One of the most gifted priestly contributors to the Internet is Fr. Robert Barron, a Chicago priest. He is an insightful commentator on cultural issues and current events and how they relate to Church teaching. Here is an example of his commentary on the A-Rod steroid controversy. Through this example he explores a basic theme of this blog: the longing we all have for God.
When I was a kid, I thought of Church as something my mom made me do with lots of rituals and stuff. I never thought of it as essential for my survival. But Jesus teaches something very profound in John’s Gospel when he was talking about Holy Communion (the Eucharist). In effect he says that without Holy Communion we will starve and die spiritually. Here is what Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
Even as a young adult I never thought of Holy Communion as essential for my life, as something that, if I didn’t receive it regularly, would cause me to die spiritually. But it makes sense doesn’t it? If we don’t eat food in our physical lives we grow weak and eventually die. It is the same with Holy Communion. Remember what happened in the Book of Exodus: the people were without food in the desert and they feared for their lives. So God gave them bread from heaven called “manna” that they collected each morning. Without eating that bread from heaven they would never have made it to the Promised Land; they would have died in the desert. It is the same with us. Without receiving Jesus, our Living Manna from heaven in Holy Communion, we will not make it to our Promised Land of Heaven! I guess it’s not just a ritual after all; it is essential for our survival.
Don’t miss Holy Communion! Jesus urges you to eat. A mother and father in my parish recently noticed their daughter wasn’t eating. Within a very short time they took her to the doctor, who diagnosed the problem, and now the young girl is able to eat again. Those parents would have moved heaven and earth to make sure their daughter was able to eat. It is the same with God. Jesus urges us to eat, to receive the Holy Communion every Sunday without fail. Jesus urges us with this word: “Unless!”
Here is a powerful presentation of the “Jesus Bread of Life” discourse from the Movie, The Gospel of John. The movie is a worthy production and a word-for-word rendering of the Gospel of John. You can order it here: The Gospel of John.
Here is another question that was sent to us via e-mail:
The Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests. Why is this so and how can the Church continue in a policy that seems so unfair and at variance with the fact that most other denominations now have women ministers?
This question is frequently asked today and seems more urgent when, as you note, other denominations have women ministers. There is also today a stronger sense that all opportunities should be available to everyone.
The most immediate answer as to why the Church does not ordain to the priesthood is that the Church cannot do so. Sometimes we think today that our Church is free to do whatever she wants. But the fact is that the Church is bound to hand on what she has received. When Jesus established the priesthood, he chose from among all his many disciples (which included many prominent women) twelve men whom he named “Apostles.” This call of the Apostles is the origin of the priesthood. Jesus called only men to this office. It is hard to argue, as some do, that Jesus had to comply with the norms of his day and thus had no real choice. The fact is that Jesus broke many conventions of his time and exhibited considerable freedom in interpreting the Law. He was more than willing to engage in controversy where necessary. Jesus himself established the priesthood calling only men and the Church has no authority to overrule Jesus, Sacred Scripture, or the established Apostolic Tradition in this regard. Both John Paul II and Paul VI indicated this very clearly. Here is What Pope John Paul wrote in 1994: “Therefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4). Therefore, the Church must hand on what we have received from Christ and the Apostles even if this teaching is not currently popular or in conformity with other modern practices.
As to the question of fairness, I would point out that it is possible to observe differences in regard to roles in the Church without an indication of inequality. Whatever roles individuals fill in the Church, all are equally baptized, all are equally children of the Father, and all are equal in dignity. This is what Paul wrote in First Corinthians 12:
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body… 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
Not long ago I was interviewed on CNN in a kind of debate with another priest who dissents from Church Teaching in this matter. If you wish, you can view the exchange here:
I encourage you to use the comments section if you would like further clarification of this teaching.
The following came into our question box from a reader:
I know the Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus but why do Catholics pray and honor her?It sometimes seems she is equal to Jesus.
Thanks for this question. It is our first!
Catholics often hear questions like this. Sometimes we are even told, much to our surprise, that we “worship” Mary and “pray to statues.” The vivid devotion that many Catholics have for Mary should not be construed to mean that we consider her to be equal to Jesus. She is not God and it is the clear Catholic teaching that to ever think of her in this way would be seriously wrong. Our Catholic teaching and belief is clear: to worship Mary would be a serious sin, for worship belongs to God alone. We do ask Mary and all the Saints in heaven to pray for us, but this is no more wrong than if I were to ask you to pray for me. Nor would doing so be a denial of the fact that I can talk directly to God on my own behalf.
So what is the proper way to understand Catholic reverence and teaching regarding Mary and all the Saints? How can such practices be properly understood and appreciated? Let us consider two things: first, to honor Mary is a very Biblical thing to do, and second, to honor and love Mary is a very Christ-like thing to do.
Biblical Basis – In the first place the veneration of Mary is Biblical. The Scriptures themselves describe the honor that will be given Mary. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Lk 1:48-49) Thus each time we call to mind the dignity and blessedness of Mary, we fulfill this biblical prophecy. And when we do this, we also glorify God for he alone is the source of all that is good and holy. The Blessed Mother is surely His masterwork and she herself acknowledges it. Note also that the most common prayer in which we honor Mary and seek her intercession is the Hail Mary. It is also a biblically-based prayer. The entire first half of this prayer is drawn from Scripture. The Angel Gabriel praised Mary: Hail full of grace the Lord is with you! (Lk 1:28-29) Elizabeth also praised her: Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (Lk 1:48). Thus our Catholic traditions about Mary both echo Scripture and fulfill its prophecies. And while we pray this prayer, we meditate on biblical stories about Jesus.
An Imitation of Jesus – We also imitate Jesus himself when we give honor to Mother Mary. Think first about the way Jesus entrusted himself to Mary’s care. He could have chosen to enter the human scene in ways other than He actually did. Perhaps He could simply have appeared as a full grown man. Yet He did not. When God chose to enter human history He chose to do so through Mary. And not only did Jesus dwell nine months in her womb, He also entrusted himself to her ongoing care. She nursed him, sang to him, comforted him, and clothed him. In time she taught him to walk and to talk. He shared a family resemblance to her. They spoke with the same accent and probably shared many mannerisms. Mary was also present during Jesus’ public ministry and had an important influence in the working of his first miracle at Cana. She was at the foot of the cross as Jesus accomplished His greatest work—our redemption. In all of these ways, God instructs us that Mary’s role is far more than ceremonial. A truly biblical view does not downplay or minimize Mary’s role in God’s plan. Instead we seek to learn the rich meanings of what Jesus said and did in regard to Mary by His word as well as His example. Hence when Catholics are asked why they honor Mary a rightful answer may be, “I love Mary, I honor her and entrust myself to her care because Jesus did all these things and I want to be just like Jesus.”
I hope this answer helps to answer your questions. Please feel free to comment.
I am going to be bold and claim that I can “prove” to you that God exists, and that our desires and longings are that very proof! Think about it: your desires and longings are infinite aren’t they? When was the last time you were ever completely satisfied and needed absolutely nothing? If we’re really honest, we have to admit that our desires and longings are infinite—without any limit. But wait a minute! The world in which we live is finite; it has limits. How can a limited, finite world give us unlimited and infinite desire? The answer is that it cannot. There is an old saying in Latin: Nemo dat quod non habet (no one can give what he does not have). So we must have received these infinite, unlimited longings from that which is also unlimited and infinite. This unlimited and infinite One we call God. Have I proved my case? Let me know what you think. The world couldn’t give you these deepest longings! Only the infinite God could have done that! He exists and he has written his name on our hearts. All these desires and longings we have are ultimately pointing us to God. Consider reading the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, where Jesus meets the Woman of Samaria at the well. She comes to the well of world to satisfy her thirst. But Jesus reminds her that “everyone who drinks from this well will be thirsty again.” He goes on to teach her that He is really the only one who can give her water that will truly satisfy her longings. In effect he says to her, “What are you longing for? Maybe it’s God!”