Ask a Priest

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Today’s secular world throws curve balls at us all the time. AskACatholicPriest is a Q&A feature that anyone can use. Just type in your question or send an email to AskAPriest@rcspirituality.org and you will get a personal response back from one of our priests at RCSpirituality. You can ask about anything – liturgy, prayer, moral questions, current events… Our goal is simply to provide a trustworthy forum for dependable Catholic guidance and information. So go ahead and ask your question…

 

WHAT ABOUT GOSPEL ‘EXCEPTIONS’ ALLOWING FOR DIVORCE?

Q: Why does the New American Bible not make the exception for sexual immoral acts or fornication like most all the other Bibles do? -R.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The verse you refer to says, “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” see more…

 

SHOULD A PARISH BULLETIN CARRY VIDEO STORE ADS?

Q: I read your excellent answer on viewing R-rated movies. My question deals with providing those movies as an occasion of sin. A Catholic parishioner independently owns a movie- and game-rental business with no restrictions (R to G are available). This business is promoted in the church bulletin and other community publications with full knowledge of the parish pastor. This parishioner also serves as a Eucharistic minister. Is this not a scandal? -M.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I can appreciate your concerns about the ads and the role of the store owner as a Eucharistic minister. It’s not an uncommon fact of life that many of the faithful are involved with things that are not 100 percent Christian. see more…

 

DO MATTHEW AND LUKE CONTRADICT EACH OTHER ON JESUS’ EARLY LIFE?

Q: In Matthew 2, it says Mary, Joseph and Jesus were in Bethlehem, and (verse 13) after the wise men left, the angel told them to flee to Egypt. So they went to Egypt and stayed there till Herod died. But in Luke 2, Mary, Joseph and Jesus go to Jerusalem for their purification when Jesus is a baby, and verse 39 says then they returned to Nazareth where the child grew and became strong, etc. This seems like a contradiction. Can you explain? -T.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There really isn’t a contradiction here. Rather, each Gospel writer is selectively using facts in order to convey a certain message. see more…

 

IS IT A SIN IF I MISS SUNDAY MASS WHILE ON A CRUISE?

Q: I have been invited to go on a cruise with my family. If there is not a priest on board, I will miss Sunday Mass. I attend Mass daily. May I do this without committing sin? I am 80 years old, and will be with my daughter, her husband and two grandchildren over 18. -T.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The ideal would be to find a cruise line that ensures a priest’s presence on Sundays and holy days of obligation. But many moral theologians would say in this case the obligation is not binding. see more…

 

WHAT IS CHURCH TEACHING ON IVF AND SURROGACY?

Q: A married family member has been wanting to have a baby but not able to. On a regular visit, the doctor told them he could see that they had a baby. They were so excited about the chances and didn’t realize it could be a sinful decision. The first baby will be delivered soon by a surrogate mother. There are some frozen embryos left, and they would like to have another baby. But what if they find there could be a couple of embryos left? Have they committed a mortal sin? -A.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There are several serious issues involved here. First, though, I have to hedge my response because I’m not sure whether the embryos were created from the spouses alone or whether they involved a third-party donor of sperm or egg. see more…

 

I AM CONSIDERING LIPOSUCTION… WILL I GO TO HELL FOR THIS?

Q: I got two tattoos many years ago, which I thought were spiritual and pretty. I also had some permanent makeup, and as a result of a scar on my scalp, I had that scar tattooed the color of my hair to make the scar less noticeable. Also, I have had some minor cosmetic procedures. I did not get them to be vain or have people worship me — I just got them to be more comfortable in my own skin, and ironically less preoccupied with my physical appearance. I am now 45 and am considering a bit of liposuction, as I noticed a bit of fat deposits that were not there before. So basically, my question is, will I go to hell for this? -C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: That you are concerned about your eternal salvation is a good sign. The way to pursue salvation, though, is to focus on your spiritual life and less on your physical appearance. see more…

 

IF GOD LOVES US SO MUCH, WHY DOES HELL EXIST?

Q: How can a loving God send anyone to hell? I was always told that God loves us unconditionally, but if that’s true, then why does hell exist? Doesn’t that prove that God’s love is conditional? Couldn’t God, who created the magnificent universe, come up with a better alternative than hell? Why would God create a place that makes Jesus’ death on the cross ineffective for all who go to hell? Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor. How can I love my neighbor and forget the souls that are burning in hell? We can’t pray for them. Hell is eternal. If I end up in heaven, God willing, how can I enjoy heaven knowing that trillions of souls are burning for all eternity? Bottom line is, God’s love and the punishment of hell are in direct opposition. Some people have told me that hell is God’s justice. When I read Jesus’ words on hell, it doesn’t display justice to me. It displays hate. Hell is something that I despise. It is a creation of God that I believe should not exist for any of his children, no matter how bad they are. We must never forget that nothing happens that is not according to God’s will and that includes the people that are going to hell. I refuse to believe that my heart is kinder than my doctrine … kinder than my Lord and God. I hope I haven’t offended you with my questions. -C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I appreciate this chance to try to answer some of your heartfelt questions. First off, though, I need to emphasize that in no way should Jesus’ words on hell ever be interpreted as displaying hatred. Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and whatever he revealed, he did so for the sake of our salvation. And he did this for love for us. see more…

 

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE PRIESTHOOD, THE EUCHARIST, AND THE CHURCH?

Q: For the past three Sundays our priest has asked us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and then said, “Without priests there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Catholic Church.” Please explain. Thank you. -K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: That is a memorable way of describing the link between the priesthood, the Eucharist, and the Church. see more…

 

WHAT DO CATHOLICS BASE THEIR BELIEFS ON?

Q: I’m taking a comparative religion course and am unsure of the answer of one of my questions. I was hoping you could help. The question is: “Aside from Scripture, on what else do Roman Catholics base their beliefs?” Thank you! -T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: When we talk about Catholic “beliefs” we are referring to divine Revelation, that is, what God has revealed for our salvation. The height of Revelation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on human nature. What Christ taught us was his Gospel. see more…

 

WHY DO WE PRAY TO THE SAINTS?

Q: I have been trying to explain why we pray to saints to one of my sisters and I’m a little lost. Is there some book I could read that would give me as simple an explanation as possible to relate to her? -M.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The simple way to think about our praying to the saints is this: All the faithful are part of the Church, the mystical body of Christ. And as with a physical body, the good of one part of the body helps the other parts too. see more…

 

HOW DO I GET OUT OF THE LOOP OF SINNING AND THEN CONTINUALLY ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS?

Q: If we are saved, what are the negative impacts of sin? If we are forgiven for anything, why should we do good? I want to do better and I need motivation. What I constantly hear is that we are forgiven and that if we ask for forgiveness then everything is fine again, and it sets me in a loop where I can just sin and then ask for forgiveness over and over. –J.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Be careful. It’s easy to misinterpret that phrase “We are saved.” True, the Catechism in No. 621 says, “Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation.” No. 622 adds, “The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many.'” see more…

 

IS IT OK TO RECOGNIZE THE BELIEFS OF OTHER RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS?

Q: I always felt that it was very interesting that the First Commandment has to even mention “other gods.” Is it fair to assume that there are lesser gods than the Lord? It seems like odd phrasing, when God / Moses (as a vessel) could use a more total choice of words. I know the translation between the original Hebrew text may sometimes end up bumpy, but being that it is the First Commandment I would like to believe that it would be of chief importance to get that right. So, is it bad to recognize the beliefs of and practice other religious dogma with others of different belief as long as you still find your own personal faith in the Lord himself? -P.T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The verse you refer to is Exodus 20:3. It reads, “You shall not have other gods beside me.” see more…

 

A PRAYER OF MINE HAS BEEN ANSWERED… HOW CAN I GIVE BACK TO GOD?

Q: I’m 19 years old. I was raised non-religiously since my mom is a fallen Catholic and my dad is Jewish. Recently I met a girl who made me happier than I was ever before in my life. I just enjoyed being around her. I usually find true love to be a silly and childish concept, but meeting her has made me rethink it. We spent the whole night talking. A few days later, I messaged her, but did not receive a response for a few days. During that time I was waiting for a response, I prayed to God. There was nothing more in the world I wanted than for her to respond. I’ve never prayed before, so I did not recite any prayers but knelt in silent spirituality wishing for God’s help. I told God I would swear myself to him and not doubt if she showed my similar interest. The next day I got a message from her that showed just that. I’m contacting you for guidance because I feel like I have to give back to God. Almost like I owe him. What should I do? -M.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for your note and for sharing your experience. God has a time and moment when he draws each of us closer to himself. This might be such a moment for you. see more…

 

CAN A CATHOLIC RECEIVE COMMUNION AT AN EPISCOPAL SERVICE?

Q: I attend Mass and receive Communion every Sunday. If, in addition to my Catholic Sunday obligation, I attended an Episcopal service and received their communion, what do you think Jesus would say? -T.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I think Jesus would say, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” Why? Because it is what his Church, speaking under his authority and in his name, teaches. see more…

 

CAN YOU EXPLAIN EXCOMMUNICATION?

Q: I’m having a slight problem understanding why the Church can excommunicate sinners when the sin is grave enough, yet the Church does not condemn Judas who betrayed Jesus. I understand that no one can know the heart of another, except God. I truly believe the same way, and I’m having trouble understanding why we need canon lawyers when only God knows our hearts? -M.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to remember that excommunication is meant to be corrective rather than punitive. That is, it is a penalty that is meant to send a strong signal to someone that he needs to change his ways and repent. see more…

 

I AM PREDISPOSED TO CERTAIN TYPES OF SIN… HOW CAN I RESIST THEM?

Q: I know people say sins are by choice, which I agree to to an extent. Sometimes I honestly believe people cannot help who they are. For example, I am more predisposed to anxiety, vanity, etc. I understand how to stop doing sins in action, but feelings are difficult to control. Does the Bible ever explain this? I honestly feel I cannot help being envious of others at times. Someone in the same position might feel differently, but still that is how I feel. I know it is sinful to get very angry, envious. Why do humans feel the way they do even when it is sinful? -Y.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question touches on the reality of fallen human nature. This is the result of original sin, which we inherit from our first parents who sinned in the Garden of Eden. … see more…

 

I USE BIRTH CONTROL BECAUSE I AM FEARFUL TO BRING CHILDREN INTO THIS WORLD…

Q: I am a married Catholic. My faith is so very important to me and a very important part of my life. I am having a struggle. I have felt since high school that I did not want children. I love kids, but this world makes me very fearful to have children. I also have many concerns with the way they will “turn out.” I was put on birth control when I first married due to a medical reason. I have continued to take them ever since in fear of getting pregnant. My husband shares my same views. We are both very active in our church. I am a Eucharistic minister and we both receive Communion regularly. I feel like the biggest hypocrite/sinner. I struggle because I feel that God understands the way I feel, but I know accordingly to my Catholic religion this is wrong. I do attend confession, but I have never confessed this sin because I know I will continue to use birth control. I am looking for guidance/help/advice of how to address this issue. -S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I can understand your fears about raising a family in the world. The culture doesn’t support marriage and family the way it used to. Every generation has its share of darkness to deal with. The proper response as a Christian is to look to the Resurrection and realize that, if Christ could overcome death, he can overcome anything. “Put on the armor of God,” exhorts St. Paul in Ephesians 6:11, “so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” see more…

 

IS THERE SALVATION FOR NON-CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS?

Q: Okay, so I’m a Catholic but my parents are devout Baptists, and I recently discovered the “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” doctrine. Does this say that they will not be saved since they aren’t Catholics? I’m really worried about them. -B.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for your show of love for your parents. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (Outside the Church there is no salvation) is a commonly misunderstood teaching. It assuredly does not mean that non-Catholics are doomed. see more…

 

IS IT A SIN FOR A CATHOLIC COUPLE TO UNDERGO AN IVF PROCEDURE?

Q: Is it a sin, or simply morally unacceptable, for a Catholic couple who desire to have children to undergo assisted reproductive procedures like IVF? Should such a couple stay away from the Holy Eucharist? Are there options for Catholic spouses grappling with infertility? -J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The pain of infertility can be a very heavy cross for a couple desiring to have children. That such a couple wants to share their love and life with children is a beautiful sign of their generosity. see more…

 

WHAT DOES THE CHURCH SAY ABOUT HEALTH CARE PROXY DIRECTIVES?

Q: Is it morally permissible for a Catholic to have a health care proxy that directs his next-of-kin and doctors to withhold artificially delivered food/water in the event that he is in a persistent vegetative state? -D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for your question, which is timely and touches on an issue that can be very difficult for families to deal with. see more…

 

SHOULD I ATTEND MY NIECE’S SAME-SEX MARRIAGE RECEPTION?

Q: My niece and godchild is going to another state to get “married to her female partner.” Her mother, my sister and best friend, is having a reception in our city. She and my other siblings have said they are against gay marriage, but they are all attending this reception. I feel it is hypocritical to attend. Am I being judgmental? I will be categorized as such. Any ideas? -P.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about your niece. It must be very painful to see someone you love get involved in such a relationship. see more…

 

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT POPE FRANCIS IS SAYING IN HIS APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION, ‘EVANGELII GAUDIUM’?

Q: I was recently at a Mass in a parish in Arizona. The priest welcomed everyone before the start of Mass and then quoted from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (paragraph 47). The parish priest then proceeded to tell the congregation that regardless of what some theologians may tell us, Communion should not be withheld from those in a state of mortal sin because the Holy Father said it is medicine for the sick. He left it hanging like that. I talked with my family members after and everyone had a different “take” on what they heard the priest say. I thought the opinion he gave, based on the Holy Father’s statement in the letter, opened a “can of worms” that needed more explanation. Thank you for any light you can provide on this dilemma. -J.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m afraid that priest in Arizona badly misinterpreted the Holy Father’s words.
True, Pope Francis has put a special emphasis on reaching out to those who feel distant from the Church. But by no means is he endorsing an indiscriminate dispensing of the sacraments. see more…

 

I WANT TO ENJOY MY VACATION… IS IT WRONG FOR ME TO USE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS?

Q: I am going on a vacation in a few months, and my period falls right in the middle of it. I am considering taking birth control specifically to ease the pain so I can enjoy my vacation. I am not married and will not engage in any sexual activity, so the birth control would not be blocking any potential life. Would it still be wrong to use birth control if it is not prohibiting life? -A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It must be very difficult to face the pain of a period, especially when it can disrupt what you hope would be a time of relaxation and rest. see more…

 

I AM CONSIDERING GETTING BOTOX INJECTIONS. IS THIS GOING AGAINST GOD’S PLAN?

Q: I am a few months shy of 50 and the idea of getting a Botox injection on my forehead has been haunting me. Is it going against God’s plan? Is it moral? -D.N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question touches on a lot of issues, including the motivation for such treatment as well as the costs and dangers involved. There is no simple answer in this case. see more…

 

CAN MY CHOICE OF CLOTHING BE AN OCCASION OF SIN FOR OTHERS?

Q: Hello! I would like some advice concerning a conflict I face. I am a teenage Catholic girl and I enjoy participating in sports (running and swimming specifically). To me, sports are a way to make new friends, become more confident in my body, and reduce the amount of stress I have from school and other things. Being able to be confident about myself is important, I think, so that I can achieve the goals I’ve set and love myself. However, participating in sports does not only bring confidence, it also brings pride over my appearance and increases my desire to dress immodestly. Since I’m not embarrassed by the way I look, I want to be able to enjoy it. I see other girls wearing skimpy clothes, getting attention from boys, and admiration from other girls. It’s not that I even want to dress that way, I just want to be “normal” and dress like everyone else, wear shorts, tank tops, dresses that come to the middle of my thighs. But I know that dressing that way is hurtful to others spiritually. It’s just so hard to see other people wearing whatever they want and knowing that I shouldn’t dress that way. What should I do and to what extent is my clothing choice responsible for causing other people to sin? -K.T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to see that you have a spiritual sensitivity about the way you dress and your concern about being an occasion of sin for other people. This shows that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart and forming you to be a woman who can give a strong witness to your faith. see more…

 

WHY DO HUMANS FEEL THE WAY THEY DO EVEN WHEN IT IS SINFUL?

Q: I know people say sins are a choice, which I agree with to an extent. Sometimes I honestly believe people cannot help who they are. For example, I am more predisposed to anxiety, vanity, etc. Yes, I should stop. It is not always that easy. I understand how to stop doing sins in action, but feelings are difficult to control. Does the Bible ever explain this? I honestly feel I cannot help being envious of others at times. Someone in the same position may feel differently, but still that is how I feel. I know it is sinful to get very angry, envious, etc. Why do humans feel the way they do even when it is sinful? -Y.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question touches on an age-old problem. St. Paul summed up the struggle he felt within himself when he wrote, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15). see more…

 

DO I HAVE TO PRACTICE CATHOLICISM EVEN IF IT IS NOT WHAT I BELIEVE IN?

Q: I was baptized and raised Catholic. My family was not very involved in the Church and I never felt any connection to God while attending Mass, Sunday school, etc. As an adult, I found a non-denominational church and for the first time ever felt the presence of God. I attend every Sunday, serve with the children’s ministry, give money to the church, and read my Bible and daily devotionals. I am closer to God than I ever was as a Catholic. My mom persecutes me almost daily about how I was baptized a Catholic and obligated to be a Catholic. She says I am a Catholic whether I like it or not. I am newly engaged and now she says my marriage will be invalid before God if I am not married by a priest. This breaks my heart that she feels this way. I believe that God will be very present in my marriage as my fiancé and I are both very strong in our faith. I would be going against what I believe to be true in my heart if I posed as a Catholic. I’m trying to find some guidance for both myself and my mother in this situation. I feel so much love for God and have faith that I will be saved and that he will be present in all aspects of my life. Am I wrong? Do I have to practice Catholicism even if it is not what I believe in? Does God care more about which church I attend than what is in my heart? Are the sacraments more important than leading a life in imitation of Christ? -D.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am happy to hear that you feel God is very present in your life and that you love him so much. Your question raises three issues that I would like to address: the first on religious liberty and conscience; the second on Catholic baptism; and the third on your family situation. see more…

 

HOW CAN I DEFEND THE CHURCH’S TEACHING ON MORTAL SIN?

Q: I am having trouble defending the Church’s teaching on mortal sin — specifically the idea that one can fall from grace through one act of disobedience. I am not having trouble defending this logically, but it just seems to many people to be a little rigid and mechanical, as well as a bit harsh in some cases. For example, people will often bring up the case of a good and faithful Catholic, who misses Sunday Mass, and dies the next day without confessing — according to the teaching on mortal sin, he dies out of God’s favor and then goes to hell. I am finding it hard to justify this to inquirers. Actually in general, people seem to find Catholicism to be a little “cluttered” with rules and often ask (though again, seeing the logic of its teachings) whether they are too much of an obstacle for people coming to the faith. Wouldn’t God want to make it easier for people to come in, they say, and therefore provide a simpler means, a simpler religion? -M.K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to learn that you are actively defending and explaining the Catholic faith. No doubt, some things in the Church are harder to accept than others. A full answer to your questions would fill a bookshelf or two. But let me touch on some key points. see more…

 

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SAME-SEX ATTRACTION?

Q: I know my question might have been asked by others many thousand times before, but I fear that I am a homosexual and I am 90% attracted to guys more than to girls. If God wanted people to abstain from sexual immorality or “unnatural desires,” then why did such kind of orientation even exist and allow a number of people to possibly go to hell? Also, why would God allow homosexuality to exist in the animal kingdom as well? Does the Church feel that this kind of deviant sexual orientation is biological or due to personal choice? -K.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You say that you fear you are “a homosexual.” I would encourage you to remember that first and foremost you are a beloved son of God. You are made in his image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26), and his plan for you is to love him in this world and be with him for eternity in heaven. He calls you to holiness and will give you the grace you need to achieve that goal. In other words, your identity is not something that is based on sexual attractions. Your identity and dignity are linked to your immortal soul and your powers of intellect and will. see more…

 

WHAT DOES THE CHURCH SAY ABOUT HOW A BODY SHOULD BE TREATED AFTER DEATH?

Q: My husband participated in a memorial for a fellow Knight of Columbus who recently died. The service took place at the nursing home; the Knights prayed the usual rosary. My husband said the member’s body was not present, since it was donated to a university medical school. To us, there seemed to be something improper about the absence of body or ashes. I know it is acceptable to donate organs, but what about this case, as I was mainly questioning proper handling of the body (i.e., normal burial of ashes/body) when the university is finished with its research? Don’t know what is the acceptable Catholic protocol is in a case like this. -L.T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I can readily understand the emotional discomfort you must have felt by hearing about the whereabouts of the body of the deceased. To lose a loved one or friend, and then not be able to pay respects in the presence of the body, can leave a sense of emptiness or unease. As Christians we believe strongly in the resurrection of the body and so appreciate the Church’s guidance that bodies of the dead should be treated with great respect. see more…

 

HOW CAN A PERSON GROW IN HUMILITY?

Q: How does one become humble? -P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question touches on one of the key virtues. Becoming humble — practicing humility — is an antidote to the mother of all sins, pride. see more…

 

WAS ST. JOSEPH MUCH OLDER THAN MARY WHEN THEY MARRIED?

Q: Some friends and I are having a discussion about this. It would appear that St. Joseph was much older than Mary when they married. Was he widowed with children? -J.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: see more…

 

IS IT HARMFUL TO HAVE A VOODOO DOLL?

Q: My mother recently came back from New Orleans and brought me a voodoo doll for success and happiness. I decided to make a little altar for it and write down my hopes and wishes on it, which were not at all harmful or vain — things like: I want my kids to have healthy, happy lives, and I want God to be proud of me. I kind of want to believe that the “spirits” people believe in in voodoo are a representation of the Holy Spirit, and I thought of this as a fun new way of praying. Do you think there is any harm in this? Even if I still believe everything was created by God and controlled by God? — Like this voodoo doll, for example? -M.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You would do yourself a very, very big favor if you got rid of the voodoo doll and the little altar as soon as possible. Voodoo can easily be seen as something innocent and playful. It is not. see more…

 

CAN THE EUCHARIST BE “HOLIER” IF THE PRIEST IS HOLIER?

Q: A while back a friend brought up a question that I have been wondering about for some time. He basically said that the Eucharist is always Christ, but that the Eucharist will be holier if the priest performing the consecration is holier. Is this true? -K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The short answer to your question is no. The Eucharist cannot be “holier” if the minister is holier. The Eucharist is Christ. Christ is God and thus infinitely holy. A priest cannot make Christ holier. see more…

 

WHEN ASKED A QUESTION SHOULD I BE HONEST OR NOT?

Q: If someone asks me a question about if I witnessed someone doing something, and my saying “Yes” could potentially cause repercussions and consequences, should I be honest or not? -J. [Editor's note: The subject field of this e-mail read, "Should I be honest even if it creates a danger for another person."]

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The answer to your question is not as easy as might be expected. Let me explain.

The Catechism in No. 2485 says, “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” That would seem to be the easy response to your question. But things get more complicated. see more…

 

IF I LIVE A GREAT DISTANCE FROM A CATHOLIC CHURCH, CAN I BE RELEASED FROM ATTENDING SUNDAY MASS AND HOLY DAYS OF OBLIGATION?

Q: If I move to a remote part of Arkansas and am 80 to 100 miles from the closest parish, would I be released from the “holy day of obligation” as far as having to go to Mass? To travel such a distance would practically ruin the aspect of being able to rest on this day. Wouldn’t having a Liturgy of the Word, or prayer and Bible study in the home not fulfill this obligation?…-S.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Yours is a complicated question, and I won’t be able to give a simple answer. But it is worth considering a few points. see more…

 

WE WERE BORN IMPERFECT… HOW CAN I HELP OTHERS UNDERSTAND THIS?

Q: I am engaged in graduate-level biblical study, but for personal reasons, I still pursue courses that might fall into the personal growth, self-help or New Age categories. … Well, one topic that regularly comes up is that of “wholeness and perfection,” that we were born innocent, perfect children and anything that teaches sin or brokenness is a lie. … So how might I confront this debate in a positive way? How might I make a compelling and enticing case that we are born sinners and fallen, and this is a good thing? -P.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: We were born innocent but not perfect. We all contracted original sin because the fall of Adam. The Catechism in No. 402 states: “All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: ‘By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners’: ‘sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.’” see more…

 

WHEN DOES A PERSON RECEIVE THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK?

Q: My dad is ill with cancer. My aunt wants his last rites done. … She told me all Catholics get it done every year?! We all are Catholics, and I have never heard such a thing. Is it a yearly ritual to have your last rites in some places? -T.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is in a difficult moment such as this, when your dad has cancer, that the Church particularly wants to be there to support him and the family. A key part of this help is the sacraments, especially the anointing of the sick, which can bring spiritual healing and, God willing, physical healing as well. see more…

 

IS OUR PERSONAL PARTICIPATION IN DEBT CONSIDERED IMMORAL AND SINFUL?

Q: Pope Francis has called debt immoral. It is easy to see that we are to care for the poor — the others — and not be guided by the “me” consumerism of our day. My question: Is our personal participation in debt (i.e., borrowing money, credit cards, etc.) considered immoral and sinful? Could simply using a credit card be wrong in terms of supporting a debt-inducing banking system? -C.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was quoted as calling social debt “immoral, unjust and illegitimate.” By “social debt” he seemed to refer to economic structures and practices that led to extreme poverty in parts of society. see more…

 

WHY ARE THERE NOT MORE MIRACLES TODAY AS IN THE EARLY CHURCH?

Q: Scripture records how commonplace it was for miraculous healings to take place throughout the apostles’ ministries … even when the shadow of an apostle’s cloak passed over someone. Why is it only very rare to hear of physical healings in the Church today? Why has God greatly limited the graces given to priests for physically healing those they minister to? It’s sad. -C.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I can understand your sadness at not hearing of more miracles nowadays. One of the great mysteries of life is why God allows so much suffering in this world, including among the innocent. see more…

 

I HAD AN ABORTION… AFTER ASKING FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS, WILL I STILL GO TO HELL?

Q: Twenty-one years ago I had an abortion. Since then, I asked God for forgiveness. Will I go to hell even if I did ask for forgiveness? –T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If anything should give us hope in life, it is the realization that God is a merciful God. He is a loving Father in heaven who never spurns a repentant soul. “A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Psalm 51:19). see more…

 

WHAT ARE SINS AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT?

Q: What are sins against the Holy Spirit? -A.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The offense against the Holy Spirit that stands out is the one Our Lord calls an unforgivable sin. The Catechism in No. 1864 says, “‘Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” [Matthew 12:31; cf. Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10]. There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.” see more…

 

CAN A PERSON LOSE SANCTIFYING GRACE?

Q: I know we get sanctifying grace every time we receive the sacraments. Does this grace stay with you for your whole life or can you lose sanctifying grace? -C.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Most certainly, yes, sanctifying grace can be lost through mortal sin. Without sanctifying grace, we cannot get into heaven. see more…

 

SHOULD MY SON BE MARRYING AN AGNOSTIC?

Q: My son is 25 years old and has fallen in love with an agnostic. … She has agreed to let my son raise the kids Catholic if they got married, but she will not go to church. … I am always expressing my concern, and he realizes the points that I make. When do I back off in case it is God’s will? -J.K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your concerns about your son marrying an agnostic show your great love and concern for him. Those concerns are not without foundation. The Church itself cautions about the union of Catholics and Protestants, for instance. “The difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated” (Catechism, No. 1634). Unions between Catholics and non-believers can be even more challenging. see more…

 

CAN AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE VIOLATE ANY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

Q: I am wondering if an arranged marriage for an individual from an impoverished country to an individual from a rich country is a sin… If so, can you tell me why and preferably with quotes from the Bible? Does it violate any of the commandments? … Isn’t something like that very Christian — too help? -F.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If you are describing a “marriage” that is staged so that someone can gain citizenship and then immediately seek a civil divorce, that doesn’t sound like a real marriage. And as you imply, it might be outright illegal. see more…

 

AS CATHOLICS, WHY DO WE ACCEPT SCRIPTURE AS DIVINELY INSPIRED?

Q: Why do we as Catholics believe that the letters and writings found in the Bible are divinely inspired? Clearly they are very important documents because of the time, but what sets them apart and makes them 100% true and infallible? -D.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The basic reason we accept Scripture as divinely inspired is because the Church teaches us to. That might seem simplistic, but it’s not. Let me explain. see more…

 

WHEN DOES A PERSON ACQUIRE A SOUL?

Q: If I may, a two-part question: 1. When does the human person acquire a soul? Is it infused by God at the moment of the person’s conception? 2. In the sad case of a test-tube baby or in vitro fertilization, when or how does that embryo/fetus/person acquire a soul? -J.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Actually the Church has never definitively said when the ensoulment of the human embryo occurs. It remains an open question. The Church does insist, however, that the human embryo must be treated as if it has the same dignity as you and I from the first moment of existence (see Holy See’s 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae, No. 5). see more…

 

HOW COULD MARY’S MARRIAGE TO JOSEPH BE CONSIDERED VALID WHEN IT WAS NOT CONSUMMATED?

Q: As a non-Christian, I am baffled. Why was Mary’s marriage unconsummated? As it was not, how could it have been considered valid? And if it was not valid, how could it have been appropriate for her and Joseph to travel together? -D.G.K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I appreciate your interest in Mary and your insightful question. Let me preface my comments by saying that what follows is based on faith, the testimony of Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. I cannot “prove” anything and won’t try to. I will just try to explain what the Church teaches. see more…

 

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IS MEANT BY SPIRIT-AND-SOUL FROM “THE INTERIOR CASTLE”?

Q: I read “The Interior Castle” and came across the spirit-and-soul issue that has me confused. From the book I get the idea that the spirit in man’s soul is what guides a soul to God. The Bible differentiates soul and spirit and body as a trinity unto itself, just like the Holy Trinity. I assume there is a true difference between the soul and spirit, and it is not a scriptural differentiation. Can you point me to a resource that will help? -S.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The simplest answer is to turn to the Catechism, No. 367. It basically implies that we could think of man as a unity of body and soul, and that the distinction between “spirit” and “soul” does not mean that the soul is subdivided. see more…

 

WHY IS THERE NOT A SECOND READING AT DAILY MASS?

Q: Why is there a Second Reading only at Sunday and holy day Masses but not at regular weekday Masses? -A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Before the Second Vatican Council there normally used to be only one reading at Sunday Mass. This was known as the epistle. The epistle came from one of the Apostles’ letters in the New Testament. see more…

 

WHEN RECEIVING A BLESSING AT COMMUNION, WHAT IS THE PROPER RESPONSE?

Q: Recently I started the RCIA. I hope to be confirmed sometime around Easter. I understand and accept the fact that I cannot participate in Communion until I have been confirmed. However, I do rise and receive the priest’s blessing. … Can you tell me the proper response I should give when I receive a blessing until I’m confirmed? -H.T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s wonderful to hear that you will be confirmed into the Church this Easter. Your desire to approach the priest and receive his blessing shows love and reverence for the Eucharist that you will able to receive after your confirmation. see more…

 

I AM IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP… WILL JESUS STILL LOVE ME IF I LEAVE MY HUSBAND?

Q: I have been with my husband for 22 years. We were baptized Catholic in November 2012, we have two children, ages 12 and 5. I want to know if Jesus will still love me if I leave my husband. I have put up with abuse all these years — emotional and, for a number of years, physical. … I do not want our children to grow up and think this is normal, that it is OK for men to treat women this way. I love Jesus with all my heart and do not want to lose him from my life. -C.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as if your husband has severe psychological problems and is in need of professional help. For your own emotional well-being and physical safety you might consider an immediate separation, especially if your husband refuses to seek professional help. see more…

 

ARE WE CAPABLE OF PERFECT CONTRITION?

Q: Father, is everyone capable of perfect contrition? I do not feel that it is possible for me as I have been so fearful of the pains of hell for my entire life. -C.P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: One of the most beautiful things that Jesus reveals to us is that God is a Trinity of three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery is beyond our understanding. But one thing that comes across in the New Testament is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Remember that God the Father loves you and wants you with him forever in heaven. see more…

 

SHOULD I VACCINATE MY CHILDREN? WHAT DOES THE CHURCH SAY?

Q: I have a daughter that has cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness. My doctors recommend that I vaccinate all of my children, especially to protect my sick child, and follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control. A few of their vaccines, however, were initially cultivated from aborted fetal cell lines, and I’m not sure if I should vaccinate or not. … Up until now, I haven’t vaccinated my other children with these vaccines. But given my current circumstances with my ill daughter, I’m not sure what to do. What is considered moral by our Church? -T.R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This can be an agonizing issue for pro-life parents who want to protect their children but not at the cost of doing something immoral. see more…

 

IS IT A MORTAL SIN IF I BREAK ANY OF THE TEN COMANDMENTS?

Q: Does the Catholic Church still believe all of the Ten Commandments are mortal sins if broken? For example, missing Mass on Sunday and holy days — mortal sin, as is murder? -J.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Church never taught that every violation of a Commandment is a mortal sin. Every sin we commit violates one or another of the commandments to some degree. Yet, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 John 5:17). see more…

 

HOW CAN I EXPLAIN MARK 10:25 TO AN ATHEIST PHYSICS TEACHER?

Q: I’m writing to an atheist physics teacher, who thinks that Mark 10:25 (“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”) literally means Christians must all sell our belongings. What would you tell him? Thanks so much! -M.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: That the physics teacher is showing so much interest in the words of Our Lord might be a promising sign. The teacher could be searching and deep down not feel satisfied with the answers offered by atheism. see more…

 

HOW DO I RESPOND TO A TEENAGER WHO QUESTIONS CHURCH TEACHING ON SAME SEX MARRIAGE?

Q: How would you best respond to a teenager’s questioning the Church’s opposition to gay marriage? -S.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: In the first place, whenever teenagers ask questions related to the faith, it is extremely important that they feel fully listened to. They are beginning to feel the power of their reason, and we can help them integrate that power into their lives in a healthy way by showing that we respect it. see more…

WHY DOES JESUS ADDRESS HIS MOTHER AS ‘WOMAN’ IN SCRIPTURE?

Q: At least twice in Scripture Christ calls his own mother “woman”: once at the wedding at Cana and again at the foot of the cross. That would normally be noted as being rude, disrespectful, and I wonder how that made Mary feel. Never in Scripture does he call her “mom.” -C.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Indeed, to modern ears Jesus’ addressing Mary as “woman” sounds a bit cold. But in Aramaic, the language in which Our Lord spoke, it was actually a term of respect — a normal, polite form of address, as the New American Bible observes in a footnote to John 2:4. see more…

 

TOO FRIENDLY WITH THE PARISH PRIEST… WHAT SHOULD MY FRIEND DO?

Q: My married friend is in love with her parish priest and the feeling is pretty mutual. Her husband and her are pretty good friends with their priest, and they have been part of this parish for many, many years. … My friend wants to come clean with her husband, but I am afraid that will cause unnecessary hardship for everybody. What is the right thing for her to do?… -A.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: That there have “no indiscretions” between your friend and the priest is cause for hope that the situation can be resolved. The first move is up to your friend. see more…

 

AS A CATHOLIC WHO VALUES PURITY, SHOULD I BE ATTENDING A FRIEND’S BACHELORETTE PARTY?

Q: I’m 28 years old, from Mexico and was in consecrated life for a few years. I’ve always had this question and until now I’ve been able to escape the situation, but I can’t now. My girlfriends are organizing a bachelorette party for one of my friends. … I am kind of new to these things… What does a Catholic person, who truly values purity, do in this kind of situation?… -M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: My heart goes out to you! I admire your courage in trying to witness to your faith. You are not “exaggerating and over-thinking” this situation. Rather, you are showing the concern of a true friend for the bride: that is, you are concerned about her spiritual life as well as your own. see more…

 

I WANT MY MARRIAGE SANCTIFIED… HOW DO I GET MY HUSBAND TO ATTEND MARRIAGE PREP CLASSES?

Q: I have been married 33 years by civil ceremony. My husband is non-Catholic. He claims he is agnostic! I have returned to the Church after 30 years of searching for the right “religion” but have come to embrace my Catholic faith. I have initiated the process of having my marriage sanctified and even have the go-ahead from the marriage tribunal. The problem is that my husband will not attend the mandatory marriage preparatory classes required by our diocese. … Is there anything I can do besides pray for a miracle that my husband will change his mind and attend classes on marriage?… -Y.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is a grace that you want to embrace the Catholic faith after so many years. God is patient and always desirous of bringing us closer to him. You recognize that you are still on a journey to full participation in the life of the Church. see more…

 

WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF THE LAST JUDGMENT?

Q: If a particular judgment at death sends one to hell immediately, what is the ultimate purpose of a general judgment? -V.V.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The general judgment, or Last Judgment, will be, so to speak, the last act in history. It will be when all of us see the big picture of salvation history, the consequences of all our actions, and the ways in which God was guiding everything. The Last Judgment won’t be an appeals court that overturns the particular judgments already meted out. see more…

 

IS GOD INTERVENING IN MY LIFE?

Q: To start this off, I do not consider myself a Christian. I consider myself as a spiritualist/Buddhist, but I still believe in God, so I feel like this could be the right place to ask my question. Recently, I was in a deep sadness and asked God for help, and I made a promise that, now that I am back in a more sound state of mind, I fear I will have trouble keeping. I am certain there was some divine intervention, so I do not want to go back to my word. What should I do? -J.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Without knowing more about your personal situation or the promise you made, I can only offer general advice. see more…

 

CAN A LAYPERSON PRAY THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS?

Q: I feel God is calling me besides daily Mass to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I have prayed them before when I was single, and now married I feel God wants me to do that again. I was once a religious… Can I as a layperson pray the Liturgy of the Hours? Can I pray it with inspirational Catholic Christian music, or should it be in silence said or sung?…-P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: By all means, pray the Liturgy of the Hours! The Divine Office, as it is also called, or simply the breviary, “is the public and common prayer of the Church, is the prayer of Christ with his body, the Church. Through the Liturgy of the Hours the mystery of Christ, which we celebrate in the Eucharist, sanctifies and transforms the whole of each day. It is composed mainly of psalms, other biblical texts, and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 243). see more…

 

AM I ABLE TO MARRY IN THE CHURCH WITHOUT AN ANNULMENT?

Q: My fiancé and I are both practicing Catholics. I have never been married before, but my fiancé has. We got engaged December 2012. He submitted paperwork to begin the annulment process in March 2013. … We found out this week that his witnesses haven’t even been contacted yet. … I am fearful this annulment will not be complete by our wedding day. What do I do? Would we still be able to get married in the Church without a Mass and sacraments? -S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you and your fiancé are trying to live your faith and that you are ready to move forward. The annulment process is something that might help you reach that goal. see more…

 

FROM A CATHOLIC MARRIAGE, TO DIVORCE, AND REMARRIAGE… HOW SHOULD I BEHAVE TOWARD MY SISTER?

Q: My sister married as a Catholic but along the way she divorced, left the Catholic faith and married again. … Can you elaborate more on how we need to behave toward my sister and her new husband as a couple? -E.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You touch on an all-too-common challenge today: how to show charity toward a loved one without appearing to endorse a morally problematic situation. The goal here is thus twofold: helping your sister to resolve her situation while at the same time avoiding further scandal. see more…

 

I NO LONGER FEEL THE STRENGTH TO FIGHT AGAINST SIN. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Q: I’m wondering what I should do if I no longer feel the strength to fight against sin. The only thing that makes me want to change is a terrible fear of being condemned, and a little bit of love that I have for spreading the Truth. But I am not a good witness to the faith. I’m a really bad person. –F.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: We are all sinners and we all need God’s grace. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). You say that you have a love for spreading the Truth. Well, one of the first signs of progress in the spiritual life is we aren’t afraid to face that truth about ourselves: that we are flawed and need God’s help to overcome our flaws. see more…

 

WHAT IS SIN OF OMISSION?

Q: I do not understand what a sin of omission is. There are many good things I can do every day. Am I sinning if I do not do them? For example, sometimes I can get frustrated because I see a good thing I can do, that might not be necessary, and I do not do it. -C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: A sin of omission is committed when a person has a duty to do something but doesn’t do it. If a Catholic skips Sunday Mass out of laziness, that is a sin of omission (a serious one). If you saw a person drowning in a river and didn’t throw a rope to him, that too would be a serious sin of omission. Jesus was very clear about what awaits people who are guilty of serious omissions (see Matthew 25:41-46). see more…

 

HOW DOES THE LITURGY AND LITURGICAL CALENDAR HELP US IDENTIFY MORE WITH CHRIST?

Q: Seeing as how Christ the Incarnate Word and the sacrifice of the Mass each transcends time, all of Christ’s life is present at each moment of his life and at each moment of the Mass. But how do you explain the living of the liturgical calendar — that is, what makes Christmas different from Easter Mass since all of Christ’s life is present at both? I have heard a thousand times in preaching that when we celebrate a mystery in the liturgy we are really living it. Is there a foundation for this statement other than the fact that all of Christ’s life is present in each Mass? Thanks. -I.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The sacrifice of the Mass transcends time in the sense that it renews the paschal sacrifice of Christ as the sacrifice offered by the Church. As the Catechism, No. 1323 says, “Our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again.” So it is better to say that the Mass re-presents a very precise moment in the life of Christ: his sacrifice on Calvary. see more…

 

WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S TEACHING ON THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH UNDER THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT?

Q: Can you please help me understand the teaching of the Catholic faith and the teaching of the U.S. bishops’ conference regarding the redistribution of wealth under the Affordable Care Act? My understanding is there are three ways to transfer wealth in society: charity, taxation and revolution. … Since I understood the Catholic Church to teach that we are a faith of proposition not imposition, taxation would seem contrary to the Church’s teaching since it imposes charity. Shouldn’t the Church be in support of developing charity in the country and not taxation? -D.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for a very timely question. It will help if we break the question down into two parts: one focused on principles, the other on particulars. see more…

 

AM I EXPERIENCING SPIRITUAL GLUTTONY?

Q: I want to know more about spiritual gluttony. I think I have this. I’m really fond of reading books about the Catholic faith and the spiritual life but can’t finish any. I also collect prayer books. I am also interested in practices or exercises used by the religious. I have so many ideas about the spiritual life. Am I going too far? Am I sinning? -F.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There is nothing wrong about not finishing books on the faith and spiritual life. Sometimes a chapter of a book is enough to satisfy us and nudge us on the right path. see more…

 

AM I SINNING BY VIEWING UNAUTHORIZED COPYRIGHT POSTINGS ON THE INTERNET?

Q: As you know, there are a lot of things posted on the Internet. I sometimes view materials posted, such as videos for my work or for entertainment purposes, etc. My question lies in regard to those who are posting this material. At times I wonder if they are not violating copyrights when they are posting it and whether or not I am sinning by viewing material they post. I was hoping you might enlighten me as to my responsibility as a person who is trying to be a faithful Catholic. -E.V.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to respect the property rights of others (which is what copyrights are all about) is admirable. Your particular question deals with an area of morality known as cooperation with evil. see more…

 

ARE WE DENYING OUR LOVED ONES GOOD, HOLY, PURIFYING DEATHS?

Q: As we come of age we tend to experience more often the necessity to make life-altering decisions. We deal with aging grandparents, parents and spouses. Recent experiences with such cases have made me seriously question the health care providers and their true motives. … In our quest to save lives at any and all cost, are we just prolonging agonizing deaths unnecessarily? Are we denying our loved ones good, holy, purifying deaths? When did death become evil? … I am interested in true guidance, for I truly do not wish to die as those I have witnessed. … -B.H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for your question. It is heartbreaking enough to watch a loved one approach the end of life. It is even more painful to see cases where medical technology interferes with a person’s preparation for “a good, holy, purifying death,” as you mention. Dying is a natural process and death is its end — this is part of the human condition. see more…

 

WHO SHOULD BE DIRECTING MY YEARLY SPIRITUAL EXERCISES?

Q: When doing our yearly spiritual exercises, should we only attend retreats that are led by a priest connected with our ecclesial movement? Or can we attend exercises led by a parish priest or by a priest from another movement or religious order? -R.R., Missouri

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The spiritual exercises are basically a retreat comprising a set of meditations, talks, and practices that help people deepen their relationship with God. The exercises were developed by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and could be led by any qualified priest. see more…

 

HAS THERE EVER BEEN A POPE FROM ISRAEL?

Q: I just want to know if we had a pope in the past who came from Israel. -P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The first pope was Peter, who came from Galilee, a region in northern Israel. Jesus himself made the appointment. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). see more…

 

TOO ENGAGED… WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?

Q: I have been with my boyfriend a year and a half. We are both Catholic, in our mid-20s, and go to church every week. From the very beginning I said that I wanted to wait until getting married to have sex, and he agreed that he felt this way too. … But between having sleepovers and going away for weekends together, we gradually got more and more intimate. … Of course, I feel the need to go to confession. But my question is, did we commit a mortal sin by sleeping together when we knew it was wrong? And what if he won’t go to confession? … Also, how do I know if I’m truly repentant? My other question is that I know some men are so afraid of commitment that they can never take the next step and get married. … If that is the case and my boyfriend does not propose, is it going to be OK now if I break things off with him and look for someone else, even after we have already had sex? I would feel so horrible doing that now, but I know I want to get married. … -B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You have learned the hard way how premarital sex can complicate a relationship and take away peace from the heart and soul. see more…

 

WILL I EVER AGAIN BE ABLE TO RECEIVE THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST?

Q: I have been drawn back to my Catholic faith recently. I had been through a civil divorce, and recently I received paperwork to pursue an annulment. My current husband, who is a practicing Baptist, had also gone through a divorce. He too will have to file for an annulment, if ever we want our union recognized by the Catholic Church. I want desperately to fully participate in the Church family again. My husband will not file for annulment, so this leaves me out of the most important part of Mass. I want to receive the Eucharist, but since I can’t now, and do not foresee this ever happening, I avoid attending Mass. How can I fully participate in the Catholic faith if I can never again receive the body and blood of Christ? I feel like an outcast, kneeling when others are rising to take Communion. What do I do? … -A.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to come back to the Catholic faith and participate fully in the life of the Church is praiseworthy. Receiving Communion at Mass is a high point of the faith, and it expresses that we are substantially living in accord with Church teaching and in a state of grace. see more…

 

AT THE CRUCIFIXION, WHY DOES JESUS ONLY ANSWER THE ‘GOOD THIEF’?

Q: Praying about the Gospel for Christ the King Sunday, Luke 23:35-43, I have a question. Christ only answers the “good thief” and doesn’t answer the thief who said to Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Since Jesus only answered the good thief, is he being a model to us? I am going to read the Gospels in this light now, to see how Jesus answers various people. I seem to think that he never gets in the defensive mode and often just ignores the negative comments thrown at him. I am trying to become less defensive to people, and maybe there is some help here. Christ never answers a person defensively. My guess is that one of the things involved here is that I need a more humble heart. -K.P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is great that, as you are reading the Gospels, you pay particular attention to how Jesus responds to others. Our Lord invited us, in fact, to “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). see more…

 

IS IT A SIN TO WATCH AN R-RATED MOVIE?

Q: Is it a sin to watch an R-rated movie? -S.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If the very content of an R-rated movie poses as an occasion of sin for a particular person, and he is aware of that, then that person should not view the movie. By watching it he would be deliberately putting himself in a situation where he knows he has a tendency to fall into sin. see more…

 

I AM IN LOVE WITH A MARRIED MAN, WHAT DO I DO?

Q: I am 20 years old and Catholic. I’m writing because I’m stuck and don’t know what to do. I fell in love with a married man in his 30s. He has been married for three years, but the wedding was not done in the Catholic Church, so his priest calls the marriage invalid. …He is meeting with his priest soon for advice on whether he should avoid me or get a divorce. …I feel God would want him to stay with his wife — that is why I pushed him away. What should I do? Will I go to hell for stealing his heart unintentionally? -L.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you are thinking about what God wants in this particular situation. He certainly wants the best for you.

Yours is a complicated situation, so let’s try to go through it step by step. see more…

 

HOW CAN I HANDLE CONSTANT CRITICIZING FROM A SPOUSE?

Q: I wonder if you could give me some spiritual guidance for how to handle constant criticizing … from a spouse. Thank you. -L.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: A spouse who criticizes constantly can be challenging, to say the least. It might be one reason why Our Lord gives married couples a special sacramental grace to help them live together. see more…

 

AS A CATHOLIC IS IT OKAY TO USE OR DISPLAY THE WORD “NAMASTE”?

Q: Many years ago, I was introduced to the “namaste” greeting and was drawn toward its meaning. I began incorporating it into my correspondence as I signed my name, then had it engraved inside my husband’s wedding band. Both of us are Catholic — my spouse is a convert. He had a piece of stained glass made for me as a wedding gift and had the word “namaste” put in the design. We were married 20 years ago. Over the years, I have begun to question whether we should have used this greeting. I cannot change the inscriptions, but I no longer use the greeting on correspondence. Can you advise me on this matter? Is it okay to display the stained glass (now in our bedroom)? I do not wish to lead others astray. -L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is commendable that you don’t want to “lead others astray.” In this case I don’t think you have anything to worry about. see more…

 

ARE WE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY TRINITY OR IN THE NAME OF JESUS?

Q: I am teaching a 16-year-old boy about the Catholic faith. He has gone to Mass with me several times, and over the years we have helped him and his mother through their hardships. His mother also allows him attend my CCD confirmation class. He has never been baptized but has gone to some sort of “apostolic church” with his mother since he was very young. He told me that in his church they baptize in the name of Jesus. I told him that in the Catholic Church, he would be baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I showed him the verses in Matthew where this takes place. However, there is another place in the Bible where I believe baptism is done in the name of Jesus. Can you provide me with some information that I can pass along to him? Thank you! -D.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is wonderful that you are sharing the Catholic faith with young people and taking this young man under your wing in a special way.

The situation you mention is easy to explain. We baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” because Jesus himself told us to baptize that way (see Matthew28:19). see more…

 

IS IT BAD TO WEAR A CROSS SIDEWAYS?

Q: Is it bad to wear a cross sideways as part of the new jewelry trend? A teacher at a parochial school told a student that it was bad but didn’t say why. -P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good for Catholics to witness to their faith publicly. The ways of witness can span a wide gamut. Acts of charity, conversations rich in spiritual topics, attendance at Mass — all are ways that Catholic can show his faith. Another common way is to display religious items, either in a home or a car or even on one’s person. The latter might include wearing a religious symbol on a neck chain or on a lapel. see more…

 

HOW CAN I FULFILL MY VOCATION WHILE BEING HOMEBOUND?

Q: I am an older member of [the ecclesial movement] Regnum Christi, and due to physical limitations I am unable to participate in an apostolate or attend monthly and yearly retreats that are suggested for Regnum Christi members. RCSpirituality.org is a helpful resource, although I miss the interaction with other members as well as the team life. Given my limitations, how can I best fulfill my vocation to Regnum Christi and still serve Christ in a positive way? -C.W., New England

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to serve Christ, even with your physical limitations, is already a beautiful sign of how deeply you live the Regnum Christi spirit. see more…

 

THE LOST SHEEP…

Q: Many of us suffer greatly when our loved ones have strayed away from the faith and taken a less-than-attractive path. In addition to our prayers and sacrifices, how can we avoid going “overboard” in our efforts to encourage a conversion of heart? What is the best way to discern when to speak and when to be silent? -E.D., New England

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This problem is painfully all too common today. Even the best of Catholic homes have their members who drift from the faith. Many parents and grandparents and siblings are heartbroken to see a loved one who lives far from the faith. see more…

 

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SO MUCH PAIN AND SUFFERING?

Q: As a devout Catholic and Regnum Christi member, I am often asked why God allows so much pain and suffering in the world, especially when it involves innocent children. What is the most beneficial way to respond to this question, particularly to those without a firm faith foundation, to promote hope and healing and avoid despair in the midst of so much sorrow? Finding the right words to comfort and console can be most difficult. -T.G., New England

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Indeed, finding the right words in this moment can be hard. Seeing suffering in others, especially, can be heart-wrenching. Yet it can also be an opportunity for sharing the faith, a moment of grace. see more…

 

DID JESUS DESCEND INTO HELL AS STATED IN THE APOSTLES’ CREED?

Q: In the Apostles’ Creed it states that Jesus descended to hell, but in the Baltimore Catechism it states the souls were in Limbo. Can you clarify? My CCD class is very smart and interested and wants to know, “Which is it?” -D.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is important to note that limbo is a theory, not a doctrine of the Church. Theologians had theorized about limbo as a place of bliss where, for instance, the souls of unbaptized babies go after death. Since the babies inherited original sin — says the theory — they could not merit the beatific vision (that is, see God in heaven). Yet because they are without personal sin they are not subject to punishment. see more…

 

HAVING DREAMS ABOUT SINNING AGAINST THE TEN COMMANDMENTS…

Q: If a person is having dreams about sinning against the Ten Commandments like mortal sins but he does not wish them, what does it mean? I ask this because I have been experiencing this off and on, and I wake up feeling shame and guilt. I have felt many times to not receive the Eucharist because of the severity of the dream and so I missed daily Mass. I now know that is wrong. What do you recommend besides discussing it in confession and spiritual direction? A priest told me temptations and dreams don’t need to be confessed – but what if they lead you to sin? What should I do? -P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It takes a delicate conscience to refrain from receiving the Eucharist when one thinks he has fallen into grave sin. So your heart seems to be in the right place. see more…

 

LOOKING FOR CATHOLIC PROGRAMS FOR YOUNG BOYS…

Q: As the father of young boys, I am trying to find Catholic programs and activities that would be beneficial to them. However, there are no Regnum Christi activities in my area, and my parish does not have any youth ministry. I don’t feel comfortable or called to lead, but I would be happy to get involved and support an activity in my area. Do you have any suggestions? -J.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: As a member of an ecclesial movement such as Regnum Christi, you are part of a spiritual family within the Church, and so you are understandably keen to tap into the treasures offered by that family. The same would apply to someone who is a Third Order Dominican or a member of the Knights of Columbus. Going deeper into a particular spirituality is one way by which a person draws ever closer to God. That you desire to form your sons in the Catholic faith is admirable and a sure sign of your deepening relation with Christ. see more…

 

HOW OFTEN CAN I GO TO CONFESSION?

Q: Can a person go to confession every week even if they have no mortal sins? Can a person still go and confess venial sins? Or do you need to include one mortal sin from the past? Is it an abuse of the sacrament if you go to confession more than once a week or every week? Is it good to confess temptations, especially the ones you are struggling with? -P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation (also called the sacrament of confession, or the sacrament of penance) is admirable. Unfortunately, many people neglect this great means of receiving God’s grace. see more…

 

UNBAPTIZED, BUT SAVED…

Q: How do non-Christians enter heaven without sanctifying grace? -O.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You touch on an intriguing topic. Jesus tells us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). So how could non-Christians, the unbaptized, be saved and enter heaven? see more…

 

QUESTIONING WHAT A POPE SAYS…

Q: Is it a sin to question something a Pope has said or done? For instance, John Paul II with regards to what some of his encyclicals and actions taught with regards to what previous Popes called false religions? -G.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your questions prompt a focus on the notion of papal infallibility. Sometimes this notion is misunderstood to mean that a Pope never makes a mistake. Infallibility is a more limited notion. see more…

 

CHRIST’S SUFFERING AND DYING ON THE CROSS…

Q: What did Christ accomplish by suffering and dying on the cross? -J.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question touches on a core truth of Christ’s mission in the world. As “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” Christ by his death on the cross accomplished the definitive redemption of men (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 613). His is also the sacrifice of the new covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling man to the Almighty through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (also see 613). Sin offends an infinitely good God, and we as finite creatures could never fully make up for our transgressions; it took God himself to pay the price for our redemption. see more…

 


GOD’S WILL IN MY LIFE…

Q: What would be a good way to determine whether an impulse is from God and not your own selfish desire masking itself? I struggle with knowing whether I am following God’s will, in the present moment, or a selfish desire masking as inspiration. -M.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This question surfaces repeatedly in the life of a believer — and it is one of the hardest to answer correctly all the time. We are complex beings with a mix of emotions and hidden motivations, and trying to distinguish selfish desires from God’s will requires great care. see more…

 


AM I BEING TOO SCRUPULOUS?

Q: When I try to make a daily examen, I sometimes have trouble recalling my sins of the past day. Then when I am ready to go to confession, I can’t come up with any sins to mention. Is this a sign of scrupulosity? -M.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is commendable that you are trying to take advantage of two treasures in the Church: the sacrament of confession, and the time-honored practice of a daily examen (or examination) of conscience. In addition to making us more aware of our faults and failings, the examen helps us to see God’s hand at work in our lives and where he is leading us. see more…

 

LIVING SACRIFICE…

Q: What exactly is a living sacrifice? I’ve been asking some of my Protestant Christian friends and no one can give me an answer that I am satisfied with.  My dissatisfaction stems from the fact that I keep receiving conflicting answers. Thank you and y’all are in my prayers.

Answered by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D.

A: Let’s start with the key biblical passage that made this phrase, “living sacrifice,” famous.  It’s from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  He is writing about God’s great mercy, by which we have been saved from our sins.  He points out that the Old Covenant focused on attaining salvation (a right relationship with God) through the “works” of the law. Among those works, ritual sacrifices were front and center.  Those rituals involved taking some good thing upon which the People of Israel were dependent for their existence – mainly the grain from their harvests or animals from their flocks – and offering it to God. see more…

 

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