Teaching & Suggestions

St. Paul did not Write to Us!

by Steve Ray on June 28, 2017

When arguments about salvation arise between Catholics and Protestants, the Bibles are usually opened to Galatians and Romans. Are we saved by faith alone or are works involved? Protestants quickly accuse Catholics of teaching a salvation based on works and Catholics quickly point out that Protestants have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction by refusing to accept human cooperation and obedience as necessary to the process. As final proof of their point, Protestants will quote Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” That should end the argument right? Salvation is not by good works or obedience, but by faith alone? So, the combatants rush to the books of Galatians and Romans to solve this Catholic-Protestant disagreement. But there is a huge problem here. Paul did not write these letters to us and he knew nothing of the Catholic-Protestant debate. The huge problem we have is the problem of anachronism.
 
Do you know what the word “anachronism” means? According to the Collins English Dictionary it comes from a Greek word for “mistake in chronology” or “error in time reference”. Anachronistic is defined as “1. the representation of an event, person, or thing in a historical context in which it could not have occurred or existed; 2. a person or thing that belongs or seems to belong to another time.”

The problem is that when Paul wrote these two letters he was not writing them to us today. He was writing to the Gentiles and Jews of the first century. He didn’t know about the Catholic–Protestant debate. He was not writing to Germans like Martin Luther or Americans like us. He was writing to people two thousand years ago living in places like Iconium, Pamphylia, Lystra, Galatia and Rome. They were not having a raging Protestant–Catholic debate. These good folks were having a Jewish–Gentile debate which was a whole world away. To read our current situation back into Asia Minor, Palestine, and Europe of the first century is a classic case of anachronism.

Paul preached that uncircumcised gentiles could be saved without circumcision and a slavish obedience to the 613 laws of Moses–along with all the ceremonial rituals. Some Jewish believers, on the other hand said, “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and if you want to become a Christian you must become a Jew first.” They couldn’t have said it any clearer than in Acts 15:1: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” They want to impose the “works of the Law” referred to above in Romans 3:28 upon the gentiles. It had nothing whatever to do with Catholics and good works. It has to with Gentiles coming into the Body of Christ by faith and obedience, not by becoming circumcised Jews.

Abraham, the father of the Jews, was the prime example or case in point. Was he saved by circumcision and by obeying all the laws of Moses? Heavens no! He was saved while an uncircumcised pagan gentile living in Ur of the Chaldees, a thousand miles to east of Israel. Circumcision was only given as a sign of the covenant, not the means of salvation. And he did not obey the 613 laws of Moses since they would not even exist for another six hundred years or so. Abraham was saved by the grace of God and his belief and obedience and not by “the works of the Law” (See Romans 4 and James 2).

This is exactly what Catholics teach! We are not anachronistic. We understand Galatians and Romans  within their proper chronology. Paul wrote to that particular age and culture with its particular problems. We live in a different age and culture with different particular problems. But, even though Paul didn’t specifically write his letters to us, if we study the cultural climate in which they were written, and stay faithful to the tradition in which they were passed on to us, the Holy Spirit (the primary author of the letters) will help us apply the principles and truth of those letters to our current situation.

This coming week (June 14-18) we have an intense study of Galatians and Romans going on in our house from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Jimmy Akin is currently screaming his way across the entire USA on Amtrak and will arrive at our home Sunday evening. He will stay in one of our guest rooms and lead the discussion with a motivated group that wants to leave anachronism behind and discuss these two letters of St. Paul in their historical context. I will give you a report on our study in the days to come.

By the way, can you imagine how difficult evangelism would have been in the first century if every male who believed in Christ had to be circumcised? They would have asked Paul “You want us to cut off what?”

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I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer:

Ancient cremation practices

The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the necropolis which was the city of the dead. Every year on the anniversary of the death they would “visit” the dead in remembrance and pour their favorite wine into the ashes. 

Imagine the contrast in ancient times. The Romans would build a pyre and lay the body on top. The flames would take many hours to completely consume the body. The whole time the smell of burning hair and flesh would waft through the air. It was a big project and you watched the body disappear with nothing left but a heap of ashes and foul smells.

In contrast, the Christians prepared sarcophagi for their dead. Often it was decorated with biblical images related to the resurrection. Or the body was carefully wrapped in white to represent forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They were placed in the ground or the catacombs with respect for the integrity of the body which would one day be raised.

Christians forbid cremation because they wanted to stand in contrast to the pagans who cremated as a statement against the bodily resurrection. They also did not have an necropolis, the city of the dead. Rather, Christians had a cemetery which means a sleeping place. 

Christians reverently preparing body for deposit awaiting the resurrection

They did not bury the dead – they deposited them in the grave. Why deposit? Because just as you deposit money in the bank you intend to come back and withdraw the money. The body was deposited in the ground in preparation for Jesus coming back to withdraw the body at the end of time.

So cremation was a denial of the bodily resurrection and burial was an affirmation that the body was sleeping awaiting the day of, resurrection.

The Catholic Church has recently taught that cremation was OK as long as it was not a statement against the bodily resurrection. As long as one affirmed the resurrection of the body at the end of time, cremation was acceptable. However to preserve the integrity of the body the remains were to remain in one place and not scattered across an ocean or field, etc.

The Code of Canon Law says, “§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”

The Catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

The scattering of the ashes could be seen as denying the bodily resurrection because scattering the ashes everywhere can imply the person is gone — reabsorbed into the physical creation as its final end. It ceases to exist. 

That is why the Catholic Church affirms the need to keep the ashes with integrity remembering that those ashes in the urn are the very matter that will be raised up at the end of time and reconstituted into the body of the person. The new heavenly body will be reunited with the soul to live forever — either in glory or in the torments of hell separated from God for eternity.

Mom with Dad before he died

When my father died my mother had no desire to visit the grave (though she has several times since) because she said, “That is not Dad”. I explained to her that this attitude denied the bodily resurrection because God loves stuff. He made stuff, matter, the body. On the day he created Man he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he had created.

That cold dead body was still Dad and when Jesus comes back he loves that body enough to raise it from the dust and re-fashion it into a new heavenly body. God keeps his eye on those dry bones and dust every day. My mom now understands. Her’s was an understandable reaction to the body with the life gone.

At the end of time my Dad will be raised from the dead and his body will be glorified. If God loves the bodily remains inside the coffin or urn then how much more should we respect the integrity of the remains as well.

For more info.

Catechism (CCC) 1004:  In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering: “The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… You are not your own; … So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:13–15, 19–20).

CCC 997 What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

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Who Are the Poor I’m Supposed to Care For?

by Steve Ray on May 7, 2017

As we leave our rented apartment in Rome and walk towards St. Peter’s Square I notice a ragged, filthy woman sitting on a piece of cardboard with a baby laying lethargically in her arms. She looks up with mournful eyes and pathetically mumbles something as she reaches out hoping I’ll put coins in her hand.

A few feet beyond her is a man stooped over his cane so painful-appearing that he is barely able to lift his eyes to make contact with mine. A paper cup is stationed on the sidewalk in front of him; he also reaches out a filthy hand plaintively begging for money.

We stop by a sidewalk café for a quick coffee before entering the Square. We are approached by children with tinny-sounding accordions. They boldly step up playing and singing. When they have finished a few moments of this “performance” they walk among the tables with their hands out.

This weekend at Mass we were exhorted by Our Lord Jesus to feed the poor, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and other sorts of charitable action to help the poor. But who are the poor Jesus is referring to? Are the people I passed on the street the poor I should help? Are they the one’s that Jesus refers to? Is the man sitting on the corner nursing the last few drops from his whiskey bottle the one I’m supposed to give a drink to? Many people asked these questions today and struggle with the commands to help the poor and the thirsty. They ask the question who are the poor and the thirsty and hungry?

Most of the beggars we encounter in major cities around the world are what we call Romani, or more commonly known as gypsies. I don’t know all of them, of course, but we see everywhere children who do not go to school but are used as beggars and thieves to supply cash for the camp. My heart weeps for these kids as I see a young boy sitting in an underground walkway by himself all day without friends or family looking up to strangers who walk by ignoring him. It rips my guts out.

I’ve often said to my wife, “I’d like to rescue that boy and take him home and raise them properly.” But if I did this, I’d be arrested for kidnapping. I picture my grandchildren and I have a sense of loathing, pity and despair. What can I do when they are part of a family and a clan that treats their children this way and think it is normal. If I give him money it only propagates his abuse. A kind word or bit of food is about all I can do with a clear conscience.

I remember walking through Mumbai India.bin advance I had packed a bunch of sandwiches in a bag to hand out as I walked through the poor parts of the city. I would spot for people sitting on the sidewalk, or children climbing into dumpsters for their breakfast. I handed out the sandwiches with Billy but was stopped by a young boy about 10 years old who said, “You are doing a very bad thing.” I asked, “Why?” he said, “People need to take responsibility for their lives. If you give them things they will never learn to be responsible for themselves.”

Very wise words for a 10-year-old. It’s not that I believe that everyone is able to look out for themselves–there are many who are in desperate need of our help and unable to help themselves, but his point was well taken. I told him his father must be a wise man.

I’ve watched a crippled man leaning on a cane whimpering in pain until 5:00 PM when his shift ended. He looked at his watch, he stood up straight and walked back home. He was there again the next day exploiting the sympathies of naïve, kindly-hearted people.

We’ve had two young girls with babies in their arms standing very close to us on a bus full of smiles. We spoke kind words and paid attention to the babies only to find out a few moments later that our fannypacks, purses, and everything else had been unzipped. The babies are often drugged to make them look lethargic and pathetic. They are used as zombie props in the art of theft. Often the girls are not even their mothers. They can be referred to as “rent-a-babies.”

Once my wife caught a boy with his hand in her pocket. Many of these people beg for a living and when they don’t make enough begging they steal. My wife lost her wallet this way not more than a month ago and tourists often find their passports, credit cards and cash have disappeared. This is why we repeatedly warn our pilgrims to watch out for pickpockets everywhere we go.

Personally, I cannot give money to such folks because to do so propagates their lifestyle, supports their continued child abuse, thievery and despicable lifestyle. We cannot support and condone such conduct. How do I know the real poor and those that are just making a dishonest living, some of them quite a good living?

Two things I try to do besides pray for folks that I see in need. First, if I see a person who is obviously in distress, missing a leg, blind, or some other obvious disadvantage I will pull money out and share with them along with a kind word. Second, I look for the Missionaries of Charity in their simple white habits striped with blue. It does not have to be their specific order but these I know and have confidence in.

We know where they are housed in Rome. It is an inconspicuous door with a simple doorbells to the right. I push the doorbell, then push it again and sooner or later one of these beautiful sisters will open the door. They all have the same gracious smiles and kindly faces as their founder, Mother Teresa. My wife and I return her smile and hand them a generous donation. We ask them to use it for the poor and to assist in their ministry. I don’t know who really needs the money, but they do.

Once in Mumbai India we were invited to visit one of their compounds. They took us on a tour—room after room of disadvantaged, mentally handicapped, diseased and dying (out of respect we took no pictures except of the sisters you see here). One room contained about 100 cribs in neat rows each with a child unable to care for themselves. Many had diseases, mental handicaps, twisted bodies. Janet and I were in tears having never seen anything like this in our lives. What touched us most was the sisters and volunteers working among these castaways treating them with great love and affection. They bathed them, fed them, changed their diapers, caressed them.

However, not everyone that comes to their compound are admitted. They are selective who gets admitted to their care.

One little volunteer, a lady no more than 5 feet tall, said proudly, “I come here every day. I love serving Our Lord Jesus this way!” Looking around Janet and I were repulsed by the pain, disease, twisted bodies, staring eyes, gangrene and seeming hopelessness. We were moved tears as we watched the sisters love these disadvantaged people as though they were loving Jesus himself. We hugged them all and with choked voices said, “Sisters, you make me proud to be Catholic. I couldn’t do what you do for even 10 minutes. You make us very proud!”

In Jesus’s time there was no Social Security, unemployment benefits, welfare and other social supports for the underprivileged. Churches had not begun charitable work and few cared for anything but themselves. In ancient Rome life was cheap and cities were full of slaves and the destitute. A drink or offering of food to a slave laboring under the hot sun was a true act of charity because no one paid any mind to the slaves. Jesus stopped to heal and care for the blind, the lame, the hungry of his time.

In the time of Jesus, a woman without a husband or son could be left destitute. Unwanted infants were tossed under bridges only to be eaten by the wild dogs. It is no coincidence that Scripture often uses the care of widows and orphans as a sign of one’s spirituality. Many were unjustly imprisoned and the truly poor were cast aside. Were some poor because they were lazy or because they made poor choices? Of course. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is full of exhortations for hard work and to eschew laziness and sloth. It is the same today.

But often others are made poor by choices of their parents or others around them. At the same time in America it is hard to think of someone  as poor who has cable television, a cell phone and many other benefits and amenities of our modern welfare society–especially since I’ve seen so much from around the world. Our society has a good number who know how to milk the system, get what is undeserved and avoid the effort and work to care for themselves.

There are still people who truly need our assistance and we should see them as Jesus himself. I am not one for condoning irresponsibility, laziness or habitual bad choices. But, we also want to help those who are truly in need as Jesus requires of us. Now that we are Catholics we make sure our donations are given to legitimate Catholic charities. We also make sure to help our own when they are in need.

When we are in Jerusalem we take up donations and give money to the Patriarch of Jerusalem knowing that such gifts will be given to the truly needy among our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. There are too many charities that use the money improperly and not all of it gets to those who need it. Unhappily there are many of these, even in the Holy Land.

Discernment is important, charity is essential, obedience to Our Lord is crucial and caring for the unfortunate and disadvantaged is not an option. When we were Protestants we used to believe in “faith alone” but that mantra is hard to chant when hearing the gospel last Sunday which said heaven and hell will be the result of our choices—whether we care for others or whether we ignore them.

Dear Lord, give us wisdom and charity and the means to help and willingness to do so. Mother Theresa, pray for us!

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Steve on Journey Home Explains His Discovery of the Catholic Church

May 6, 2017

This was a while ago but I just found it again and thought it would be good to share. Please feel free to send the link to others who are struggling with the Church or who you think might need a bit of an enthusiastic “nudge.”

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Joseph the Sissy or Joseph the Worker – Feast Day of the Worker

May 1, 2017

Today is the Feast day of St. Joseph the Worker! There are some pictures of Joseph I don’t appreciate so much. They present him almost as soft, effeminate like he just came out of a beauty parlor. It appears he never worked in the real world and has not a wrinkle on his clothes or […]

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How Long Was Jesus in the Tomb? Another Contradiction?

April 15, 2017

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:38-40) Skeptics claim to have discovered an error in the New Testament —claiming Jesus was not in the tomb […]

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Welcoming New People at Mass this Easter – They May Be an Answer to Someone’s Prayers

April 13, 2017

We get busy on during the Easter Season. We don’t have a lot of respect for people who go to church only on Christmas and Easter. We may be irritated that seats are taken and the church is noisy. But, you are praying for your family and friends to come back to church and MAYBE these […]

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Was Jesus Crucified Naked? (Updated 4/13/17)

April 12, 2017

A gentleman heard me on Relevant Radio earlier. I had mentioned on the air that one of the great humiliations of a crucifixion was that a man was crucified naked. This thoughtful gentleman wrote to challenge my comments. Below is his e-mail and my response. Dear Mr. Ray, Please correct your description of the Passion. […]

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Messy Parenting, Podcasts from Parents of Ten! Great Stuff with a Huge Following

March 30, 2017

  I am happy to call Michael Hernon a highly respected friend. He is also a successful husband and father of TEN! And yes, he has a great sense of humor, a lovely wife — and a great podcast for Catholic families — practical, biblical, funny, Catholic and easy to listen to. He and his […]

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Was Abraham Save by Faith Alone?

March 28, 2017

Today I am flying to Franciscan University of Steubenville to be the guest for Franciscan University Presents, the one-hour TV show produced by the University for EWTN. Mike Hernon hosts the program which is a round-table discussion with a guest and panelists from their Theology Department, Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Regis Martin.  Our topic will be Abraham, […]

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Where Does the Bible Say We Should Pray to Dead Saints?

March 1, 2017

Are saints who have physically died “dead saints” or are they alive with God? A friend named Leonard Alt got tired of being hammered by anti-Catholic Fundamentalists on this issue so he decided to write this article. I thought you might enjoy it too, so here it goes… Leonard writes: I wrote this note after […]

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Is God Like a GPS System?

February 24, 2017

There are a million reasons why God is NOT like a GPS system but I am in Australia and I made a wrong turn and my GPS started reprimanding me and saying “Recalculating!” For those who don’t know, GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It is a nifty little device that links up with positional […]

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Was Jesus Nice?

February 20, 2017

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me. “That was not very Christ-like.” This response usually comes after being honest to the point of making someone upset.  The implication is that Jesus was a cuddly little nice guy who was always smiling, always accepting with kind words – in […]

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Salvation by Faith Alone?

February 15, 2017

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.” However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective. Here is […]

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Evangelism Antennas: A Fun Story of One Woman’s Day and the New Evangelism :-)

December 26, 2016

A while ago I gave a talk in Ann Arbor Michigan. It was about the New Evangelization. As part of my talk I explained how Janet and I have our “evangelism antennas” up first thing in the morning – alertly watching for open doors and ways to share our Catholic Faith throughout the day. And […]

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Seven Dangers to Human Virtue and Civilization

December 2, 2016

Wealth without work Pleasure without conscience Knowledge without character Business without ethics Science without humanity Religion without sacrifice Politics without principle

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