I am Catholic and I've believed in reincarnation of a "soul" or some internal essence for a number of years. First hints were through deja vu episodes in the U.S. and in Greece. Currently, my feelings are that reincarnation is entirely appropriate for a "good" God, whereby this God would be "tidy" and "green." My Tidy God is efficient in recycling souls to their next reincarnation; no wasting of souls letting them float around all day in a heaven or a hell after death. Maybe at age 62 I should start a cult around the belief in a Tidy God. What do you think?
G., via e-mail
I have trouble when ordinary people who are not prophets or messiahs tell me, without any shred of humility, that they know God's mind. They quote selected passages from Scripture and then conclude that their opinions are not personal, subjective, or even possibly incorrect. They imagine that they have God's direct line.
The Greeks call this intellectual arrogance hubris. Jews call it chutzpah. I just call it spiritual overreaching and usually quote offenders the definitive biblical verse on the subject from Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." What the Bible is trying to teach us here on earth is not that there is or is not reincarnation, heaven or hell, or anything else in which we may choose to believe. The Bible is lovingly scolding us to retain an appropriate level of spiritual humility when we pretend to know the will and workings of God. God wants us to remember and respect the enormous difference between what God knows and what we can know.
The point is for us to respect the domain of the secret things that will become clear to us after we die, and in the meantime, keep slogging along trying to do God's work.
About your proposed cult: Try as I may, I just can't utter the prayer, "O Lord our God, Thou art indeed Tidy."
I was baptized Catholic at age 20. I was never baptized as an infant and chose to become Catholic. My mom was a baptized Protestant.
I just learned that her dad was Jewish. What does that make me and my son, who was baptized Catholic as an infant? Our family continues to go to Catholic Mass on Sundays and we've received all the Sacraments.
G., via e-mail
You are definitely, positively, thoroughly, indubitably a Catholic! Jewish identity comes through the mother, and even for those parts of Judaism that accept patrilineal descent, it must be accompanied by raising the child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother in a Jewish way.
An e-mail response to my recent column on clergy stipends:
"My deceased husband was a parish pastor for over 15 years prior to his death. All the churches we served averaged between 30 and 60 people on any given Sunday. Their meager offerings barely paid the utilities and a small stipend for full-time pastoral duties. Therefore, I had to work to supplement our income.
"We were always delighted to do weddings in order to have the possibility of additional income. Sometimes, a funeral also brought a slight addition to our finances. We never 'set a charge.' Besides conducting the ceremony, the church had to be cleaned (by us) before and after each event.
"Premarital counseling was conducted whether or not the couple were members to find out their desires/wishes regarding the service. There had to be a rehearsal prior to the actual ceremony, as well. Usually a brief 'challenge' or message had to be prepared in advance. Many hours were spent before and after the 20-40 minute marriage ceremony.
"Sometimes, the couple would contribute a small stipend; often they would not. Please, should the topic of paying a pastor come up in another question, consider that Scripture teaches that 'a workman is worthy of his hire' and marriages as well as funerals are above and beyond the regular weekly obligations of a church's pastor."
- Anonymous, via e-mail
My note: Thank you for your kind response. I'm publishing it anonymously so readers can get a sense of how hard it is for many pastors to support their families through their church work.
I believe that all the couples married by your late husband were blessed to have a man of such dedication and love sanctify their marriages. He was also blessed to have you as a partner in holy service.