishonest steward. It is also consistent with Jesus' challenge to the Pharisees that giving lip service to the law or merely obeying the letter of the law is not the same as actually hearing and responding to the word of God.

Throughout Luke's Gospel Jesus demonstrates a special concern for the poor. In the first chapter we have a prayer, "Magnificat", that is part of the infancy narrative and only occurs in Luke. His concern for the poor is why the given this third Gospel is often called: "The Gospel of poor."

Finally, not only is this not an allegory, but it has nothing to do with a mythical hell. The Greek word used in Greek is Hades, or Sheol in Hebrew. It is not synonymous with our current use of hell. Purgatory is a completely different concept. In its most basic iteration, it is a temporary condition during which any remnants of sin are purged, thus rendering the individual ready for entrance into the fullness of perfection with God.

Q 2: Today was the worst homily I've ever heard. I almost got up and walked out but decided to stick around and see how much worse it could get. We had a guest speaker, Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB, PhD, from St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas. He discussed the importance of marriage, sticking with your marriage and of course the ever popular contraception. After he got through the part of "sticking by your man" he talked about the true meaning of love and how that love would never include contraception. Contraception is never accepted and is a SIN. He then explained that anyone using contraception is in sin, should go to confession and not partake in communion. I swear to God, I was shaking my head and wanted to stand up and scream. Of course anyone can use NFP (natural family planning) which is accepted. We are never, ever to tell God what his plan is and using contraception is doing just that. We are then messing with God's plan for life. Of course the word chastity was tossed around a few times also. According to him, all that is needed to strengthen your marriage and sex life is NFP.

At the end of mass another guest addressed the crowd to say he had been married for 40yrs, has kids and grandkids. Then he said that abortion and contraception are the same and should be considered the same sin. Any couple that chooses to use contraception would not hesitate to end a life with abortion. It's the same thought process.

A 2: I hardly know where to begin. It seems condescending for me to suggest that you should be patient. Certainly that is true. But it is equally true that you have a right to be concerned and upset. One problem with a church service is that the preacher has a captive audience--at least if people want to avoid the obvious rudeness of walking out. Then again, it seems that the preacher is demonstrating a certain rudeness of his own by haranguing on the issues of marriage, abortion and contraception, as this priest apparently did.

Please note my use of the plural “issues”. Abortion and contraception are synonymous. And neither has anything to do with whether or not a woman “stands by her man”. There are many reasons why marriages come to an end. Clearly, no woman should remain in an abusive relationship just because she is married. Further, To suggest that abortion and contraception are the same is simplistic at best and ignorant at worst. The Catholic Church has a clear teaching against abortion. Actually, there are exceptions, but that is for another day. Suffice it to say that the church is opposed to abortion, a teaching that is rooted in a deep respect for life--the same respect that causes the church to teach against capital punishment, even though that topic does not get the same attention from the pulpit.

Contraception, on the other hand, does not have the same weight of importance. Not only is there disagreement among theologians about the validity of the teaching, but a number of bishops from various countries have even suggested that we need to revisit that teaching. Your speaker was wrong to suggest that using artificial means of contraception is somehow “telling God what his plan is”. That is a laughingly elementary statement. From that perspective, even the use of NFP would be telling God what his plan should be in our lives.

I do not know why the visiting priest spoke on those topics. Perhaps it was part of a program in your parish. The simpler truth may be that he had nothing else to say. Aside from the fact that he was wrong on several points, he might want to take his lead from Pope Francis, who suggested that we talk too much about these topics.

Q 3: I have a girlfriend whom I love beyond my ability to describe, but I told her that if ever she cheated on me, I would leave her without question. Well, two nights ago she told me she cheated on me twice in a week. She begged forgiveness for her actions and told me that she's been trying to push me away emotionally ever since we started going out, because from the time she was a child, her mother told her that all men were evil, and interested only in using her. She also said that she pushed me away because someone sexually assaulted her a long time ago. These experiences influenced her, and she thought that I was the same as all men. She was afraid that if she let me get emotionally close, I would use her, then leave her (despite all my reassurances that I love her and would not leave her unless she cheated).

She says that she loves me, but she cheated on me because she wanted to make me leave her on her terms, before I left on my own (which would hurt her). It was a preemptive action on her part. Now she says that she didn’t know what she had before she lost me, and she asked for forgiveness and a second chance. Her uncle is a priest, and she quoted a homily of his in which he said, "The point of getting into heaven is not to save yourself, but to also bring someone in with you, through love and forgiveness."

Father Bill, I want to forgive her, but Im afraid that she will continue to cheat on me. When she told me she cheated on me, it felt as if a spear pierced my heart and knives sliced throughout my body. The pain was so horrific I almost buckled over. I don’t think I can stand that pain again. Our relationship is a long distance one, which worsens the situation. I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused and in so much pain. I want to forgive her, but fear and of being hurt by infidelity for a second time is keeping me from taking her back. Do you have any insight as to what I should do?

A 3: I don’t think anyone can tell you what to do. Forgiveness is never easy, specially when the hurt is so deep and personal. At the same time, I believe forgiveness is always possible. It may even be more profound in your situation.

I suppose the first place to begin is with love. Your words convey a deep care and concern for your girlfriend. It is what makes her betrayal so painful. If you did not love her, it would not much matter if she cheated on you. However, it is also the depth of that love that makes forgiveness so difficult. You may recall the famous line in the movie Love Story--“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That’s really rather silly. It is exactly the opposite. When we truly love others, we need to express sorrow and contrition for offending them. It is a part of our personal growth. And it is necessary for the relationship. I think the same holds true for forgiveness. We need to forgive, both for ourselves and for the relationship.

The more deeply we love someone, the more painful their betrayal. But forgiveness will never be possible if all of our attention is focused on our own hurt. As real as it is, we can only move to forgiveness when we focus on the other person. Of course, even forgiveness will not save every relationship. Some individuals are incapable of making the kind of commitment required for a successful relationship, and some people are just not right for each other. Still, that cannot be determined because of a mistake. The very fact that she told you what happened in spite of knowing your thoughts on forgiveness, may suggest that she is truly sorry and wants to heal the relationship.

The Bible is filled with examples of God forgiving his people, of Jesus calling us to forgive one another. But it only becomes personal and real when we have to put it into practice. I cannot tell you what to do, but if you love her as deeply as you say, then the relationship is working on, and forgiveness may be your most powerful tool.