Have you ever wondered what the Catholic Church actually teaches about specific questions you may have? Have you been able to get a meaningful accurate answer to your question(s) from anyone?
The Catholic Answer Book is a unique collection of the most frequently asked questions from readers of The Catholic Answer, Our Sunday Visitor's popular question-and-answer publication. The questions and their answers cover a range of topics including Scripture, Doctrine, Morality, Sacraments, Divine Worship and Catholic Practices.
Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the author of this book as well as numerous other titles for Our Sunday Visitor.
Take a look at just a few of the questions and answers from this publication:
Q. Last Sunday, while visiting a church on vacation, I heard a priest say during the sermon, I think, that salvation may be gained through good works. Is this what the Church teaches?
A. I hope you misunderstood the priest. The Church teaches that one is saved by God's free gift or offer of salvation received in faith. Nothing else can ever be added to Christ's saving death. What, then, is the place of good works? Having become a Christian, the believer must live like one, and that is where good works find their place. It has been said that one is not reborn by good works but to good works, and that is very true. Because one has received the gift of new life in Christ, he must give evidence of a lively faith by a godly life, especially by attending to the needs of the poor and the oppressed (cf. Mt 25:31-46). This style of life is not an attempt to curry favor with God, but is a response of love and a powerful witness to the grace of election. For a devout Christian, there can never be any position between faith and works, for the first necessarily leads to the second. The Epistle of James has given classical expression to this insight: "What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? . . . faith without works is as dead as a body without breath" (2:14, 26).
Q. Why do Catholics pray to the saints when Jesus is the sole mediator between God and Man?
A. Catholics agree that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, but that in no way makes prayer to the saints useless or wrong.
Many times one finds the New Testament recommending intercessory prayer (cf. Col 1:9; 2 Thes 1:11; 2 Thes 3:1; Jas 5:16), and very few Christians seem to have a problem with seeking the prayers of a fellow believer. A difficulty appears to emerge only when that believer has left this earth. But what difference should that make to one who affirms the resurrection of the dead? After all, we read that all are alive in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:22).
To recap, then, Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. No other person in heaven or on earth can take His place. The role of Mary or any other saint is to lead the believer to Christ. This subordinate form of mediation derives its meaning and efficacy from the Lord Himself and is not something the saints possess on their own.
Intercessory prayer is a powerful expression of the beautiful doctrine of the Communion of Saints whereby the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the faithful on earth are involved and concerned with one another's eternal salvation. Intercessory prayer declares our love for one another in the Church, as well as our faith that the bonds to Christ and His Church forged in baptism cannot be dissolved by death.
Q. How can I convince my Fundamentalist friends that Catholics do worship Jesus? They are turned off by our saints and statues, which they think we idolize.
A. As pointed out above, the teaching of the Church is clear: Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. No other person in heaven or on earth can take His place. The role of Mary or any other saint is to lead the believer to Christ. This subordinate form of mediation derives its meaning and effectiveness from the Lord Himself and is not something the saints possess on their own. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the adoration owed to the Persons of the Blessed Trinity and the veneration given to the saints.
Similarly, Catholics use medals and statues, but not as talismans or as objects of worship in violation of the First Commandment. Rather, these things are intended to be reminders or aids to devotion which focus one's attention on prayer and the practice of virtue. It would be a rare husband who did not carry in his wallet a photo of his wife and children, not because he worships the photo or his family, but because he loves his family and wishes to have a visual representation of them on his person. Nor have I ever heard a Fundamentalist take offense at the presence of statues of our country's heroes at national monuments. If the heroes of the nation can be so honored, why not the heroes of the Church? Catholics use sacred art in just this way, never fashioning "idols" for false worship.
Prayer to Mary (or to any of the other saints) is not an end in itself but is intended to be a means by which one is led to a deeper union with her Son. Classical spirituality even had a Latin maxim to illustrate the point: Ad Jesum per Mariam ("To Jesus through Mary"). True devotion to Mary never obscures the uniqueness of Christ because Catholics know that the only command of Mary recorded in the Scriptures is one that must be scrupulously obeyed: "Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you" (Jn 2:5).
In the final analysis, devotion to the saints can best be appreciated when one sees the saints in glory as the friends of God and fellow members of the household of faith. If our Fundamentalist friends are to understand this aspect of Catholic spirituality, that is probably the grounds which will make the most sense to them.
Q. What did Jesus mean when He said everyone must be "born again"? Can "born-again" people sin and lose out on heaven?
A. John 3:3 is the verse in question. Jesus was indicating that due to our fallen nature, it is necessary to be "born again" of water and the Holy Spirit - a reference to baptism which incorporates a believer into Christ and His Church (cf. Rom 5 and 6; 1 Cor 12).
While baptism removes original sin, it does not remove the human inclination to sin. So, the logical question: "How do I know I am saved?" No absolute assurance is available; one must have recourse to the virtue of hope, which is a firm trust in God's goodness and mercy. Some Fundamentalists hold that someone who is saved "knows" for sure, but St. Paul had some different ideas on the subject. He said the Philippians needed to "work with anxious concern to achieve [their] salvation" (2:12). Paul likewise warned against presumption in this matter: "let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he falls" (1 Cor 10:12). Certainly this was also the mind of Christ, who counseled constant vigilance as the best preparation for His coming (e.g., Mt 25).