Here, Father answers parishioners' questions put to him anonymously. Do ask your questions and send them in to email@example.com
What does Church teaching say about natural disasters such as those brought about by Hurricane Irma, as well as terrible illness & diseases. Should they be thought of as acts of God or the work of the Devil or neither? Alternatively should we just admit that we do not and cannot know?
Having thought about this, my own answer would be that we should not consider them as the work of God or the Devil but just as acts of nature. I suppose the challenge for us as Christians is how we react to these things - help those affected and try to prevent them where possible, rather than try to search for some deep theological reason for them happening.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognises the question you pose when it reminds us, in the words of St Paul, that now “….we walk by faith, not by sight” and that, we perceive God “as in a mirror, dimly and only in part”. It also says, “our experience of evil and suffering, injustice and death seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it”. CCC 164.
Your question specifically refers to the natural world where the forces of nature may often have destructive effects. The thing is that we perceive these effects as being somehow evil because they result in pain or loss to ourselves, whether directly or indirectly through a feeling of compassion towards others. We must however, distinguish between these natural effects and moral evil. Moral evil springs from an act of choice - fundamentally to choose something other than what is good. The things you have in mind, of course, have nothing to do with that except where a human choice may distort the workings of nature e.g. we have a duty to ensure that human activity does not lead to natural disasters.
You are quite right to conclude that disasters of disease etc are not the work either of God or the devil but the activity (not acts) of nature. You are also right to say that we cannot know a reason for particular events but should do everything possible to mitigate suffering when it occurs. The Catechism also says “…with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world in a state of journeying towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature”. CCC 310. and while I have the book open, the Catechism has a summary note which leaves us with a humble and realistic consideration of these important matters:
“The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.” CCC 324
"God works through & intervenes in the world through people". Is that the answer to the question as to why God supposedly tolerates suffering in the world?
God does act upon the world through people, but, of course, He is not dependent upon them in any way. In the Bible there are many instances where it is understood that certain people, even without their knowledge, are nevertheless fulfilling God’s purposes; for example, to punish in order to reform, as Jeremiah describes the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar (see Jer 32:26) or to facilitate a restoration as in the case of Artaxerxes in the book of Ezra (Ez.7:11). Those people, like ourselves, are free to co-operate with God’s inspirations or not.
It cannot be said that God “tolerates” suffering in the world. Suffering often occurs when people act contrary to God’s will: that is permitted by God because the good of freedom of will and action constitutes the basis of our nature as human beings able to relate to God and outweighs the evil consequent upon the misuse of that freedom.
As Christians we are told that we should forgive those who wrong us. Is that obligation in any way conditional on the wrong doer showing contrition or regret for what they have done?
In St Matthew’s Gospel, when Our Lord teaches his disciples the Our Father, he adds an explanation of the section of the prayer about forgiveness - “If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences”. (Mt 6:14f). This is not a new precept from Our Lord, but was known in earlier times (see Ecclesiasticus 28 - the whole chapter is worth reading). We know from the Gospel again that if a person should ask our forgiveness, we should accede to their request even repeatedly (Mt 18:21). The act of asking for forgiveness would, in those cases, indicate some measure of contrition or regret; but perhaps you are thinking about situations where an offence has been suffered and there has been no expression of regret, or anything of that sort, on the part of the offender. Are we then bound to forgive?
It is perhaps useful to clarify what is happening in this process of giving or withholding forgiveness. A person who has done wrong can only become forgiven when they have asked for and accepted forgiveness. But we, if we are wronged, should always forgive even if the offender has not asked for forgiveness or expressed any regret for their actions - or even noticed that they have wronged us. This is a matter which affects not the other person but ourselves; first of all because, as we saw, we are very much in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness even when we are unaware of our faults; secondly, because failure to forgive has an adverse effect on our own spiritual and mental health, and on our happiness, because our minds get absorbed in the unpleasant thoughts and feelings relating to the offence against us and the person of the offender. There things are only healed by our reliance on the grace of God, rather than considering the evils of others, and being able to forgive without conditions.
As Christians we pray to God, so why pray to the Saints?
When we pray to God we are speaking to Him AS God. He alone is to be worshipped and acknowledged as Lord of all. Nevertheless, we can use the words, 'pray' and 'prayer' when we address others. One might say, for example, 'I pray, help me carry this heavy parcel'. It might sound a little old-fashioned but it could not be considered inappropriate. In such a case we would not imply that the person whose assistance we sought had any sort of Divine power or strength. Just as we might ask a neighbour to help us, indeed to pray for us, if we knew them to be a fellow believer, so we may ask the saints in heaven to help us and pray for us to God. It is a great advantage for us to have the support and prayers of fellow Christians, whether they are those with whom we live on earth or those departed who have a place in heaven.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (C.C.C.) there is an article which reads: 'The witnesses who have preceded us into the Kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognises as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise Him and constantly care for those who they have left on earth......Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world'. (C.C.C. 2683)
Can we ask Fr. Why in the CTS new Catholic Bible, Matthew 6 v 9-13 the translation of the 'Our Father' is not the same as we say it. Is one translation better than the other?
The translation of the Our Father we use dates from mediaeval times. Some may think that this is a better or more accurate translation but it has not been changed over the years in order to maintain familiarity with the most basic prayer in our religion.
I still don't understand the difference between the Latin Mass and the Tridentine Mass, and the significance of each. Could Father Budge please explain?
The Mass of the Roman Church (and the other services) has always been in Latin. Following the Second Vatican Council, in 1969, a new Order of Mass was instituted and it was permitted to make and use translations of the Order in the various vernacular languages. This New Order of Mass therefore may be celebrated either in its original Latin or in English or some other language.
The older Order of Mass is still used - this is the Order which was promulgated around the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century - hence it is sometimes call ‘The Tridentine Mass’. This Order must always be celebrated in Latin - so sometimes it is also called, ‘The Latin Mass’ - but this can be confusing since the New Order of Mass may also be a Latin Mass.In our parish, Mass on Tuesday morning is usually a Latin Mass following the New Order and every couple of months there is a Latin Mass following the Older Order usually on a Thursday.
How does original sin fit in with evolution? Is this 'original sin' not a throw back from our animal origins and instinct for survival as individuals and as a species?
One needs to establish what ‘original sin’ is. It is first of all the sin of disobedience of our first parents described in the book of Genesis. The consequences of this act of disobedience are also spelt out there. “Man tempted by the devil let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 397)
The term “Original Sin” also describes the state of humanity subsequent to that first disobedience. All are subject to death, there is a loss of holiness, the control of the body by the soul’s spiritual faculties is lost, the unity between man and woman has become broken and marked by lust and a search for domination, the harmony between man and creation has been distorted.
Everybody, as a human being, is born in a state of original sin. It is not a personal fault. Human nature has been wounded, tainted, subject of ignorance and suffering and inclined to evil. The Catechism (CCC 405) reminds us that “Baptism by imputing the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spirited battle”.
Perhaps this may help to make it clear that evolution has nothing whatever to do with original sin (nor vice-versa).
Why did we stop believing in Limbo?
I don’t know why you stopped believing in Limbo. I haven’t.
From early times it became a matter of concern to theologians and others that the situation of unbaptised infants who died was a difficulty in terms of establishing whether they were in heaven or hell. The Gospels and other scriptural texts make it clear that faith and baptism are necessary to salvation. Over the years people have looked at various ways of solving the problem (but without any definitive success). Saint Thomas Aquinas was perhaps the most influential of the thinkers in this area and he proposed that the souls of these unbaptised infants would be, as it were, on the outskirts of the nether regions (‘limbus’, in latin) where they would not be enjoying the vision of God in heaven, but neither would they be suffering the pains of those who are damned. Indeed, he suggested that they would be able to experience a natural joy.
At the Second Vatican Council it was asked by some to make this official Church teaching: it was never a defined teaching of the church although very widely accepted and believed. The Council failed to address the issue but in the last few years the International Theological Commission made an extensive study to try and solve the problem. The findings of this commission do not seem to go beyond saying that there may be grounds which allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for those who have died without Baptism.
It is perfectly permissible to prefer the opinion of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Personally I find it reasonable, theologically satisfying and a rather more comforting way of understanding things.
What is your view of Halloween?
I read somewhere that 31st October was the last day of the old year in the pre-Christian Celtic calendar and that night was a time when witches and wicked sprits "held their wicked revels". When Christianity was introduced a celebration of the Eve of All Hallows (All Saints) replaced the pagan revelry but it took a very different form - the visiting of the cemetery and the lighting of a lamp by the graves of the departed.
The modern Hallow'en seems to be a reversion to the pagan form and although it might be described as 'harmless fun' any sort of involvement with the evil and demonic especially if it is considered fun is wrong and may have dangerous consequences as well as infringing the first commandment which condemns superstition.
If children might be brought to celebrate Hallow'en in the Christian tradition then they might find that fun, as well as teaching them to pray for their departed forbears and to honour their memory. They could still make lamps our of pumpkins - (but without grotesque designs perhaps).