Sunday, April 16, 2006

What is the gospel of Judas?

This is taken from a Zenit article dated April 5, 2006. ZENIT asked Father Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, to comment on the relevance of the discovery.

Q: What is the "Gospel of Judas"?

Father Williams: Though the manuscript still must be authenticated, it likely represents a fourth- or fifth-century text, and is a copy of an earlier document produced by a Gnostic sect called the Cainites.

The document paints Judas Iscariot in a positive light, and describes him as obeying a divine ordinance in handing over Jesus to the authorities for the salvation of the world.

It may well be a copy of the "Gospel of Judas" referred to by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his work "Against the Heresies," written around A.D. 180.

Q: If authentic, what challenge would this document pose to traditional Christian belief? Will it "shake Christianity to its foundations" as some press releases have suggested?

Certainly not. The Gnostic gospels, of which there are many besides this one, are not Christian documents per se, since they proceed from a syncretistic sect that incorporated elements from different religions, including Christianity.

From the moment of their appearance, the Christian community rejected these documents because of their incompatibility with the Christian faith.

The "Gospel of Judas" would be a document of this sort, which could have great historical value, since it contributes to our knowledge of the Gnostic movement, but it poses no direct challenge to Christianity.

Q: Is it true that the Church has tried to cover up this text and other apocryphal texts?

These are myths circulated by Dan Brown and other conspiracy theorists.

You can go to any Catholic bookstore and pick up a copy of the Gnostic gospels. Christians may not believe them to be true, but there is no attempt to hide them.

Q: But doesn't an early document of this sort rival orthodox Christian sources, such as the four canonical Gospels?

Remember that Gnosticism arose in the middle of the second century, and the "Gospel of Judas," if authentic, probably dates back to the mid- to late second century.

To put a historical perspective on things, that would be like you or me writing a text now on the American Civil War and having that text later used as a primary historical source on the war. The text could not have been written by eyewitnesses, the way at least two of the canonical Gospels were.

Q: Why would the leaders of the Gnostic movement have been interested in Judas?

One of the major differences between Gnostic belief and that of Christianity concerns the origins of evil in the universe.

Christians believe that a good God created a good world, and that through the abuse of free will, sin and corruption entered the world and produced disorder and suffering.

The Gnostics blamed God for the evil in the world and claimed that he created the world in a disordered and flawed way. Thus they champion the rehabilitation of Old Testament figures such as Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and Esau, the elder brother of Jacob, who sold his birthright for a plate of pottage.

Judas fits perfectly into the Gnostic agenda of showing that God intends evil for the world.

Q: But wasn't Judas' betrayal a necessary part of God's plan, as this text suggests?

Being omniscient, God knows full well what choices we will make and weaves even our bad decisions into his providential plan for the world.

In his last published book, Pope John Paul II eloquently reflected on how God continues to bring good out of even the worst evil that man can produce.

That doesn't mean, however, that God intends for us to do evil, or that he intended for Judas to betray Jesus. If it wasn't Judas, it would have been someone else. The authorities had already decided to put Jesus to death, and it was just a matter of time.

Q: What is the Church's position regarding Judas? Is it possible to "rehabilitate" him?

Though the Catholic Church has a canonization process by which it declares certain persons to be in heaven, as saints, it has no such process for declaring people to be condemned.

Historically, many have thought that Judas is probably in hell, because of Jesus' severe indictment of Judas: "It would be better for that man if he had never been born," as he says in Matthew 26:24. But even these words do not offer conclusive evidence regarding his fate.

In his 1994 book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," Pope John Paul II wrote that Jesus' words "do not allude for certain to eternal damnation."

Q: But if anyone deserves hell, wouldn't it be Judas?

Surely many people deserve hell, but we must remember that the mercy of God is infinitely greater than our wickedness.

Peter and Judas committed very similar faults: Peter denied Jesus three times, and Judas handed him over. And yet now Peter is remembered as a saint and Judas simply as the traitor.

The main difference between the two is not the nature or gravity of their sin, but rather their willingness to accept God's mercy. Peter wept for his sins, came back to Jesus, and was pardoned. The Gospel describes Judas as hanging himself in despair.

Q: Why is the "Gospel of Judas" arousing so much interest?

Such theories regarding Judas are certainly not new.

It's enough to remember the 1973 play "Jesus Christ Superstar," where Judas sings, "I have no thought at all about my own reward. I really didn't come here of my own accord," or Taylor Caldwell's 1977 novel "I, Judas."

The enormous economic success of "The Da Vinci Code" has undoubtedly stirred up the pot, and provided financial incentive for theories of this sort.

Michael Baigent, author of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," now has a book out called "The Jesus Papers," which recycles the old story that Jesus survived the crucifixion.

And a newly released "scientific" study asserts that meteorological conditions could have been such that Jesus really walked on ice, when the Gospels say he walked on water.

Basically, for those who reject outright the possibility of miracles, any theory, outlandish as it may be, trumps Christian claims.

What happened to Jesus between the time he died and resurrected? Where did he go?

The question is a good one. We have almost reduced Holy Week to two days: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is treated like a “break” from all the church liturgy, at least until the Easter Vigil.

In answering the question, let’s be careful that we do not treat the death and Resurrection of Jesus in terms of human time and space. The Resurrection did not occur during a particular time, say, for example, on the midnight of Sunday. I t is also difficult to talk about where exactly Jesus went when he died.

We know that Jesus died and Resurrected. What happened in between is referred to, in our Creed, as Jesus having “descended to the dead.” (Also referred to as “descended to hell” because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. CCC, 633).

“Descended to the dead” means:

- Jesus, like all human beings, experienced death. He did not just pretend to die.

- Jesus’ act of salvation applies to all, even to those who died before him. Salvation is “not limited by time and space.”[1]

We are inspired that Jesus resurrected. Equally, and perhaps even more inspiring, is that Jesus actually died. At a moment in human history, there is an event when God died. Isn’t that more astonishing?

But Jesus, the God-human, died for a purpose: to be one with ALL humankind by “joining the others in the realm of the dead.”[2] In doing so, Jesus includes all humankind of all time and of all places in proclaiming the good news: I have come to bring you ALL back to the Father.

This is the wonderful significance of Holy Saturday. God’s love indeed knows no bounds.

[1] CFC, 592 and CCC, 634-635

[2] CCC, 632

CFC is Catechism for Filipino Catholics and CCC is Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why did Jesus have to die?

Let’s first answer that question with a question: what is the most important aspect of Christianity?

If you were asked what is the core essential and most important of aspect of Christianity, the ‘thing’ that really differentiates our faith from all other faiths, the one element that is beyond any human teaching and endeavor, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

St. Paul answered this question in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For I handed on to you as of FIRST IMPORTANCE what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” (emphasis mine)

The answer is: the Cross. The cross is of “first importance.”

But how can this be? Crucifixion is the Roman method of execution, somewhat equivalent to the contemporary electric chair, gas chamber or lethal injection. I say “somewhat” because it was far worse. The objective of crucifixion was not to kill, but to shame and torture. Victims were hanged on the cross naked, and sometimes for days. Out of pity, they were scourged before crucifixion to quicken their death, or their legs broken while crucified so they can die of asphyxiation.

For the early Christians to say that they are the disciples of Jesus is equivalent today of being disciples of a criminal who was put to death in the electric chair.

What then did the crucifixion accomplish?

Let’s start with some misperceptions. Some have gravely misunderstood the crucifixion as “picturing the Father punishing him cruelly for our sins, even though he is completely innocent. This is a monstrous view of God the Father, and badly misinterprets the New Testament. The Father hates sin, not Jesus.” (CFC, 569)

God did not become human to simply die. We miss the point when we think of Jesus’ sacrifice only in terms of his death on the cross. Instead we should look at his entire life and his purpose or mission, which is to preach the Kingdom of God, and this he accomplished to the extent it RESULTED to his death on the cross.

But he said to them, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” – Luke 4:43

The core of Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of God, mentioned more than a hundred times in the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a condition where unconditional love prevails. God’s love is unconditional, which means that it is open to everyone, regardless of how sinful you are.

Preaching this contradicted and embarrassed many of the Pharisees, Sadducees and other authorities during Jesus’ time. Eventually, people plotted against him, which resulted to his crucifixion and death.

What was accomplished in the cross, therefore, is the full manifestation of God’s love. There Jesus hanged because he could not stop short of showing humanity what God’s love (read: God’s Kingdom) is all about.

It is not the very suffering and death of Christ that save us, for this would make his torturers and executioners our saviors. Rather, we are saved by Jesus’ perfect self-giving love for his Father and for us, a love lived out to the death. (CFC, 558)

Can you imagine if Jesus veered away from his life purpose because he was afraid that he was going to be killed? Instead, “he saw his suffering and death as part of the coming of the Kingdom, the “test” he taught his followers to pray about: lead us not to the test. (CFC, 562)

What did Jesus say and do, then, which meant life for us and death for him?

Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was destined not pri­marily to the pious and the faithful observers of the Law, but to the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the sick and the un­educated "people of the land." All this was most shocking to his contemporaries.

But Jesus provoked the anger of the Jewish leaders in many other ways. He consorted and took his meals with the "enemies of the people," the abhorred tax collectors, as well as with prostitutes and public sinners. He drastically reinterpreted the Law on such matters as legal purity, the sabbath, divorce, etc. He rejected the accepted norms of retaliation against non-Jews and publicly favored the "popular enemy," the Samaritan. He assured some individuals that their sins had been for­given. He denounced the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. He attacked the chief priests. And in many other ways, Jesus threatened the existing “law and order” so that a truly fraternal and just society might emerge one day – at whatever cost to himself.

Jesus did not say: I want to die, and therefore I will provoke everyone into killing me. Instead, he said: By my Father’s command, I will proclaim and show what God’s love is all about, and I will do so even if it costs my life.

I was taught that Jesus made the supreme sacrifice on the cross. How then are we to interpret this sacrificial act?

Jesus’ sacrificial act on the cross is consistent with the biblical meaning of sacrifice. When a Jew offered an animal as sacrifice, the animal was the symbol of his or her life. By offering the animal, the Jew was also offering his or her life to God. But for the Jew, the focus is not the killing of the animal, but what it symbolizes: his or her life would now be based on obeying God’s will. The Jew was in effect saying, “I am offering this animal to tell my God that I would like to live a life that is God-centered.”

It is the same with the sacrifice of Jesus. It is not just the crucifixion but the entire life of Jesus that we should consider. And his whole life was to fulfill the purpose that the Father has sent him: to preach the Kingdom. Even unto death.

How does Jesus’ death forgive my sins?

To be forgiven is to be reconciled with God. Jesus has shown in his life, and death, that we are forgiven and loved unconditionally.

When we really understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and death on the cross, then a profound healing can begin to take place within us. Our “being saved” or “being forgiven” happens.

“When we begin to accept that God loves and accepts us unconditionally, then we can change our sense of who we are and our sense of what life is about. Our primary image of our self would then become one of ‘trusted, loved and already forgiven by God,’ rather than ‘sinner who must please God to be forgiven.’ We can begin to discover that the Christian life is about a life lived in a loving relationship with God. Realizing this, we may be able to allow the transforming power of our love relationship with God to work in our lives.”[1]

But couldn’t a martyr have done what Jesus did; that is, teach about God’s love and be able to die for it?

That’s exactly the point! Out of love, God sent His only Son to do it (not anyone else), so that God’s love is not only preached, but lived, by God himself!

Because it was God himself who did it, then that saving love is unique. How? In the following ways:

- It is universal – it is for all of humanity

- Secondly, it is empowering – we cooperate with Jesus in Kingdom building.

What’s the implication of all these in my life?

When you look at Jesus on the cross, do not remember only his death. Remember his entire life, what he said and did, his unconditional love manifested in forgiveness and healing of both the physical, mental and emotional illnesses of those around him. Recall that Jesus was willing to do all these even if he knew that he would antagonize people and that he may eventually pay for it with his life. But he did so anyway out of love for all of us.

Realizing this, you too can discover your life purpose and fulfill it to completion, just as Jesus did.
Secondly, in his life as in his death, Jesus had only one goal. Like the good shepherd who is ready to risk his life for his sheep, he thus laid his life for his sheep “so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) You too can contribute to making others live more fully: physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually.

[1] Lode Wostyn, CICM, I Believe: A Workbook for Theology I (Manila: Claretian Publications, 2004), 174.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why do we fast and abstain? (Asked by Tintin SJ, SE-1 and Kimie V., SE-10)

What is fasting?

Fasting is required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and involves eating only one full meal on those days. One or two smaller meals may be taken on those days, but the two may not total one full meal. The required fast also does not allow eating anything between meals.

Why do we fast?

First and foremost, the purpose of fasting is conversion, i.e. to change. Our Church categorizes fasting together with prayer and almsgiving, and consider these three as the highest forms of expressing the conversion in our relationship with God and others. The whole Sermon in the Mount (Matthew 6:1-18) also refers to this triad of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Thus, fasting is NOT atonement (or making up) for our sins, but as our way of working on those things in our selves that need changing. When we deprive ourselves of certain basic necessities, such as food, then we are training ourselves to have better control of certain undesirable traits that may have already become a natural part of our selves.

If we can fast from eating in one day, then we can certainly be able to, for examples, control our temper a little longer, be extra kind to someone who may irritate us, be a little less harsh to people who don’t meet our expectations, spend a little more time with someone who needs ministering, put more volunteer time in a worthwhile project, be more easily forgiving of another person’s faults, and so on.

This daily and everyday changes in our life is the normal path pointed out by Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).

This brings us back to the biblical meaning of “sacrifice.” When the Jews offered a lamb or pigeon as a sacrifice, it was NOT to feed a hungry God. The animal offered symbolized the life of the offeror, and his/her way of saying “I, too, am offering my life, and I will do this by making my life more God-centered.”

Those offering a sacrifice are to allow God’s grace to transform their lives. If the sacrifice does not result in changed lives, then those who offered it have put an obstacle in God’s way, and so the sacrifice has been incomplete!

This is why Hosea said in 6:6: For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts. If we fast simply for fasting’s sake, and we are not renewed in love and forgiveness, then God does not desire our fasting.

Why is fasting grouped together with almsgiving?

The relationship between fasting and almsgiving is a prominent theme in early Christian writings. In a 2nd century text, we read: “In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want.”

The preaching of the church fathers is clear that whatever saving is realized through one’s fasting belongs to the poor. Thus Gregory the Great preached, “The one who does not give to the poor what he has saved but keeps it for later to satisfy his own appetite, does not fast for God.”

Thus, early on in our Church history, we were encouraged to always accompany our personal sacrifices with acts of service to others. Fasting was meant to also heighten our awareness of our obligation to help others.

What about abstinence?

To abstain is to not eat meat, and is required on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. (Eggs and dairy products are ok).

It is an act of sacrifice, that helps us grow in freedom to make much bigger sacrifices. Of course, it would not make sense to make the sacrifice of not eating meat, and then eat a wonderful meal of Chilean sea bass and lobster, which you might enjoy even more. Many people eat a vegetarian diet, for a variety of reasons, and eating meat is not even an issue. It should be noted that many people in this world cannot afford to eat meat or do not have access to it. Part of our abstaining from meat can place us in solidarity with so many of our sisters and brothers around the world.

If you don’t already eat meat, or abstaining from meat isn’t a big deal, then it is suggested that you abstain from some food that you really like.

Why Fridays?

Friday has always remained a special day for Christians since it is the day that Jesus died. Friday should be in each week what Lent is in the entire year. Friday is that day when we become a little bit more conscious of our shortcomings so that we can adequately prepare for the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday.

Can I substitute other forms of sacrifices instead of fasting and abstinence?

It is preferred that you conform with our Church’s requirements on fasting and abstinence so that we can be in solidarity with our entire Catholic community during those days.

However, I did come across this practice which may be helpful as an additional practice in helping us in our conversion process.

- Mondays – Do a devotion, like the rosary or visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
- Tuesdays – Make it your “Textless Tuesday” Detach yourself from your life support (cellphone).
- Wednesdays – Go out of your comfort zone in helping others.
- Thursdays – Fast from gossip
- Fridays – Fast from making mental judgments of people
- Saturdays – Your day off.
- Sunday – Feast on Scripture (read the bible chapters at a time).


- Father Thomas Ryan, CSP, coordinates ecumenical and interreligious relations for the Paulists and is the author of The Sacred Art of Fasting: Beginning to Practice (SkyLight Paths, 2005). See for the full article:

- See also:

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why do we make the sign of the cross? (Asked by Jippo C. - SE-10)

I found a very good answer to this question from a Zenit article. Zenit provides a series of weekly articles that originate directly from the Vatican. You can subscribe to their weekly email updates. Log on to

I have edited the answer below, for the sake of brevity. If you want to read the full article please click here.

The simple gesture that Catholics make thousands of times in their lives has a deeper meaning most of them don't realize.

Q: When did the sign of the cross originate?

Bert Ghezzi*: The sign of the cross is a very ancient practice and prayer. We don't have any indication of it in Scripture, but St. Basil in the fourth century said that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in baptisms. Some scholars interpret St. Paul's saying that he bears the marks of Christ on his body, in Galatians 6:17, as his referring to the sign of the cross. In the book, I note that the sign originates close to Jesus' time and goes back to the ancient Church. Christians received it in baptism; the celebrant signed them and claimed them for Christ.

Q: How did it become such an important liturgical and devotional practice?

Ghezzi: I speculate that when adult Christians were baptized, they made the sign of the cross that claimed them for Christ on their forehead proudly. Tertullian said that Christians at all times should mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross. I can imagine that Christians would make a little sign of the cross with their thumb and forefinger on their foreheads, to remind themselves that they were living a life for Christ.

Q: Beyond the words themselves, what does the sign mean? Why is it a mark of discipleship?

Ghezzi: The sign means a lot of things. In the book, I describe six meanings, with and without words. The sign of the cross is: a confession of faith; a renewal of baptism; a mark of discipleship; an acceptance of suffering; a defense against the devil; and a victory over self-indulgence. When you make the sign, you are professing a mini version of the creed — you are professing your belief in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

When you say the words and pray in someone's name you are declaring their presence and coming into their presence — that's how a name is used in Scripture.

The sign of the cross is a mark of discipleship. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." The word that the Fathers of the Church used for the sign of the cross is a Greek word that is the same as what a slave owner put on a slave, a shepherd put on a sheep and a general put on a soldier — it's a declaration that I belong to Christ.

Q: Do non-Catholics use the sign of the cross?

Ghezzi: Yes, the sign of the cross is used by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, particularly in baptisms. In his small catechism, Martin Luther recommends making the sign of the cross at bedtime and first thing in the morning. It's a shame that many non-Catholics see it as something they shouldn't be doing; it comes from an ancient Church that we all share. One of my hopes in writing this book is that non-Catholics will read it and share in the sign of the cross.

Q: Why do Catholics use the sign of the cross with holy water upon entering and exiting a church?

Ghezzi: In order to participate in the great sacrifice of the Mass, you need to be baptized. Using holy water to sign yourself is saying "I am a baptized Christian and I am authorized to participate in this sacrifice." When you make the sign of the cross when you leave, you say that the Mass never ends — your whole life is participating in Christ's sacrifice.

When I see professional athletes make the sign of the cross during games, I'm not critical of them. It says that everything I do, I do in the name of Christ — even games can be played in the presence of God. When people make the sign of the cross casually, I pray that they will recognize how serious it is — that they are declaring that they belong to Christ, they want to obey him and accept suffering. It's not a good-luck charm.

* Bert Ghezzi, author of "Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer" (Loyola Press).

Was the story of Adam and Eve a myth? Follow up question: What is the Catholic Church's stand on the theory of evolution? (Asked by Sujee I., SE-4)

Regarding your first question on whether the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, I’d like to direct you to my answer to an earlier question on AskTM, namely: How should we interpret the message of Creation, Adam and Eve, and the forbidden fruit in Genesis? (Asked by Charlie R., SE-1). Click here to read the answer.

Regarding your follow up question, I am presenting below the answer presented in, with some editing and additional comments done by me. The website article has a “Nihil Obstat” (meaning “free from error”) and “Imprimatur” (meaning, “approved for publication). If you want to read the complete answer, you can click here.

(Start of quote)

What is the Catholic position concerning belief or unbelief in evolution? The question may never be finally settled, but there are definite parameters to what is acceptable Catholic belief. Concerning cosmological evolution, the Church has infallibly defined that the universe was specially created out of nothing. Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must "confess the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing" (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5). The Church does not have an official position on whether the stars, nebulae, and planets we see today were created at that time or whether they developed over time (for example, in the aftermath of the Big Bang that modern cosmologists discuss). However, the Church would maintain that, if the stars and planets did develop over time, this still ultimately must be attributed to God and his plan.

Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.

Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that "the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.

(My comment: The Catechism for the Catholic Church defines “soul” not as a ghost trapped in a human body but as the “spiritual principle in a person.” CCC, 363-364).

(End of quote)

Having cited that, I would like to also encourage you to think of the significant teachings of the Creation story that we can apply in our lives today, namely:

- Your question reflects a longing within all of us to understand the origin of things and life and, more importantly, its purpose and destination. The bible tells us that God is the source of all creation, and that God is also our purpose and destination. It tells us that God is not a watchmaker who created a watch and simply let the world tick endlessly, while God watches from the heavens and observe. No, God continues the work of creation: things and life are getting better everyday. The Christian perspective is always that we COOPERATE with God to make things better. “May your kingdom come.”

- Secondly, we are reminded that God is in control. The God who created does not leave the world and people alone. God continues the work of creation through the everyday encounter we face where we can contribute to this work: helping a person in need, forgiving the person who hurt you, taking the initiative to mend a broken relationship, going out of your comfort zone to reach out and touch someone, making our daily business decisions consistent with Gospel values.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

How should we interpret the message of Creation, Adam and Eve, and the forbidden fruit in Genesis? (Asked by Charlie R., SE-1)

Let us bear in mind that the bible is not meant to be a scientific explanation of the beginnings of time. It is meant to give us the “inspired” explanation and reflections of the biblical authors regarding God’s purpose and humanity’s response. A scientific explanation is meant to explain HOW the universe came to be. A biblical explanation is meant to explain WHY it came to be.

The stories of Creation and the Fall are myths, but I should caution you against thinking that simply because these are myths, then therefore these are false. A myth is a literary form, usually using figurative language, which is used in explaining the origins of natural phenomena and aspects of human behavior. The story presented in a myth may not have truly happened but contains profound truths nevertheless. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also tells us that the account of the Fall uses figurative language (CCC, 390).

Analysing the creation story as a “myth” actually provides us profound insights on God’s purposes and humanity’s response. On the other hand, if you simply take the creation story literally, then you would probably deduce that God is a mighty and fast worker who created everything in six days, got tired and rested on the seventh day.

Here are some of the meanings we can learn from these two stories:

1. God is the source of everything. The first verse in the bible is “in the beginning, the earth was a formless wasteland, and the darkness covered the abyss.” Then God created the heavens and the earth. Before that, there was nothing. The phrase “and God said” indicates the power of God: simply by God’s word, things came to be. (In Tagalog, isang salita lang, naganap na.)

2. God’s creation is perfect; nothing more and nothing less are required. The number “7” is a symbol (as all numbers in the bible are symbolic) which means “perfect” or “complete.” There is a sequence to creation (from Day 1 to Day 6), which means there is a purpose in creation. Its purpose is to share God’s love and goodness – “God saw it was good.” The purpose of creation is also shown on the seventh day which is blessed and made holy; meaning, that the purpose is for humanity to be with God.

3. Humanity is the most important of all creation. God reserved the best for last, and only man/woman were created “in the image of God.” God’s original intent is for harmony between God, humanity, and creation. It was paradise. But Adam and Eve broke this harmony with their response to God’s purposes.

4. The “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is a merism, which is a literary device by which totality is expressed by the first and last of a series or by opposites. For example: “you know when I sit and when I stand” means all my physical movement. Or “I love you day and night” means we love the person all the time.

“To know” means not just intellectual, but experiential and relational so to “eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” actually refers to a mastery of life which is independent of God. The original sin is more than just disobedience. Sometime in the beginnings of human history, humanity took a position that did not recognize the superiority of God and therefore rejected God’s love.

This rejection of God’s love has resulted to a state of “original sin.” Try to look at original sin not just as “an act,” but as a state or condition which now characterizes humanity. We now have this tendency to be selfish (to think myself first). Thus, we harm human relationships and promote certain sinful and unjust structures in society which oppress others.

There is one other aspect in the story of the Fall which is often neglected. In Genesis 3:21, it says: “For the man and his wife, the LORD God made leather garments, with which he clothed them.” This was after they took of the fruit and before they were banished from the garden. This is a symbol that God always gives sinful persons a second chance.

And indeed, we see this message clearly in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, who came for us sinners.

For further questions, please email me at

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Why does God have to be Jesus? (Asked by Bel Lioanag, SE-6)

Why does God have to be Jesus? Why does he have to be a human? Can we not be forgiven without Jesus’ sacrifice?

It would help very much if you could read my answer to the question “What is the Holy Trinity?” It will answer 50% of your question.

In summary, this article will explain that God DID NOT HAVE TO become Jesus. The God that we know IS Jesus. Jesus is who God is, and not someone that God has to be. Our God is not a one-person God (unlike the God professed by other faiths). Our God is a Trinitarian God. The name of our God is “Father-Son-Holy Spirit.” Just click here to read the full article.

Here’s the other 50%.

Our God is a communicating God. God WANTS to communicate with us. In the Old Testament, God communicates indirectly through signs (for example, thunder and lightning, parting of the Red Sea, through the prophets, victories and losses of the Israelites against their enemies, and so on). But in the New Testament, God communicated to us DIRECTLY. God did this through Jesus Christ. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Let me explain it this way. Tita Wena and I do not have children, as you know. But we do have two wonderful dogs named Sunshine and Email. You should come and visit, and see us talk to our dogs. “Sunshine, don’t make wee-wee on the floor again; do it here on the newspaper,” TW would say. I would then follow-up and say, “Mabuti pa si Email, she learned already where to make wee-wee. Sunshine, you follow what your sister here does, ok?”

Now, do you think Sunshine and Email understands what we’re telling them? I suppose somehow they do. But if we wanted to communicate with them directly and clearly, we would have to learn and communicate to them in “dog language,” not in human language.

This is what God did. Instead of communicating to us in “divine language,” God wanted to communicate to us in human language. Thus, God became human, just like one of us, through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ communicated to us through his words and actions. People saw him, talked to him, ate with him and so on. Now, St. Paul also says in Colossians 1:15: “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.”

If you really want to know who God is, then get to know Jesus because he is the image of God. If Jesus is loving, forgiving, and healing, then God is ALSO loving, forgiving and healing. That is as plain as it get. It’s like WYSIWIG – what you see is what you get.

Can we not be forgiven without Jesus sacrifice?

We often associate Jesus sacrifice ONLY with his death on the cross. Let’s note that God did not become man to simply die. That would make God the Father such a cruel God who demands that the Son die for our sins.

We should also focus on what Jesus was saying and doing during his life WHICH RESULTED to his death on the cross.

This is consistent with the biblical meaning of sacrifice. When a Jew would offer an animal as sacrifice, the animal was the symbol for his or her life: by offering the animal, the Jew was also offering his or her life to God. But for the Jew, the focus is NOT the killing of the animal, but what it symbolizes: his or her life would now be based on obeying God’s will. The Jew was in effect saying, “I am offering this animal to tell my God that I would like to live a life that is God-centered.”

It is the same with the sacrifice of Jesus. It is not just the crucifixion but the entire life of Jesus that we should consider.

The core of Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of God, mentioned more than a hundred times in the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a condition where unconditional love prevails (see the parable of the Prodigal Son). God’s love is unconditional, which means that it is open to everyone, regardless of how sinful you are. That is why for Jesus, salvation is not just something that happens in the “after life” but something that God does now because God cares passionately about what happens to us.

Preaching this contradicted and embarrassed many of the Pharisees, Sadducees and other authorities during Jesus’ time. Eventually, people plotted against him, which resulted to his crucifixion and death.

So, please answer my question, can we not be forgiven without Jesus sacrifice?

This is the way you should also look at “being forgiven.” Jesus has shown in his life that we are forgiven and loved unconditionally.

“When we begin to accept that God loves and accepts us unconditionally, then we can change our sense of who we are and our sense of what life is about. Our primary image of our self would then become one of ‘trusted, loved and already forgiven by God,’ rather than ‘sinner who must please God to be forgiven.’ We can begin to discover that the Christian life is about a life lived in a loving relationship with God. Realizing this, we may be able to allow the transforming power of our love relationship with God to work in our lives.”[1]

A profound healing can begin to take place within us. Our “being saved” or “being forgiven” happens.

What’s the implication of all these in my life?

When you look at Jesus on the cross, do not remember only his death. Remember his entire life, what he said and did, his unconditional love manifested in forgiveness and healing of both the physical, mental and emotional illnesses of those around him. Recall that Jesus was willing to do all these even if he knew that he would antagonize people and that he may eventually pay for it with his life. But he did so anyway out of love for all of us.

Realizing this, I think it would not be difficult for you to do also start to love others unconditionally. Your “being saved” and “being forgiven” happens.

[1] Lode Wostyn, CICM, I Believe: A Workbook for Theology I (Manila: Claretian Publications, 2004), 174.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What are indulgences? - Asked by Sonny Santiago, SE-9

There are two things I’d like you to appreciate before we discuss indulgences, namely:

- First, any sin is never just between a person and God. Sin damages our relationship with our family, friends and others. One cannot say that my sin is only between my God and myself. Any sin has consequences and eventually affects our relationship with others. For example, stealing is a sin because you deprive someone of something and it hurts the relationship. Lying hurts our relationship because you mislead me.

- Secondly, there are two consequences of sin. If your sin is mortal, and here I regard mortal sin as not only one act but as a position you have taken to completely reject God’s love in your life, then the consequence is complete and eternal separation from God. This should come as no surprise to such a person since that person has already taken the position that he or she does not want God in his or life. This is referred to as “eternal punishment.”

The other consequence of sin is the harm to our community and social relationship that I referred to earlier. This is referred to as “temporal punishment.”

These two punishments should not be thought of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God, but as following from the very nature of sin (CCC 1472).

When we convert, i.e. when we once again accept God’s love in our life (and we are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation), then “eternal punishment” is removed. But “temporal punishment” remains, i.e. the harm brought to our community and social relationships is still there. This is obvious, isn’t it? When I hurt you through unkind words, the hurt is still there even after I go to confession.

We therefore need to repair these hurts in our relationships to ensure that I stop hurting other people, or at least hurt less people or hurt people less. I need to change. But I cannot just will or intend these changes. I must practice patience, kindness, forgiveness and so on. In other words, I need to “pay for” these punishments. We also believe this change process is actually facilitated by the problems, trials and sufferings that we encounter in our life because these make us turn to God as the source of all life and the One who is in control of our life. In a manner of speaking these “punishments” help us reform and change.

When do we start talking about indulgences?

Ok, let's now turn to your question. The church defines indulgence as the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven, which persons who are duly disposed gains under certain conditions (CCC 1471). What that means is this.

The burden to change our self is never an individual effort! We are members of Christ’s body, the Church. The Church helps its members by granting indulgences, that is, by assigning to a penitent person a portion of the “treasury of merits Christ and the saints” to help the person “pay for” the temporal punishments. In the case of plenary indulgence, ALL the temporal punishment is “paid for.”

I hope you do not look at “treasury of merits of Christ and the saints” as the sum total of material goods accumulated by the Church through the centuries. Rather, look at it as our Church’s “assets of goodness in the world” (my phrase). Just as there is evil in the world, there is also so much goodness and, as St. Paul says, “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.” Our Church is therefore saying that we want to share with our members some of these goodness to help these members make up for their “temporal punishments” but still ensure that personal change happen.

This is why indulgences are not just doled out. Certain conditions are required. For example, in the granting of a plenary indulgence, the following are the requirements: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, prayer for the intention of the Pope, and that all attachment to sin be absent. The objective of these requirements are to promote and help facilitate the change in the person.

The last condition ("all attachment to sin is absent") is admittedly a tough one, but it is the Church’s way of saying that a profound and personal change must begin to happen in one’s self so that the person will now do less harm to relationships in the community.

Where does purgatory fit into all of this?

We believe in a “purgatory,” that is, a transition between a person’s death and final judgment. We certainly express this in our practice of praying for the dead. Contemporary theology prefers to speak of purgatory as a process rather than as a place, and therefore theologians use the term purification rather than purgatory. Indeed, that is the language commonly used by the early church and the Eastern Churches.[1]

Our own Pope Benedict XVI views purgatory as “the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.” [2]

Pope John Paul II explained purgatory as part of the “process of purification” for the sinner when the repentant sinner is prepared to receive “the fullness of love.” (, Sept. 29, 1999)

In this context, our Church also believes that we can share our indulgences with those in purgatory so that temporal punishments due for their sins may also be “paid for.” Again, don’t look at this as like a bank book wherein we withdraw from our account and deposit to your grandfather’s account in purgatory. Rather, look at this as our way of saying that there is a “perennial link of love between those who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are being purified in purgatory, and those who are still pilgrims on earth; between them there is an abundant exchange of all good things.” (CCC 1475)

As a final word on indulgence, John Paul II reminds us that the process of earning indulgences cannot be a matter of “external gestures, done superficially,” but must be “a process of interior growth toward actual detachment from sin.” (, Sept. 29, 1999)

- Written by Manny Blas, with help from Chris Mallion (SE-9)

Sources (in addition to those cited in the footnotes):

-CCC or Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1471-1479

-CFC or Catechism of Filipino Catholics, 1820 – 1821

[1] Peter C. Phan, Responses to 101 Questions o Death and Eternal Life (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997), 70.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 230; as cited by Phan, 71.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why do we pray the rosary? Are we praying to Jesus or Mary? (Asked by Mark Lim, SE-2)

Let’s learn something first about the history of the rosary, and then I will answer your questions.


According to tradition, the devotion of the Rosary was spread by St. Dominic in the thirteenth century. In the Roman Catholic Church, the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary is observed on October 7.

Historians have traced the origin of the Rosary back to the 9th century, and to a form of prayer that evolved in the early monasteries of the church. One of the most important forms of monastic prayer was the daily chanting of the 150 psalms of David. Lay people around the monastery would hear the psalms every day as they were sung or recited, and the beauty of this prayer intrigued them. They yearned to join in, but the psalms were too long to memorize, copies could not be found since printing was rare, and few knew how to read Latin anyway. The lay people were however, determined to adapt this prayer form for their own use.

Sometime around 800 AD, the people's desire to participate led to their reciting the “Our Father” in response to every psalm recited by the monks. As this form of devotion became popular, people began to carry leather pouches of 150 pebbles, in order that they might keep count of their daily prayers when they were not in hearing distance of the monastery. A thin rope with 150 knots became less of a burden and soon replaced the bag of stones.

When the missionary monks began to travel and evangelize Europe, this form of devotion was brought with them. In some areas, priests and lay people began to recite the Angelic Salutation, or “Hail Mary, full of grace…” in response to the psalms, instead of the “Our Father.”

During the 13th century, the recitation evolved into yet another form. Medieval theologians began to interpret the 150 psalms as hidden prophesies about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and they composed a series of psalters, or praises, based on each interpretation. These thoughts took the form of narratives. The fifteen narratives were divided into five Joyful, five Sorrowful, and five Glorious mysteries in the lives of Jesus and Mary, and the Rosary itself became a string of 50 beads to be prayed.
In order to fit the existing prayer string, the psalters were divided into three "rosariums" or bouquets of 50 each. This was the form that St. Dominic promoted.

Now, let’s answer your questions.

The rosary began as the layperson’s attempt to pray regularly to God. People wanted to pray and when they could not pray the “official prayers” of the monks, then this yearning eventually led to the rosary as a prayer. Eventually, the lives of Jesus and Mary were incorporated to the rosary.

There are several approaches that you can use when praying the rosary:

- One approach is to focus on the fact that you are praying, and prayer is essentially being aware of God’s presence in our midst. The Rosary helps you to focus your mind in God’s loving presence for you. In this approach, the constant repetition of the “Hail Mary and Holy Mary” helps prevent your mind from being diverted into thoughts other than God’s presence.

- Another approach is focus on the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary which corresponds to the Mystery of the Rosary that you are praying. So, if you are in decade of the mystery of the “birth of our Lord,” focus on the scene to keep your mind from being distracted, as well as help edify your thoughts on God’s love for us in becoming one of us.

- The third approach, which I often use, is to have a special prayer intention for each decade which you can declare to those praying with you, and then focus on praying to God for that intention. For example, you may declare that the first Joyful Mystery is for the intention of your “movie premier fundraising activity,” and then pray for that as you recite the decade.

Finally, do we pray to Jesus or Mary?

Well, “technically,” all prayers are to God, but we keep in mind that Mary and the saints (as well as our apostolate brothers and sisters, family, and friends) are one with us in praying because we are all part of God’s family. This is referred to as the communion of saints and is discussed in another AskTM question. Click here if you want to read more about that.

Catholic Encyclopedia, Our Sunday Visitor, 1994

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Was Jesus actually born on December 25? (Asked by Edward Santillan, SE-7)

Christmas is based on the story of Jesus’ birth as described in the Gospel according to Matthew (1:18-2:12) and the Gospel according to Luke (1:26-56). Roman Catholics first celebrated Christmas, then known as the Feast of the Nativity, as early as 336 ad.

The word Christmas entered the English language sometime around 1050 as the Old English phrase Christes maesse, meaning “festival of Christ.” Scholars believe the frequently used shortened form of Christmas—Xmas—may have come into use in the 13th century. The X stands for the Greek letter chi, an abbreviation of Khristos (Christ), and also represents the cross on which Jesus was crucified.


Historians are unsure exactly when Christians first began celebrating the Nativity of Christ. However, most scholars believe that Christmas originated in the 4th century as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

Before the introduction of Christmas, each year beginning on December 17 Romans honored Saturn, the ancient god of agriculture, in a festival called Saturnalia. This festival lasted for seven days and included the winter solstice, which usually occurred around December 25 on the ancient Julian calendar. During Saturnalia the Romans feasted, postponed all business and warfare, exchanged gifts, and temporarily freed their slaves. Many Romans also celebrated the lengthening of daylight following the winter solstice by participating in rituals to glorify Mithra, the ancient Persian god of light. These and other winter festivities continued through January 1, the festival of Kalends, when Romans marked the day of the new moon and the first day of the month and year.

Most scholars believe that Christmas originated in the 4th century as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

Although the Gospels describe Jesus’ birth in detail, they never mention the date, so historians do not know on what date he was born. The Roman Catholic Church chose December 25 as the day for the Feast of the Nativity in order to give Christian meaning to existing pagan rituals.

Edited from: Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Since it's Christmas time, can you provide some historical details on the circumstances of the birth of Jesus? (Asked by Rose Meim, SE-2)

Let’s use the account of the birth of Jesus according to Luke 2:1-20. This is commonly the gospel passage read during Christmas eve mass. (See where Bethlehem is located, map below).

Luke is quite specific about the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth:

1. When was Jesus born? Luke 1:5 states that Herod the Great was the king at around the birth of Jesus. Since history dates the death of Herod at around March or April 4 BC, then Jesus must have been born before that date. December 25 was not his exact birth date, but was assigned by the Church later on (more on this on a separate AskTM question).

2. Luke mentioned that the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the whole world, i.e. the Roman empire. We now know that this is inaccurate since there was no such universal census taken at around this time. The closest is that held in Palestine when Quirinius was governor of Syria (also mentioned by Luke), but which was around 6 AD.

Biblical scholars believe that the census is a literary device used by Luke to associate Mary and Joseph, residents of Nazareth, with Bethlehem, the town of David. Also, every time there is a Roman census, there is usually opposition by the people since this is a recognition of Roman authority over them, and caused a lot of inconvenience. Luke wanted to tie Jesus birth to a time of political disturbance associated with a census.

Such political disturbances were one of the triggers for the revolt of Judas the Galilean, and Luke wanted to show that Joseph and Mary (who were both Galileans) were obedient to Rome. Jesus and the Christians have no political ambitions.

Augustus is also known at that time as the peaceful Savior, so this serves as a contrast to Jesus who brings the real peace (see the message of the angels) and is the real Savior.

3. Luke establishes that the procedure is for everyone to go to the city of his ancestry and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David; even though Jerusalem is traditionally regarded in the Old Testament as the city of David.

Luke wanted to connect the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem with what is written in Micah 5:2: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel."

Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth at that time and had to travel southward to Bethlehem which was about 100 kilometers away. Using an animal to travel (at about 3 to 4 kph), and considering Mary is pregnant which would have added to travel time, this distance would have taken about 7 to 9 days. By the way, the bible does not mention that Joseph and Mary used a donkey, although they certainly used an animal to travel. It could have been an ass, horse, mule or donkey.

4. Luke’s narrative of Jesus birth is very brief. Luke seems more interested in telling his readers where Mary lay the newborn child - in a manger. The symbolism behind this is not clear. Perhaps it lies in the contrast between the extraordinary titles given to the child and his poverty. God is thus revealed in a paradox.

A manger is a feeding-trough, crib, or open box in a stable designed to hold food for livestock. In Bible times, mangers were made of clay mixed with straw or from stones cemented with mud. Some mangers were cut from a limestone block or carved in natural outcroppings of rock, because livestock was sometimes stabled in a cave. (Thus, there is some tradition that Jesus was born in a cave).

5. There were shepherds out in the field. Shepherds were despised people at the time of Jesus. They were suspected of not being very scru­pulous in matters of ownership; and so, their testimony was not admissible in court. They had the same legal status as the tax collectors. In view of what Luke says later on in his gospel regarding the preference of Jesus for tax collectors and sinners, the choice of the shepherds as the first beneficiaries of God's revelation in Jesus becomes quite significant.

Sources: Nil Guillemette, SJ, Kingdom for All (St. Paul’s Publications, 1988) and Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What is the difference between the Ascension and Assumption (Asked by Charlie Rancudo, SE-1)


The biblical verses referring to the Ascension are:

- “Then he led them as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” – Luke 24:50-53

- “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” - Mark 16:19-20

- Also Acts 1:9-12

The Ascension (or being lifted up to heaven) is described as Jesus Christ's return to the Father. It marks the end of the visible ministry of Jesus on earth.

The Ascension is best understood in connection with the Resurrection which you can read in the footnote below.[1] In the Resurrection, Jesus went through a transformation in body and spirit. Jesus was not just resuscitated (like Lazarus, who eventually died), but transformed.

This transformation of Jesus did not stop at the Resurrection, but continued with the Ascension. We think of the Ascension not so much as the transition of Jesus from one place to another (i.e. from earth to heaven) but from one condition to another. When we say that Jesus ascended, we mean:

- Jesus withdrew from a world of limitation (that is our human condition) to that higher existence where God is.

- It is the end of the visible activities of Jesus on earth, but not the end of Jesus presence. Jesus is now physically far, but spiritually near. Jesus ascension precedes the sending of the Holy Spirit which is His presence in our everyday life today. “It is much better for you that I go… If I go, I will send the Paraclete to you.” – John 16:7. Being now free from earthly limitations, Jesus can now more “freely” interact and intercede for us.

- It is the return of Jesus to the Father in the beginning of time before He came into the world. Ascension or being "lifted up into Heaven" is Jesus Christ's coming back home. It is also at this event that marks the sending of the Holy Spirit to work within us.


The Assumption refers to Mother Mary’s “body and soul” (that is, her entire being) as taken up into heaven without having tasted death. The bible also refers to both Elijah and Enoch being taken to heaven in the same manner (2 Kings 2:11 and Hebrews 11:5).

Again, just in the explanation of the Ascension, “taken up to heaven” should be read as Mary having gone through a transformation from one condition to another (rather than physically floating from earth to the skies).

The Assumption was declared as a dogma on November 1, 1950 by Pius XII.

That early Christian believed in Mary's Assumption is proven in the lack of her relics, empty tombs, and quotes from early Christians. The early Christians were very careful to keep the relics of saints and martyrs, even if it involved great risk (like trying to retrieve the remains of those who were eaten by lions). Because Christians took care of the remains of the saints, we know where the bones of Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene and many other New Testament believers are buried. But where are the remains of the Virgin Mary? There is no record of anyone ever claiming to possess the body of the Mother of Jesus.

This would have been the most prized relic of all; the mortal remains of the Savior's closest blood relative, the very same body which had carried God Incarnate for nine months and nursed and cared for Him afterward! Yet in all of Church history, both biblical and extra-biblical, there is no record of its whereabouts.

The early Church Fathers were very zealous for the faith. They strenuously fought all new heresies which threatened the Faith delivered to the Apostles. If the Assumption of Mary were a novel belief at the time, we would expect to find Christian writers of the third to fifth centuries condemning it as a newfangled heresy. Yet none do! Nowhere in the writings of the early Church Fathers do we find the slightest condemnation of this doctrine.

(Sources: CFC, 524 – 525, article found in, and article found in

[1] An understanding of the Resurrection will help us understand what happens during consecration.

We regard the Resurrection of Jesus as not just resuscitation (as in the case of Lazarus, who eventually died), but that of transformation (Jesus lives forever). Resurrection refers not just to a physically risen Jesus, but to a spiritually Risen Jesus.

Our Risen Lord was no longer bound by time and space. He could walk through walls. In the account of the “doubting Thomas” in John 20:19-29, the evangelist emphasizes by saying twice that “the doors were locked,” and yet Jesus suddenly appeared to them.

In the story of the two men on the way to Emmaus in Luke 24:1-53, we learn other aspects about our Risen Lord. We know that the tomb was empty and so his body rose and changed (24:12). His body changed because when Jesus appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus, he was not readily recognizable (24:32), and yet he could be seen and touched, and he ate brad and fish. We also know that he was recognized when he started to talk about the Scriptures and when they broke bread (24:35), and that this encounter with him brought about much excitement and joy (24:33 and 41).

I’m afraid that is as much as we can know about Jesus Resurrected presence. (The disciples did not have a video camera then, so they could not be any more helpful). But one thing we do know, Jesus was not just resuscitated; he was transformed to a glorious presence.

The close analogy I can think of is that of a caterpillar that is transformed to a butterfly. It changes to something totally new.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What is the New Age Movement? (Asked by Raffy Ortega, SE-4)

What is the New Age Movement?

The New Age Movement (NAM) is not one movement. It is like a river with many tributaries and it is very difficult to know which tributary you are in, or even whether you are in the main river itself. The NAM has no founder, no headquarters, no holy books, no leaders, and no dogmas. It is associated with the development of consciousness, importance of spiritual experiences, mysticism and anti-consumerism, as well as gurus, holistic health spas, psychics, crystals, charms, and tarot cards; not to mention UFO’s and ET’s.

The term “New Age” seems to have been coined by one of the successors of Madame H. P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) who is considered the “godmother of the New Age Movement.” Supposedly inspired by telepathic messages coming from a Tibetan master, this successor proclaimed the return of Christ, who will inaugurate a new age.[1]

Can you at least give me a definition?

While NAM is eclectic (that is, it combine individual elements from many sources), Lode Wostyn came up with the following definition which is helpful in categorizing the various thoughts that could be considered “new age”:[2]

The NAM is new spirituality of people convinced that they have arrived at a turning point in history, triggered off by a new holistic understanding of the world and the universe. This is because of the awakening of a new consciousness among individuals who then link up into all kinds of groups, organization, and communities, and gradually developing into networks.

What does the Catholic Church say about NAM?

One way that the Vatican document on “A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’” describes NAM is as the return of Gnosticism, a philosophy that St. Paul had to counter during his preaching. Gnosticism refers to a religious creed in which salvation is ascribed to the possession of a superior, spiritual knowledge (the Greek word gnosis) which bring human beings into immediate contact with the divine.[3] It believes that human beings have a divine spark in themselves, but it is caught within the evil material world; through gnosis, however, people can re-establish contact with their divine origin, free themselves from the material world, and become one with the divine.[4]

The key problems of NAM and its conflicts with our Catholic religion are in the following areas:

1. Theology – Rejects the otherness of God. If everything is God and God is everything, it also means that God comes in many forms. Grants relative value to all religions, denying Jesus as the fullness of revelation.

2. Spirituality – One of the most common elements in New Age “spirituality” is a fascination with extraordinary manifestations, and in particular with paranormal entities. People recognised as “mediums” claim that their personality is taken over by another entity during trances in a New Age phenomenon known as “channeling”, during which the medium may lose control over his or her body and faculties.[5] accepts many cultic and occultic practices rejected by Scriptures and the Church like sorcery and fortune-telling.

3. Ethics – Human actions are the fruit of either illumination or ignorance. Hence we cannot condemn anyone, and nobody needs forgiveness. Believing in the existence of evil can create only negativity and fear. The answer to negativity is love.[6]

Is NAM all bad?

It is also important to understand that the NAM was a reaction to the modern Western culture of science, technology and rationalism which offered much in terms of consumption, yet so little in terms of meaning. The NAM can be described as a contemporary movement which attempts to answer the old questions of meaning in our personal and social life. This search for answers influences the spiritual aspects of our humanity such as yearning for ultimate meaning, our interconnectedness with the universe and with each other, mystical experiences, millenarianism (or the dawning of the “age of Aquarius”), and transcendence. Indeed, the Church admits that the “New Age is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.”[7]

Importantly, our Church considers the popularity of NAM as conveying a message, which challenges all Christians: People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them – or perhaps never gave them – something they really need. The search which often leads people to the New Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something which will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world.[8]

What can I do when I meet someone who believes in NAM?

The problems that the Church finds in NAM are NOT in the questions that it raises regarding how life should be lived, but in the answers that it provides, as enumerated above.

The challenge then, is for you and our Church to be able to provide the “better” answers that NAM believers find in NAM. To those who adhere to NAM, the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in their concrete love of neighbour, all the fruit of their faith nourished in authentic personal prayer.[9]

Practical tip for the Single: New Age groups refer to their meetings as “prayer groups”. Those people who are invited to such groups need to look for the marks of genuine Christian spirituality, and to be wary if there is any sort of initiation ceremony. Such groups take advantage of a person's lack of theological or spiritual formation to lure them gradually into what may in fact be a form of false worship. Christians must be taught about the true object and content of prayer – in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to the Father – in order to judge rightly the intention of a “prayer group”.


1. The article “A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’” by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue, as published by the Vatican

2. A New Church for a New Age by Lode Wostyn (Manila: Claretian Publications, 1997), and

3. My personal notes during a Shepherds’ Deepening Course conducted in our Renewal Movement in September 2000.

[1] Wostyn, p. 14.
[2] Wostyn, p. 35.
[3] Wostyn, p. 15.
[4] Wostyn, p. 15.
[5] A Christian Reflection, 2.2.1.
[6] A Christian Reflection, 2.2.2.
[7] A Christian Reflection, 1.1.
[8] A Christian Reflection, 1.5.
[9] A Christian Reflection, 6.2.