Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Explain purgatory and who goes there. Does the soul of a dead person go from purgatory to heaven after being made pure by suffering? Is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
A Confused Person

The Church teaches that purgatory is “the final purification of the elect” (CCC #1031). The doctrine of Purgatory makes good sense. Those who are completely purified and free from all sins would go directly to Heaven. Those who completely reject the ways of God would go to Hell. But what of those who while being free from mortal sins, and thus have not rejected God, are still guilty of either venial sins or the punishment due to their sins? These people go to Purgatory. The Catechism puts it this way: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC #1030).

Why would does one need to be purified before entering into Heaven? Since God is perfect holiness (e.g. cf. Isaiah 6:3), to enter into His presence requires us to be pure as well. In Heaven, “...nothing unclean shall enter it nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). When we sin, we not only damage or sever the relationship we have with God, but also merit punishment due to the sin committed. For instance, when King David sins with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan reports “the Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” In Purgatory, we are set free from these attachments and faults. Once we are purified, we go directly to Heaven to enjoy the Beatific Vision. Also, we can demonstrate our love for our neighbors who wait in purgatory by praying for the dead and remembering them in our prayers.

Does the Sacred Scriptures make reference to purgatory? In the first case, it must be said that the Sacred Scripture makes no use of the word “purgatory,” but this shouldn’t cause us much distress. The Sacred Scriptures uses neither the word “Trinity” nor the term “Incarnation,” but we can see how the Scriptures teach these sacred truths. In 2 Maccabees 12:38-45, Judas Maccabees offers sin offerings to make amends for his dead comrades who sinned in committing idolatry. Specifically, the author of 2 Maccabees lauds Judas’s action by saying “In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection” (2 Macc. 12:43b). There is only one caveat in using this verse. Given that Protestants don’t accept 2 Maccabees as canonical or inspired, you have to use this as an example of prevalent historical ideas afoot at the time. Also, I find it interesting that if, as some Protestant observers say, praying for the dead was a pagan invention the Church was tricked into accepting, then it makes no sense for 2 Maccabees to praise Judas’s action, since the Maccabees were fighting against the pagan corruption of Judaism by Greek practices. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:32). One can infer that this means that some sins could be forgiven after death, although the Church does make it clear that only venial sins could be forgiven after death. Lastly, we can turn to St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, that our works will be tested after death. “If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as though fire” (1 Cor. 3:14-15) [emphasis mine]. Here we see that St. Paul understands that even those who are destined for Heaven, may have to undergo purification before entering in.

In the end, Purgatory should be seen as a further sign of God’s mercy for his people. Even the best among us, choose the right things but sometimes for the wrong reasons. In Purgatory, all these things will be wiped away so that we can be fully happy with God.

All these dimensions of the Eucharist come together in one aspect which more than any other makes a demand on our faith: the mystery of the “real” presence....The Eucharist is a mystery of presence, the perfect fulfilment of Jesus' promise to remain with us until the end of the world.
Pope John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine #16.

As a child, I learned a simple, but insightful little rhyme. It went “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” The message is although something seems small, it can be the key to the grandest things. The same applies to the Holy Eucharist.

As the heart of the Church’s assertions concerning the Sacrament and the Holy Mass, there lies a simple nail holding everything in place: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Without the Real Presence, the Mass ceases to be a re-presentation of Calvary. It ceases to be an anticipation of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It ceases to be the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to remain with us throughout our earthly pilgrimage.

The Church professes that under the appearance of bread and wine, the whole Christ is present, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This presence is not merely symbolic as though it were recalling an idea. Rather, Christ is truly, really, and substantially present through a change in the essence or substance of the bread and the wine. After the words of consecration, nothing remains of the substance of bread and wine; these substances, the things which make bread and wine what they are, are completely converted into the Substances of Christ. This change is called Transubstantiation. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we do not receive bread and wine at Mass. We receive the Flesh and Blood of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ (cf. CCC #1374-1377).

The Sacred Scriptures are loaded with instances relevant to the Most Blessed Sacrament. In the Old Testament, we can point to the following instances. Genesis 14:18-19 recounts the blessing of Abraham by the priest Melchizedek. The act of blessing involved the use of bread and wine, possibly as a sacrificial gift unto God. Exodus 12 gives the basic narrative concerns the institution of the Passover supper. Along with a roasted lamb that had been sacrificed, the meal was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The bread symbolized the haste with which the people of Israel left Egypt, thus making it a symbol of God’s deliverance. Exodus 16 tells how God fed his chosen people while they wandered in the desert. In addition to quail, the Lord provides a mysterious bread that the people call manna. This is particularly important because in John 6, Jesus describes Himself as the bread come down from Heaven, making an explicit connection between Himself and the manna. Lastly, Leviticus 24:3-9 mentions how in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, the priests were to keep 12 loaves of bread before the Lord. This bread was called the Bread of Presence or the Show Bread. Through these loaves, the idea was that God would remember the Twelve and bless them.

The New Testament, unsurprisingly, is not wanting for comments on the Blessed Sacrament as well. In the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are given the account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. In each case, Jesus institutes this sacrament with the words, “This is my Body...This is my Blood” (Mt.26:26-29, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk. 22:19-20) Notice that He doesn’t say “This represents my body” or “This is a symbol of my Body.” St. John sets aside an entire discourse on this matter. In chapter six, we see Jesus affirm that he will give the people his own flesh to eat. Rightly, this provokes a response of revulsion and confusion from his listeners. The prospect proposed revolted his hearers so much that some left His company. Interestingly, Jesus never stops those who leave his company. He never says, “Oh, wait, I was speaking figuratively.” The brutal truth is having life in Christ requires eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The Most Blessed Sacrament fulfills this obligation most perfectly.

What does that mean for our reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament? St. Paul has something interesting to say on that point. In first Corinthians, St. Paul repeats the same tradition concerning the Last Supper that St. Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate (I Corinthians 11:23-26). Then he adds this comment: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord...For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (I Corinthians 11:27,29). If the Holy Eucharist is only a symbol, why does St. Paul demand that proper reception of the Eucharist includes “discerning the body”? There is only one way for this passage to make sense: St. Paul believes that when he celebrates the Holy Mass and receives the Sacrament of the Altar, he is not receiving a symbol. Instead, he received His same Lord who died and rose for the sake of St. Paul’s salvation. This is the reality that continues in every Mass that is celebrated.

Without the Real Presence, our Christian worship is nothing more than play acting. It is in the Real Presence that we taste now what the future might hold. Because it is truly Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine, we receive a pledge of a place in the Heavenly Banquet.

Dear Father Tharp:
My teenage daughter has a 6 month-old baby and she is no longer an active practicing Catholic. The father of the baby is in the picture, but he is not Catholic. Our priest published in our bulletin that the requirements for baptism of an infant is that one of the parents must be an active practicing Catholic. My daughter wants to have the baby baptized, but she is not practicing the faith. I am so worried about my granddaughter not being baptized. Would the Church decline to baptize an infant because the parents are not active Catholics?
Name and City Withheld.

First, I applaud your intention and concern for the welfare of your granddaughter. Baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments and the beginning of our life in Christ. It has been a venerable tradition of the Church to baptize both adults and infants, so that the free gift of God’s grace may be poured out on all. The logic of baptizing infants stems from the fact that like our earthly life, our supernatural life comes not by our willing it, but by gracious willing of God. As St. John reminds us, "Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent His Son to expiate our sins" (I John 4:10).

However, at the same time, we must remember that the Sacraments aren’t magic. They require our free co-operation. It is here that the problem concerning your granddaughter’s baptism arises.

The insistence of your pastor that your daughter be a practicing Catholic before granting the baptism of your granddaughter is found in the Code of Canon Law. The Code of Canon Law gives the Church a way to insure that the Sacraments are celebrated in such a way as to prevent them being treated lightly or in a manner unbecoming to their nature. The Code also gives direction on matters of Church governance as well.

The Code initially lays out the responsibility of parents to see that their children are baptized soon after birth (Canon 867, paragraph 1). This same canon assumes that the parents have already spoken to their pastor and received proper preparation for the Sacrament. At the same time, the Code recognizes that for the baptism to take place "...there must be a realistic hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic religion. If such hope is truly lacking, the baptism is, in accordance with the provisions of particular law, to be deferred and the parents advised of the reason for this" (Canon 868, paragraph 1, degree 2). Given the situation you describe, the burden for raising the child in the Catholic religion falls squarely upon your daughter. That she is not practicing the Faith at this time, the pastor can assume, quite reasonably, that the hope of the child being raised Catholic is slim. The sad fact is the person withholding the baptism from your granddaughter is not your pastor. It is your daughter.

Speaking from my own limited pastoral experience, if I were the pastor in this situation, here are my concerns given this case. First, as your daughter is not practicing the Faith, I would be dubious that she understands either the nature of Baptism or obligations placed on her by her own Baptism. If she doesn’t understand these things, how can she form her child in the practice of the faith? Second, I would be curious to find out what the father of the child thought. Since he is not of the Catholic faith, I would be concerned that he might be more of an impediment than an assistance to the rearing of this child in the Faith.

In closing, I sympathize with you. It must be distressing to see one’s children forego the practice of the Faith that you took such pains to raise them in. You must take St. Monica as your guide and example. It was through her prayers and sacrifices that brought one of the greatest doctors of the Church, St. Augustine, into the Church.

Holy Mass needs to be set at the centre of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community, in accordance with established norms, with the participation of the assembly, with the presence of ministers who carry out their assigned tasks, and with a serious concern that singing and liturgical music be suitably "sacred".... The best way to enter into the mystery of salvation made present in the sacred "signs" remains that of following faithfully the unfolding of the liturgical year.
John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine #17

In one of the many adventures of the intrepid crew of the Enterprise, the crew makes first contact with a species that communicates only in metaphors. The crew are frustrated and confused, until they understand what metaphors refer to. In other words, the symbols made sense once the crew knew what they stood for. The Sacred Liturgy functions in the same way.

The source and summit of the Christian faith is the Holy Mass. In the Holy Mass, Christ’s paschal mystery, His passion, death, and resurrection, are presented again to us, so that we may assent to them. In our assent, we commit ourselves to living in accord with the Covenant God has made with Man. The liturgy communicates this through its words and ritual gestures. Taken as a whole, these words and gestures are called a particular Rite.

While in the Church’s history, various Rites all had the same goal in mind: to unite Christ’s people in the act of worship before God. The Holy Mass allows us to return to God what is properly His, namely our praise and adoration (cf. CCC #1348-1355, 1368). Therefore, over time, the Church more carefully specified what were proper gestures for the Sacred Liturgy. Anything that might obscure the purpose of the Liturgy was curtailed or eliminated. We can see this present even in the letters of Saint Paul (I Corinthians 11:17-22, 33).

At the time of the Second Vatican Council, a great desire was expressed to reform the Sacred Liturgy, that is, to return to its roots. Unfortunately, a great deal of experimentation that the Council had not approved took place, leaving us with a great deal of confusion as to what is proper to the litugy. Most damaging of all has been a widespread notion that somehow the focus of the liturgy is the gathered congregation, rather than worship of the Eternal God. The Council’s document on the Liturgy has this sobering reminder, "Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority (Sacrosanctum Concilium #22)."

With all this said, what does this require of us? Unfortunately, with the through permeation of television into our consciousness, liturgical action often gets reduced to passive watching on our part. Each element of the Sacred Liturgy points us toward a proper disposition and an act of the will. During the Offertory, for instance, we offer ourselves, symbolized in our gifts of bread and wine and support for the poor. The Holy See’s website (http://www.vatican.va) has a wonderful selection of materials related to the Holy Eucharist. Click on the link for the Year of the Eucharist. These would benefit anyone looking to deepen their understand of this mystery. In particular, the Holy Father has encouraged Catholics to read and study the new General Instruction on the Mass so that they may understand better the signs and symbols the Liturgy employs (MND #17).

As a pastor, perhaps on the most disconcerting sign of Eucharistic indifference I have encountered happens after Mass. We long to linger in the presence of loved ones and close friends – we don’t want the moment to end. If the Mass re-presents the saving work of Christ, if we actually receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion, then shouldn’t we remain in our pews once Mass is concluded, giving thanks for what we have received? The usual occurance is a mass exodus with people running for the doors like there were a fire. It is time for a renewal of the practice of making a thanksgiving after Mass and after communion. The Mass is the closest thing we have to Heaven on Earth. Why wouldn’t we desire to prolong this intimate sharing? In addition, a return of reverential silence in our parish churches would go a long way to communice that we believe that the Lord is present and longing to speak to our deepest needs.

Sunbathing fills the summers of so many people. They love the bronze transformation this activity brings. I wonder what kind of transformation we would see if we basked in the Real Presence of the Son in the Sacred Liturgy.

I am a high school student at Bishop McGuinness. Recently in one of my classes we got into a discussion on whether or not stem cell research is right or wrong. I know that the Church teaches that this is degrading to the dignity of the human person, but the counter argument is that the research, if allowed, could save lives. How do you counter that? Also, why is this an important issue when there is do much other disrespect given to life that already exists? Thank you for any help you can give.
Sarah Rosencrans, Edmond

Scientific research of any kind cannot use a person as a means to an end. When someone takes part in a research study, those conducting the study have a grave obligation to explain all of the side effects and possible outcomes of participation, the good and the bad alike. Then the participant can give full and informed consent to what is about to take place. In stem cell research, the central problem rests with embryonic stem cells being used. Given that life begins at conception, the embryo is a human person. The stem cells are the foundational building blocks from which the embryo fashions its tissues, organs, and systems. To harvest these cells would mean the embryo’s destruction and no matter what theoretical benefit one has in mind, it cannot be purchased with the life of another. It would be no different if I walked up to you, and discovering that you and I share the same blood and tissue types, took your kidney because I might need it later or it might save my life. Using stem cells, with proper consent, from an adult is not a problem and the research seems to suggest that this works better in therapeutic scenarios.

The logical flaw rests on the "ends justifying the means." When we will something, both the end we are shooting for and the means we use to get there must be good (CCC #1789). As a good counter, try this. Remember the movie Jurassic Park? The crazy old rich guy knew that using technology he could recreate dinosaurs and make major bucks. The mathematician (Jeff Goldblum) reminds him, "Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD do something." Then the dinosaurs go on a rampage. Just because research using embryonic stem cells could result in something good does not necessarily mean that it is good to do this research.

Defense of the unborn is important because it is the first link in a long chain of related moral issues. Ever play with dominoes? You stack them in rows and designs and then watch them fall down. Granted that all of them are necessary to make the design take shape and the effect to go off, which one matters the most? The first one matters most. If the first one doesn't set anything off, then the rest is left in the lurch.

With matters of life and respect for life in its most vulnerable state, who is going to speak for an embryo if not his big brothers and sisters? If life is not respected when it is most vulnerable, I guarantee that life will not be respected in any other venue. As an example, it is curious to me that the frequency of reported cases of domestic abuse has increased in proportion to the prevalence of abortion in our society. The argument is not that these other attacks on the dignity of life are not evil or are not important. It is a matter that if life is not defended in the womb, it won't be defended anywhere.

Keep up the good work and the good thinking. Pray to God that He would show you your vocation.

Dear Father Tharp,
What does the church teach regarding the Terri Schiavo case? I have hear so many different opinions from non-Catholics and CATHOLICS. It seems that Catholics are not united in their beliefs regarding this issue. If you are pro-life, it should be a mortal sin to remove the feeding tube after it has been placed. Is this true?
Name and Hometown withheld

Your question is most timely, indeed. The situation with Mrs. Schiavo was both distressing and disturbing for many reasons. However, given the rate medical technology continues to advance, it is a situation bound to repeat itself. Technology provides the opportunity to prolong life even in the most dire of conditions.

The Church teaches that a patient must accept all treatment that would be considered ordinary given his condition. At the same time, if a particular treatment were deemed extraordinary, then that treatment could be refused with no moral onus attached (CCC #2273-2274). The maintenance of health is the responsibility of each individual person (CCC #2288). Doctors and other medical professions assist in these decisions, giving options for treatment in each case. With such information at his disposal, the patient may give his informed consent to the treatment in question. Informed consent is absolutely essential to making proper moral decisions concerning health care. This leads a new question: how does one assess whether or not a particular treatment is ordinary or extraordinary?

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith gave direction on this matter in 1980. In its Declaration on Euthanasia, the Congregation gave four basic principles for assessing the degree of the means employed. First, the treatment must actually benefit the recipient. Second, the treatment must not introduce undue burden or risk to the recipient relative to the benefit procured. Such burden involves not only the physical well-being but also includes issues of financial and medical resources. Third, when all sufficient remedies of an ordinary type are exhausted, a patient may accept advanced treatments, even those still considered experimental. Fourth, when death is both inevitable and imminent, a patient may refuse those treatments which merely prolong life without addressing the underlying disease. In these cases, ordinary care, e.g. painkillers, is not interrupted. Note that all four principles assume the patient’s informed consent and that his wishes are reasonable, not reflecting a desire for suicide. Based on these principles we can see how everything in medicine, from aspirin to ventilators, could be deemed ordinary or extraordinary dependant upon the condition of the patient in question.

With that said, food and water fall into a different category. Strictly speaking, food and water are not medical treatments: they are basics for sustaining life. When one cannot swallow or feed themselves then a feeding tube, generally speaking, should be placed to facilitate nutrition and hydration. Food and water could be withdrawn if the patient were not benefitting or was being harmed by it. In theory, then, one could remove a feeding tube but only under the conditions I’ve mentioned.

In Terri Schiavo’s case, there was no reason to remove her feeding tube. While severely brain damaged, she could still swallow. There was no evidence of drooling at least from what the media reported. Further, apart from the brain damage, Mrs. Schiavo simply was not dying. She suffered from medical condition which was ending her life. To remove her feeding tube was to deny her what each of us daily takes for granted. Put bluntly, Terri Schiavo was starved to death. I find it hard to imagine that a person, reasonably, would want to go without food or water for fourteen days simply because they needed a feeding tube. Rather than asking what Terri’s wishes were, her guardian should have been asking her doctors what is the proper course of treatment for Terri to live out her days. Despite what many said, starving a woman to death, because putatively this is what she wanted, does not give dignity to death. It merely degrades us all.

In closing, the death of Terri Schiavo saddens me. It reminds me of the situation in ancient Israel when the people demanded a king. Even though God, who brought them forth from Egypt, was supposed to be their king, the people wanted to be like every one else around them. So God gave them exactly what they wanted. King Saul acted exactly like every other king, right down to taxing the people and conscripting their sons for war. Apparently, as a society, we are asking for cruelty to become the norm of law. Just as with Israel before, God may give us exactly what we ask for. I dread to think of what the price tag will be.

Dear Father Tharp:
I don’t agree with the Church’s teachings on some subjects. My children trust me to tell them the truth. I have been told that if I teach the children things that are contrary to the Church’s teachings I may be excommunicated. I love the Church but will not allow my children to be misled. What will happen?

Name Withheld
Kiowa, KS

At the outset, I have to admit some difficulty in responding to your question due to its vagueness. Many Catholics confuse the Church’s dogma and doctrine with her practice and discipline. While the Church’s dogma and doctrine must be adhered to and is irreformable, her disciplines, as history demonstrates, can and have changed. For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that you are not referring to the Church’s discipline, but rather her doctrine.

Your question reminds me of a story that Scott Hahn tells about himself and his conversion to the Catholic Faith. As a Presbyterian, he took for granted the notion that teaching authority came from the Bible alone. However, he was surprised to find that the Bible didn’t support his view. Rather, St. Paul wrote in I Timothy that the Church, not the Bible, is “ the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).

Certainly, one who obstinately denies, or who maintains obstinate doubt regarding, the Church’s teaching is guilty of the offense of heresy and therefore can be punished with excommunication. The penalty of excommunication underscores two points: the seriousness of the assent of Faith and the desire for the return of the offender through conversion of heart and mind. This sort of action already was present in the early Church. St. Paul makes reference to it in his first Letter to the Corinthians (cf. I Cor. 5:1-4).

Contrary to our society’s general posture about matters of the Faith, we can’t do it our way. We didn’t create the Faith; we received it from the hands of our parents, our pastors, our bishops, ultimately from the hands of the Apostles. If we receive all this from the hands of the Apostles, then we are confident that we have received our Faith from Jesus. Like yourself, the Church is a loving parent. She is our mother concerned for the welfare of the children, born to her in the waters of Baptism. “It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of ‘the law of Christ.’ From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the "way." From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle” (CCC#2030). It is simply not possible to hand on the fullness of the Faith when we make ourselves the final arbiter of the Truth.

It is contradictory to claim that you both love the Church and distrust her teaching authority. In the end, just as we pay attention to the advice and assistance of doctors to maintain our physical health, we must adhere to the Church’s Magisterium for they are given the charism, via the Holy Spirit, to hand on faithfully and fully the truth Christ wants us to receive so that we might be saved. You owe it to yourself and to your children to learn what the Church teaches, examine her reasoning, and associate yourself with this work of spreading the Faith, beginning in your home, in the model of the Holy Family.

In the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ himself intervenes to show, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets," how "all the Scriptures" points to the mystery of his person (cf. Lk. 24:27). His words make the hearts of the disciples "burn" within them, drawing them out of the darkness of sorrow and despair, and awakening in them a desire to remain with him: "Stay with us, Lord.
Pope John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine 12

In our world, where information overload is a daily threat, compartmentalization becomes a survival strategy. We try to create a box to file the thousands of tidbits hurled at us. When we transfer this strategy to our religious life, we court great disaster. This is because it runs counter to its essential nature. Christ, upon entering into human history, moves us in two directions at once. Christ comes not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it; Christ touches the depths of Law and allows it to reach its full flower. As He looks backward, He is charting a course for the future.

Because of this, the Christian apologist finds himself in an interesting position. The Christian apologist can look backward into the Old Testament and catch flashes of the coming of Christ and the fullness of faith that implies. As the Catechism notes, "the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men" (CCC #122). One of the key ways this appears is through the use of types.

Typology is the study of the Sacred Scripture using either recurring themes or central events to see how something in the New Testament is prepared for in the Old Testament. "Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfilment of the divine plan when ‘God [will] be everything to everyone’" (CCC #130). Typology helps to frame a discussion because it allows you to show how Catholic theology and practice are simply a continuation from what came before. For example, infant baptism makes more sense when one notes that circumcision, a forerunner of the sacrament of Baptism, was performed on children only a few days old. The logic follows then that if the forerunner was considered that important then you follow the same standard with its fulfillment.

The Holy Eucharist has many of these types and foreshadows in the Old Testament as well. Let’s consider just a few of the more important ones. As an act of worship, we note in the Book of Genesis, the priest Melchizedek offers bread and wine as a blessing for Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20). This is significant because the author of the Letter to the Hebrews connects Christ’s priesthood with Melchizedek.

As a subject of religious life, we look to the manna in the desert (cf. Exodus 16:14f). This is one of my favorite because the name the people of Israel give to it. Manna literally means "what’s that". The name expresses the sheer mystery and graciousness of God in feeding His complaining flock. The manna takes on a whole new depth of meaning when Jesus claims that He is the "bread from Heaven" in John 6.

As a symbol of God’s action in history, the bread of the Passover stands out clearly (Exodus 12:1-28). It is significant for two reasons. First, the bread of the Passover is a pure bread, in that it is not made with leaven. In the ancient world, leaven was obtained from bread dough that had begun to mold. So, as the people leave the land, they are being reminded that they are leaving a corrupting influence behind. Second, when Jesus institutes the Holy Eucharist, He acts within the Passover, not looking to our exodus from slavery, but our exodus from sin and death. His sacrifice was anticipated with lambs until the true Lamb came. The Passover supper was considered complete once it was eaten. Now, we eat the Lamb so that we may partake of the Sacrifice which gives us the fullness of life.

Think back on your First Holy Communion. What do you remember? I bet it’s a vivid memory. Think back on your thousandth Holy Communion. What can you tell me about it? That’s our problem as time-bound creatures. We lose our place within the grand plan that God is delicately working out. Taking a moment merely to glance over some of the ways God has prepared this great banquet from Heaven we see how God invites us to be not only observers of His great works. He wants us to dwell in their midst. Taking a moment perhaps we too can recognize the Risen Lord, as those disciples on the road to Emmaus did, in the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread.

Where the Gospel Begins and Ends

Christmas has become a time when goodwill and fellowship are built up even amongst those who do not share the Christian faith. The generosity of giving, the hospitality of guests, the recognition of the common bond of man enhance the season and highlights our potential. But what happens next? After we dispose of the wrapping paper and wash the mountain of dishes, we are left with the gifts and the memories, the recognition of the flourishing of life itself. That flourishing comes not from a sizable gift certificate. It comes from Christ who made Himself a gift by coming to us from the Father.

The consciousness of the coming of the Son as gift to the world informs the Holy Father’s encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). Even in his earthly existence, the human person and his supernatural vocation reveals the "greatness and inestimable value of human life" (EV 2.1). He observes that there are many assaults leveled against life in general. But the person of Christ illuminates not only the inner depths of the triune God but also the inner depths of the human person. Only in Christ does man discover what he is truly created for. So in union with the Bishops of the world whom he consulted in preparation for writing this encyclical the Holy seeks to bring to light the Gospel of Life.

In Part One of the encyclical, the Holy Father addresses the central crimes against life and the ideologies that inform them. Using the account of the murder of Abel, John Paul reflects upon how Cain’s murderous thinking is still with us. In the Bible, death is anything that diminishes life as well as the physical cessation of life. So slavery, poverty, starvation caused by injustice, prostitution, arms trading, and many other matter come under this definition (cf. EV 8.5). But the Holy Father draws our attention to times of particular vulnerability of life, specifically at its beginning and at its end.

At the beginning of life, abortion and contraception form a particular threat as does artificial reproduction. Abortion and contraception, while being specifically different evils (EV 13.2), are two fruits of the same poisonous tree, the desire to separate procreation from the unifying effect of human sexuality (EV 13.3). Artificial reproduction threatens human life because it treats the child as the product of technology rather than the offspring of conjugal love.
At the end of life, euthanasia threatens the incurably ill and the dying. Euthanasia grows in popularity because of perceived financial benefits or the relieving the suffering of someone we love. The Holy Father dismisses these reasons and points to the loss of the redemptive dimension of suffering as the culprit. "All this is aggravated by a cultural climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs (EV 15.2)."

The roots of this conflict are profound indeed. Among these root causes, the Holy Father places the largest concern upon a distortion of freedom. For the Christian, freedom comes from God as a necessary component of participating in God’s life and plan. For others, and this is the problem, freedom means doing whatever one wants without reference to responsibility or consequence. This distortion of freedom, echoed in Cain’s question "Am I my brother’s keeper?," leads one to see not a neighbor but an impediment to my freedom and therefore my well being.

In Part Two, the Holy Father examines the specifically Christian claim in reference to the value of life. The testimony of the Sacred Scripture affirms the value of human life. By being created in the image and likeness of God, man is set apart as cooperator with God’s plan. Children represent the concrete sign that God has continued to uphold the people of the Covenant. This represents the foundation. The Grace of eternal life draws our earthly existence upward to its highest dimension. Eternal signifies not just a quality or duration. This life is eternal because it is life with God and in God. It is the life that arises from communion with Christ. Because of this lavish gift then no one is a stranger or an enemy. All are potentially siblings. Therefore, when crimes are committed against life, there are not abstract offenses. They are offenses against my own kin.

In Part Three, the Holy Father draws out specific moral norms from Revelation. The responsibility to defend life falls upon all people. No one can exempt themselves from this moral reality. The Holy Father reaffirms the consistent teaching of the Church: the voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57.4). It can never be sanctioned and cannot be used as a means to achieve a greater good.

Amongst these instances, the Holy Father specifically mentions abortion as possessing "characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable (EV 58.1)" At the same time, the Holy Father demonstrates the great compassion the Church has for women who have undergone an abortion, observing that abortions are often forced upon women due to various circumstances. Euthanasia receives treatment under a similar rubric. The question of the legitimate uses of self-defense and the death penalty are dealt with in some detail.

Of great importance is the connection of the moral law with the civil law. The Holy Father, in conformity with the Church’s tradition, rejects the secularized solution of excluding moral truth from the creation of common law. Without moral truth, the common law becomes not a protection of freedom but the tool of oppression.

In Part Four, John Paul sets out a brave new vision of the future, the building of the culture of life. It begins with evangelization. We are a people ransomed and restored to life. We live within the Church of the Apostles, and just as they were sent so too are we sent. This spreading of the Gospel of life begins by honoring and respecting the gift of life in all the forms it manifests itself. This means care in families, care of families, solidarity with the poor, the imprisoned, the ill, the dying, the immigrant, the alien. The Holy Father encourages the Church not only to defend life but to permit it to flourish. Education and health care are realms marked out for particular work.

This is where the Gospel begins and ends, the gift of Life. It begins with life as it is received from God. It ends with life as we hope for participation in eternal life in Heaven. Along the way, we pave the road of human history with our choices for life or against it. From generosity in welcoming life, from hospitality in nurturing it, from the bond that holds all of us together, the tiniest embryo to the sagest elder, we can construct a more sane future and holier society at large.