On Sunday 12 March 2017, Father Joe Horn met with the Confirmation Class at St Thomas More church in Irvine, California. It was basically a Q&A session, with Father Joe fielding questions asked by the students.
Although we covered many questions that evening, we ran out of time before we ran out of questions. Therefore many questions remained unanswered, either submitted before the event, or in writing during the event, or submitted to Fr Joe afterwards. All of those questions will appear here (anonymously of course!), with an answer to the best of Fr Joe's ability, as time permits. Like blogs do, the most recently added questions & answers will appear at the top.
Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity.
#29 (added 22 March 2017): Why did they put a crown of thorns on Jesus' head?
Answer: Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he was a king. Pontius Pilate then started referring to Jesus as the King of the Jews. When the torturers heard this, they mocked Jesus by placing a purple robe on him (purple was the color of royal robes), and pounded a crown made of thorns onto his head while laughing at him and shouting "All hail, King of the Jews!" It was all intended to cause him shame and pain.
#28 (added 22 March 2017): Why did they nail Jesus to the cross? Weren't the other tortures enough?
Answer: One reason was to fulfill Psalm 22: "They have pierced my hands and my feet." They didnít know that they were fulfilling Psalm 22, but Jesus knew.
#27 (added 22 March 2017): Why did Jesus' death have to be embarrassing?
Answer: God didnít require it to be embarrassing, but we humans did, for two reasons: (1) It was a public execution, designed by the Romans to be as painful and embarrassing as possible, so that the witnesses would avoid committing crime, out of fear of receiving a similar punishment. (2) It should serve as a reminder to us of how embarrassed we should be of our own sins. Unfortunately we often let Jesus take the full brunt of shame for our sins, feeling no shame whatsoever ourselves.
#26 (added 22 March 2017): Why did Jesus not drink the wine when it was offered to him on the cross?
Answer: Mt 27:34 = "They gave him wine mingled with gall, but when he had tasted it, he would not drink it." He refused to drink it because he detected the presence of gall (a bitter herb) in the wine, which would have had the effect of slightly reducing his suffering. But he knew why he was suffering, and he did not want to artificially avoid any of it. That's how much he loves us!
#25 (added 22 March 2017): What was so great about us that made Jesus want to give up his life for us?
Answer: The exact opposite is the case. Humanity was at its absolute worst when we crucified Jesus. What was great was the fact that Jesus still loved us anyway. He didnít love us because we were great. He loved us then — and still loves us today — unconditionally.
#24 (added 20 March 2017): Why did Jesus doubt God when he said "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
(1) He didnít doubt God at all. He was quoting Psalm 22, which predicted the passion and death of Jesus in many ways. Check out these additional excerpts from Psalm 22, all of which could have been spoken by Jesus from the cross: I am despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shake their heads, saying, "He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him!" There is no one to help. My strength is dried up and My tongue clings to My jaws; They have pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots. So as you can see, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 because what it prophesied was perfectly fulfilled in His crucifixion.
(2) God loves us, but He has nothing in common with sin, so He turns away from sin. Jesus took all our sins upon himself so that our sins could die with him on the cross. St Paul even says that Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). But that means that God the Father turned His face away from Jesus on the cross. That must have been an agonizing experience for Jesus, so "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" was a heartfelt lamentation.
#23 (added 20 March 2017): Why did Jesus' death on the cross take so long?
Answer: Crucifixion was intentionally designed to be a horribly painful and slow way to die, as a punishment for committing crimes against Rome. However, Jesus' death actually occurred more quickly than most crucifixions. Remember, he died before the two other men who were on the other two crosses. One reason that he died more quickly might be due to his tremendous loss of blood during the unusually vicious scourging he received.
#22 (added 20 March 2017): Who were the first to see Jesus after He rose from the dead?
Answer: Mary Magdalene (Mk 16, Jn 20) and some other women (Mt 28), then the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mk 16, Lk 24) then the 11 Apostles (Mt 28, Mk 16).
#21 (added 20 March 2017): When will Jesus resurrect again?
Answer: Never. Only dead people resurrect, but Jesus is alive. He resurrected from the dead on that first Easter morning, the third day after He was crucified. He now lives forever, body and soul in heaven, from where he shall return to earth to judge the living and the dead, but he will never resurrect again.
If you meant to ask when Jesus will RETURN again, the answer is: Only God knows that. Those who make specific predictions about the date of Jesus' return are false prophets.
#20 (added 20 March 2017): What kind of wood was Jesus' cross made of?
Answer: We're not sure. The tradition that it was made of dogwood is impossible, since dogwood doesn't grow anywhere near Jerusalem. One very interesting tradition might be true, however. The Eastern Orthodox church has long held that the cross was made of three different kinds of wood: cedar, pine, and cypress. Interestingly, the relics of the true cross which have been scientifically analyzed have all been either pieces of cedar, or pine, or cypress. So it's possible that it was made from several types of wood. But the bottom line is: we don't know for sure.
#19 (added 19 March 2017): Did God create Jesus so that he could die for our sins only, or are their other main reasons?
Answer: God didn't create Jesus. Jesus existed from all eternity as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He took on our human nature for many reasons, such as to teach us how much God loves us, and teach us how important it is for us to love one another, and reveal to us the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and start the Catholic Church, and institute the 7 sacraments, and so on... but the main reason he became human was to save us from sin and death by his passion, death, and resurrection.
#18 (added 18 March 2017): Why can't humans become angels?
Answer: For the same reason that humans can't become sunsets: It's too big of a change. The personhood, the WHO-ness of the human, would be lost in the change. One of the fundamental aspects of the very NATURE of being a human being is HAVING A BODY. We cannot exist as persons without having both a body and a soul; as soon as the two are separated, we die. Angels, on the other hand, have NEITHER a body nor a soul. Their nature is to exist as a purely spiritual being. They can no more take on a body than we can do without one.
In brief, we cannot become angels because that would do too great a violence against our nature.
#17 (added 18 March 2017): Is reincarnation taught in the Bible? If it isn't, why not?
Answer: NO, the Bible does not teach reincarnation. In fact, the Bible explicitly teaches that reincarnation is FALSE. There is no such thing as reincarnation. As explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1013:
Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When "the single course of our earthly life" is completed [Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 48 § 3], we shall not return to other earthly lives: "It is appointed for men to die once." [Hebrews 9:27] There is no "reincarnation" after death.
Wouldn't you like to live again as human in a new life?
Yes. "I also wish we could all have good luck, all the time. I wish we had wings. I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn't." [from A Man for All Seasons] Daydreaming of things that cannot be is a waste of one's finite number of heartbeats.
#16 (added 18 March 2017): Going back to abortion, don't you think women should have the right to do what they want with their bodies?
Answer: Did you notice how this question makes two false assumptions? Here they are, and here's why they are false:
False assumption #1: A pre-born baby is part of its mother's body. FALSE. Here's why. If the police found blood with your DNA at a murder scene, they'd conclude that you were there, since DNA identifies people uniquely. But the DNA of a pre-born baby is NEVER the same as the DNA of its mother. So they are different persons. On the other hand, the brain (or any other organ) of a woman contains the same DNA as the rest of her, so that organ IS a part of her body. So don't say that the body of a pre-born baby is part of its mother's body. It's not. And guess when a baby gets its own personal DNA that's different from anybody else's? At the moment of conception. That's why he or she is a PERSON at that moment... a unique person, distinct from the mother.
False assumption #2: Everybody should have the right to do whatever they want with their body. FALSE. Here's why. There are MANY things which everybody agrees should be illegal to do with your own body. For example, it is illegal to put heroin into your body. But even more importantly, everybody agrees that your right to do something with your body doesn't give you the right to do something to somebody ELSE'S body... otherwise every man would have the right to rape women any time they want to ("Hey, I have the right to do whatever I want with MY body, don't I?"). And since abortion involves not only the body of the mother but also the body of the baby, NO, you don't have the right to do whatever you want with your body IF doing so will directly and intentionally kill another person, which is what abortion always does.
Ok, if a rape results in a pregnancy, I agree that the child shouldn't be punished for the crime of the rapist, but why should the mother be punished on account of someone else's wrongdoing?
Answer: Once again a very false assumption is being made by this question, namely, that pregnancy is a punishment. Until very recently in history, pregnancy was considered a great BLESSING, and abortion was considered murder. The only reason for considering pregnancy to be a punishment, and considering abortion to be "women's health care", is a horrific level of self-worship which puts one's own desires on a pedestal and utterly devalues not only the desires of anybody else but even devalues the LIVES of anybody else. Every pro-choice advocate claims that their right to do whatever they want to do is fundamentally more important than anybody else's rights, even the right to life. We pro-life advocates say, NO, that's false. Your rights END where other people's rights begin. That includes the right of your baby to live.
#15 (added 17 March 2017): If Mary is the mother of Jesus (2nd Person of the Trinity), does that mean Mary is the mother of all 3 Persons of the Trinity?
Answer: No. Jesus is the only Person of the Trinity who has two natures at the same time (human and divine). The Father and the Holy Spirit only have a divine nature, not a human nature (they don't have a physical body). Mary is the mother of the human nature of Jesus, and of course she conceived and gave birth to Jesus who is a person. But Jesus as a DIVINE Person existed (with the other Two) from all eternity. Mary became His mother at the moment when she conceived Him, when she said to the archangel Gabriel, "Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)
I'm pretty sure that some people find this confusing because of one huge difference between us and Jesus, namely, we begin to exist as persons at the moment that we are conceived inside our mothers, but Jesus already existed as a person (without a body) before that moment. But Mary didn't conceive and give birth to a soulless human body, or to an abstract "human nature". She conceived and gave birth to a living person. That's why it is therefore correct to say that she is the mother of the person who is Jesus.
#14 (added 17 March 2017): Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father, or from the Father and the Son, or from the Father through the Son? Why?
Ah, the great Filioque controversy!
Short answer: Yes, because that is Their nature.
More detailed answer: All three statements are true. Yes, the Holy Spirit DOES proceed from the Father, just as a family father is properly called the parent of his children ("Are you this boy's parent?" "Yes I am.") without any implication that the father is the ONLY parent. But the Holy Spirit ALSO proceeds from the Father and Son together, just as a family's father and mother together are properly called the parents of their children. Finally, the Fathers of the Church used BOTH phrases "from the Father and the Son" AND "from the Father through the Son", and St. Cyril even used both phrases himself, interchangeably, insisting that they are complimentary phrases, expressing the same truth in slightly different ways. To avoid confusion, the Church today mostly uses the phrase "from the Father and the Son". But please understand that all three are correct if and only if they are understood as explained above.
Paragraph 246 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)". The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: "The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration. . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son." [Council of Florence: DS 1300-1301]
#13 (added 16 March 2017): What is the Church's view on certain scientific theories including the Big Bang and Evolution?
Answer: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason." Therefore the Church strongly supports all the sciences. For example, did you know that the Big Bang was first proposed by a Catholic priest? Read all about Father Georges Lemaitre HERE.
Evolution as a scientific theory does not contradict Church teaching. It is entirely possible that when God created the universe, He created it in such a way that it would evolve precisely the way it did. Another way of looking at it is that God has guided the evolution of the universe throughout its history. We Catholics should enjoy the way that science learns more and more, and develops better and better theories, because both our religion and the real world that science studies both came from the same God.
#12 (added 15 March 2017): What is the charism of the Norbertine Order?
Answer: Every religious order (e.g. the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Norbertines, etc.) has one or more "charisms", that is, one or more goals or objectives or values that they hold in higher regard than other orders, and strive to perfect during their lives. The Norbertine Order (the order to which I belong) has seven charisms:
"Communio" means that we live together as a spiritual community, loving God and each other, bearing one another's burdens as they arise, and following the Rule of Saint Augustine whose aim is the perfection of each Norbertine and the sanctification of those we work with.
- Stability of place
- Devotion to the Eucharist
- Devotion to the Virgin Mary
Although most orders are 100% contemplative (living a life of prayer in an monastery, and not interacting with people outside) or 100% active (interacting with people in the world, and not living in a monastery), Norbertines live a life that combines both contemplation and action. This is sometimes called the "vita mixta", the "mixed life". I think of it as the "best of both worlds" because we live together in a monastery so that we can pray together and support each other, but we also teach in schools and do parish work and many other kinds of active work.
"Stability of place" means that we spend our entire lives at whatever abbey we take our vows at. Since I took my vows at St Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, I'll be a member of that abbey until the day I die. Most other orders are instead like the military, transferring their members all over the place as needed.
Saint Norbert was so big on the idea of hospitality that every Norbertine abbey in the world is known as a friendly place that welcomes all visitors.
Saint Norbert is usually depicted in statues and paintings as holding a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, Pope Saint John Paul II described the charism of the Norbertine Order as "lifting high the Holy Eucharist over the miseries and errors of this world."
#11 (added 15 March 2017): Are tattoos sins?
Answer: Deciding to GET one CAN be a sin. For example, if you are under 18 and your parent or legal guardian forbids it, then YES, getting a tattoo would be a sin of disobedience. If you have a job which forbids it, then YES, getting a tattoo would be a sin of imprudence. If the tattoo itself is offensive, then YES, getting THAT tattoo (or showing it in public) would be a sin against charity. If you have any plans whatsoever of holding a respectable job, and you decide to get a tattoo on your face or hands, then YES, that's a sin of imprudence. And so on.
How about tattoos that are reasonable, artistic, tasteful, inoffensive, and allowed by both your current state in life as well as all possible future states in life? Good people debate that. Some would say that it's fine. Others would ask how on earth you can predict all your possible future states in life. Others say that it's extremely illogical to respond to a TEMPORARY DESIRE by getting a PERMANENT TATTOO; it's almost as illogical as suicide (a permanent solution to a temporary problem). And some quote the Church's teaching that "unnecessary bodily mutilation is immoral" and conclude that tattoos are therefore immoral. But are tattoos really bodily mutilations, or are they rather permanent decorations? Perhaps they are both? The jury is still out on this topic. So please feel free to discuss and debate it.
#10 (added 15 March 2017): Is dressing "inappropriately" a sin?
Answer: Appropriate attire depends entirely on the situation. Something that's perfectly appropriate at the beach would probably be inappropriate at the mall, and could get you arrested if you wore it in court. Most schools and places of work have dress codes; violating those dress codes is obviously dressing inappropriately. But I don't think you're referring to that kind of "inappropriate".
One kind of clothing that is NEVER appropriate in public is anything specifically designed to be seductive, that is, designed to arouse lust in those who see you. That's very different from clothing which is designed to be attractive, which of course is good. Unfortunately some people think that seductive clothes are merely "cute" and wear them without any clue that they are tempting people to have sinful thoughts. Others might think that arousing sinful thoughts in others is cute. It's not cute. In fact, the absolute WORST thing that you can do in life is lead somebody else into sin. Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea to drown than to cause somebody else to sin. Yikes. So wear attractive clothing but don't wear seductive clothing... except in private for your spouse of course!
#9 (added 15 March 2017): So, if two married homosexual people engage in sexual activity inside their own marriage, it's not a sin?
Answer: Any intentional sexual activity outside of a valid marriage between a man and a woman is immoral. So-called "same-sex marriage" is a legal fiction that is, it is recognized by the law, but it's not real. As Abraham Lincoln said, "If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Five? No. Calling tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."
#8 (added 13 March 2017): If you get a divorce, could you come back to the church? How?
Answer: This question assumes that getting a divorce gets you kicked out of the church. But that's not true. Getting a divorce is not even a sin, sometimes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
The separation of the spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense. Ė CCC 2383
What Jesus forbade was divorce followed by remarriage. And although that's a sin, even THAT doesn't get you kicked out of the church. Catholics who are divorced and remarried, just like ANY Catholic who is in the state of mortal sin, is STILL a Catholic, and still must attend Mass every Sunday, et cetera. They just can't receive Holy Communion, of course. But they CAN return to receiving Holy Communion as soon as they are absolved of their sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, fully intending to sin no more. It would be unkind to refer to such people as "returning to the church" because they were never kicked out of it. But I've known thousands of people who were delighted to return to Holy Communion after not being able to receive, and the joy on their faces is always a delight to behold.
#7 (added 13 March 2017): So having sex even though you aren't married is not a sin?
Answer: The opposite is true. Any intentional sexual activity outside of a valid marriage between a man and a woman is immoral (that's the definition of the sin of fornication). Also, any intentional sexual activity that is not open to the possibility of new life is immoral. And the intentional decision to do something known to be immoral is a sin. Since sexual sins are seriously prohibited by God, they can be mortal sins.
#6 (added 13 March 2017): Are Catholics Deontologists or Utilitarians?
Answer: I can't speak for all Catholics, but Catholicism itself is neither a system of deontological ethics nor a system of utilitarian ethics.
Catholicism does teach that it is possible for some things to be intrinsically evil (e.g. it is always immoral to directly and intentionally kill an innocent person, regardless of motive or circumstance), so it has that in common with deontological ethics. But Catholicism disagrees with deontological ethics about the REASON that things are either good or evil. The deontologist says the only reason for things to be either good or bad is because somebody's RULE says so. Catholicism holds that all law (including divine law) is an ordinance of REASON, which implies that every moral law must have a reason behind it, and if it doesn't, then it's not really a law at all. So a deontologist who is a theist would say that breaking God's law is evil for the sole reason that it breaks God's law. We Catholics say that breaking God's law is evil because it violates the REASON that the law was made in the first place.
Catholicism definitely does not side with the utilitarians either. Pope Saint John Paul II even wrote a scathing criticism of utilitarianism, in which he said that "Utilitarianism is a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used." Any system that treats people as objects to be used is clearly sociopathic, and a moral system based on that notion is clearly evil.
#5 (added 13 March 2017): What do you do if you are pregnant and have severe complications that are life threatening to both you and the baby? Who do you save?
Answer: That is determined by a process called "triage". The medics determine as best they can what the prognosis is for the mother and for the baby, and they do their best to save both if possible, and if that's not possible then they do their best to save the one with the greater probability of surviving (while leaving open the possibility that both might survive).
Please note that the "triage" decision is not infallible, since it almost always must be made quickly and cannot possibly take into account every complication that might show up later. It's a very difficult decision to make, but it's a brilliant concept because it has proven itself by saving countless lives.
Also, please note that a DIRECT abortion never needs to be performed to save a mother's life. If a pregnant woman's uterus is hemorrhaging, endangering her life, it is reasonable to perform a hysterectomy to save her life, even though doing that will probably INDIRECTLY result in the death of the baby. Here is the test of whether it's morally allowable: If the baby survives, is the procedure still considered a success? In this case, YES, it would be great news if the baby survived. But in the case of a direct abortion, the survival of the baby is considered a failed abortion, which proves that its primary objective was not the health of the mother but the death of the baby.
Medical ethics is a HUGE and important and rapidly developing field! If you plan on going into the medical profession, get ready to stretch your brain with a zillion difficult moral issues! And thank God that the Church teaches solid principles upon which humane medical ethics are built.
#4 (added 13 March 2017): How come most angles have European names?
Answer: There are three kinds of angles: acute angles (<90°), right angles (=90°), and obtuse angles (>90°). The English words "acute", "right", and "obtuse" all derive from Latin roots, and Latin came from Italy, and Italy is in Europe.
If you think that's an obtuse answer, please know that's it's actually the right answer, and possibly even acute answer.
Just in case you meant angels, not angles, only 3 are named in the Bible. All three of their names are Hebrew: Michael (which means "Who is like God?"), Gabriel ("God is my strength"), and Raphael ("God heals"). The "-el" at the end of their names means "God". Some ancient writings which are not in the Bible also mention other angels by name, such as Raguel, Remiel, Saraqael, Uriel (aka Anael), Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, Simiel, Oriphiel, Cecitiel, Ananiel, Marmoniel, Phanuel, Sariel, Selaphael, Jegudiel, Barachiel, and many more. All are Hebrew names ending with "-el".
#3 (added 13 March 2017): [rewritten for clarity] Some books claim that there have been "Eucharistic miracles" in which the consecrated host turned into a piece of human heart muscle (visible as such, and scientifically identified as human cardiac tissue), or the consecrated wine turned into human blood (again, visible as such, and scientifically identified as such). Does the Church support this, or teach it as an infallible doctrine?
Answer: NO, the Church does NOT teach in any way that such a thing has ever happened. It's entirely possible that it has never happened. However, we cannot tell God what to do, so if He ever wanted to bolster somebody's faith by performing a miracle like that, He can do it of course. And He just might have.
HOWEVER, please be aware that IF such a miracle were to occur, then that flesh or blood would NO LONGER be the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is defined as the Real Presence of the ENTIRE living body AND blood AND soul AND divinity of Jesus under the form of bread or wine... and that definition does NOT fit a small piece of dead flesh or a small volume of dead blood. I would therefore consider such a thing worthy of careful research and study, but not worthy of worship.
#2 (added 13 March 2017): Why do some priests say, "Please join me in saying the Our Father"? Shouldn't priests say, "Please pray the Our Father"? Is saying the same as praying?
Answer: They are using an older meaning of the word "say". If you look it up on DICTIONARY.COM, you'll see that the 5th definition of "say" is "to recite or repeat. Example: to say one's prayers". We still commonly use that meaning of "say" in sentences like "Our family says grace before meals" or "I will say a rosary for you."
Shakespeare often used "say" with this meaning. Examples:
Macbeth says, "They did say their prayers" in Macbeth, Act II, Scene II.
Margaret says, "I say my prayers aloud" in Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene I.
Maria says, "Get him to say his prayers, good Sir Toby, get him to pray!" in Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene IV.
#1 (added 12 March 2017): Is the Many Worlds Interpretation compatible with the Catholic faith?
Answer: In my opinion, yes, it is compatible, if it is understood as the mechanism by which God created the universe(s). In fact, it might even be a good explanation of the mystery of human free will. If there are an infinite number of universes, and if every possible event does in fact occur in one or more of them, then every time any human being is faced with any free decision, the universe could bifurcate into two universes in which each possible choice is made (or as many universes as there are possible choices), with the path of human history simply following whichever choice was made. Sort of like a novel that suddenly gives the reader a choice, with each choice leading to a different ending of the novel. If this is indeed how our universe(s) work, then human history is a novel written by God with a bazillion possible endings already scripted, but we totally are free to choose whichever ending we want.