Q: From the description in Genesis
3:8-24, it does not sound as though
Adam and Eve saw God face-to-face. When
Moses encountered the burning bush (Exodus
3:1-22), he heard God speak but did
not see God. At the terebinth of Mamre,
three angels conveyed God’s message that
Abraham and Sarah would soon have a son
(Genesis 18:1-15). Did anyone see God
before Jesus came?
A: The biblical evidence about seeing
God is mixed. After the patriarch
Jacob wrestles all night with
a mysterious stranger, Jacob names
that place Peniel, “Because I have seen
God face to face...yet my life has been
spared” (Genesis 32:31).
According to Exodus 33:11a, “The
LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as one man speaks to another.”
This passage is cited in Numbers 12:8,
Deuteronomy 34:10 and Sirach 45:5.
In Exodus 33:20, however, God says
to Moses, “But my face you cannot
see, for no man sees me and still
lives.” For this reason, God created a
hollow place in the rock where Moses
could see God pass by, but see only
God’s back (v. 22-23).
References to God as hiding the divine
face occur in Deuteronomy 31:17,
Psalms 13:2, 51:11 and 104:29, plus
Isaiah 8:17—to mention only a few of
the biblical references.
In the New Testament, Jesus says
that angels look on the face of God
(Matthew 18:10). The author of 1 Peter
3:12 says that the “face of the Lord is
against evildoers.” The Book of Revelation
has two references to God’s face.
After saying that the face of the son of
man [Jesus] “shone like the sun at its
brightest” (1:16), John later states that
God’s servants “will look upon his face,
and his name will be on their foreheads”
All comparisons of God to humans
are approximate—whether we are talking
about parts of the body (the Bible
refers to God’s face, hands, heart, arms,
feet, etc.) or about emotions (anger,
laughter, contentment, etc.).
I once made a list of Scriptures that
speak of God as having human body
parts. Using the New American Bible translation, the most common usages in
the Hebrew Scriptures were hand (201),
voice (92) and eyes (52). The most common
New Testament usages were also
hand (23), voice (23) and eyes (10).
The Bible includes many verbal portraits
of God but strictly prohibits any
physical representations (see Exodus
20:4-5 or Deuteronomy 5:8-9). The
Book of Genesis says that men and
women were made in God’s image and
Any divine/human comparisons
must remain tentative this side of the
eternal banquet. Once people are there,
however, there is no need for description
because they are experiencing God
Marks of Respect Vary by Culture
Q: Why do people kiss the pope’s ring?
This strikes me as a very odd custom
and is certainly not based on the Bible.
I have never found anyone who could give
me a good explanation for this practice.
A: This is a mark of respect in some
cultures. Such marks vary widely
according to the background of the
persons involved. In the United States,
for example, if you are seated when
the president of the country enters a
room, you stand as a mark of respect
for that office.
Members of an orchestra stand when
the conductor comes to the podium. A
few days after 9/11, the Cincinnati
Symphony Orchestra had a regularly
scheduled concert, the first for its new
music director, Paavo Järvi. My memory
is that all of us in the audience
stood up as he came onstage to begin
A couple months ago, the soldier-son
of one of our co-workers at St.
Anthony Messenger Press came to a
company meeting to thank us for our
prayers and good wishes for his recovery
after he was injured in Iraq. People
spontaneously stood up when he was
introduced and walked into the room.
Marks of respect reflect the time and
culture of the person wishing to
show respect. Kissing the pope’s ring
or a bishop’s ring is a custom generally
on the wane—in my observation.
Respect can remain strong even as different ways of expressing it evolve.
Q: I recently attended the wedding of
a friend’s son who was married in
a Protestant ceremony. This wedding
included a communion service. In order to
show respect for my friend and his son, I
received communion but afterwards questioned
if I should have. How does the
Catholic Church view this situation?
A: The Catholic Church does not
see this as proper because the
physical act of receiving communion is
virtually the same during a Catholic
Mass and a service such as this one.
The faith represented by this action,
however, is not the same. It certainly is
not on the level of what these faith
communities officially teach about the
presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Your desire to honor your friend and
his son is commendable, but should
that come at the cost of obscuring what
you believe about the Eucharist?
On this Web site, you
can find our September 2001
Catholic Update on this topic.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that eucharistic intercommunion
with ecclesial communities derived
from the Reformation is not
possible because of the absence of the
Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The Catechism goes on to teach: “However, these ecclesial communities,
‘when they commemorate the Lord’s
death and resurrection in the Holy Supper...
profess that it signifies life in communion
with Christ and await his
coming in glory’” (article 1400, citing
section three of Vatican II’s Decree on
Someday intercommunion may represent
a common belief in the Sacrament
of the Eucharist, but at present it
does not. This issue is openly addressed
in various ecumenical dialogues.
Q: How can I find out how close
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is to
becoming a saint? Is there anyone whom
I can contact?
A: For those not acquainted with
her, Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was the daughter of a Christian
Algonquin married to an Iroquois
chief. Born close to modern-day
Auriesville, New York, Kateri was
orphaned at age four and became a
Catholic 15 years later. She eventually
moved to a Christian Native American
village near Montreal. There she died a
natural death. Kateri was beatified by Pope John Paul II in
A word about the beatification/canonization process: This is referred
to as that person’s “cause.” The person
who does most of the work promoting
it on the local level is called the vice
postulator. The postulator for a cause
usually lives in or near Rome and handles
a number of cases.
If a person is not a martyr, he or she
needs one medical miracle to be beatified
and another one to be canonized.
Reported miracles are examined by separate
teams of doctors, theologians and
cardinals before they are formally recognized
For information about Blessed Kateri
Tekakwitha’s cause, you can write
to Msgr. Paul Lenz, Cause of Kateri
Tekakwitha, 2021 H Street, N.W., Washington,
D.C. 20006, or to the Kateri
Center, Box 70, Kahnawake, Quebec
JOL 1BO, Canada.
Internet information is available
through www.leveillee.net/kateri or
www.martyrshrine.org. The latter
Web site is for the shrine at Auriesville,
The Kateri Tekakwitha Conference
supports pastoral ministry among Native
American Catholics. It organizes an
annual meeting and is headquartered
at P.O. Box 6768, Great Falls, MT
Q: All my life we have been told that when we die we will be with God
for all eternity. I sometimes feel, however, that when you die
that’s it—no heaven, God or anything. It’s frightening to think that
what I have believed all these years might not be true.
A: God has not revoked the biblical promises about sharing
divine life forever. There have always been people who did
not accept them, but that does not make those people more
trustworthy than people who believe in heaven.
Is it possible that your uneasiness about heaven stems from the
imagery that some people have used to describe it? In heaven, God’s plan
for the human race will be complete. God will have become everything
in all of us (see 1 Corinthians 15:28). Isn’t that specific enough?
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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