This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 4 February 2018 to 14 February 2018.


General Audiences


Papal Tweets

  • “Let us welcome victims of human trafficking, and all those fleeing from war and hunger, with a compassionate heart.” @Pontifex 8 February 2018
  • “We cannot remain silent before the suffering of millions of people whose dignity has been wounded.” @Pontifex 8 February 2018
  • “Christians are called to keep alive the memory of how much God has done through them.” @Pontifex 9 February 2018
  • “The Lord is present in our lives, showing us all His love and encouraging us to respond with generosity.” @Pontifex 10 February 2018
  • “May the sick always be shown love in their fragility and respected in their inviolable dignity.” @Pontifex 11 February 2018
  • “To serve human life is to serve God and life at every stage: from the womb of the mother, to the suffering and sickness of old age.” @Pontifex 11 February 2018
  • “I feel deep pain for the many children torn from their families and forced to become child soldiers. This is a tragedy!” @Pontifex 12 February 2018
  • “We need the Holy Spirit to transmit the faith. We cannot do it alone.” @Pontifex 13 February 2018
  • “When we confess our sins with humility and sincerity, we receive forgiveness and are reunited with God and our brothers and sisters.” @Pontifex 14 February 2018

Papal Instagram

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 1 November 2017 to 7 February 2018.


General Audiences




Papal Tweets

  • “A faith that does not trouble us is a troubled faith. A faith that does not make us grow is a faith that needs to grow.” @Pontifex 1 February 2018
  • “May every person come to Christ, the Light of Truth, and may the world advance along the path of justice and peace.” @Pontifex 2 February 2018
  • “A life of faith means wanting to be with the Lord, and that means constantly searching for Him wherever He is.” @Pontifex 3 February 2018
  • “Jesus wants to be found by those who look for Him. But to look for Him we have to get up and go out.” @Pontifex 4 February 2018
  • “One who is aware of his own wretchedness and lowers his gaze with humility feels God’s merciful gaze set upon him.” @Pontifex 5 February 2018
  • “All of us are called to commit ourselves to protecting minors in the digital world.” @Pontifex 6 February 2018
  • “As we grow in our spiritual lives, we realize how Grace comes to us and to others, and must be shared with everyone.” @Pontifex 7 February 2018

Papal Instagram

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popr-francis-teachingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 16 January 2018 to 31 January 2018.



Papal Tweets

  • “I would like to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace, a journalism created by people for people.” @Pontifex 24 January 2018
  • “The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth.” @Pontifex 24 January 2018
  • “Prayer allows us to see one another the way God our Father sees us, and to realize that we are brothers and sisters.” @Pontifex 25 January 2018
  • “Christian joy cannot be bought. It comes from faith and from meeting Jesus Christ, who is the reason for our happiness.” @Pontifex 26 January 2018
  • “Here we are, Lord, ashamed of what humanity, made in your image and likeness, is capable of doing. Remember us in your mercy.” @Pontifex 27 January 2018
  • “I pray for those who suffer from Hansen’s Disease and I encourage those who are committed to their care and reintegration into society.” @Pontifex 28 January 2018
  • “Through prayer we can enter into a stable relationship with God, the source of true joy.” @Pontifex 29 January 2018
  • “Goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day.” @Pontifex 30 January 2018
  • “Jesus is our mediator, who reconciles us not only with the Father but also with each other.” @Pontifex 31 January 2018

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 6 December 2017 to 24 January 2018.






Papal Tweets

  • “The Gospel message is a source of joy: a joy that spreads from generation to generation and which we inherit.” @Pontifex 18 January 2018
  • “Every life counts: from the beginning to the end, from conception to natural death” @Pontifex 19 January 2018
  • “Praise to you, Lord, for this wonderful creation that is the Amazon people, and for all the biodiversity these lands contain!” @Pontifex 19 January 2018
  • “There is no better medicine to heal so many wounds than a heart capable of mercy.” @Pontifex 20 January 2018
  • “Don’t waste time hiding your heart. Fill your life with the Holy Spirit!” @Pontifex 21 January 2018
  • “The Lord calls you today to travel with Him through the city, your city. He calls you to be His missionary disciple.” @Pontifex 21 January 2018
  • “I am grateful to all who have accompanied me on my pilgrimage to Chile and Peru in so many ways, especially with prayer.” @Pontifex 22 January 2018
  • “Prayer that purifies, strengthens and illuminates our path is like fuel for our journey towards full Christian unity.” @Pontifex 23 January 2018
  • “There is no such thing as harmless disinformation; trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences.” @Pontifex 24 January 2018
  • “I would like to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace, a journalism created by people for people.” @Pontifex 24 January 2018

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Akin-EHRMAN1Despite their disagreements, both believing and skeptical Bible scholars can agree on certain things about the life of Jesus.

One of these is that, during his day, Jesus had a reputation as a miracle-worker. Accounts of his healings, exorcisms, and other miracles are found throughout the Gospels.

While skeptical scholars may dismiss miracles like the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Walking on Water, and the Resurrection, even they admit that the evidence we have points to Jesus performing healings and exorcisms.

Not that they believe these were genuinely supernatural, but they’re prepared to concede that Jesus engaged in activities similar to those of modern faith-healers and exorcists, that some of the people he ministered to reported a relief of their symptoms, and that he thus gained a reputation as a wonder-worker.

However, Bart Ehrman—ever a contrarian—begs to differ.


Ehrman’s View

In his book, Jesus Before the Gospels, Ehrman writes:

I want to consider whether it is absolutely certain that Jesus was already understood to be a miracle worker even in his own day, prior to his death.

My view of that question is a minority position, but one that I want to explain.

I think the answer is no.

I am not saying that I know for certain that Jesus was not considered a miracle worker during his life. But I do think there are grounds for doubt (p. 221).

To say that his position is a minority one is an understatement. I can’t think of anyone—outside the realm of mythicists who don’t think Jesus even existed—who doesn’t hold that Jesus had a reputation as a miracle worker.

So how does Ehrman argue his case? He says:

Let me begin by making two points that I think everyone can agree on: (a) With the passing of time, Jesus’s miracle-working abilities became increasingly pronounced in the tradition, to an exorbitant extent; and (b) the stories of his miracles were always told in [sic] to make a theological point (or more than one point) about him (ibid.).

Based on these two points, Ehrman makes two general arguments.


Ehrman’s First Argument

In essence, the first argument is that—after Jesus’ death—stories about his miracles grew over time, both in terms of the sheer number of them and in how impressive the reported miracles were.

From that, one could infer that, the earlier you go, the fewer and the less impressive the miracle stories would be. And, Ehrman would suggest, perhaps there were none at all in Jesus’ lifetime.

To back up the initial premise of this argument, he writes:

That Jesus’s miracle-working abilities increased the more Christians told stories about him should be pretty obvious to anyone familiar with the noncanonical Gospels.

In chapter 1 I referred to some of the striking accounts: as a newborn Jesus was a walking, healing Son of God; as an infant he ordered palm trees to bend down to provide his mother with some fruit; as a five-year-old he could make mud sparrows come to life, wither playmates who got on his nerves, and kill with a word teachers he found irritating; after his miraculous life, at his resurrection he emerged from the tomb as tall as a mountain; and on and on.

These, of course, are simply the narratives I’ve already mentioned—not the sum total of what one can find in the accounts (ibid.).

Here Ehrman refers to things reported in several noncanonical gospels. The childhood-related stories come from the Infancy Gospel of Matthew (aka Pseudo-Matthew) and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The reference to his being as tall as a mountain when he came out of the tomb comes from the Gospel of Peter.

What can we say about these?


More Time = More Stories

It’s certainly true that there are more stories about Jesus performing miracles in print today than there are in the surviving literature of the first and second centuries.

This is a function of the fact that people have had an additional eighteen centuries to write books about Jesus.

Some of these are novels—like Ben-Hur or The Robe—and the authors of historical fiction regularly produce new accounts of miracles in their works, even though they expect their audience to recognize the fictional nature of the accounts and don’t expect them to believe these miracles actually took place.

Also, there have been people like Joseph Smith who wrote books that are ostensibly non-fiction, such as the Book of Mormon, which also contain new stories of Jesus performing miracles. In these cases, the authors do expect the reader to believe that the stories actually took place.

There are thus more stories about Jesus’ miracles today just because people have had more time to write them.

Some of these stories are no doubt more dramatic for the same reason: The more time you have to think things up, the more time you have to think up really dramatic things.

But this doesn’t give us a good reason to suppose that there were no stories about Jesus’ miracles in his own day.


What You’d Need to Show

If you want to show that the number of stories circulating about Jesus’ miracles in his own day may have been zero then you need to show something much more specific than just a general trend toward more stories over time.

You’d need to show an early and steep trend. You’d need to show that there was a trend to a dramatic rise in the number of miracle stories in the first and second century.

You’d also need to show that these stories were not understood as fictions (like the miracles in modern novels) or as symbols but as things that people were expected to take as the literal truth.

Only on the basis of such a trend could one propose that the number of miracle stories in circulation went from zero in Jesus’ day to the large number reported in the canonical Gospels.

This is something Ehrman fails to do.


Ehrman’s Noncanonical Examples

There are problems with each of the three noncanonical gospels Ehrman cites.

To begin with, the Infancy Gospel of Matthew was not written until the seventh century, which is way too late to show any kind of trend existing in the first century, when the canonical Gospels were written.

By contrast, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter were probably written in the second century, making them potentially relevant. However, there are problems here also.

It is not clear that the authors of the Infancy Gospels (pseudo-Matthew and pseudo-Thomas) expected people to take their stories as real history.

Early Christians liked fiction just as much as we do, and there are works of early Christian fiction.

Furthermore, the authors of Christian fiction often did not explicitly label their works as fiction, just as modern author’s don’t. If you look at the beginning of Ben-Hur, you won’t find any warning saying, “This is just a novel. Don’t take it as real history.”

Modern authors expect their readers to tell the difference between history and fiction, and ancient authors could expect the same thing—particularly when their audience is reading about things not found in the Gospels being read in church.

When you go through the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the quaint stories it contains about Jesus’ childhood (making sparrows out of mud and bringing them to life, striking people dead, etc.), it’s easy to imagine the author simply making up these stories as part of an exercise in historical fiction—something he never meant people to take as real history.

Just like Anne Rice never meant people to take seriously the things she made up in her book about Jesus’ childhood (which, incidentally, includes material from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas).

We thus have a real question about whether the stories of this work were ever intended to be taken as literal history.

The same is true about the Gospel of Peter.


Jesus’ Head Above the Skies?

Here’s Ehrman’s own translation of the relevant passage:

39 [T]hey saw three men emerge from the tomb, two of them supporting the other [i.e., Jesus], with a cross following behind them.

40 The heads of the two reached up to the sky, but the head of the one they were leading went up above the skies.

41 And they heard a voice from the skies, “Have you preached to those who are asleep?”

42 And a reply came from the cross, “Yes” (Lost Scriptures, 33).

So Jesus is being supported by two men whose heads read up to the sky and Jesus’ head reaches above the sky. They are followed by a floating cross, and when God speaks, the cross speaks a reply.

Did the author mean for all this to be taken literally?

The ancients were not stupid. They trafficked in symbols, and it’s easy to think the author (pseudo-Peter) expected the author to recognize the non-literal nature of the account.

In particular, incredible heights read like deliberate hyperbole to make theological points: the two figures accompanying Jesus are heavenly in nature (their heads reach to heaven), and Jesus himself is superior even to them (his head reaching above the heavens).

There are thus real reasons to doubt that any of the examples Ehrman cites are relevant to showing the existence of an early and steep trend of Christians inventing miracle stories that were meant to be taken as real history.

But let’s suppose I’m wrong. Suppose that both the authors of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter did mean for people to take these stories literally.

What then?


Looking at Other Non-Canonical Gospels

If there was the kind of early, steep trend that we need, we would expect to see it in other early noncanonical gospels.

Do we?

One of the best-known second century gospels is the Gospel of Thomas, which is a collection of sayings. According to Ehrman himself:

The book records 114 “secret teachings” of Jesus. It includes no other material: no miracles, no passion narrative, no stories of any kind (Lost Scriptures, 19).

Huh. So no miracles in Thomas. Doesn’t really fit the pattern that Ehrman is proposing.

I haven’t done a careful study of the other second/third century gospels and done a count of the miracle stories they contain (many are too fragmentary for that), but my impression is that they don’t support the trend, either.

In fact, many of them are principally dialogues where Jesus talks to people to communicate (Gnostic) teachings—not works filled with miracle narratives.


Looking at Early Non-Gospels

A related problem is that, if early Christians were rapidly inventing new stories about Jesus’ miracles, this trend ought to show up in works that aren’t narratives about his life.

For example, the Apostolic Fathers and later, second century authors ought to be reporting them.

We ought to find them saying things like, “I know this isn’t found in the Gospels, but here’s this really awesome story about a miracle Jesus did.”

Once again, I haven’t done a study for purposes of making a count, but my impression is that—while they may mention a few noncanonical miracles—there is no general and accelerating trend to reporting new Jesus miracles in their works.


Preliminary Conclusion

We don’t seem to have evidence for the kind of trend that Ehrman needs to show if he wants to argue that there may have been no stories of Jesus working miracles in his own day.

And things only get worse when we look at the canonical Gospels.

That’s what we’ll talk about next time . . .

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divine-mercy-old-testament-historyisreseach-cc-dipinto_originale_autentico_divina_misericordia_gesucc80_confido_santa_faustina_pittore_eugeniusz_kazimirowski_1934Recently I wrote about the possibility of praying across time.

For example, you might pray for the salvation of a person who has already died.

The theory is that, since God is outside of time, he is aware of your prayer in the eternal now and can intervene at any point in history, including when the person your are praying for was still alive.

Your prayer today—in 2018—could thus be applied to someone as he was dying a century ago, in 1918 (perhaps as a result of the Spanish Flu).

I mentioned that this view has been endorsed by figures such as C.S. Lewis in the Protestant community and, apparently, by Padre Pio in the Catholic community.

I also asked if readers were aware of other Catholic figures who had discussed it, and several wrote back with examples.

Here’s one of them . . .


The Divine Mercy Novena

A reader pointed out that, in the Divine Mercy Novena contained in the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Jesus is reported as saying that the actions of various groups living today have an effect on his experience of the Passion, back in A.D. 33.

These remarks occur on five of the nine days of the novena. On the various days, Jesus asks that specific groups of people be brought before him in prayer.

Here’s what St. Faustina reported him saying:

Second Day

1212 Today bring to me the souls of priests and religious, and immerse them in my unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me the strength to endure my bitter Passion.

Third Day

1214 Today bring to me all devout and faithful souls, and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. These souls brought me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were that drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness.

Fourth Day

1216 Today bring to me the pagans and those who do not yet know me. I was thinking also of them during my bitter Passion, and their future zeal comforted my Heart.

Fifth Day

1218 Today bring to me the souls of heretics and schismatics, and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. During my bitter Passion they tore at my Body and Heart; that is, my Church. As they return to unity with the Church, my wounds heal, and in this way they alleviate my Passion.

Sixth Day

1220 Today bring to me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children, and immerse them in my mercy. These souls most closely resemble my Heart. They strengthened me during my bitter agony. I saw them as earthly angels, who would keep vigil at my altars.


A Matter of Perspective

These passages do not show Jesus referring to the perspective he has as God outside of time. They are consistent with him simply having foreknowledge at the time of his Passion.

This is fine for our thesis that present actions can affect the past. In fact, I made the point in my previous post that even if one doesn’t have the eternal perspective that God does, simple foreknowledge is enough to achieve this effect.

If God—or anybody else—knows what someone will ask in the future, he is capable of acting on it now. A future request can thus affect matters that (from the future perspective) are in the past.

In the novena passages, Jesus refers to people living in the future (from an A.D. 33 perspective). This is evident from the fact that St. Faustina was expected to pray (at least) for the people living in her own day.

It is also evident from the fact that in A.D. 33 there were as yet no religious (the invention of religious orders came later), that he refers to those “who do not yet know me,” and that the various heresies and schisms that have affected the Church had not yet arisen.

He also depicts the actions of these people affecting him back in A.D. 33—most notably when he refers to the heretics and schismatics both tearing at his body and heart “during my bitter Passion” and alleviating his passion “as they return to unity with the Church.”

Strikingly, the actions of these people at two different times—(1) when they are in a state of separation and (2) when they are later reconciled—are said to affect Jesus’ Passion in two different ways.


A Word of Caution

It should be pointed out that, although the Church as declared Sister Faustina a saint and incorporated Divine Mercy Sunday into the liturgical calendar, it has not directly ruled on the authenticity of her private revelations.

Also, the Church acknowledges that, even in the case of an authentic private revelation, we must take into account “the possibility that the subject might have added, even unconsciously, purely human elements or some error of the natural order to an authentic supernatural revelation” (CDF, Norms for Discerning Presumed Apparitions or Revelations).

We therefore need to be cautious in how far we press the details of St. Faustina’s reported revelations.

Nevertheless, this represents another instance where the idea of present actions affecting the past has received acknowledgement in the Catholic tradition.

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Our Lady Undoer of KnotsHave you ever felt a sudden compulsion to promise or vow something to God, even though it seemed irrational?

If so, you’re not alone.

Sudden, rash impulses are part of the human experience (due to original sin), and for some people, impulses of this kind are a frequent thing.

Recently I received an email from a gentleman who was concerned about promises and vows he felt driven to make by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

He was concerned that he was making, or might be making, sudden, irrational promises that would bind him under pain of sin, including mortal sin.

I’ll keep his email to me private, but I wanted to share my response so that it can be of assistance to others.


The Basic Response

First, here’s what I sent the gentleman in reply to the query:

Dear [Name Withheld],

Thank you for writing. The problem you are experiencing is one that many people who suffer from OCD have.

The good news is that promises/vows/oaths that are the result of a pathological thought process (which OCD is) are not binding.

Ignore them.

When the impulse comes to make such a promise, do your best to put the issue aside and not worry about it.

If you compulsively make a promise anyway (or think/feel that you have), recognize that it is not binding on you.

You will please God more if you resist the pathology of OCD by ignoring such promises (and, to the extent possible, ignoring the impulse to make them).

Setting aside such thoughts is a sign of health, and working towards a healthy thought process is what pleases God.

I hope this helps, and God bless you!

Jimmy Akin

That’s the basic advice I would give anyone dealing with this kind of concern, but there is more we can say, which may also be of help.


The Limits of Promises

One of the things people sometimes forget is that promises have limits and unspoken conditions.

Suppose that you promise your spouse you’ll pick up some ice cream on the way home from work so your family can have it for dessert that night.

But after work you are kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to drive the kidnapper to another state.

By the time you get shed of the kidnapper, it’s way past dinnertime, and you arrive home an exhausted wreck.

No sane spouse would expect you to have fulfilled your promise to pick up ice cream under these conditions.

There is an unstated condition when you make such a promise that you will keep it if it is reasonable to do so.

If something happens so that it becomes unreasonable (or even impossible) to keep the promise then you have no obligation to do so.

This offers hope to people who are suffering from OCD because it allows them to introduce reasonability as a check on any promises they may have made or fear that they have made.

They can ask themselves, “Is it reasonable for me to keep this promise?” and if the answer is no then they do not need to.

And the answer will be “it is not reasonable” more often than you might think . . .


Promises and Compulsion

Let’s go back to our kidnapper example. Suppose that the kidnapper was of the opposite sex and, while you were being forced to drive to another state, the kidnapper pointed a gun at your head and said, “Promise you’ll marry me.”

“But I’m already married,” you say.

“Doesn’t matter,” the kidnapper replies. “Promise to divorce your spouse and marry me instead—or I’ll kill you.”

To save your life, you make the promise.

But you are absolutely not bound to keep it. It was made under duress.

There is thus another limit on promises: To be binding, they have to be made freely, not under compulsion.

This is where obsessive-compulsive disorder comes in: There may not be a kidnapper physically holding a gun to your head, but there is something going on in your head—the OCD—that is creating a compulsion.

Promises that you feel compelled to make as a result of the condition thus do not count, and God does not expect you to keep them.

One way of seeing this is to change the situation a bit: Suppose that, instead of feeling compelled to make promises to God, your OCD made you feel compelled to make promises to your spouse.

No sane spouse of an OCD sufferer would expect such promises to be kept.

Instead, as soon as the OCD started manifesting itself in this way, a reasonable and loving spouse would say, “Honey, I know your OCD is trying to attack you by making you feel you need to make all these promises to me, but don’t worry. You don’t have to keep them. I release you from them all. Put them out of your mind and focus on having a healthy thought process.”

Well, guess what: God is not less reasonable or less loving than a spouse. He’s more reasonable and more loving.

Therefore, God does not expect you to keep promises made under the effects of OCD. He wants you to ignore them and to focus on thinking in as healthy a way as you can.


Promises to Sin

Sometimes people with OCD feel a compulsion to make promises to do something sinful. These also are not binding. Quite the opposite!

Suppose that, on your interstate flight, the kidnapper pointed a gun at your head and said, “Promise that you’ll help me rob a bank.”

To save your life, you do so, but then the kidnapper somehow loses the gun.

“You’re still going to help me knock over that bank, right?” the kidnapper says. “You promised!”

It doesn’t matter, though. You have no obligation to help the kidnapper rob the bank. In fact, you better not—especially now that the threat to your life is gone—because it’s illegal.

That illegality is key. Under civil law, no contract between parties is valid if it involves promises to do something illegal.

Even if two businessmen enter into a contract in good faith, believing that what they are promising to each other is perfectly legal, the contract will be null and void as soon as it is discovered that the terms entail an illegal act.

The same thing is true in the moral sphere: Promises to do something immoral are automatically null and void.

If your OCD is manifesting so that you feel compelled to make promises involving something sinful, that’s just all the more reason to set them aside and ignore them!


Vows and Oaths

I should say a word about vows and oaths, which are solemn forms of promises.

I don’t want to encourage scrupulosity by going into the details here of what makes a vow or an oath, but some OCD sufferers might think that just because they have the word “vow” or “oath” in their head instead of “promise” that it’s somehow more binding.

Not when OCD is involved.

Obviously, basic morality is still a fundamental requirement of vows and oaths. Just like you can’t bind yourself with a promise to do something sinful, you can’t bind yourself with a vow or an oath to do something sinful, either.

Adding solemnity to the promise doesn’t change the basic requirement that it be moral.

Also, precisely because of the greater solemnity of vows and oaths, they even more emphatically require freedom.

If freedom is required to give even basic promises, it’s even more clearly required to be able to make a more solemn promise.

Therefore, if your OCD is driving you to make vows or oaths, the compulsive aspect of the behavior prevents them from having the necessary freedom to be binding.

As before, the thing to do is to put them aside and ignore them.

You need to focus on developing healthy habits of thought, and that means ignoring compulsive promises of any kind.

God wants you to be happy and healthy, and ignoring such promises—and other manifestations of OCD—is what will please him.

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 18 November 2017 to 17 January 2018.


General Audiences




Papal Tweets

  • “If we fail to suffer with those who suffer, even those of different religions, languages or cultures, we need to question our own humanity.” @Pontifex 11 January 2018
  • “The encounter with God and our brothers and sisters cannot wait just because we are slow or lazy. We are called to that encounter today!” @Pontifex 12 January 2018
  • “We must not wait to be perfect before responding to the Lord who calls us, but rather open our hearts to His voice.” @Pontifex 13 January 2018
  • “We should work to accommodate, to protect, to promote and to integrate whoever is forced to leave their own home and undergo moments of real difficulty. @M_RSection” @Pontifex 14 January 2018
  • “I ask you to accompany me on my journey to Chile and Peru in your prayers.” @Pontifex 15 January 2018
  • “We pray to God for the courage to ask forgiveness and to learn how to listen to what he is saying to us.” @Pontifex 16 January 2018
  • “Listening to religious teaching or learning a doctrine is not enough. What we want is to live as Jesus lived.” @Pontifex 17 January 2018

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 4 January 2018 to 10 January 2018.



Papal Tweets

  • “God became a child to be closer to the men and women of every time, and to show us His infinite tenderness.” @Pontifex 4 January 2018
  • “God walks along the dusty paths of our lives and responds to our longing for love and happiness by calling us to joy.” @Pontifex 5 January 2018
  • “Like the Magi, believers are led by faith to seek God in the most hidden places, knowing that the Lord waits for them there.” @Pontifex 6 January 2018
  • “Baptism is also called ‘illumination’, because faith illuminates the heart and allows us to see things in a different light.” @Pontifex 7 January 2018
  • “Let us share the joy of our Christian brothers and sisters of the East who are celebrating Christmas today.” @Pontifex 7 January 2018
  • “Joy, prayer and gratitude are three ways that help us live authentically.” @Pontifex 8 January 2018
  • “A joyful soul is like healthy soil in which life can thrive and produce good fruit.” @Pontifex 9 January 2018
  • “The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we rediscover interior peace, even in the midst of daily challenges.” @Pontifex 10 January 2018

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timeIn the Back to the Future movies, Doc Brown chides Marty McFly for not thinking fourth-dimensionally.

He means that Marty—like most of us—is letting his options be limited too much by the here and now.

Marty’s not taking into account the possibilities that open up if we’re not stuck in that one moment of time we call the present.

Something similar happens in theology . . .


God and Time

We cannot grasp the full reality of who and what God is. He is infinite, and our minds are only finite.

As a result, we often depict God as if he were a human being—just as a way of helping us understand him.

That’s why Scripture talks about him having a strong right arm (a symbol of his omnipotence) and eyes that survey the whole earth (a symbol of his omniscience).

But in reality, apart from the Incarnation, he doesn’t have body parts.

One of the ways we picture God is as an old man—“the Ancient of Days,” to use Daniel’s phrase. We also picture him as an immortal Being who will live on and on into the endless future.

This envisions God as if he is bound by time the same way we are, and it has implications for how we relate to him.

If God is bound to time like us, always stuck in the present as that moment rolls ever forward into the future, then it would make no sense to pray for certain things.

Suppose that someone has died. In the here and now, that person’s eternal fate is sealed, for “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

If God is bound by time the way we are, it would make no sense to pray for the person to be saved in the moment he died. He either was or wasn’t.

But things are not so simple.


God and Eternity

In reality, God is not bound by time. He is completely outside of time. All of history is simultaneously present to him like a giant mural.

From his eternal perspective outside of time, God simultaneously knows everything that exists, whether in the past, the present, or the future.

He is also capable of interacting with history at any point. This is illustrated by the fact that he not only created the universe in the beginning, he also—from his eternal perspective—sustains it at every moment of its existence.

The consequences of these facts are significant: If God is aware of everything in history then he knows it if on April 15 I am praying for a man who died on April 12.

Further, if he is capable of interacting with every point in history, he can give his grace to that man—as he is dying on April 12—in light of the request I make on April 15.

It thus can make sense for me to pray for the salvation of someone who is already dead.

Usually, our prayers concern the future, but they can also concern the present, and as this illustration shows, they can even concern the past.

We are thus capable of praying across the fullness of time—for things past, present, and future.


C.S. Lewis and Padre Pio

The idea of praying across time in this way is not something unique to me.

C.S. Lewis famously discussed it in his book Miracles (see Appendix B: “On ‘Special Providences’”).

A while back, a friend asked if I could name any Catholic figures who had discussed the idea, and off the top of my head, I couldn’t, though I was sure there were.

Recently, I came across a reference to such a figure: Padre Pio is reported to have made such prayers. Susanne Tassone writes:

A doctor who was very close to Padre Pio received a letter from a woman whose daughter was near death. The mother implored the future saint for his priestly prayers and blessings. The doctor was unable to get this letter to Padre Pio until several days after he had received it. After reading the letter to Padre Pio, this physician asked how should he answer it. Pio responded, “Fiat.”

The doctor knew that some time had passed since he had received the letter, and that the girl was at death’s door. He was perplexed by Padre Pio’s assurance that all was done, that the request for prayer would work. The Capuchin priest continued, “Maybe you don’t know that I can pray even now for the happy death of my great-grandfather.” “But he has been dead for many, many years,” replied the doctor. “I know that too,” said Padre Pio. “Let me explain by giving you an example.

“You and I both die, and, through the good fortune and the goodness and mercy of the Lord, we are obliged to stay in purgatory for 100 years. During these years nobody prays for us or has a Mass offered for the release of our souls. The 100 years pass, and somebody thinks of Padre Pio and the good doctor and has Masses offered. For Our Lord, the past does not exist; the future does not exist. Everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather! . . . ”

The little girl in need of prayer, by the way, was healed (Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, 71-72).

I’m sure that the concept of praying for past events has been discussed by various Catholic authors, and perhaps someone can point to additional examples, but the logic behind such prayers is sound.

In fact, it would be sound even if God were not outside of time.


The Core of the Issue

All that is needed for requests concerning the past to be efficacious are two things:

  1. Knowledge of what a future request will be, and
  2. Possession of this knowledge when it is needed to affect matters.

A being does not have to be outside of time to have these two things. It is quite possible for us to have them in the here and now.

Suppose that every Tuesday when you get home from work, your spouse asks you to order a pizza for dinner. It’s now a Tuesday, so you know (for practical purposes) that when you get home your spouse will ask you to do this. You have foreknowledge of the request.

But suppose that this particular Tuesday there is some reason you won’t be able to order the pizza once you get home. You therefore order it in advance and schedule it to arrive at dinnertime.

When you get home, your spouse makes the request, and you’re able to announce, “Already taken care of!”

In this case, you had both of the things you needed: Knowledge of the future request and possession of this knowledge in time to affect matters.

Of course, one could quibble about whether one really had “knowledge” of the request, since humans don’t have infallible certitude regarding what their spouses will ask in the future.

But this objection would not apply to God, who does have infallible certitude regarding the requests that will be made to him. His omniscience guarantees that.

Thus even if God were not outside of time—if he were stuck to the present the way we are—then he would still be able to affect matters based on his omniscient knowledge of what people will ask him in the future.

Unlike Marty McFly, God has no problem thinking fourth-dimensionally.


The Practice of Praying Across Time

The possibility of praying about things in the past raises the question of when it is appropriate to do so.

I would answer this question by dividing things in the past into three categories:

  1. Things we know happened
  2. Things we’re uncertain about
  3. Things we know didn’t happen


Things That Didn’t Happen

The most straightforward answer concerns the last category—things we know didn’t happen.

It is not appropriate to pray for these things.

The reason is that we know it was God’s will to allow our history to unfold in a way that didn’t include them. To pray for something we know didn’t happen would be to pray contrary to God’s known will.

For example, we know that the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. We know that God allowed that to happen as part of his providence, and it would be contrary to God’s known will to pray for the Twin Towers never to have fallen.

It would be equally improper to pray for things we know won’t happen in the future, because they are also contrary to God’s known will.

Thus God periodically told Jeremiah not to pray for the welfare of the people because he was determined to bring judgment on them (Jer. 7:16, 11:14, 14:11).

In the same way, it would be in appropriate for us to pray contrary to things we know will happen in the future (e.g., that the end of the world not happen).


Things That Did Happen

The answer for the first category—things we know did happen—is more complex.

Suppose you are considering praying—all these years later—that at least some people survive the 9/11 attacks.

Well, we know that some people did survive the attacks, so we know that it was God’s will to allow this to happen.

Praying that some survive thus is not praying contrary to God’s will. In fact, it’s praying in accordance with his known will.

It could even be that God allowed some of the people who survived the 9/11 attacks to do so because you are praying for them now.

I thus can’t say there’s anything wrong with praying for things that you know to have happened.

I do, however, have a note of caution: God has designed us as time-bound creatures to be principally oriented toward the future, not the past.

There is a sense in which, like St. Paul, we need to be “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

Spending too much time thinking about the past can lead us to neglect the attention we need to give to future concerns.

I can’t rule out that some might grow closer to God by praying for something they know God allowed to happen in the past, but it’s easy to see how this kind of prayer could become a spiritual distraction from more urgent concerns.


Things We’re Uncertain About

The case where praying concerning past events is most appropriate is the middle one—things we aren’t certain about.

Suppose it is 9/11 and you’ve just watched the Twin Towers go down on television.

You know someone who worked in one of the towers, and that person either died in the collapse or he got away, but you don’t know which.

Because you don’t know, it’s appropriate for you to say, “God, please let him have escaped!”

In this case, you don’t know whether it was or wasn’t God’s will, so you’re neither praying against God’s known will nor praying for something you already know happened.

That’s the situation we’re in with most of our prayers: We don’t know whether God will grant them or not, but he encourages us “always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

This principle has a special application to the dying.

We can’t objectively tell whether a person is in a state of grace at the point of death, so this knowledge is by its nature inaccessible to us.

It thus makes sense, whenever someone has died, to ask God to have given the person the graces he needed for salvation at the moment of death.

In view of the stakes involved—eternal life and eternal death—I regularly make this prayer when I hear of someone dying, and especially if it is a friend or loved one.

Care to join me?

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