Apologetics
 


What is "Apologetics?"

  Apologetics defends and explains the beliefs of the Catholic Church.


Why do Catholics believe that God is three Persons, called the Holy Trinity?  How can God be three Persons and still be one God?

Catholics believe there is one God consisting of three distinct and equal divine Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - because on numerous occasions God has described Himself thus.  The Old Testament gives intimations that there are more than one Person in God.  In Genesis 1:26, God says,  "Let us make man to our image and likeness.''  In Isaiah 9:6-7, God the Father revealed the imminent coming into the world of God the Son.  In Psalms 2:7, we read, "The Lord hath said to me:  Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.''  And in the New Testament, God reveals this doctrine even more clearly.  For example, at the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father was heard:  "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'' (Matt.  3:16-17).  In Matthew 28:19, God the Son commanded the Apostles to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.'' And in 1 Cor.  12:4-6, the Bible refers to God with three names: Spirit, Lord, and God-- corresponding to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Three divine Persons in one Godhead may be incomprehensible to the human mind, but that is to be expected.  How can man fully comprehend God's infinite make-up when he cannot fully comprehend his own finite make-up?  We have to take God's word for it.  A lso, we can satisfy ourselves as to the feasibility of God's triune make-up by considering various other triune realities.  The triangle, for example, is one distinct form with three distinct and equal sides.  And the clover leaf is one leaf with three distinct and equal petals.  There are many physical trinities on earth, therefore a Spiritual Trinity, who is God in Heaven, is not against human reason--it is simply above human reason. 

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Why do Catholics believe that Jesus Christ was God the Son - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?  Would it not be more reasonable to believe that He was a great and holy man ...  a religious leader of exceptional talent and dedication ...  a prophet?

Catholics believe that Jesus was God the Son, incarnate in human flesh, firstly because God's physical manifestation on earth, plus all the circumstances of that manifestation, were prophesied time and again in Divine Revelation, and Jesus fulfilled that prophecy right to the letter; secondly, because He claimed that He was God (John 10:30, 14:9-10 and numerous other passages), and He never deceived anyone; thirdly, because He proved His divinity by His impeccable holiness and the flawless perfection of His doctrine; fourthly, because only God could have performed the miracles He performed miracles such as walking on the sea, feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and, after His death on the Cross, resurrecting Himself from His own tomb; fifthly, because only God could have, in the brief space of three years, without military conquest, without political power, without writing a single line or traveling more than a few score miles, so profoundly affected the course of human events; sixthly, because only God can instill in the soul of man the grace and the peace and the assurance of eternal salvation that Jesus instills. 

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Why do Catholics believe their Church is the one true Church of Jesus Christ?  Wouldn't it be more reasonable to believe that Christ's true Church is a spiritual union of all Christina denominations?

Catholics believe that theirs is the one true Church of Jesus Christ, firstly, because the Catholic Church is the only Christian Church that goes back in history to the time of Christ; secondly, because the Catholic Church is the only Christian Church which possesses the invincible unity, the intrinsic holiness, the continual universality and the indisputable apostolicity which Christ said would distinguish His true Church; and thirdly, because the Apostles and primitive Church Fathers, who certainly were members of Christ's true Church, all professed membership in this same Catholic Church.  Ignatius of Antioch, illustrious Church Father of the first century, wrote, "Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be; even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church.''  Our Lord said, "There shall be one fold and one shepherd, yet it is well known that the various Christian denominations cannot agree on what Christ actually taught.  Since Christ roundly condemned interdenominationalism ("And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.'' Mark 3:25), Catholics cannot believe that He would ever sanction it in His Church. 

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Why do Catholics believe that Peter the Apostle was the first Pope, when the word "Pope" doesn't appear in the Bible?  Where does the Pope get his authority to rule over the Catholic Church?

The word "Pope'' doesn't appear in the Bible but neither do the words "Trinity,'' "Incarnation,'' "Ascension'' and "Bible'' appear in the Bible.  However, they are referred to by other names.  The Bible, for example, is referred to as "Scripture.'   The Pope, which means head bishop of the Church, is referred to as the "rock'' of the Church, or as the "shepherd'' of the Church.  Christ used that terminology when He appointed the Apostle Peter the first head bishop of His Church, saying, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona  ...  Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.'' (Matt.  16:17-19).  "There shall be one fold and one shepherd.'' (John 10:16).   "Feed my lambs...  feed my sheep.'' (John 21:15-17).  The words "rock'' and "shepherd'' must apply to Peter, and they must distinguish him as the head Apostle, otherwise Christ's statements are so ambiguous as to be meaningless.  Certainly the other Apostles understood that Peter had authority from Christ to lead the Church, for they gave him the presiding place every time they assembled in council (Acts 1:15, 5:1-10), and they placed his name first every time they listed the names of the Apostles.  (Matt.  10:2, Mark 3:16, Luke 6:13-14, Acts 1:13). 

In addition, there is the testimony of the Church Fathers.  In the second century St.  Hegessipus compiled a list of Popes to the time of Anicetus (eleventh Pope) which contained the name of St.  Peter as first.  Early in the third century the historian Caius wrote that Pope Victor was "the thirteenth Bishop of Rome from Peter.''  In the middle of the third century St.  Cyprian related that Cornelius (twenty-first Pope) "mounted the lofty summit of the priesthood .  .  .  the place of Peter.'' Even Protestant historians have attested to Peter's role as first Bishop of Rome, first Pope of the Catholic Church.  Wrote the eminent Protestant historian Cave in his Historia Literaria:  "That Peter was at Rome, and held the See there for some time, we fearlessly affirm with the whole multitude of the ancients.'' Hence the source of the Pope's authority to rule over the Catholic Church is quite obvious: I t was given him by none other than Jesus Christ--by God Himself. 

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Why do Catholics believe the Pope is infallible in his teachings when he is a human being, with a finite human intellect?  What is the scriptural basis for this belief?

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not mean the Pope is always right in all his personal teachings.  Catholics are quite aware that, despite his great learning, the Pope is very much a human being and therefore liable to commit human error.  On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty.  The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world.  In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty - the Faith of Jesus Christ. 

In order for the Pope to be infallible on a particular statement, however, four conditions must apply:  1) he must be speaking ex cathedra .  .  .  that is, "from the Chair'' of Peter, or in other words, officially, as head of the entire Church; 2) the decision must be for the whole Church; 3) it must be on a matter of faith or morals; 4) the Pope must have the intention of making a final decision on a teaching of faith or morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful.  It must be interpretive, not originative; the Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine.  He is not the author of revelation--only its guardian and expounder.  He has no power to distort a single word of Scripture, or change one iota of divine tradition.  His infallibility is limited strictly to the province of doctrinal interpretation, and it is used quite rarely.  It is used in order to clarify, to "define,'' some point of the ancient Christian tradition.  It is the infallibility of which Christ spoke when He said to Peter, the first Pope: "I will give (o thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven.'' (Matt.  16:19).  Certainly Christ would not have admonished His followers to "hear the church'' (Matt.  18:17) without somehow making certain that what they heard was the truth--without somehow making the teaching Magisterium of His Church infallible. 

For a complete understanding of the Pope's infallibility, however, one more thing should be known: His ex cathedra decisions are not the result of his own private deliberations.  They are the result of many years--sometimes hundreds of years--of consultation with the other bishops and theologians of the Church.  He is, in effect, voicing the belief of the whole Church.  His infallibility is not his own private endowment, but rather an endowment of the entire Mystical Body of Christ.  Indeed, the Pope's hands are tied with regard to the changing of Christian doctrine.  No Pope has ever used his infallibility to change, add, or subtract any Christian teaching; this is because Our Lord promised to be with His Church until the end of the world.  (Matt.  28:20).  Protestant denominations, on the other hand, feel free to change their doctrines.  For example, all Protestant denominations once taught that contraception was gravely sinful; but since 1930, when the Church of England's Lambeth Conference decided contraception was no longer a sin, virtually all Protestant ministers in the world have accepted this human decision and changed their teaching. 

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Why do Catholics believe in seven sacraments, while Protestants believe in only two?  Exactly what is a sacrament, and what does it do for a person?

Catholics believe in seven sacraments because Christ instituted seven; because the Apostles and Church Fathers believed in seven; because the second Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1274) defined seven; and because the Ecumenical Council of Trent (1545-1563) confirmed seven.  In short, the enumeration, seven, arises from the perpetual tradition of Christian belief--which explains why that enumeration is accepted not only by Catholics, but by all of the other ancient and semi-ancient Christian communities--Egyptian Coptic, Ethiopian Monophysite, Syrian Jacobite, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. 

To understand what a sacrament is, and what it does for a person, one must know the correct, the traditional Christian, definition of a sacrament.  Properly defined, a sacrament is "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace'' (holiness) to the soul .  .  .  that is to say, it is a divinely prescribed ceremony of the Church in which the words and action combine to form what is at the same time both a sign of divine grace and a fount of divine grace.  When this special grace--distinct from ordinary, inspirational grace--is imparted to the soul, the Holy Spirit of God is imparted to the soul, imbuing the soul with divine life, uniting the soul to Christ. 

As the Scriptures point out, this grace is the grace of salvation--without it man is, in a very real sense, isolated from Christ.  And as the Scriptures point out, Christ gave His Church seven sacraments to serve as well-springs of this ineffable, soul-saving grace, the grace which flows from His sacrifice on Calvary:

BAPTISM--the sacrament of spiritual rebirth through which we are made children of God and heirs of Heaven: "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'' (John 3:5.  Also see Acts 2:38, Rom.  6:2-6). 

CONFIRMATION--the sacrament which confers the Holy Spirit to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ: "Now when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.  Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost....  Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost.'' (Acts 8:14-17.  Also see Acts 19:6). 

The EUCHARIST--the sacrament, also known as Holy Communion, which nourishes the soul with the true Flesh and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, under the appearance, or sacramental veil, of bread and wine: "And whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread; and blessing, broke, and gave to them, and said: Take ye.  This is my body.  And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, he gave it to them.  And they all drank of it.  And he said to them: This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many.'' (Mark 14:22-24.  Also see Matt.  26:26-28, Luke 22:19-20, John 6:52-54, 1 Cor.  10:16). 

PENANCE--the sacrament, also known as Confession, through which Christ forgives sin and restores the soul to grace: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.  '' (John 20:22-23.  Also see Matt.  18:18). 

EXTREME UNCTION--the sacrament, sometimes called the Last Anointing, which strengthens the sick and sanctifies the dying: "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord .  .  .  and if he be in ,ins, they shall be forgiven him.'' (James 5:14-15.  Also see Mark 6:12-13). 

HOLY ORDERS--the sacrament of ordination which empowers priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, administer the sacraments, and officiate over all the other proper affairs of the Church: "For every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins....  Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.'' (Heb.  5:1-4.  Also see Acts 20:28, 1 Tim.  4:14).  Also: "And taking bread, he gave thanks, and broke; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this for a commemoration of me.'' (Luke 22:19). 

MATRIMONY--the sacrament which unites a man and woman in a holy and indissoluble bond: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.  Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.'' (Matt.  19:5-6.  Also see Mark 10:7-9, Eph.  5:22-32). 

There you have it, the Word of Christ and the example of the Apostles attesting both to the validity and the efficacy of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  In truth, every one of them is an integral part of Christ's plan for man's eternal salvation. 
 

Click here to learn more about the sacraments

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Why does the Catholic Church discourage Bible reading when, according to the Apostle, "All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach (and) to instruct in justice?" (2 Tim 3:16)

If the Catholic Church discourages Bible reading, the Pope, the thousands of Catholic Bishops, and the many millions of Catholic lay people, are not aware of it.  For the Popes have issued pastoral letters to the whole Church, called encyclicals, on the edifying effects of Bible reading.  The Catholic Bible far outsells all other Christian Bibles worldwide.  In fact, it has always been thus.  The very first Christian Bible was produced by the Catholic Church--compiled by Catholic scholars of the 2nd and 3rd century and approved for general Christian use by the Catholic Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).  The very first printed Bible was produced under the auspices of the Catholic Church--printed by the Catholic inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg.  And the very first Bible with chapters and numbered verses was produced by the Catholic Church--the work of Stephen Langton, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury.  It was this perennial Catholic devotion to the Bible which prompted Martin Luther--who certainly cannot be accused of Catholic favoritism--to write in his Commentary on St.  John: "We are compelled to concede to the Papists that they have the Word of God, that we received it from them, and that without them we should have no knowledge of it at all.''

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Why does the Catholic Church base some of her doctrines on tradition instead of basing them all on the Bible?  Did Christ not tell the Pharisees that in holing to tradition they were transgressing the commandment of God?  (Matt 15:3, Mark 7:9).

Observe that in the Bible there are two kinds of religious tradition--human and divine.  Observe that when Christ accused the Pharisees He was referring to "precepts of men'' (Mark 7:7), to their human traditions.  Christ wanted divine tradition preserved and honored because He made it part and parcel of the Christian deposit of faith--as the Apostle Paul affirmed: "Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.'' (2 Thess.  2:14.  Also see 2 Thess.  3:6).  This divine tradition to which Paul refers--this revealed truth which was handed down by word rather than by letter-- is the tradition upon which, along with Sacred Scripture, the Catholic Church bases her tenets of faith--as the primitive Christian Fathers affirmed.  Wrote St.  Augustine: "These traditions of the Christian name, therefore, so numerous, so powerful, and most dear, justly keep a believing man in the Catholic Church.'' The New Testament itself is a product of Christian tradition.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention of a New Testament. 

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Why do Catholics try to earn their own salvation, despite the fact that salvation can only come as a free gift from Jesus Christ?

Catholics fully recognize that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins and thus "opened the gates of Heaven,'' and that salvation is a free gift which no amount of human good deeds could ever earn.  Catholics receive Christ's saving and sanctifying grace, and Christ Himself, into their souls when they are baptized.  Yet they also know that Christ has established certain conditions for entry into eternal happiness in Heaven--for example, receiving His true Flesh and Blood (John 6:54) and keeping the commandments (Matt.  19:17).  If a Christian refuses or neglects to obey Our Lord's commands in a grave matter (that is, if he commits a mortal sin), Our Lord will not remain dwelling in his soul; and if a Christian dies in that state, having driven his Lord from his soul by serious sin, he will not be saved.  As St.  Paul warned the Galatians with regard to certain sins: "They who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.'' (Gal.  5:21).  It must be added that Christ will always forgive and return to a sinner who approaches Him with sincerity in the Sacrament of Penance. 

Catholics follow St.  Paul, who did not think that his salvation was guaranteed once and for all at the moment he first received Christ into his soul; for he wrote: "I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.'' (I Cor.  9:27).  Also: "With fear and trembling work out your salvation.  For it is God who worketh in you...'' (Phil.  2:12-13).  "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.'' (Luke 12:48).  "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.'' (Matt.  10:22).  Nevertheless, Catholics realize that even the fulfilling of Our Lord's requirements for salvation is impossible without the free gift of His grace. 

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Why do Catholics believe that good works are necessary for salvation.  Does not Paul say in Romans 3:28 that faith alone justifies.

Catholics believe that faith and good works are both necessary for salvation, because such is the teaching of Jesus Christ.  What Our Lord demands is "faith that worketh by charity .'' (Gal.  5 :6).  Read Matthew 25:31-46, which describes the Last Judgment as being based on works of charity.  The first and greatest commandment, as given by Our Lord Himself, is to love the Lord God with all one's heart, mind, soul, and strength; and the second great commandment is to love one's neighbor as oneself.  (Mark 12:30-31).  When the rich young man asked Our Lord what he must do to gain eternal life, Our Lord answered: "Keep the commandments.'' (Matt.  19:17).  Thus, although faith is the beginning, it is not the complete fulfillment of the will of God.  Nowhere in the Bible is it written that faith alone justifies.  When St.  Paul wrote, "For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law,'' he was referring to works peculiar to the old Jewish Law, and he cited circumcision as an example. 

The Catholic Church does not teach that purely human good works are meritorious for salvation; such works are not meritorious for salvation, according to her teaching.  Only those good works performed when a person is in the state of grace--that is, as a branch drawing its spiritual life from the Vine which is Christ (John 15:4-6)--only these good deeds work toward our salvation, and they do so only by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ.  These good works, offered to God by a soul in the state of grace (i.e., free of mortal sin, with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in the soul), are thereby supernaturally meritorious because they share in the work and in the merits of Christ.  Such supernatural good works will not only be rewarded by God, but are necessary for salvation. 

St.  Paul shows how the neglect of certain good works will send even a Christian believer to damnation: "But if any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.'' (1 Tim.  5:8).  Our Lord tells us that if the Master (God) returns and finds His servant sinning, rather than performing works of obedience, He "shall separate him, and shall appoint him his portion with unbelievers.'' (Luke 12:46). 

Furthermore, Catholics know they will be rewarded in Heaven for their good works.  Our Lord Himself said: "For the Son of man .  .  .  will render to every man according to his works.'' (Matt.  16:27).  "And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.'' (Matt.  10:42).  Catholics believe, following the Apostle Paul, that "every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.'' (1 Cor.  3:8).  "For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name, you who have ministered, and do minister to the saints.'' (Heb.  6:10).  "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.'' (2 Tim.  4:7-8). 

Still, Catholics know that, strictly speaking, God never owes us anything.  Even after obeying all God's commandments, we must still say: "We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.'' (Luke 17:10).  As St.  Augustine (5th century) stated: "All our good merits are wrought through grace, so that God, in crowning our merits, is crowning nothing but His gifts.''

Had St.  Paul meant that faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, he would not have written: ".  .  .  and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.'' (1 Cor.  13:2).  If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the Apostle James would not have written: "Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only'? .  .  .  For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.'' (James 2:24-26).  Or: "What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?'' (James 2:14).  If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the Apostle Peter would not have written: "Wherefore, brethren, labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election.  For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time.  For so an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.'' (2 Peter 1:10-11).  If faith ruled out the necessity of good works for salvation, the primitive Christian Fathers would not have advocated good works in such powerful words.  Wrote St.  Irenaeus, one of the most illustrious of the primitive Christian Fathers: "For what is the use of knowing the truth in word, while defiling the body and accomplishing the works of evil? Or what real good at all can bodily holiness do.  if truth be not in the soul? For these two, faith and good works, rejoice in each other's company, and agree together and fight side by side to set man in the Presence of God.'' (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching).  Justification by faith alone is a new doctrine; it was unheard of in the Christian community before the sixteenth century. 

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Why do Catholics worship Mary as though she were a goddess, when it is clear in Scripture that she was not a supernatural being?

Catholics do not worship Mary, the Mother of Christ--as though she were a deity.  Mary is an extraordinary human being who holds a special place in the Christian faith for two reasons:  first, it was through her that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and second, she was the first to believe in Jesus' mission and ministry.

What many non-Catholics mistake for adoration is a very profound love and veneration, nothing more.  Mary is not adored, first because God forbids it, and secondly because the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which is based on Divine Law, forbids it.  Canon Law 1255 of the 1918 Codex strictly forbids adoration of anyone other than the Holy Trinity.  However, Catholics do feel that Mary is entitled to a great measure of exaltation because, in choosing her as the Mother of Redemption, God Himself exalted her--exalted her more than any other human person before or since.  Catholics heap tribute and honor on Mary because they earnestly desire to be "followers of God, as most dear children.'' (Eph.  5:1).  Mary herself prophesied: "For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.'' (Luke 1:48-49).  Catholics know that every bit of the glory they give to Mary redounds to the glory of her divine Son, just as Mary magnified God, not herself, when Elizabeth blessed her.  (Luke 1:41-55).  They know that the closer they draw to her, the closer they draw to Him who was born of her.  In the year 434 St.  Vincent of Lerins defended Christian devotion to Mary this way: "Therefore, may God forbid that anyone should attempt to defraud Holy Mary of her privilege of divine grace and her special glory.  For by a unique favor of our Lord and God she is confessed to be the most true and most blessed Mother of God.'' Today 75% of all Christians still hold to this same view. 

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Why do Catholics pray to Mary and the saints when Sacred Scripture states that there is one Mediator between God and man - Christ Jesus? (2 Time 2:5)

When Catholics pray to Mary and the other saints in Heaven they are not bypassing Christ, whom they acknowledge as the sole Mediator between God and man.  They are going to Christ through Mary and the other saints.  They are asking Mary and other saints to intercede for them before the throne of Christ in Heaven.  "For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.'' (James 5:16).  How much more availing is the unceasing prayer of the sinless Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  St.  Paul asked his fellow Christians to intercede for him: "Brethren, pray for us.'' (2 Thess.  3:1).  And again: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God...'' (Rom.  15:30).  Christ must particularly approve of our going to Him through Mary, His Blessed Mother, because He chose to come to us through her.  And at Cana, He performed His first miracle after a word from His Mother.  (John 2:2-11). 

It is clear in Sacred Scripture that the saints in Heaven will intercede for us before the throne of Christ if they are petitioned in prayer (Apoc.  or Rev.  8:3-4), and it is clear in the records of primitive Christianity that the first Christians eagerly sought their intercession.  Wrote St.  John Chrysostom in the fourth century: "When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His enemies, but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power.'' If the saints have such power with God, how much more His own Mother. 

In Job 42:8, the Lord encourages Job's friends to seek his intercession on their behalf.  Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Saint Paul asks Church members in Thessalonica to pray for him and his missionary companions:  "Brothers, pray for us."

In neither the New nor Old Testament is there a concern that it might be inappropriate to ask living members of one's faith community for support in prayer before God.

Therefore, if we believe the saints are living" members of our community, why would we not ask for their prayerful support just as we do the flesh-and-blood members of the community we can see and touch?

Christ is the one true mediator between God and humans, but Christ calls us into a community of faith.  Prayer with the saints celebrates and builds this community that God delights in working through and in.  To ignore the saints is to deprive ourselves of gifts that God freely chooses to give.

We hope to be in communion with the saints forever. For now we strengthen our fellowship with them through prayer.

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Why do Catholics repeat the same prayer over and over again when they pray the Rosary?  Is this not the vain repetition condemned by Christ in Matthew 6:7?

Catholics do not just repeat the same prayer over and over again when they pray the Rosary.  The Rosary is a progression of many prayers--the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Gloria, the Hail Mary and the Salve Regina--and these prayers are accompanied by many holy meditations.  As the Rosary progresses, Catholics meditate on the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries of the life of Christ and His Mother.  True, the Hail Mary is repeated many times during the course of the Rosary, and some of the other prayers are repeated several times, but this is not "vain'' repetition, certainly not the vain repetition condemned by Our Lord.  The vain repetition He condemned is that of people who pray standing "in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.''

No prayer is vain, no matter how often repeated, if it is sincere, for Christ Himself engaged in repetitious prayer in the Garden of Gethsemani (".  .  .  he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the selfsame word''--Matt.  26:39, 42, 44), and we are informed in the Apocalypse (Revelations) 4:8 that the angels in Heaven never cease repeating, night and day, the canticle: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.'' The publican humbly repeated the prayer: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner,'' and he went away justified; whereas the Pharisee went home unjustified after his long-winded extemporaneous prayer.  (Luke 18:9-14).  God was likewise pleased with the repetitious prayer of the three young men in the fiery furnace, whom He preserved miraculously untouched by the flames.  (Dan.  3:52-90).  Protestants also engage in repetitious prayer: the same prayers at mealtime grace, the same prayers at Benediction, etc.  The time lapse is no factor; it is still repetitious. 

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Why do Catholics believe in a place between Heaven and Hell called Purgatory?  Where is Purgatory mentioned in the Bible?

The main body of Christians have always believed in the existence of a place between Heaven and Hell where souls go to be punished for lesser sins and to repay the debt of temporal punishment for sins which have been forgiven.  Even after Moses was forgiven by God, he was still punished for his sin.  (2 Kg.  or 2 Sam.  12:13-14).  The primitive Church Fathers regarded the doctrine of Purgatory as one of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.  St.  Augustine, one of the greatest doctors of the Church, said the doctrine of Purgatory "has been received from the Fathers and it is observed by the Universal Church.'' True, the word "Purgatory'' does not appear in the Bible, but a place where lesser sins are purged away and the soul is saved "yet so as by fire,'' is mentioned.  (1 Cor.  3:15).  Also, the Bible distinguishes between those who enter Heaven straightaway, calling them "the church of the firstborn'' (Heb.  12:23), and those who enter after having undergone a purgation, calling them "the spirits of the just made perfect.'' (Heb.  12:23).  Christ Himself stated: "Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.'' (Matt.  5 :26).  And: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.'' (Matt.  12:36).  These are obviously references to Purgatory.  Further, the Second Book of Machabees (which was dropped from the Scriptures by the Protestant Reformers) says: "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.'' (2 Mach.  12:46).  Ancient Christian tomb inscriptions from the second and third centuries frequently contain an appeal for prayers for the dead.  In fact, the custom of praying for the dead--which is meaningless if there is no Purgatory--was universal among Christians for the fifteen centuries preceding the Protestant Reformation. 

Furthermore, ordinary justice calls for a place of purgation between Heaven and Hell.  Take our own courts of justice, for example.  For major crimes a person is executed or sentenced to life imprisonment (Hell); for minor crimes a person is sentenced to temporary imprisonment for punishment and rehabilitation (Purgatory); for no crime at all a person is rewarded with the blessing of free citizenship (Heaven).  If a thief steals some money, then regrets his deed and asks the victim for forgiveness, it is quite just for the victim to forgive him yet still insist on restitution.  God, who is infinitely just, insists on holy restitution.  This is made either in this life, by doing penance (Matt.  3:2; Luke 3:8, 13:3; Apoc.  3:2-3, 19), or in Purgatory . 

Also, what Christian is there who, despite his faith in Christ and his sincere attempts to be Christlike, does not find sin and worldliness still in his heart? "For in many things we all offend.'' (James 3:2).  Yet "there shall not enter into it [the new Jerusalem, Heaven] anything defiled.'' (Apoc.  or Rev.  21:27).  In Purgatory the soul is mercifully purified of all stain; there God carries out the work of spiritual purification which most Christians neglected and resisted on earth.  It is important to remember that Catholics do not believe that Christ simply covers over their sinful souls, like covering a manure heap with a blanket of snow (Martin Luther's description of God's forgiveness).  Rather, Christ insists that we be truly holy and sinless to the core of our souls.  "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.'' (Matt.  5:48).  This growth in sinlessness--in Christian virtue and holiness--is of course the work of an entire lifetime (and is possible only through the grace of God).  With many this cleansing is completed only in Purgatory.  If there is no Purgatory, but only Heaven for the perfect and Hell for the imperfect, then the vast majority of us are hoping in vain for life eternal in Heaven. 

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Why do Catholics confess their sins to priests?  What makes them think that priests can absolve them of the guild of their sins?  Why don't they confess their sins directly to God as Protestants do?

Catholics confess their sins to priests because, as it is stated in Scripture, God in the Person of Jesus Christ authorized the priests of His Church to hear confessions and empowered them to forgive sins in His Name.  To the Apostles, the first priests of His Church, Christ said: "Peace be to you.  As the Father hath sent me, I also send you....  Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.'' (John 20:21-23).  Then again: "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.'' (Matt.  18:18).  In other words, Catholics confess their sins to priests because priests are God's duly authorized agents in the world, representing Him in all matters pertaining to the ways and means of attaining eternal salvation.  When Catholics confess their sins to a priest they are, in reality, confessing their sins to God, for God hears their confessions and it is He who, in the final analysis, does the forgiving.  If their confessions are not sincere, their sins are not forgiven. 

Furthermore, Catholics do confess their sins directly to God as Protestants do: Catholics are taught to make an act of contrition at least every night before retiring, to ask God to forgive them their sins of that day.  Catholics are also taught to say this same prayer of contrition if they should have the misfortune to commit a serious sin (called a "mortal sin'' by Catholics). 

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Granting that priests do have the power to forgive sins in the name of God, what advantage does confession one's sins to a priest have over confession directly to God in private prayer?

Catholics see several advantages in confessing their sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance.  First, there is the Church's guarantee of forgiveness, which private confessions do not provide; secondly, there is the sacramental grace which private confessions do not provide; and thirdly, there is the expert spiritual counseling which private confessions do not provide.  With the Apostles, Catholics recognize that the Church is, in a mysterious way, the Body of Christ still living in the world (Col.  1:18); therefore they recognize that God will receive their pleas for mercy and forgiveness with far greater compassion if their pleas are voiced within the Church, in union with the Mystical Body of His Divine Son, than if they are voiced privately, independent of the Mystical Body of His Divine Son. 

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Do Catholics confess all the sordid details of their sins to the priest?

No, Catholics are instructed not to confess the sordid details of their sins, because it would serve no useful purpose.  All that is required of the penitent is the number and classification of sins committed, as well as a sincere contrition for having sinned, a promise to make restitution if the sin has harmed others, a firm resolve to avoid future sins and the occasions of sin, and the carrying out of the penance assigned by the priest (usually the praying of a few prayers).  Actually, there are fewer intimacies revealed to the priest in the confessional than are usually revealed to one's doctor, lawyer, or psychiatrist; hence the Sacrament of Penance is not the embarrassing experience many non-Catholics imagine it is.  Rather, it is a wonderful relieving experience, for it is through this sacrament that sins committed after Baptism are washed away by the blood of Christ and the sinner becomes once again reconciled with God. 

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Why do Catholics believe that Christ is sacrificed in each and every Mass, when Scripture plainly states that He was sacrificed on Calvary one and for all?

Most non-Catholics do not realize it, but Christ Himself offered the first Mass at the Last Supper.  At the Last Supper He offered (sacrificed) Himself to His Father in an unbloody manner, that is, under the form of bread and wine, in anticipation of His bloody sacrifice on the cross to be offered on the following day, Good Friday.  In the Mass, not now by anticipation, but rather in retrospect, Christ continues to make that offering of Himself to His Father--by the hands of the priest.  "And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat.  This is my body.  And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this.  For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.'' (Matt.  26:26-28).  Christ ordered His Church to perpetuate that sacrificial rite for the continued sanctification of His followers, saying, "Do this for a commemoration of me'' (Luke 22:19)--so the Catholic Church complies with His order in the Mass.  In other words, every Mass is a re-enactment of Our Lord's one sacrifice of Calvary.  The Mass derives all its value from the Sacrifice of the Cross; the Mass is that same sacrifice, not another.  It is not essentially a sacrifice offered by men (although men also join in), but rather it is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

Christ's bloody sacrifice on Calvary was accomplished "once'' (Heb.  10:10), just as Scripture says.  The Catholic Church likewise teaches that the sacrifice of the Cross was a complete and perfect sacrifice-- offered "once.'' But the Apostle Paul--the same Apostle who wrote this text in the book of Hebrews--also bears witness that the sacrificial rite which Christ instituted at the Last Supper is to be perpetuated--and that it is not only important for man's sanctification, but is the principal factor in man's final redemption.  In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, St.  Paul tells how, at the Last Supper, Our Lord said: "This do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me.  For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come.'' Thus at every Mass the Christian has a new opportunity to worship God with this one perfect sacrifice and to "absorb'' more of Christ's saving and sanctifying grace of Calvary.  This grace is infinite, and the Christian should continuously grow in this grace until his death.  The reason the Mass is offered again and again is not from any imperfection in Christ, but from our imperfect capacity to receive. 

Finally, the holy sacrifice of the Mass fulfills the Old Testament prophecy: "For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts.'' (Mal.  1:11).  The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered every day throughout the world, and in every Mass the only truly "clean oblation'' is offered, that is, Christ Himself; thus the Mass is the perfect fulfillment of this prophecy. 

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Why do Catholics believe their Holy Communion is the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?  Why don't they believe as most Protestants do that Christ is only present symbolically, or spiritually, in the consecrated bread and wine?

Catholics believe that their Holy Communion, the Blessed Eucharist, is the actual Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ, because that is what Christ said It was:  "This is my body...  This is my blood'' (Matt.  26:26-28; see also Luke 22:19-20 and Mark 14:22-24); because that is what Christ said they must receive in order to have eternal life: ".  .  .  Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you...'' (John 6:48-52; 54-56); and because that is what the Apostles believed: "The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?'' (1 Cor.  10:16).  "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.  But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.'' (1 Cor.  11:27-29).  Also, Catholics believe that Holy Communion is the actual Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ because that is what all Christians believed until the advent of Protestantism in the 16th century. 

Wrote Justin Martyr, illustrious Church Father of the second century: "This food is known among us as the Eucharist .  .  .  We do not receive these things as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior, being made flesh by the Word of God.'' Wrote St.  Cyril of Jerusalem, venerable Church Father of the fourth century: "Since then Christ has declared and said of the bread, 'This is my Body,' who after that will venture to doubt? And seeing that He has affirmed and said, 'This is my Blood,' who will raise a question and say it is not His Blood?'' In addition to the witness of Sacred Scripture and Christian tradition, Catholics have the witness of the Holy Eucharist itself: On numerous occasions great and awesome miracles have attended its display, and seldom has its reception by the Catholic faithful failed to produce in them a feeling of joyful union with their Lord and Savior.  In the face of all this evidence, Catholics could hardly be expected to adopt the Protestant position. 

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Why do Catholics call their priests "Father" despite the fact that Christ said, "Call no man on earth your father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven" (Matt 23:9)

Catholics call their priests "Father'' because in all matters pertaining to Christ's holy faith they perform the duties of a father, representing God.  The priest is the agent of the Christian's supernatural birth and sustenance in the world.  "Father'' is a title which does not conflict in the slightest with Matthew 23:9.  Christ forbids the Christian to acknowledge any fatherhood which conflicts with the Fatherhood of God--just as He commands the Christian to "hate'' his father, mother, wife, and his own life, insofar as these conflict with the following of Christ.  (Luke 14:26).  But Christ does not forbid Christians to call His own representatives by the name of "Father.'' Catholic priests share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ (not a human priesthood), and their sacred ministry partakes of the Fatherhood of God.  Like St.  Paul (himself a Catholic priest), every Catholic priest can refer to the souls he has spiritually begotten as his children in Christ.  (1 Cor.  4:14).  St.  Paul considered himself to be the spiritual father, in Christ, of the Corinthians: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers.  For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you.'' (I Cor.  4:15).  The title of "Father'' is entirely proper for an ordained priest of Jesus Christ.  Why do Catholics practice fasting and abstinence from meat on certain days? Does not St.  Paul call abstaining from meats a "doctrine of devils''? (1 Tim.  4:1-3). 

Catholics give up eating meat--for example, on Good Friday--to commemorate and honor Christ's Sacrifice on that day, and to follow His instruction to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.  (Matt.  16:24; Mk.  8:34; Lk.  9:23).  It is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the Christian Church.  Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria both mention it in their writings.  It is a practice which is thoroughly Christian, for we note that Christ Himself recommended fasting, saying: "When thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face...  and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee.'' (Matt.  6:17-18).  In the same vein the Apostle Paul described his own suffering for Christ: "...  in hunger and thirst, in fastings often...'' (2 Cor.  11:27).  Fasting was practiced both by Christ's followers (Acts 14:22) and by Christ Himself.  (Matt.  4:1-2).  And Our Lord told His disciples that some devils cannot be cast out "but by prayer and fasting.'' (Matt.  17:20).  Paul's denunciation of those who abstain from eating meat applies to those who reject the eating of meat entirely, as though it were evil in itself.  His denunciation has nothing to do with the abstinence of Catholics, for on other days Catholics eat as much meat as do other people.  Moreover, the abstinence from meat is not binding on all Catholics.  Young children, old people, sick people, and all Catholics in countries where meat is the principle diet, are excused. 

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Why don't Catholic priests marry?  The Bible says that a bishop should be "blameless, the husband of one wife" (1 Time 3:2), which certainly indicates that Christ approves of marriage for the Christian clergy.

Catholic priests do not marry because, while Christ does indeed approve of marriage for the Christian clergy, He much prefers that they do not marry.  He made this quite clear when He praised the Apostles for giving up "all'' to follow Him, saying, "And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.'' (Matt.  19:27-29).  The Apostle Paul explained why the unmarried state is preferable to the married state for the Christian clergy: "He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God.  But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided.'' (1 Cor.  7:32-33).  In other words, matrimony is good-- Christ made it one of the holy sacraments of His Church--but it is not conducive to that complete dedication which is incumbent upon those who submit themselves to another of Christ's holy sacraments--that of Holy Orders.  Even so, the unmarried state of the Catholic priesthood is not an inflexible law--under certain conditions a priest may be dispensed from this law. 

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The Bible says that after Christ was baptized He "came out of the water" (Matt 3:16), indicating that He was baptized by total immersion.  Why doesn't the Catholic Church also baptize by total immersion instead of by pouring on the head?

The Catholic Church usually baptizes by pouring: 1) because water sufficient for total immersion is not readily obtainable in some localities, 2) because total immersion would be cruel for babies, fatal for some sick people and impossible for some prison inmates, and 3) because the Apostles baptized by pouring.  In the Didache, composed by the Apostles, the following procedure for Baptism is prescribed: "Pour water three times on the head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'' The words "came out of the water'' do not necessarily imply total immersion.  They could just as well imply that Christ came up on the shore of the river Jordan after standing ankle deep in the water.  This is not to say that the Catholic Church considers Baptism by total immersion invalid--she simply does not consider it practical as a universal form. 

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Why does the Catholic Church baptize infants, who have no understanding of what is taking place?

The Catholic Church baptizes infants because Christ wills it.  He must will it because He said, "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me.'' (Matt.  19:14).  According to the Apostle Paul, one cannot truly come to Christ except through Baptism.  (Rom.  6:3-4).  Christ must will it because the Apostles baptized "all the people'' (Luke 3:21 ) and whole households (Acts 16:15, 1 Cor.  1:16).  Certainly "all the people'' and whole "households'' included infants.  Christ must will it because He stated categorically that Baptism is a necessary prerequisite for salvation (John 3:5), and He certainly desires the salvation of infants.  He must will it because the primitive Christian Church, which had fresh firsthand knowledge of His Will, baptized infants.  In the ancient catacombs of Rome the inscriptions on the tombs of infants make mention of their having been baptized.  One such inscription reads: "Here rests Archillia, a newly-baptized; she was one year and five months old; died February 23rd.''

An unbaptized infant is not simply in a "natural'' state; it is in the state of reprobation, living under the reign of Satan, with the sin of Adam "staining'' its soul.  Therefore infants should be baptized as soon as is reasonably possible--usually within 2-3 weeks of birth.  When children grow up with Our Lord dwelling in their souls, they have a powerful protection against sin.  Moreover, Our Lord can thereby draw children to a deep love for Himself at a very early age--as He did with St.  Therese, St.  Maria Goretti, St.  Dominic Savio, and Francisco and Jacinta Marto. 

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Why is the Catholic Church opposed to birth control?  Where in the Bible is birth control condemned as being contrary to the Will of God?

The Catholic Church is not opposed to birth control when it is accomplished by natural means, by self control.  The Church is opposed to birth control by artificial means, by the employment of pills, condoms, IUD's, foams, jellies, sterilization, non-completion of the act of sexual union--or any other means used to prevent conception from resulting from this act--because such means profane the marital embrace and dishonor the marriage contract.  God slew Onan for practicing contraception (Gen.  38:9-10); the word "onanism'' derives from Onan's deed.  In fact, up until the Church of England's Lambeth Conference of 1930, which accepted contraception and thus broke with the Christian tradition, contraception had been considered by all Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant, to be gravely sinful.  The Catholic Church does not feel free to change the law of God, as do Protestants. 

In the New Testament, there is only one instance where sin is punished by God with immediate death, this was the fate of Ananias and Saphira, a husband and wife who went through the motions of giving a gift to God but fraudulently kept back part of it.  The Bible says they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5 : 1-11 ).  In contraception, two people go through the motions of an act of self-giving, but obstruct the natural fruition of their act, i.e., the conception of children, which is the ultimate purpose for which God created sexuality.  Sexual union is a gift from God to the married, but by practicing contraception, married couples are accepting the pleasure God built into the act and yet denying Him its purpose, new people.  They are in effect mocking God.  But "Be not deceived, God is not mocked.'' (Gal.  6:7).  Christ cursed the fig tree which, despite a fine external appearance, bore no fruit.  (Matt.  21:19; Mark 11:14).  Marriage is God's plan for populating Heaven, yet contracepting couples refuse Him the specific fruit of their marriage, which is children, when they engage in the act which should produce children yet frustrate the natural, God-intended result. 

Common sense and conscience both dictate that artificial birth control is not only a violation of the Natural Law but is a perfidious insult to the dignity of man himself.  For it implies free reign to physical impulses; it implies total disregard for the fate of the human seed; it implies utter contempt for the honorable birth of fellow humans, those fellow humans who are born as the result of a contraceptive having failed and whose very existence is therefore considered to be an unfortunate "accident,'' rather than a gift of God; it implies the most extreme selfishness, for no advocate or practitioner of artificial birth control would have wanted it for his or her own parents.  Further, contraception undermines the respect of husband and wife for each other and thereby loosens the marriage bond.  Worst of all, many "contraceptives,'' such as the IUD and most if not all birth control pills, work by actually causing an abortion early in the pregnancy; thus, this so-called "contraception'' is in reality abortion--the killing of a human being--rather than the preventing of conception. 

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Click here for more questions and answers

Adapted from the booklet The Catholic Church Has the Answer by Paul Whitcomb, published by TAN Books and Publishers, Rockford, IL 1986 800-437-5876

Originally published by the Loyola Book Co., Los Angeles, CA

Last Updated: 1 May 14

 
 
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