General Questions

1. What is the Church's response to drug abuse? Does the Church have any services and/or programs to address this issue?

2. Is there room for those who hold pre-Millennialist and post-Millennialist views in the Catholic Church?

3. Why do some people reject others in the name of God? Doesn't God teach us to accept everyone?

4. Why don't Christians call Jesus "Emmanuel", since that was the name Isaiah predicted would be used?

5. What makes you think there is a God?

6. I have been reading the articles, questions and answers, and other material on your website. Are these "liberal" thoughts accepted by the church? Also, is it OKAY to be this open minded? Where do we draw the line as to whether something is right or wrong? Or is everything left to subjective decisions? The problem I face is that it seems to me that the bible all of a sudden becomes very flexible. It seems you can use the bible to defend almost any concept, good or bad.

7. Why do Roman Catholic Missionaries focus on providing physical comforts to people instead of conversion and the teaching of God's word to those who have not had the chance to hear it?

8. I believe that God loves all people, and does not care what religion they belong to, and I do not believe that he would condemn someone to hell just because they aren’t Christian. I also don’t think people should believe things just because they have been told or read it in the Bible. Am I wrong? Is it wrong to question my religion? Sometimes I wonder if questioning my faith makes me bad in God’s eyes.

9. What is the Church's position on the way the United States government offers food aid to select countries? Do you think our prejudices play a role?

10. Did the concepts of good and evil, light and dark, angels and devils arise from outside the Jewish tradition, specifically, the Persians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans?

11. How can what the Catechism says - or more precisely, what it does not say - be reconciled with what you have written on your website?

12. My question is about healing with crystals or quartz. What is the Catholic's church stand on this issue?

13. Why have you included that libelous website "ODAN" on your links page?  It smears a Saint and his holy work. Has no one had bad experiences with Jesuits lately?

14. What are the Church's teachings regarding drug/substance abuse?

15. It seems as though you side more with philosophy than the Bible. Is that correct?

16. In the years following the death of Jesus, how did his life and message spread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia? And how did it come to be headquartered in Rome?

17. A couple of months ago I discovered that a friend of mine had a stroke. Now she has breast cancer again. She also had a kidney removed due to cancer. She is losing her faith in God because she doesn't believe she's getting a break with all these things that keep happening to her. I don't know what to say except that I'll keep praying for her.

Many years ago a therapist told me that things happen because of sin in the world. Illnesses, famines, floods, disasters, etc. all happen because of sin. Well, to me that is something I cannot quite wrap my mind around. Nor do I find it comforting. I don't want to tell my friend she has cancer because of sin. What do you tell people who start to lose their faith?

18. I am interested in your take on charitable giving. I met with the accountant today to prepare taxes. My wife and I give to charity--nothing crazy, a few bucks. Do you believe it is right to claim charitable contributions on taxes in order to get a break, or should one claim just $0? As I understand it, the whole point of charity is that it is supposed to hurt a bit. If you get your reward down here, then you don't get it up there. If you're getting the deduction on your taxes, is really charity?

Q 1: What is the Church's response to drug abuse? Does the Church have any services and/or programs to address this issue?

A 1: As with all substances, the Church opposes abuse. Although there is a legal component, for the Church, legal issues are not the primary concern. Drug abuse is harmful not only to the individual but also to society. This does not make it a moral issue, either. It is most often a case of psychological or physical dependency. Some sort of intervention or 12-step program is often needed to help people overcome addiction. In some dioceses or parishes, there may be Church-sponsored programs that deal with abuse. More often than not, the Church supports and encourages those programs already in existence, such as narcotics anonymous.

Q 2: Is there room for those who hold pre-Millennialist and post-Millennialist views in the Catholic Church?

A 2: As I have noted in other responses, there is room for many viewpoints within the Catholic Church--depending on the issue. One must be aware that independent of the Catholic Church, the idea of "millennialism" stems from a misinterpretation of the Book of Revelation. There is probably no book of the Bible more misunderstood, more misinterpreted and more prone to abuse than this last book in the Christian Scriptures. In short, the Book of Revelation does not predict the future. A unique kind of writing, known as apocalyptic, the Book of Revelation is intended to be a book of hope and thereby offer encouragement to people who are suffering because of their faith in Jesus. It was intended to support people during their own tribulations. But in no way does it predict some dire future battle that will destroy the earth, or lead to a thousand year period preceding the end of the world. It helps to understand how numbers and other symbols are used and what they mean in the Book of Revelation. A proper understanding of the book would seem to preclude a millennialist view of the world and its future.

Q 3: Why do some people reject others in the name of God? Doesn't God teach us to accept everyone?

A 3: The question appears simple on the surface, but is actually rather complex. I would begin by granting the benefit of the doubt to those people of faith who believe they have the truth and are therefore dedicated believers. However, giving the benefit of the doubt regarding their motives does not alter the fact that their actions and conclusions can be very wrong. At least according the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A more humble starting point might be to acknowledge that no one person or group of people can possess all truth. The best we can do is to have some insight into truth.

It is clear from the Scriptures that God turns his back on no one. If Jesus makes anything clear about God, it is that God is merciful. There is no question that God expects our encounter with his love to have some impact on our lives and initiate change. At the same time it is clear that God loves and accepts the sinner. If God were only interested in those who were already good, Jesus would never have come into the world. As we read in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do...I have come to call not the self-righteous, but sinners"(Mt 9:12-13). This is what St. Paul had in mind when, in his Letter to the Romans, he wrote: "It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"(Romans 5:8).

At the very least, I would think that anyone who has been touched by God's love and mercy would be less inclined to reject another human being, especially in the name of God. But then, the human side of religion always has a tendency to breed fanatics.

Q 4: Why don't Christians call Jesus "Emmanuel", since that was the name Isaiah predicted would be used?

A 4: First of all, most scholars would acknowledge that the passage in Isaiah about the young maiden being with child and giving him the name "Emmanuel", does not directly predict the birth of Jesus. Christians interpret Isaiah as referring to Jesus because we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the hopes and expectations of the Jewish people--the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

Secondly, in the Gospel according to Matthew, when the angel appears to Joseph in a dream, the angel says, "...you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins." "Jesus" is a Greek formula for the Hebrew and Aramaic "yesu'a", a name that means "Yaweh is salvation." "Jesus", then, is his given name. Matthew goes on to quote Isaiah by saying, "they shall call him Emmanuel." Since "Emmanuel" means 'God is with us', we can refer to Jesus as "Emmanuel" while still using his given name.

Q 5: What makes you think there is a God?

A 5: The existence of God is not something one can know through empirical evidence. That is to say that no one can prove the existence of God. Even the traditional philosophical "proofs" for God’s existence do not actually prove that there is a God. What the traditional proofs do is make it reasonable to believe that there is a God. And "belief" is the key.

There are many reasons to believe in God. For me, the first and foremost reason is that I was raised to believe in God. However, it does not end there. Through my own study I have also come to believe that it makes sense to believe in God. Still more importantly, I have experienced what I believe to be God's presence in my life. There have been numerous events and encounters with other people that have left me with the sense that I actually had encountered God. Sometimes they are very simple things. Sometimes, they are only the sense I have that I am not alone. These events and encounters are different for different people. For me, they have been powerful and convincing.

Q 6: I have been reading the articles, questions and answers, and other material on your website. Are these "liberal" thoughts accepted by the church? Also, is it OKAY to be this open minded? Where do we draw the line as to whether something is right or wrong? Or is everything left to subjective decisions? The problem I face is that it seems to me that the bible all of a sudden becomes very flexible. It seems you can use the bible to defend almost any concept, good or bad.

A 6: You ask a number of good questions. First of all, let me say that I'm glad you are reading the material on my website and that it appears to be informative and helpful. I'm not sure that using the term "liberal" is useful, though. It may be accurate in describing some of the ideas expressed the writings. However, as a flag word, it may prevent some people from engaging the discussion. That being said, let's take a look at the questions you raise.

Concerning the church, there is another issue. When you ask if these ideas are accepted by the church, what do you mean? The church is more than just the magisterium, or the hierarchy. We (all the people) are the church. At its most fundamental level, the faith of the church is possessed by the whole people of God, not just the bishops or even the pope. Ultimately, the church as a whole is guaranteed to be free from error on matters of faith. The difficulty is that segments of the Church may interpret or express that faith in different language from each other. On the core issues, there is no disagreement, though even here, the understanding of the core faith may find different expression. Under the above understanding of the church, yes, these ideas are accepted by the Church. At the same time no, there are elements within the church that would not agree with some of these ideas. Sometimes different persons or even groups of people have difficulty understanding other expressions, and rather than seeking to understand, they choose instead to write the ideas off as heresy. In truth, the Catholic Church is large enough to embrace a variety of ideas, so long as they do not contradict the essentials of the faith.

As for open mindedness, is there really a choice for the intelligent mind? Close mindedness prevents understanding and growth. We have been gifted with the ability to think and process. We are not parrots. Open mindedness is as much a process as it is a state of mind. I am not suggesting that every thought or idea is correct, and that leads to your next question as to whether everything is left to subjective opinion. Above, I stated that the church as a whole is free from error. This does not mean that every individual or even a specific group is free from error. All expressions of the faith must be subject to the faith of the whole people. There is an objective standard. For Catholics it is to be found in the Scriptures and Tradition, which together form the deposit of our faith. Here again, however, we cannot exclude or write off a particular thought or expression simply because it is new. Our faith is always a living faith.

Finally, as to the Bible being flexible? That is a good way to express it. The Bible is the Word of God for all time. But that Word must be understood and re-interpreted in every generation. It is not flexibility that enables the Bible to be misused to defend any concept. It is Biblical literalism. The problem is that the fundamentalists' interpretation narrows one's ability to know what God intends to say through the Scriptures. Modern biblical scholarship enables us to know more about the Bible today than perhaps any generation before us. That scholarship makes it possible to find newer and sometimes better expressions of our faith. It also serves as a safeguard from misusing biblical material. It is one measure that prevents people from quoting the Bible out of context simply to suit their own needs.

Q 7: Why do Roman Catholic Missionaries focus on providing physical comforts to people instead of conversion and the teaching of God's word to those who have not had the chance to hear it?

A 7: This question betrays an underlying assumption about the church that may not be shared by all Christians. In the preaching of Jesus, we hear continually about the Kingdom of God. What Jesus reaffirms over and over is the present reality of that kingdom, "The kingdom is near", "The kingdom is among you", "The kingdom is at hand." It would be incorrect to suggest that this is synonymous with the fullness of the kingdom in heaven.

For the Kingdom of God to become a reality in our lives, there is a need to continue the work of creation by alleviating the suffering of the poor and the oppressed. This should come as no surprise. Examples abound in the ministry of Jesus himself. He frequently addressed the needs of the people without requiring a religion class. The feeding of the four thousand in the 8th chapter of Mark's Gospel is an example. The crowd assembled, Jesus fed them and then dismissed them.

The criticism implied in your question, is frequently leveled by Christian fundamentalists. However, to go to mission lands where people are suffering and oppressed, and not deal with the physical (and political) realities of their lives is not only insensitive, and unrealistic. It is also a contradiction of the very Bible the missionaries claim to preach. The Letter of James is the most obvious example, and stands in stark contrast the position of the fundamentalist churches (see particularly chapter 2 verses 14-26). Also, as demonstrated above, to suggest that people only need to hear the Word and learn about Jesus is a betrayal of the Kingdom Jesus himself preached.

Q 8: I believe that God loves all people, and does not care what religion they belong to, and I do not believe that he would condemn someone to hell just because they aren’t Christian. I also don’t think people should believe things just because they have been told or read it in the Bible. Am I wrong? Is it wrong to question my religion? Sometimes I wonder if questioning my faith makes me bad in God’s eyes.

A 8: You have a very compassionate view of God--one that squares with the idea Jesus shared with us of God. I am sure that as you continue to reflect on and experience your faith in God, you will be able to articulate it even better. On one level, it is true that God does not care what religion a person belongs to. Our own Church officially teaches that all people of good will who seek to do God's will as they understand it, will go to heaven. Still, if we believe that Jesus is God and was sent into the world as redeemer, then Christianity has a special place among the world's religions. This does not mean that everybody needs to be Christian. It means that in Jesus we see the full revelation of God. Jesus is God made present in the world, full and complete. An important element of our faith in Jesus is that God is loving and compassionate toward all people--saints and sinners, believers and non-believers and believers of different faiths.

You are also correct in your assertion that people should not believe things just because they have been told, or because they read things in the Bible. Internalizing our faith in God is an essential part of becoming an adult believer. Recall the wonderful insight of T.S. Elliott in "Murder in the Cathedral". Toward the end of the play he writes "in the end, the greatest treason is to do the right thing for the wrong reason." We must internalize our values and make choices because we know or believe them to be right and not because we have been told by others.

You ask if it is wrong to question your religion. Quite the contrary. Questioning is perhaps the best path toward knowledge, understanding and commitment. That questioning may, indeed, sometimes lead you to question whether or not you are good in God's eyes. As our values become clearer to us, we will all find ourselves coming up short. That is a benefit of reflection and examination, because it enables us to seek to become better persons. But we are always of value in God's eyes. As I am fond of saying, no one is beyond the redemptive power of God's love. While God may not love everything we do, and we may all be sinners, God never ceases to love us.

Q 9: What is the Church's position on the way the United States government offers food aid to select countries? Do you think our prejudices play a role?

A 9: First of all, it is fundamental Catholic belief that all people have a right to food. This is not a privilege for those who are favored, but a basic human right. The unfortunate reality is that our prejudices very much play into our willingness to assist other nations. Those countries that are viewed as our enemies do not show up on our assistance radar screen. The most obvious and tragic current example is probably Iraq. Due to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations and kept in force by the will of the U.S., more than 600,000 children have died of hunger and hunger-related diseases. The Catholic Church has repeatedly demanded that the sanctions be lifted and that food and medical supplies be delivered. As of the date of this answer, June 24, 2001, the U.S. government has repeatedly turned a deaf ear.

Since all people have an inherent right to food, the policies of the U.S. government in offering food only to select countries is patently immoral, and should shock the conscience of every citizen.

Q 10: Did the concepts of good and evil, light and dark, angels and devils arise from outside the Jewish tradition, specifically, the Persians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans?

A 10: All cultures have their mythologies that try to identify the origins and purpose of life on earth. Struggling with the concepts of good and evil, light and dark, angels and devils is common to many cultures. Different peoples try to define these in understandable, yet different ways. Cultures also interact with and learn from each other. Clearly the Hebrews of ancient times were influenced by the ideas of their contemporaries. At the same time, their struggles with these concepts were rooted in a unique faith in One God. That faith enabled them to make their own contribution to these discussions.

Q 11: How can what the Catechism says - or more precisely, what it does not say - be reconciled with what you have written on your website?

A 11: That is a question that cannot be answered, at least not absolutely. It is like trying to prove a negative. Once we understand that we are a living Church, that we do not have all the answers, that we are still being informed by the Holy Spirit, that there is still much to be learned about our faith, about life, about sexuality, perhaps we can then be open to ideas that might assist us as we search for truth.

It might also help to realize that the Catechism of the Catholic is not a weapon to be used against each other. It is, at best, a resource. But by definition, it cannot be the absolute teaching of a faith that continues to grow and to be informed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Q 12: My question is about healing with crystals or quartz. What is the Catholic's church stand on this issue?

A 12: I know of no formal position on the use of healing crystals in some kind of therapy. It seems to me that the issue becomes one of magic or superstition. If the crystals are used as a substitute God, with some kind of magical powers, that would be cause for concern. On the other hand, we are certainly connected to the entire universe around us, and it is conceivable that elements in that universe have an impact on us. It is also fairly clear that our lives are not determined by these physical elements--crystal or other.

Q 13: Why have you included that libelous website "ODAN" on your links page?  It smears a Saint and his holy work. Has no one had bad experiences with Jesuits lately?

A 13: You object to the ODAN link on my website. Fair enough. But it does not smear a Saint and his holy work. Actually, the website is about the followers of the saint and what they are doing. St. Escribá is not the issue. You can certainly disagree with what ODAN represents, but it is built upon the experiences of former Opus Dei members who felt trapped and manipulated by Opus Dei and who found it difficult to extricate themselves from its clutches. That is obviously not the case for all people who join Opus Dei. However, ODAN is a valuable informational site.

You also may be correct about people having bad experiences with the Jesuits, but honestly, that is a non sequitur. Besides, the Jesuits are not running spirituality centers that manipulate people's minds and control their freedom. I would hope that you can look beyond the link on the website to the other things that are of benefit.

Q 14: What are the Church's teachings regarding drug/substance abuse?

A 14: Abuse in any form is always wrong. The very definition of abuse would indicate that. Much of the difficulty surrounding drug abuse, however, stems from civil law. For example, the use of marijuana is illegal in most places, but is not necessarily morally wrong. Nor is it inherently abusive. Some drugs are abusive even in limited amounts because of what they do the body and the way they impede a person's ability to function as a human being. Some drugs are even a substantial risk to life if used only once.

The illegality of drugs has led to a market for so-called designer drugs. Many of these drugs play a kind of "Russian roulette" with life. It might be noted toward that end, that even alcohol, while not inherently wrong or abusive, can be abused.

On the other hand, in most countries alcohol is not illegal, and in some countries marijuana and other drugs are legal. The morality of drug use, then, follows to some extent the civil law. In any place where a drug is legal, it is only the abuse of the drug that becomes a question of sin. At the same time, even in places where drugs or alcohol are illegal, their use may not be sinful. It remains an issue of abuse.

Q 15: It seems as though you side more with philosophy than the Bible. Is that correct?

A 15: I suggest that positing philosophy against the Bible is an incorrect focus. In Catholic thought, our faith is based equally on Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition. What many Christians seem not to realize is that the Bible did not give birth to the Church. It was the other way around. The New Testament was written by a Church that already existed, that already believed in Jesus. The New Testament writings, then, are an attempt to reflect the faith of a people who already believe and are sharing that belief with each other. That process of writing, of Revelation, like the Tradition of the Church, is guided or "inspired" by the Holy Spirit. As time goes on, the Church continually develops a deeper understanding of the faith and how it is applied in each generation. Recall the promise of Jesus in John's gospel: "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26).

Q 16: In the years following the death of Jesus, how did his life and message spread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia? And how did it come to be headquartered in Rome?

A 16: Immediately following the death of Jesus, the early Church consisted of a small band of followers, not just the apostles, but also other disciples. It did not take long for the group to expand. The Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke as a companion volume to his Gospel. After making the connection to his Gospel, he presents Jesus' Ascension into heaven and then at the beginning of the second chapter describes what is the most popular picture of the descent of the Holy Spirit, also called Pentecost. This gift of the Spirit strengthened the disciples in their faith and enabled them to preach the Good News of Jesus without fear. Visitors to Jerusalem heard the witness and some of them took that Good News back to their homelands. But it was Paul who really spread the Good News of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean region. Although there are multiple traditions of the Apostles traveling to places like Spain and even India, it is agreed by most scholars that the apostles never left Palestine--with the exception of Peter who traveled to Rome where he was martyred. Of course, you can't tell that to Spaniards, or Indians--especially those from Kerala.

The early growth of the Christian faith is attributed primarily to Paul and his missionary journeys. His letters are addressed to a number of the Churches (cities) in the ancient world. Given the reach of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that Christianity would have spread from Jerusalem and greater Palestine throughout the rest of the empire. As for Rome, it is not clear exactly how Christianity was brought to the capital of the empire, but it was not by one of the Apostles. Even Paul was not personally known in Roman prior to traveling there. So his Letter to the Romans is by way of introduction, identifying who he was and what he believed, so that the Christians of Rome would accept his credentials and authority to preach.

Q 17: A couple of months ago I discovered that a friend of mine had a stroke. Now she has breast cancer again. She also had a kidney removed due to cancer. She is losing her faith in God because she doesn't believe she's getting a break with all these things that keep happening to her. I don't know what to say except that I'll keep praying for her.

Many years ago a therapist told me that things happen because of sin in the world. Illnesses, famines, floods, disasters, etc. all happen because of sin. Well, to me that is something I cannot quite wrap my mind around. Nor do I find it comforting. I don't want to tell my friend she has cancer because of sin. What do you tell people who start to lose their faith?

A 17: As for sin in the world, it is not the cause of everything. Certainly some of the problems we see or encounter are the result of what we do to each other or the residual effect of self-centered living. Perhaps even some illnesses can be attributed to sin. I suppose one could say that some cancers, at least those caused by environmental destruction such as polluted waters, could be ultimately attributed to sin. Those issues need to be addressed in legislation, through legal proceedings, and by people becoming more environmentally aware and responsible. but that is of little comfort to the sick who are experiencing a serious illness.

It is always difficult to know what to say in situations like the one you mention, because there really are no words. People need to have some time with their feelings and doubts. We cannot assume that we can fix everything and make people fell emotionally better, particularly not with the pious platitudes of the past. Sometimes it is better not to say anything. When you sense the time is right, you might try pointing out that God did not create a perfect world, only a good one. God also did not create a completed world, but started a process and then entrusted us with the task of bringing it to completion. I would certainly encourage prayer, but perhaps just being present is of more value than words.

Q 18: I am interested in your take on charitable giving. I met with the accountant today to prepare taxes. My wife and I give to charity--nothing crazy, a few bucks. Do you believe it is right to claim charitable contributions on taxes in order to get a break, or should one claim just $0? As I understand it, the whole point of charity is that it is supposed to hurt a bit. If you get your reward down here, then you don't get it up there. If you're getting the deduction on your taxes, is really charity?

A 18: I am once again impressed with the way you phrase your question. The issue of charitable donations and taxes is complicated by the way in which our contributions to the common good (the primary purpose of taxes) is calculated by law. Let me suggest the following:

Taxes, at least in theory, are to be collected and used for the good of the whole country. The formula for determining the tax structure and the process of collecting the taxes should enable everyone to contribute a fair share. No one person or group should bear the whole burden. Part of that structure involves credits for other ways in which people assist the common good. This includes charitable contributions. Therefore, if someone is contributing to the common through another means other than the tax code, it is acceptable that they receive credit for that work and for easing the contributions that would otherwise be needed from the common till, the government. I would argue that receiving a tax credit for charitable contributions does not diminish the fact that it is still charity.

As for charity hurting a bit, that is always relative. The example that Jesus uses of the woman who gave her last penny to the Temple treasury and therefore gave more than everyone else because it came from her need, does not diminish what the others gave. It is admirable, but Jesus did not suggest that everyone should give their last penny to the treasury. However, I do think someone might sense a personal gain if charitable giving causes an individual to spend less on his/her self.

Finally, since I believe that everyone goes to heaven anyway, I am not big on the idea of rewards in heaven. In order for the Gospel to truly be lived, it has to have an effect here on earth where we can make a difference in each other's lives. Altruism often is accompanied by a sense of satisfaction. If that is perceived as a reward, fine. A good self-esteem is certainly not contrary to the Gospel.