Category Archives: Theology

4 Pillars of the Catholic Faith

A question was asked of me about the building blocks of the Catholic faith. Is there such a thing? Do Catholics actually have a structure of belief? Well, yes, there are 4 essential building blocks of our life of faith. These 4 areas are the very same areas by which the Catechism of the Catholic is structured.

The 4 Pillars of the Catholic Faith:

-10 Commandments
-7 Sacraments
-The Lord’s Prayer (Christian prayer)

Christ giving the keys to Peter.jpg

Catholics believe in revealed
truth. Spirituality needs to be founded on truth otherwise you have nothing.
Hence creed, code & cult are essential aspects of Catholic Faith.

The study of faith needs two distinctions to understand what’s going with the army of words and ideas associated with theological reflection: fides quae and fides

Fides quae (“faith which”) is the faith which is held by
the Church through divine revelation or sacred tradition (it is what is considered to be objective, verifiable faith).

Fides qua
(“faith by which”) is the faith by which a person is moved to respond
to God. A person’s understanding of his or her personal relationship
to God is spoken of here; here we usually filter what hear of divine revelation; in some instances personal
revelation is located in this type of faith, e.g., the teachings of the saints would be a distinction of fides qua (we’ll say this is subjective faith, a faith known through concrete experience).

Theologically speaking, a theologian be able to
distinguish between fides quae and fides qua and to always maintain conformity
in study and work with fides quae. Only a few theologian have held a personal
faith that has been enlightened enough to illuminate fides quae. The task of
theology is gain a deeper understanding of faith; it is, as St Anselm said:
faith seeking understanding. Our study of theology is done on our knees; that
is, we study the fact of God and the allied theological sciences from a posture of adoration of
God first, in the sacred Liturgy and second, in personal prayer. 

The student of
theology takes his or her first presupposition from the position of “faith.” Faith is not a gift of God it is also the manner by which we look at
reality, it’s the “starting point for a new way -that is, a true way of
becoming aware of reality itself.” Through faith we have access to truth and through we live truth.  Without faith in the study of theology
we have mere religious studies.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, archangels

Archangels.jpgOur Catholic faith teaches us that angels have a general and yet an important part to play in our salvation history, especially personally guiding us. Moreover, the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are given to us by God for very specific purposes and they are the only angels named in sacred Scripture.

And so today, the Church honors the archangels, invokes their intercession and relies on their assistance in the spiritual warfare we daily face.

In Hebrew, “Michael” means “Who is like God?” Saint Michael is mentioned four times in Scripture: Daniel 10 and 12, in Jude and in Revelation. Scripture reveals to us that Saint Michael is known as the “Prince of the Heavenly Host,” hence, the leader of all angels. It is to the Prince of the Heavenly that we owe a debt of gratitude for casting down to Hell Lucifer and the evil spirits; he is invoked for protection against Satan and all evil.

Sacred Tradition teaches that there are four offices connected to Saint Michael:

  • to fight against Satan, his minions and the power of evil
  • to rescue and protect the faithful from evil, especially at the hour of death
  • to lead the people of God to full communion with God Himself
  • to call our souls to judgment before God.

We know the archangel from his announcement of the dawn of salvation to Mary: “I am Gabriel, who stand before God” (Luke 1:19). What is crucial to remember about Gabriel are his two announcements in the New Testament: the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zachary and of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh in Mary. Saint Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” is also mentioned four times in Scripture. 

Again, sacred Tradition tells us that it is Saint Gabriel who appeared to Saint Joseph and to the shepherds. At the beginning of the Passion it was Gabriel who “strengthens” Jesus in the his agony of the garden.

“I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tobit 12:15)

Saint Raphael, whose name means “God has healed” because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. This book in the Old Testament is the only book in which Raphael is mentioned. He is the archangel of healing and acts of mercy. Tradition tells us that Saint Raphael is the angel in John 5:1-4 who descended upon the pond and bestowed healing powers upon it so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity he was suffering.

As point of trivia, the Catholic hospital in New Haven, CT is named for Saint Raphael, likely the only one in the USA.

Those familiar with what is called the “old Mass” will remember praying the Prayer to Saint Michael at the conclusion of Mass. In 1899, after a vision of evil, Pope Leo XIII wanted to protect the Church and instructed that his prayer be prayed by all, especially the priest. I can’t recommend the prayer enough to you when making your thanksgiving following Mass or the Divine Office. Plus, I would recommend that you pray the Prayer to Saint Michael prior to going to bed.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, pray for us.

Cremation and the Catholic Church

Resurrection AdelCastagno.jpgCatholics today are choosing cremation over the burial of the body. The numbers are on the increase in recent years due to economic reasons, perceived ecological concerns space limitations in some places. But are these good reasons to chose cremation of the body? The Church’s allowance of cremation is given by exception with a strong preference for the entombment of the body (either in the ground or a masoleum). Why? Principally because cremation does not fully express a Christian’s belief in the Resurrection of the body on the Last Day.

Though permitted by the Catholic Church, cremation is not the preferred way of caring for the deceased (Order of Christian Funerals Appendix, 414). The Church retains the value of imitating Jesus’ own burial prior to His Resurrection. We believe that in death “life has changed, not ended.” Hence, the human body has a dignity and this dignity is expressed liturgically through the funeral rites of the Church. The sacred Liturgy is the expression of what we believe and our hope in God’s promises. Think of the ritual actions of the family and friends gathering for a wake (keeping vigil), prayers, the processions, blessing with holy water, the burning of incense, the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass for the soul of the deceased and then burial. Those who say that they follow Christ and believe in Him as Savior normally imitate what he did as they closely adhere to what He said and how He did things. The further develop this idea an appeal to the reasonableness of Church teaching is necessary. The US Bishops’ document “Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rites” (1997) states the following about the body: “This is the Body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. Our identity and self-consciousness as a human person are expressed in and through the body… Thus, the Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person who the Church now commends to the care of God.”

What is cremation? Cremation is the taking of the dead body and reducing it to ash and bone fragments by the application of intense heat (in excess of 1400 degrees) and the pulverization  of what remains. The ash and bone pieces are placed in an urn.
The practice of cremation was normal in the pagan world prior to the Resurrection of Jesus and in the early of Christianity. But because the earlier followers of Christ and belief in bodily resurrection the practice waned. Eventually, it was rejected as an accepted practice by the Church because cremation became a method of rejecting Christian belief in Christ’s resurrection, our own resurrection on the last day and the rejection of the body as sacred. The   presence and popularity of the Masons and their rejection of fundamental Catholic belief, the Church taught that cremation was prohibited. You can trace the clear teaching from the French Revolution.
The Church respects the body, the living and the dead. Regarding the dead, the Church states that “The dying should be given attention and care to help them live the last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives , who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God. The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy, it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit (Catechism 2299-2300).
With the passage of time, the Church in an effort to recognize the legitimate needs of her children, changed her teaching with the publication of a 1963 decree of Blessed John XXIII relaxing the restrictions if Catholic teaching is maintained. At the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Church said, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denail of faith in the resurrection of the body” (2301). And the Code of Canon Law (1983) states: “The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (1176).
Some might say the Church has strong “feelings” on cremation. The Church’s teaching has nothing to do with feelings. And the Church’s preference is not one opinion among many nor is it akin to having a preference for a porterhouse steak over hamburger. What happens to the body after death is based on solid sacramental theology and two millennia of experience.
In sum, what is expected (hoped for):
1. the offering of prayer and sacraments for the dying, especially at the time of death
2. the showing of respect for the deceased with regard to preparing the body for a wake
3. the praying of the Office of the Dead and prayers for the dead at the wake
4. the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass in Church in the presence of the body
5. the burial of the body or the cremation of the body and then the burial of the cremains
6. the daily praying for the soul, the periodic offering of Mass for the soul of the deceased and visiting the cemetery, especially during the month of November, the Month of All Souls.

While three members of my family chose cremation as a burial option, my family was attentive to the sacramentality of the body and Catholic burial rituals (wake, Mass with the body present & burial of the ashes in the local Catholic cemetery.

Funny that Net TV posted on this subject and that I am posting about it today given that just the other day my mother told me that a long time family friend distributed the ashes of her parents to her family and friends in zip-lock bags. Honestly, I heard of of such wierd and disrespectful things happening but I thought the stories were fiction. Such actions (distributiing the cremains, making jewlery out of the cremains or placing the cremains on the mantle or in a home closet) clearly show a rejection (subtle as it may be) of the blessedness of the human body and it being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I am, quite frankly, a bit crazed by the practice of doing any but what the Church asks to be done with the cremains.
Watch the news story “The Church on Cremantion

Hans Urs von Balthasar: 22nd anniv


Among Your apostolic priests, O God, You honored Your servant Hans Urs von Balthasar with the priestly dignity. Grant, too, to number him always in the company. Through Christ our Lord.
22 years ago today Hans Urs von Balthasar died. Let us remember him in prayer begging God’s mercy on Balthasar.
  • Born on August 12, 1905
  • Ordained priest on July 26, 1939
  • Incardinated in the Diocese of Chur in 1950
  • Nominated cardinal deacon on June 28, 1988 and assigned the title of S. Nicola in Carcere
  • Died on June 26, 1988
A webpage has been designed to pull together Balthasar’s works.

Who’s in hell?

The solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a good day to think about last things. No?

Most reasonable Catholics would agree that we don’t hear too much about the 4 last things. For some this is a good thing; for me I lament the absence. But why do we always have to avoid the last things that are a natural part of the Divine Plan? Are we THAT afraid of God? Are we THAT skeptical about the promises of Jesus? Do we really lack hope? Perhaps we are too comfortable in being self-contained to care.

You know what the 4 last things are: death judgment, heaven and hell.  Preachers, Catholic school curricula and CCD programs and parents don’t often address the 4 last things in their respective venues. Why? Likely because there’s a perceptible allergy against an honest look at the human condition and the supreme justice and mercy of God. Also, about the fact that we can and often do, turn our backs on God and His promises. We’d rather think of “good things” or “nice things” about ourselves and others than sin and the possible ugly. OK. I don’t relish looking at my ugly side either. At the same time I want an honest assessment of my soul and to live in a reasonable hope of what may or may not come of my relationship with God. At last I knew, the only person conceived without sin is the Mary, the Mother of God. Plus, I would hate to think I am going to heaven (or purgatory) when I really merited hell.
In case you need a fast primer on the 4 last things, see these links. I’d also suggest closely reading Avery Cardinal Dulles’ essay “The Population of Hell,” found in Church and Society unless you can get it for free on the First Things website (but I’d recommend buying the book for all the other excellent essays!).

Not long ago a friend sent me a blog where the blogger talked about a recent homily of Canterbury’s Rowan Williams where he wonders if Henry VII is in hell. Good question. What do you think? The Archbishop’s homily can be read here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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