Thanksgiving is obviously a secular holiday, commemorating the good fortune the Puritans found in the New World, a good fortune that we Americans share to this day.
But the Thanksgiving legend has so many religious, and Catholic, overtones.
The first Thanksgiving feast shared by the Puritans and the Wampanoag tribe was arranged by Squanto, a Native American who had been catechized by Spanish Dominican Friars. Squanto had been captured by an English party led by Capt. John Smith, which planned to sell him into slavery. The Dominicans rescued him, instructed him in the Catholic faith, and helped him get to England so he could return to his people.
Squanto helped the Puritans survive by teaching them to hunt, fish and grow corn and then tried to help the Wampanoag tribe build a peaceful relationship with the Puritans, one that sadly did not survive.
The thanksgiving feast between the Wampanoag tribe and the Puritans wasn’t the first celebration of thanksgiving on American shores. More than 50 years before the Puritans established the Plymouth Colony in present day Massachusetts, a group of Spanish colonists celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving and had a feast with members of the Timucuan tribe near present-day St. Augustine, Florida.
In 1598, another group of Spaniards celebrated their successful crossing of the desert in northern Mexico and southern Texas with a Mass and a feast with the indigenous people of the area along the Rio Grande.
When those Spanish priests stopped to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving, it was a most Catholic thing to do. It is part of our faith as Catholics to give thanks to God for the many blessings he has bestowed on us. Most importantly, we give thanks for the gift of his son, Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins. In our Catholic view of the world, that gift is the most powerful of all of God’s gifts.
As Catholics, we celebrate Thanksgiving every time we go to Mass. The very word eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving and is a reminder that as followers of Christ we have so very much to be thankful for. We are thankful for his love and his mercy. We are thankful for the Catholic faith that has been passed on to us by the Communion of Saints. In our gratitude, we find peace and joy.
Our experience as Catholics shows the path to a fulfilling and joyful life. To be happy, be grateful. But we can’t stop there. We are called to share our gratitude and our blessings with others. That is the lesson of the Thanksgiving feast.
So, for this Thanksgiving and every day that will follow, we should look beyond our immediate family to share our blessings. Be the face and hands and feet of Christ to all you encounter. Share the mercy and love God has showered upon us. Gather not only around the dinner table but at the altar where we celebrate the eucharistic thanksgiving.
When we do that, we will infuse this secular holiday with the Catholic faith.
While the Catechism technically permits the death penalty, it, and the bishops, foresee its use as rare if ever. If capital punishment is foresworn in all cases, a criminal often lives to commit another atrocity. Is society not left helpless?
There are many complexities in discussing the death penalty, because there is some tension between the traditional doctrine regarding it, and the modern pastoral setting.
Unlike abortion, capital punishment is not an intrinsic moral evil for a couple of reasons. Firstly, in certain settings, the use of the death penalty has served the common good; ensuring that dangerous criminals are no longer able to cause harm. In punishing grave offenders, others can be deterred from capital crimes too. Secondly, Scripture does not forbid the practice. Even in the New Testament, St. Paul speaks to the State’s right to punish grave offenders in this way, and even indicates that, in so doing, it acts as a minister of God's justice on the wrong‐doer. (see Rom 13:4).
The Church cannot simply overrule scripture and declare intrinsically evil, what God permits in certain circumstances. However, that Scripture permits the death penalty in certain circumstances, does not mean that it is always wise or prudent to promote such punishment.
In the modern pastoral setting, recent Popes, and the bishops of the world, have taught that recourse to the death penalty should be rare if ever. A significant part of this prudential judgment is rooted in concern for what Pope John Paul called the “culture of death.”
The culture of death is a mindset wherein the death or nonexistence of human beings is increasingly proposed as a solution to problems. Abortion, euthanasia, and quick recourse warfare or other violent means, along with the antilife mentality of contraception, are widely promoted in our culture as a way to solve problems. The Church stands foursquare against such thinking.
And even though the death penalty has received reluctant approval in the past, the current pastoral setting seems to require that the Church stand consistently against yet another way wherein death is proposed as a solution to the regrettable problem of crime.
The criminal assault that many have experienced is regrettable. More needs to be done to keep serious and threatening offenders off our streets. However, given the wider pastoral setting, it is the consensus of recent Popes and the world's bishops that standing against all facets of the culture of death is an important pastoral posture to maintain, even if our tradition does permit the death penalty in very rare circumstances.
In the history show "How Sex Changed the World," they speak about the Church's role in prostitution and said that 20% of the "customers" were clergy. Is there any truth to this?
When one hears claims about Church history that are less than flattering, or shocking, two balancing perspectives are helpful.
On the one hand, one ought not to become too alarmed or defensive of claims that there has been sin in the Church. Any time there is one human being in the room there is bound to be sin. And The Church is very big and very old. The “hospital” we call the Church includes many saints, but is also a hospital for sinners.
On the other hand, not all claims of sin in the Church are fair, or presented in proper context. And some claims are outright lies, or exaggerations. Thus, it is highly unlikely that 20% of the clientele of prostitutes were clergy. There are, and have been even great sinners among the clergy. But as recent scandals (sadly) show, the percentage of offending clergy is quite small, though even a small number is too many and can cause great harm.
Other claims against the Church regarding the Inquisition in the Crusades also tend to present these issues out of historical context and backload current sensibilities to times that were far more brutal, and where stable governments and modern jurisprudence did not yet exist.
And so, we must have balance. Jesus has always been found among sinners, to the scandalous of some. We do not make light of sin; we simply seek fairness.
I heard a Protestant Minister say that the young boy Jesus drove demons out of near Mt. Tabor wasn't really possessed, he just had epilepsy. Is this true?
Well, Jesus, who was on the scene and rather smart, seems to have concluded differently than the preacher you mention.
That said, we do not usually bring people with seizures to an exorcist, but seek always to rule out natural causes first. In rare cases, what manifests as seizures may have demonic causes, but not usually. So rather than second-guess Jesus, or consign biblical insights to "primitive" thinking, we do better to assess what is before us, humbly realizing that there are often many levels to human struggles. And while some ailments are simply physical in origin, some may include other dimensions as well.
Our priest uses large quantities of incense at Mass, creating difficulties in being able to see with so much cloud, and people with respiratory issues are struggling. When we speak to him he mentions about history and liturgy. Any thoughts?
As with most things, moderation is proper when it comes to the use of incense. It would seem, as you describe, too much incense is being burned at one time. And while certain factors such as the size of the church, the height of the ceiling and the ventilation may affect how much can be used, the goal in the modern use of incense is not to overwhelm, or make it difficult to see.
Your pastor's reference to history may indicate that he has something of the Old Testament concept in mind. When the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple, ample amounts of incense were used, lest he catch sight of God, and be struck dead.
But given Jesus' ministry to us of sanctifying grace, this sort of concern is not a preoccupation today. Indeed, we are instructed in the liturgy to "Behold the Lamb of God". So, the use of incense to create a kind of impenetrable cloud, is something of a misapplication of an Old Testament concept, and also an excess to be avoided.
However, also to be avoided is the complete rejection of the use of incense in the liturgy which is increasingly demanded by some in parishes.
The use of incense is permitted, even encouraged by the Church for feasts of greater solemnity. It is a beautiful image of prayer and worship ascending to God, as Psalm 141:2 says, Let my prayer rise like incense, the lifting of my hands as an evening offering. And so, incense symbolizes our prayers and praises going up to God, and its fragrant aroma is a sign of his blessings descending gently upon us.
Incense is not to be equated with cigarette smoke, it is not a known carcinogen, it is not a pollutant when used moderately. In fact, incense, like holy water, is often blessed by the priest, and therefore brings blessings.
That said, there are some who suffer from various forms of respiratory distress who may suffer with excessive incense, at least physically. One compromise in these sorts of situations, is to follow the older norms of the Traditional Latin Mass. According to those norms, incense was not carried in the aisle, or the opening and closing processions, but was only imposed and used in the sanctuary area around the altar. As such, at least in larger churches, its effect on the whole congregation can be moderated.
Since every human child receives half of his chromosomes from his Father and half from his mother, what does the Church teach on how Jesus got the other half of his chromosomes, since he had no earthly father?
There is no official Church teaching in this regard. Knowledge of DNA etc., is very recent and still deepening. Hence one would not expect a thorough theological treatise on a matter of this sort now.
However, one principle must surely apply, namely the teaching from both Scripture and Tradition that Jesus, as a Divine person, also had a complete, intact human nature and was like us in this regard in all things but sin. Hence, he had the complete and proper number of chromosomes. How exactly God supplied the part usually supplied by a human father is not revealed.
Speculation though, always a human tendency, would remain only speculation. We are dealing with miracle and mystery. But this truth remains clear, Jesus, though one person, is fully divine, and fully human.
Like many words, we can denote a strict sense, and a more relaxed colloquial sense. We can also note that the meaning of the words have changed a bit over time.
The word monastery originally came from the Greek word monazein which means, “to live alone." In the earliest days monastics, (both men and women) went to the desert to live a largely solitary life in separate dwellings. However, many of them in a local area came to share some common buildings for prayer and eating. Over time many came closer together, and eventually were housed under one roof, though the monks and monastic sisters still tended to keep long hours of silence. Thus they lived in a relative, if not physical solitude, coming together also for communal prayers, meals and necessary community deliberations in the shared chapel, refectory, and chapter hall.
Today the word “monastery” has tended to be used only of communities of men, while communities of women have tended to have their dwelling denoted as a “convent” or “cloister.” But, technically, there are women’s communities whose domicile is most properly termed a monastery.
The main difference that the term “monastery” is meant to signify is that those who live there, live “alone” or apart from the everyday world. Their prayer is centered in the monastic community. Generally too, their work or apostolate is also centered there, rather than out in the community or world. Some enclosures are strict, others less so, but the concept of dwelling apart is key.
“Convents” and religious houses, however, tend to house religious men and women who do not live and work in such isolation from the everyday world. Perhaps they work in education, hospitals or other external places during the day, but then return and live in community, sharing meals and prayer and other aspects of common life. The word “convent” comes from a Latin word which means “to convene or gather,” and is less inclusive of the concept of solitude contained in the word “monastery.”
Historically, communities of men and women have used different terms to indicate “conventual” settings. Women’s communities have used terms like convent and nunnery, whereas for the men’s communities terms like priory or friary have been used.
Nevertheless, and despite a variety of adaptations, the fundamental distinction to be observed is between communities (male or female) that live in some solitude (monastic) and those which interact more directly with the everyday world (conventual).
In St. Luke's Gospel, there is mention of the Good Thief on the cross near Jesus who repents. No name is given him, but most say his name is "Dismas." Is this true?
We don’t know. The story itself is very moving and there is naturally a human tendency to want to know more. Thus traditions and legends often set up in cases like these. But the historical accuracy of such things is often difficult to assess. “St. Dismas” is a name that tradition supplies us in the Western Church. However other names have also accrued to him in the East and in other eras such as Titus, Zoatham, Demas, and Rach.
Interesting though these traditions are, we sometimes miss the main point when biblical figures are not named. For, if you are prepared to accept it, you are the good thief who “steals heaven,” if you are willing to repent, take up your Cross, be crucified with Jesus and persevere to the end, asking God’s mercy and admission to his Kingdom.
The “good thief” was not so much good as he was smart. He knew that he was a sinner, justly condemned, and that his only hope was grace and mercy. Having repented, he turns (which is what “conversion” means) to Jesus and in faith seeks his salvation. Jesus says, “No one who comes to me will I ever reject” (Jn 6:37). And thus he is saved. Smart!
The happiness of heaven cannot be equated with earthly categories and prerequisites. Exactly how we will be happy in heaven cannot be explained to us here. Scripture describes heavenly happiness as: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- these things God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
Jesus also cautions the Sadducees, who tried to project the earthly realities of marriage and family into heaven. He said You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God (Matt 22:29). In other words, and for our purposes here, we have to admit that our grasp of what Heaven is, and how it will be experienced, cannot be reduced to, or explained merely in terms of how we are happy now.
That said, some have speculated (and it IS just speculation) that the happiness of heaven, even despite missing family members, will be possible in light of the deeper appreciation of God’s justice that we will have there. Surely we will concur in heaven with all God’s judgments and in no way incur sorrow on account of them.
Hence, we will see that those excluded from heaven are excluded rightly and have really chosen to dwell apart, preferring darkness to light (Jn 3:19). And while it may currently be mysterious to how this will not cause us sadness, God does in fact teach us that he will wipe every tear from our eyes (cf Rev. 21:4).
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother ...." I am shocked by this wording. How could Jesus ask us to hate anyone?
Jesus is using a Jewish manner of speaking in which hyperbole (exaggeration) is used to emphasize the point being made. Jesus is teaching that we are to prefer no one to him and what he commands.
However, simply to render it as “prefer” in English would not deliver the full impact of what Jesus says. Thus the English translators properly retain the literal meaning of the Greek word miseó, “hate.” For Jesus is not merely asking for some preferred place in the world of loyalties and ideas, He is asking for a radical preference. Jesus is not just part of our life, he IS our life.
The impact of what he is saying is that we must so strongly love and prefer him, that others might think at times that we “hate” them by comparison.
Thus, “hate” here does not mean to despise, condemn or harbor grudges. But it is a call for a radical preference that the use of the simple word “prefer” does not capture. Jesus uses hyperbole as a way of emphasis. We do this a lot in English as well when, for example, we say things like, “There must have been a million people there.” There may not have even been a thousand, but our emphasis is a hyperbole that means there were a LOT of people there.
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