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Matthew 23:9

A Xt3 Member asked at 10:44pm on November 25th 2018
Dear Fr,

Greetings from Pakistan!

I am a born catholic, I am in search of this question, "why do we call a priest, "Father"? when Jesus tautgh us in Matthew 23:9 that we should not call anyone our father on the earth.

thanks and regards

Ajmal Hadayat


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Hi Ajmal, like everything in the Gospels, the context is important. That chapter 23 opens by criticizing the Pharisees for using words without deeds, preaching without living up to what they're asking others to do (2-4) . Then Jesus goes on to call out the Pharisees' vanity and self-importance: 'they do all their deeds to be seen by men' (5-7).

He then (8-12) contrasts their efforts at showing themselves better than everyone else with what his followers are to do, in five statements about our equality before God.

1) They shouldn't claim to be Rabbis, teachers, since there's only one Teacher, and they're all brothers. It surely didn't mean that no one should ever be called a teacher. But since we're all brothers, a Christian teacher should always be humble before their pupils, however young, since they're all brothers of Jesus, Jesus is in each of them, however young.

2) The one you mention: 'call no man your father on earth, for you have only one Father, who is in heaven' surely doesn't mean to undermine the role of human fathers - that would be to go against the Fourth Commandment, 'honour your father and your mother.' In Aramaic and Hebrew, the word for father is 'ab' (or its 'pet' form, 'abba,' Dad or Daddy) doesn't only refer to our biological father but is also an honorary title given to a teacher, elder, or patron.

3) Is a kind of repeat of 1), where the word means the same, instructor or master, since 'you have only one teacher/master, the Christ.' 4) Explains the underlying answer to the pride of the Pharisees mentioned in the first two criticisms, 'the greatest among you shall be your servant.' And 5) underlines the complete revolution of the Gospels: 'whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'

So I'd suggest that Jesus didn't mean that we should never call anyone other than his Father or himself, teacher or father - what he wanted to do was contrast the Pharisees' desire to lord it over people with the Christian's opposite behaviour of humbling him- or herself. The title that the Pope uses, 'servant of the servants of God' captures that meaning, and of course if we priests ever do what the Pharisees did, and instead of humbly serving our people try to act as their rulers or bosses, we're going against everything Jesus asked of his followers. Very best, Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 9:07am on December 6th 2018
Hello. I am not Catholic, but my husband's family is.

Recently I've been interested in the story of Lazarus. Do we know anything about his life before Christ resurrected him? After? I would imagine that since he had been dead, he may have been considered unclean by the populace after his resurrection.

Thank you in advance.

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Hi Alexis, all we know about Lazarus is from the Gospel, where he's the brother of Martha and Mary, who live at Bethany - which was a place many pilgrims from Galilee would stay in on their way to Jerusalem. Since I guess there was no provision in the Jewish law for how to treat someone raised from the dead, I can't imagine how Lazarus could have been regarded as unclean.

And, in fact, six days before the Passover feast, St John tells us that 'Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him' (Jn 12: 1-2). There's no mention there of anyone considering Lazarus unclean, rather he's seen as very much alive, able to share in a meal with all the others. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Sin Question

A Xt3 Member asked at 6:40pm on September 15th 2018
Father, I'm really having trouble with a situation I just faced in church. It involves my conscience and spiritual warfare. Our priest had just given a powerful homily on making the right decision, life or death, fire or water after a reading prophesying Christ's coming. The priest mentioned facing mocking and opposition when carrying your cross, even from those in your church, mentioning Jesus turning himself from Peter saying Get behind me Satan. The sermon cut to my core and I understood it.

The situation was after however, when the ushers were walking by they passed a lady next to me and she said "Oh Jesus, they always do that." So I had strong feelings about whether or not to say something in my spirit, to make the right decision. At the same time, I felt like I was being rushed and messed with to say something as a Catholic. It's a sin to not correct or rebuke a fellow Christian correct? Saying the Lord's name in vain is one of the 10 commandments so isn't my job to rebuke her? I thought about whether or not she meant it like that and if it was ok. I do not want to be a coward and I would have gently said something but I felt like I was being messed with spiritually. However, I'm not trying to be scrupulous and do right. I'm not supposed to consent with that behavior, right?

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Hi Zachary, what's called 'fraternal correction' is when Christians help one another by noting a defect in their Christian lives. It's often used in spiritual communities where it's seen as an expression of Christian love. And it only works when it's experienced as occurring between people who love one another. In your example, I'd certainly let it go - maybe mention to the usher another time to pay that lady more attention.

The Venerable Pierre Toussaint was given the cold shoulder by an usher in Old St Patrick's Cathedral, NY, and when the Archbishop heard of this he hit the roof as Pierre Toussaint was from Haiti, and while as African American had to walk everywhere, was the most generous contributor to the church. So ushers can make mistakes too!

So, rather than correcting that parishioner, maybe if you get chance you can strike up a friendship with her. Soon to be Pope St Paul VI used to say it's not much of a parish if everyone's down in the register, pay their dues, etc., but aren't living 'where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name' - that is, ready to die for one another - without that, there isn't the true Church. Then Jesus promised us, 'I am there among you.' Very best, and wishing you that beautiful presence of Jesus among you all in your church. Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 11:56am on August 11th 2018
Hello i am interested to build my faith i have a question that pentecostals are speaking in tongues that no one can understand even they don't understand them self and they say this is the gift that every people must receive to be saved. My opinion this is heresy because Paul sayd that even we speak tongues everyone must be build or be edified the whole church be in one faith but they simple edifie them self. I have asked about a priest he sayd that the carismatic gift its from God and this kind of tongue speaking its legal in the church because its a private pray i understand that God today make miracles but to accept that this non sense tongue speaking to be worthy i am confused.

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Hi Attila, as you say, St Paul several times questions the usefulness to others of speaking in tongues-as you know, he has a whole long chapter on this topic, 1 Corinthians, chapter 14. There he says: 'one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit' (14:2). A bit further down he says: 'if you in a tongue utter a speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?' (14:9; and see verses 16-17). He also warns that if strangers come to the church and hear people speaking in tongues, 'will they not say you are mad? (14:23). And goes on to say that 'God is not a God of confusion but of peace' (14:33), and finishes the chapter with; 'do not forbid speaking in tongues, but all things should be done decently and in order' (14: 39-40).

You can find St Paul's advice still followed by the Church in our own times, in the different but not completely unrelated situation where people claim to have received private messages from God. The Church is always cautious with these, and often only after a long time makes a decision on whether these can be accepted as private revelations that others in the Church can share in-as for example with what is claimed by those called the 'seers' of Medjugorje. The Church has the responsibility before God to guide the faithful and protect them from false claims. But as we know from the children of Fatima-two of them recently declared saints-and St Bernadette of Lourdes, the Church also must be open to whatever messages may come, testing them carefully, and only then allowing the faithful to share in those accepted as genuine. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Did God tell us to pray to Mary in the Bible?

A Xt3 Member asked at 9:13am on August 2nd 2018
Did God tell us to pray to Mary in the Bible? I have recently wondered that but all I can find is when Jesus said, "Behold your mother". When did God tell us to pray to her? Thank you!



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Hi Gabriel, as you know, Mary appears at key moments in the New Testament-obviously at the Annunciation, in her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, then throughout the birth of Jesus, and at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Then there's the time Jesus, Mary and Joseph go up to the Temple when Jesus was twelve years old. Later she appears at the wedding feast of Cana, and at least once during her Son's public life, when he's told she and members of his family are waiting to see him. Then she's standing by him as he's dying on the cross, when, as you point out, he says to St John, 'behold your mother,' and the Gospel goes on to say that he took her into his own keeping. Soon afterwards, St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles tells of her presence at Pentecost. And in chapters 12 and 22 of St John's Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament, St John shows us how Mary, the Mother of God, fulfils the prophecy God made to Satan in the first book of the Bible when he promises to make 'the woman' the enemy of Satan, whose Son ('offspring') will crush the evil spirit's head.

Obviously the first task of the early Church was to clarify who Jesus was and what the Blessed Trinity was-so the earliest Church Councils developed our understanding of Jesus as One divine Person with two natures, divine and human. This was to deal with the Arian heresy, which regarded the humanity of Jesus as if he were a separate being, somehow taken up into the Second Person of the Trinity. Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea (325 ad). Since later, another heretic, Nestorius, held that Mary was the mother of the man Christ, a century later, the Council of Ephesus (431ad) declared that she was the 'Mother of God, Theotokos.' But even earlier in the life of the Church, there was deep appreciation of the role of Mary-already outlined by St John, with Saint Irenaeus calling her the 'New Eve' about 180ad.

The devotion the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have for Mary, the Mother of God, then flows naturally from who she is in relation to her Son, Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives in the Church, as Jesus told us when he said: 'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth...He will declare to you the things that are to come...he will take what is mine and declare it to you' (Jn 16: 13, 14). So the Church's Tradition (what we know from the writings and practices of the Church after the Resurrection up to the later centuries of the first millennium) and Teaching Office or Magisterium, not to mention the writings and lives of many saints, all inform our understanding of and devotion to Mary-and I think could be seen to be an expansion of those words Jesus said to John which you quote, 'Behold your mother.' It's in that light that the later Marian dogmas, of her Immaculate Conception (1854) and her Assumption (1950), can be understood, as expressing the Church's growing understanding of the mystery of the Mother of God. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Cussing v. Cursing

A Xt3 Member asked at 1:29pm on May 22nd 2018
Is cussing a sin and is it different from cursing?

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These are just different ways of saying the same thing, I think.

I used to swear a lot when I was younger, until I realized that swearing was a bit like the way a peacock spreads his huge multicoloured feathers to make a big impression. I came to see that my using strong language was a kind of verbal violence, and that even the people I thought might be impressed by me in fact - even if they didn't say it at the time - ended up with a lower impression.

And I used to think that I couldn't help swearing, until I thought back and saw that not once did I ever let fly a bad word when my parents were around. In other words, I wasn't that out of control that I couldn't stop using bad language when I was afraid of what my folks would say to me if they heard me. Very best, Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 11:25am on May 10th 2018
Can angels, specifically archangels, be incarnated as humans?

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Hi Anthony, since angels are pure spirits, and therefore invisible, they're often mentioned in the Bible as appearing in human form - for example the three 'men' who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:2 then show up as two angels who appear to Lot in Sodom (Genesis 19:1). Then there are the various appearances of angels in the Gospels, at with Gabriel appearing to Mary at the Annunciation. At the Resurrection, an angel moves away the stone at the entrance to the tomb and sat on it, terrifying the soldiers, with an appearance 'like lightning' and clothing 'white as snow' (Mt 28:2). Luke 24:4 tells how Peter and John see in the grave 'two dazzling apparel.'

But there are no accounts of angels doing what the Risen Jesus does, being embraced, eating fish, allowing Thomas to put his hands in his wounds, and so on. So that even in his risen body, Jesus is still incarnate, while there's no attempt to depict these angels as other than appearing in human form. Since God is all powerful, I don't think we could exclude the possibility that angels could be incarnated as humans. But it seems clear from these and other accounts that their God-given power is limited to appearing in our space-time world, without ever becoming embodied in human flesh. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Shorinji Kempo

A Xt3 Member asked at 2:15pm on May 9th 2018
I have recently taken up a martial art called Shorinji Kempo in order to keep fit. It seems to be a good class and I've enjoyed it thus far.

Last week they gave me a piece of paper that contains their philosophy called "The Dokun". This gets repeated at most training sessions and before all grading, to move up the belts.

The points on it are all generally good, however in one point it says: "we are grateful that we are endowed with our souls from Dharma and our bodies form our parents".

I just wondered how problematic this would be for a Catholic to be saying.

Many thanks

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Hi Stuart, from what I could find out, Dōshin Sō, the founder of Shorinji Kempo, came from a Buddhist (and later Taoist) background, and Dharma is the Sanskrit word meaning more or less the overall order of everything in the world. So you're quite right in thinking that statement wouldn't be acceptable to a Catholic, since it almost certainly implies a kind of cosmic divinity rather than the Jewish and Christian understanding of a personal God, and the Christian understanding of God as Three Persons in One. But from what you say, the martial art in itself seems to be good exercise and you're not doing it in search of some kind of spiritual enlightenment. I'd say as long as you refrain from statements like the one you mention, I can't see any harm in it. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Unforgiveable Sin

A Xt3 Member asked at 12:20pm on May 8th 2018
Hi Father Brendan.

My question is about the "unforgivable" or "eternal sin" of blasphemy against the holy spirit.

I've come into my faith in a very healthy, strong and loving way over the past decade. This week I started saying the rosary daily. I attend Adoration when I can. I feel extremely close to Christ, St. Jude Thaddeus, Archangel Michael, and The Blessed Mother.

My journey to my faith has been pretty diverse.

I recently gave up a strong desire to Direct and Produce Horror Films. It wasn't feeling appropriate anymore as there is less and less "horror" in my life - as I become closer to God.

I am also a Psychotherapist who has dedicated his life to helping others overcome mental illness and struggle.

However, I did direct an independent film at one point which focused on possession, etc .. I luckily scrapped that film and it never was publicly seen - as it didn't even feel right to me after I made it. This was in 2007, in my early twenties. Thereafter, I came wholeheartedly to God - more or less .. traveling that path brought me into God's hands.

I am also Gay .. I don't believe I am an abomination to God, in any way. I feel I was undoubtedly born this way - and have love in my heart to give to a spouse.

But at that time in my life ..

I felt very rejected and disconnected from God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit - as a result of my feelings about the church. I also dabbled in the New Age Movement for a period, although always sort of directing those actvities in the direction of God and Angels (Doreen Virtue, Angel Mediumship, Astrology, Etc ..)

I am much healither now than ever before, being exclusively in a spiritual relationship with my roman catholic spirituality.

But is directing a blasphemous film in the past, which went against all things I now value, including the holy spirit .. considered to be "unforigvable"?

I've read extensively that the unforgivable sin is "continuing to reject the holy spirit. having a hardening of the heart. and not accepting the holy spirit into your life".

I just want to ensure that .. wanting to be forgiven for my past .. and the desire to please God .. IS forigveness for something described as "unforgivable".

Or is it .. you act blasphemous toward the holy spirit once .. and you're more or less "done for".

You've helped me so much via reading other people's post. This is my first one.

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Hi Anthony, allow me to recycle an answer I gave a few years ago re the sin against the Holy Spirit:

The Gospels mention this sin, for example Mark 3, 28-30: 'whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they [the Scribes] were saying, 'He has an evil spirit...'" God can only forgive a sin when the sinner repents - our cooperation is essential. The sin that can't be forgiven can only be because the sinner persists in refusing God's grace, as some of the Scribes were doing by saying Jesus was healing with the power of the devil.

So the only sinner whose sin can't be forgiven is the one who doesn't want to be forgiven. It's not clear to me that making a horror film, including one about possession, would have been in itself sinful, but even if it was blasphemous (where you would have had to intend that blasphemy with full knowledge and consent to it as blasphemy), it's clear from what you write that you've fully repented of it. All that would remain to be done, if you haven't already done this, would be to mention it in Confession so you could receive sacramental absolution for it.

Being gay certainly doesn't make you an abomination to God! God loves each human being immensely, no matter who they are, no matter what they do. What the Church has always asked is that those strongly inclined to same-sex attraction live chastely just as men and women who are not gay and not married, including those who are engaged to get married, are also asked to live chastely. And of course all those who have consecrated their lives to God in priesthood or religious life are bound to live chastely too. So quite a lot of your fellow human beings have to struggle and embrace the cross to conquer their own freedom in this area, and to repent of and confess any falls they've had, always receiving in the sacrament of reconciliation the grace from God to start again.

I'd strongly suggest reading the various books by Fr John Harvey, like The Homosexual Person, Homosexuality and the Catholic Church: Clear Answers to Difficult Questions, and The Truth about Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful. Keeping you and your work very much in my prayers, Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 9:37pm on March 26th 2018
Should I fear the Lord. On first sight that seems
Very different from loving the Lord. Can you please explain why fearing the Lord is actually a good thing.??

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Hi Peter, the 'fear of the Lord' we read about in the Bible isn't fear in the sense of being scared - the word 'reverence' better conveys what's meant. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote an essay called 'Distance and Relation,' which I think is a help here. He points out that before we can properly enter into relation with any other person, any 'Thou,' we must first of all 'set them at a distance,' that is to say, respect them fully for who they are. It's only on the basis of this deep respect for each one's uniqueness that I can, as an 'I' relate to them as a 'Thou.'

Here are just a few of the many references in the New Testament to fear of the Lord: 'Honour all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king' (1Pt 2:17). 'And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell' (Mt 10:28). 'Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God' (2 Cor 7:1).

St John writes in his First Letter, '...perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love' (1 Jn 4:18). The fear he's referring to here is what we normally mean by fear, in the sense of fear of punishment. There's surely nothing wrong with that fear of God, much as a child can have fear of being punished if it's done something wrong. I think what St John is saying in his Letter is that the greater our awareness and appreciation of God's love and mercy for us, the less our 'fear' will be fear of punishment and rather become the deepest reverence for the One who told Mary Magdalene that he is ascending 'to my Father and your Father' (Jn 20:17). Very best, Fr Brendan
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